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How to access the best airport lounges in the US

Find an oasis in the airport with comfy seats and other perks.

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Our pick for lounge access: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

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While access to airport lounges may be included for business class ticket-holders, here’s how the rest of us can unlock the complimentary refreshments, perks and serenity tucked away in a VIP airport lounge.

Using a credit card to get into the best airport lounges

Premium credit cards often come with complimentary lounge access — though the type of lounge you can access depends on your card. For example, with the The Platinum Card® from American Express, you get access to a variety of lounges, including the Centurion Lounge, the International American Express lounges, Delta Sky Club and Priority Pass Select lounges.

But if you get a cobranded airline card, you’ll likely only get complimentary or discounted access to the airlines’ lounges, such as Delta Sky Club access with Delta cards, United Club access with a United card or Admirals Club access with an American Airlines card.

Consider applying for a credit card that gives you access to the lounges you visit most often.

Compare credit cards that offer lounge access

Credit cards are among the best ways to enjoy travel rewards and perks — including access to airline lounges.

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
The Platinum Card® from American Express
75,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases. Starting January 1, 2021, your 5x points on flights will be capped on up to $500,000 annually (then 1x points).
$550
One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $4,500, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
100,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, plus earn 25,000 after the first anniversary of card membership (offer expires 1/13/2021)
6x points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x for all other purchases
$450
Earn 100,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 or more within your first 3 months, plus earn 25,000 after the first anniversary of card membership (offer expires 1/13/2021). Rates & fees
Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1.5% for cash back
$495
Receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
130,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
12x points on Hilton Portfolio spending, 6x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
$95
With a big welcome offer worth up to $650, up to 12x points on spending, and free Gold status, this is an upgrade from the entry Hilton card. Rates & fees
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Compare up to 4 providers

Other ways to access airport lounges

If you’re not interested in opening a credit card, here’s how you can still gain entry to airport lounges.

1. Reach elite status

Reaching one of the top tiers of a frequent flyer program can unlock discounts on lounge passes or give you free access to select lounges. For example:

  • MileagePlus Premier Gold and higher status. This United Airlines elite status grants free access to United Club lounges if you have a same-day boarding pass for an international flight operated by a Star Alliance member airline. You can access the lounge at departure, during connections and upon arrival.
  • SkyTeam Elite Plus status. SkyTeam Elite Plus includes Delta Gold Medallion and higher status tiers with the Atlanta-based airline. This tier can get you free access to Delta Sky Club before departing with a SkyTeam carrier. You can also get free access upon arriving at an airport if you’re connecting to another SkyTeam flight.

2. Active military personnel

Active duty military members in uniform, with present leave orders or with rest and recuperation papers can get free access to some lounges, such as:

  • United Club. Access United Club locations on the same day they when traveling on a United or United Express flights. All you need is military ID, your boarding pass and supporting documentation for entry. Family members also get free access.
  • Admirals Club. American Airlines Admirals Club is available for US military personnel traveling in uniform on American Airlines flights. The only exception is the Airspace Lounge in San Diego (SAN) and JAL Sakura Lounge in Honolulu (HNL). All you need is military ID and your American Airlines flight boarding pass. Family members also get free access.

3. Enter as the guest of your traveling companion

If you’re traveling with a companion that has a credit card with complimentary lounge access or a lounge membership, you can often access the lounge free-of-charge or at a discount.

4. Purchase a day pass or annual membership

Your final option is the obvious one — purchase a day pass or an annual membership. You can do this through a service like LoungeBuddy or Priority Pass.

The Best Airline Lounges in the US

These lounges are known for offering best-in-class complimentary food and beverages, along with high-speed Wi-Fi. Here’s a guide to help you compare extra perks, locations and airport lounge reviews.

Locations
(worldwide)
Airports (US) Special perks Credit cards that grant complimentary access Airport lounge reviews
Amex Centurian Lounge 12 CLT, DFW, IAH, LAS, LAX, MIA, LGA, PHL, SFO, SEA
  • Spa services
  • Menus with regionally-sourced and locally inspired dishes
  • Wine is hand-picked by sommalier Anthony Giglio, while cocktails are designed by mixologist Jim Meehan
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Centurion® Card from American Express
According to first person reviews on travel blogs around the web, Centurian lounges are generally considered the best in the biz. The food and drinks are as close to gourmet as you’ll find in any airport lounge within the US, and the decor is glitzy and posh.

That said, they’re not always easy to access. Sometimes, Centurian lounges are located outside of security, or in the international terminal.

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse 9 BOS, EWR, IAD, JFK, LAX, SFO

Partner lounges: ATL, LAS, MIA, MCO, SEA

  • Popular clubhouse bars have a designated quarterly magazine called Spirit of the Clubhouse
  • Freshly cooked food
  • JFK, Heathrow and Gatwick lounges have full-service spas
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • Hilton Honors American Express Card

*The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Washington Dulles (IAD) and Newark (EWR) can both be accessed with a Priority Pass membership

According to reviews on TripAdvisor, these clubhouses are known for having chic, upscale decor and a cosmopolitan vibe. The Heathrow and JFK Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses are particularly popular, as both feature sit-down table service.

However, Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse has the smallest amount of total lounges, so folks looking for widespread access may want to look elsewhere.

Delta Sky Club 45 ATL, AUS, BOS, BNA, CVG, DCA, DEN, DFW, DTW, FLL, HNL, IND, JAX, JFK, LGA, LAX, MCO, MEM, MKE, MIA, MSP, MSY, ORD, PBI, PDX, PHL, PHX, RDU, SLC, SAN, SFO, SEA, TPA
  • Satellite TVs
  • Productivity tools like fax machines and hotspot printers at select locations
  • Showers with Malin + Goetz products, towels and hair dryers
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Delta Reserve
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
  • Delta Diners Club Card (3 times per year)
Delta Sky Club lounges are generally beloved for their convenience and customer service. According to Reddit, guests appreciate the concierge assistance for missed or delayed flights.

Just keep in mind that Delta lounges are notoriously exclusive. You’ll need to be a loyal Delta flyer to make one of these memberships worth it.

Alaska Airlines Board Room 50 ANC, JFK, LAX, PDX, SEA
  • Bar includes West Coast wines and local beer, plus Starbucks coffee
  • Free access to the New York Times
  • Select locations have conference rooms
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

*Except for Seattle and Portland locations, you can access Alaska Airlines lounges with any credit card that includes Priority Pass.

Decor in Alaska Airlines lounges is inspired by the Northwest, with leather chairs and rustic details. If you’re a frequent flyer with this airline, you’ll likely enjoy the comfortable setting and tasty beverages, according to reviews around the web.
American Airlines Admirals Club 50 ATL, AUS, BOS, CLT, DCA, DEN, DFW, HNL, IAH, LAX, MIA, BNA, JFK, LGA, EWR, MCO, PIT, PHL, PHX, ORD, RDU, SFO, SNA, STL, TPA
  • La Colombe coffee and barista-style espresso and lattes at select locations
  • Unlimited downloads of magazines/newspapers through the Admirals Club Wi-Fi
  • Select locations have shower suites and business centers “Free access to the New York Times
  • Select locations have conference rooms
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
Some Redditors praise the Admirals Club for offering a quiet space with just enough creature comforts to relax and recharge. Other travelers, however, complain about the lack of made-to-order food options.

Admirals Club lounges are also rather exclusive. The only way to get in is with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® or elite status with American Airlines (aside from the standard ways, like purchasing a day pass, having a first-or business-class ticket, or being a military member).

United Club 45 ATL, AUS, BOS, CLE, DFW, DEN, DCA, EWR, FLL, HNL, IAD, IAH, LAS, LAX, LGA, MSP, MSY, MCO, ORD, PHL, PHX, PDX, RDU, SAT, SAN, SFO, SEA, SNA
  • Most lounges have PCs available for internet use.
  • Select locations also have showers, conference rooms and newspapers/magazines.
  • United MileagePlus® Club card
  • United Club℠ Business Card

*Priority Pass also inludes access to most United Club lounges

Overall, users on reddit agree that the United Club Polaris lounge at O’Hare airport in Chicago is a true standout. Otherwise, the general consencus is that United Club membership is most beneficial to people who travel 15+ times per year.

The ability to access newspapers and magazines is a perk, as are the staff on hand to help with delays and layovers. Frequent United flyers may benefit most from this membership.

Bottom line

There are many ways to access airport lounges for free or with a discount. If you’re a frequent traveler, the most cost-effective way is to use a credit card with lounge access. This way, you’ll get lounge access, along with other card perks, such as earning rewards, getting priority boarding, free checked bags and more.

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2 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    s3n10rJuly 4, 2018

    what credit card will provide
    1. free airport lounge including American, United, Delta, Air Canada and
    2. will provide multiple sub-account card with individual limits (for staff) with the total charges of each sub-account card charged to the main card, and
    3. will provide points for all charges made on card that can be redeemed at par for use to purchase flights on airlines mentioned in Par#1 above?

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