Choosing the Best Credit Card for Airport Lounge Access

Here at LoungeBuddy, we're committed to making sure you have the best possible experience at an airport lounge. But purchasing an annual lounge membership - rather than individual day passes - is still a large purchase. That's why LoungeBuddy lets you know in advance what amenities are available at each location as well which lounges may grant you complimentary access due to elite status or for traveling in a premium cabin.

What you may not know is that you can often save money and receive additional benefits by obtaining lounge access through a credit card. Almost every major U.S. carrier has a co-branded credit card that includes a separate membership to its airport lounges. Other credit cards may include access to a lounge network such as Priority Pass and Lounge Club, which offer a mix of participating lounges that are operated independently or by different carriers.

This post presents some of the best options for obtaining airport lounge access with a credit card. Such cards still have high fees, but it's not fair to compare them to your favorite no-fee card that you already use every day. Instead, consider that such fees are lower than the cost of a separate membership and can make financial sense even if you may use other cards to make day-to-day purchases.

The Platinum Card from American Express

American Express offers many variations of its flagship Platinum Charge Card, which has an annual fee of $550 and a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points (subject to change). In addition to several other travel benefits, the card includes a Priority Pass Select membership and access to a number of other lounge that make up the exclusive American Express Global Lounge Collection, including the Delta Sky Club (when traveling on a Delta flight) and American Express' very own network of Centurion Lounges. A flat fee of $175 permits three additional cardholders who will receive their own Priority Pass Select memberships and access to the Global Lounge Collection. (Priority Pass has been discussed extensively in a previous post.)

Individuals are recommended to contact their brokerage firm before applying, as some institutions offer special terms. If this option is unavailable, consider applying for the Platinum Card from American Express for Mercedes-Benz, which costs $550 per year and carries all of the same benefits as the regular Platinum Charge Card, along with additional benefits for Mercedes-Benz customers. Small business owners may consider the Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN.

The Platinum Card is very much a benefits-oriented card. Most purchases earn just 1 point per dollar, though flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel will earn you an amazing 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar. Because it transfers to many airline and hotel programs, Membership Rewards is one of the leading loyalty currencies.

The Alaska Board Room at ANC. Originally uploaded by Mithium.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is currently one of the most popular travel credit cards on the market, and is considered to be the flagship credit card of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. This card has an annual fee of $450 and offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $4,000 of spending within the first 3 months from account opening. This card offers a generous 3 points per dollar for qualifying spend on travel and dining, as well as a $300 annual travel credit that you can apply towards qualifying travel spend.

When it comes to lounge benefits, this card offers members a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership. The version of Priority Pass offered through this card does not impose a limit on the number of guests you can bring into the lounge, though limits set by the individual lounges themselves will still apply.

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

The $450 annual fee gives cardholders Delta Sky Club access, along with up to 2 guests at a discounted rate of $29 when flying with Delta. Like most airline credit cards, you'll receive one free checked bag, priority boarding, and double miles on purchases from Delta.

Other valuable benefits mean this card can still make sense for travelers worried about the additional charge for bringing companions to the Sky Club. Upon meeting the spending threshold of $3,000 in the first 3 months, cardmembers will receive 10,000 Medallion (elite status) qualification miles, as well as 40,000 bonus award miles.

Not sure you need a full lounge membership? Here, Delta has the advantage by offering discounted lounge access if you get the Gold or Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, also issued by American Express. The Gold card will suit most customers. It comes with 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months, and waives the first year's annual fee (normally $95). Each time you want to use the Sky Club, just pay $29 instead of the usual $59.

The Delta Sky Club Sky Terrace at ATL.

Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard

American Airlines and US Airways announced that, beginning March 22, 2014, they will no longer grant access to their lounges to individuals carrying the Platinum Card from American Express (or any of its many variations, described below). This is a blow to many cardholders, but Citi is offering generous sign-up offers for its Executive / AAdvantage card, which will be the only credit card to include access to American Airlines' Admirals Clubs.

The annual fee is $450, but - at the time of this post - applicants can receive 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Benefits include one free checked bag, priority check-in and boarding, and double miles on American Airlines purchases. Many cards that provide lounge access don't offer generous mileage sign up bonuses, so this offer is very unusual.

United MileagePlus Club Card

Similar to American Airlines, United Airlines has worked with its partner, Chase, to issue the United MileagePlus Club Card to customers who want United Club membership. The card offers 50,000 bonus miles to applicants after spending $3,000 over the first 3 months.

Cardholders receive two free checked bags, priority check-in and boarding, and complimentary Discoverist status with World of Hyatt. Here are some other benefits that you may enjoy:

  • All purchases receive 1.5 miles per dollar; there are no bonus categories. Tickets purchased from United earn you 2 miles per dollar spent.
  • Use your card to pay for a car rental and receive primary insurance coverage, which may save you from filing a claim with your own insurer.
  • There are no close-in booking fees, and cardholders have access to the last seat available on the plane when redeeming miles for award tickets (at higher Standard Award rates).


The credit cards mentioned here are all very different from one another, both in the types of lounge access they provide as well as the different natures of their secondary benefits. Frequent flyers may already receive benefits like free checked baggage. Other benefits, like upgrades on award tickets, may not be necessary if you already book your awards in first class. In still other instances, cards that provide access to networks like Priority Pass and LOUNGE CLUB may be ideal for those travelers who fly on many different carriers.

LoungeBuddy's free mobile app can help you determine if lounges are available in airports you frequently visit. Just add the affiliated credit card or lounge membership to your profile to see what lounges are available, operating hours, reviews, ratings and their amenities.

This is a guest post by Scott Mackenzie who writes the blog Travel Codex.

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