Spending time in the airport is hardly anyone’s idea of a relaxing vacation, but it is nonetheless a necessity if you want to reach many far-off travel destinations.
To make the air travel experience a little less hectic and stressful, many travelers flock to airport lounges for a beverage, bite, or moment of rest before takeoff. Many of these exclusive spaces have become destinations in their own right, like the buzzy new Delta Sky Club at Los Angeles International Airport and United Club at Newark Liberty International Airport.
“Airport lounges can be a great oasis from the hustle and bustle of the terminal,” Zach Griff, senior reporter at The Points Guy, told HuffPost. “While historically these outposts were reserved for members paying annual dues, most lounges are now accessible to a variety of travelers.”
Indeed, you don’t have to splurge on an annual lounge membership or expensive premium cabin ticket to experience the comfort and amenities of an airport lounge. Below, Griff and other travel experts share their tips for getting into the lounge without stretching your budget.
Get a travel credit card
“Certain premium credit cards can get you into the lounge, with no requirement to pay for an annual lounge membership,” Griff said. “American Express has a collection of lounges, some branded as Centurion Lounges, and others as affiliates, such as the Escape Lounge network and Delta Sky Clubs, that allow travelers access into these spaces with no additional payment.”
Many travelers opt for airline-branded credit cards, which offer complimentary or discounted access to those specific airlines’ lounges (in addition to other benefits like extra miles). The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and various Delta SkyMiles cards are popular examples. Still, others, as Griff noted, prefer non-airline-specific travel reward cards that grant access to additional lounge options, like Centurion Lounges.
“I am an owner of the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which gives me a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, giving me access to over 1,300 airport lounges around the world,” said travel blogger Sean Lau.
The American Express Platinum Card is another popular choice for travelers, as it includes access to more than 1,400 lounge properties, including Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass Lounges, and Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta). The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card also includes Priority Pass access, but it’s limited to 10 complimentary visits.
“The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offers unlimited access to all-inclusive amenities at the Capital One Lounge and 1,300+ Priority Pass lounges worldwide,” noted budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “And the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard includes an Admirals Club membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you.”
To determine the best travel reward card for you, review the various benefits you’ll get in addition to lounge access. Keep in mind these cards tend to come with pretty hefty annual fees, so you’ll want to take those into account as well.
“I can justify the cost because I get the maximum value from my American Express Platinum Card,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “While its $695 annual fee is high, the lounge access 5x points earned on flights, $200 yearly Uber Cash, and a variety of other travel-related credits more than cover the cost.”
Purchase a one-time pass
Many airlines offer one-day passes for their lounges. You just have to be traveling with that particular airline and willing to pay a fee.
“Note that these are subject to capacity restrictions and can creep up to $100 or more,” Griff said.
Still, it’s worth weighing the costs and benefits when you’re dealing with a long layover or big delay, especially if you’re planning to eat during that time. You also may find very reasonable prices depending on the airport.
“While outside of America, I have found the lounges to be super low cost for daily use,” said Ravi Roth, host of “The Gaycation Travel Show.” “In my most recent layover in Nairobi, Kenya, the lounge at Jomo Kenyatta Airport was only $30 for the day. That is the cost of a sandwich, snack, and drink. To me, that is a win!”
You can also find discounted passes to airport lounges on websites like Groupon.
To purchase a one-time pass, however, your best bet is to go directly to the lounge and inquire at the check-in desk. Not all lounges offer single-visit passes, and some might temporarily restrict them to prevent overcrowding. So if you go straight to the source, you won’t waste your money paying for access but being unable to enter due to capacity restrictions.
Go as a guest
Another way to get into an airport lounge without shelling out the big bucks is to travel with someone who has access.
“My favorite lounge is The Centurion Lounge by American Express. My American Express Platinum Card gives me and two guests complimentary access to the entire collection of Centurion Lounges in the United States and around the world,” Dengler said.
Qualifying AmEx cardholders can bring two guests into the Centurion Lounge (at least until Feb. 1, 2023, when those who spend less than $75,000 in card purchases annually will be charged $50 per guest). Travelers with access to other types of lounges ― like airline-specific clubs or Priority Pass lounges ― can often bring immediate family or other guests free of charge or at least for a lower price.
Guest guidelines can vary depending on the type of lounge, capacity, and reason for access (credit cards versus paid memberships, etc.). Research the rules and don’t assume you can waltz into any lounge with your friend who has access.
If they can get you in for free, however, it’s a win-win. You get to enjoy the amenities, and they get to feel more justified in their membership or credit card choice.
“Each year, I would estimate I get over $1,000 in value from the free food and drinks at Centurion Lounges for my guests and myself,” Dengler noted.
“Consider using LoungeBuddy, a booking service that allows you to purchase lounge access regardless of your ticket class or elite status,” said Stephanie Be, a travel blogger and founder of the travel website Buena.
Downloading the LoungeBuddy app is a free and easy way to see which lounges are available to you on a given day.
“You can input any criteria that could allow you airport access such as being a certain credit card holder, a loyalty member of a relevant program, being on active duty in the U.S. military, or if you have airline status that would allow you airport lounge access,” said travel blogger Esther Susan. “Then, you can input your flight and it will pull up any lounges that you would have access to, plus any that you can pay to use out of pocket. ”
Although you often still have to pay to get into the lounge, LoungeBuddy can help you compare your options and streamline the process.
Request complimentary access
Sure, lounges have specific guidelines that limit admission to paying members, travelers flying in premium cabins, holders of certain credit cards, and those who meet other criteria. But certain circumstances can open up access to others.
“If you are experiencing major travel delays and stuck at an airport due to aircraft or crew issues, ask customer service if they can give you complimentary access to the lounge while you wait,” Woroch suggested. “It doesn’t hurt to ask!”
However you gain entry into an airport lounge, try to stay informed about the various rules and amenities.
“If you are thinking about utilizing lounge access, definitely do your research before because there are different types of airport lounges with different access specifications,” Susan said. “Some limit the number of uses per year, while others are unlimited. Also, if you are going to use an airport lounge, make sure you get to the airport early enough to enjoy it!”