Elevate your airport experience with 8 ways to get free airport lounge passes (2024)

One of the most stressful aspects of travel involves the airport experience. When you’re not being hassled at security checkpoints, you’re spending way too much time (and money) finding reasonably priced, healthy food options and a comfortable place to relax before a flight. Airport lounges can solve these options by providing a serene and comfortable oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of busy terminals.

These exclusive spaces can run the gamut from basic to ultra-luxurious, with some even providing complimentary spa services. There are many reasons travelers pay to access airport lounges, but with the right credit card or membership, you may be able to get airport lounge passes for a steep discount—or even free.

What is an airport lounge pass?

An airport lounge pass is a ticket or membership granting access to select airport lounges. These lounges give travelers a more comfortable environment to relax before a flight. They typically offer comfortable seating, complimentary food and drinks and high-speed Wi-Fi. The more premium lounges even offer a la carte dining options, shower suites, nap rooms, and spa services. The quality of a lounge typically corresponds to the airline it’s operated by. Premium airlines like Singapore and Emirates typically offer superb lounges, especially abroad.

Meena Thiruvengadam, travel expert and founder of Travel With Meena, finds the most value in airport lounge access when traveling abroad. “Having a comfortable place to shower before a long flight, do my skincare routine or nap during a long layover makes travel feel less exhausting. And there’s nothing like getting where you’re going—or getting home—and not feeling completely wiped out.”

Can you get into an airport lounge for free?

Generally, accessing an airport lounge for free is only possible if you hold a premium class ticket or have a membership or credit card that grants you access. International business or first-class passengers often enjoy lounge access as part of their ticket benefits. Some lounges also extend complimentary access to military members in uniform. Additionally, those who have an active lounge membership can sometimes bring up to two guests without paying a fee.

Most other travelers can gain entry to airport lounges by purchasing a day pass. These typically cost between $25-60, depending on the lounge. Some lounges are so exclusive that you can’t even pay for access but need a specific membership or credit card. The American Express Centurion lounge is a prime example, restricting access to Amex Platinum and Centurion members only. Even guests have to pay a $30-$50 fee to accompany a qualifying cardmember into the lounge unless the cardmember reaches a spending threshold.

8 ways to get into an airport lounge

While spending $25-60 on a lounge pass may be worthwhile to some, attaining these luxurious spaces doesn’t have to cost a thing. Credit cards, particularly those with travel-centric perks, often grant lounge passes or memberships as part of their cardholder benefits. Additionally, standalone lounge memberships or programs like Priority Pass offer a wider range of lounges across different airlines. Savvy travelers can also secure free access through elite status within loyalty programs or by booking premium cabin seats using airline miles. Here are eight ways you can secure airport lounge passes for your next trip:

Airline rewards cards

Many airline credit cards grant cardholders access to their lounges. These cards typically carry high annual fees but include airline lounge membership, along with perks like free checked bags, priority boarding and annual credits towards airline elite status. Examples of airline cards that offer lounge access include the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, the United Club℠ Infinite Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

See Rates and Fees

Intro Bonus
Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership
Annual fee$650
Regular APR20.99%–29.99% variable

Elevate your airport experience with 8 ways to get free airport lounge passes (1)

Reward Rates
  • 3xEarn 3X Miles on Delta purchases
  • 1xEarn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.

Pros

  • Premium benefits for Delta flyers, like first checked bag free and access to the Delta Sky Club
  • Companion certificate good for a round trip domestic Main Cabin, Comfort+ or First Class flight each year upon renewal of your card
  • Access to Centurion Lounge network

Cons

  • High annual fee
  • Access to Delta Sky Club limited to 15 passes a year after February 2025
  • Base earnings rate is low compared to other cards
  • 15% discount on Delta award flights
  • Travel protections including accident insurance, rental car coverage, trip cancellation and delay insurance
  • Consumer protections including cell phone insurance, extended warranty, purchase and return protection
Learn more

Dig deeper

Best credit cards for airport lounge access
Capital One Lounge guide: What you need to know

Travel rewards cards

Many premium travel rewards cards provide airport lounge access at thousands of lounges worldwide through networks like Priority Pass. Additionally, many of these cards offer annual travel credits that can be applied towards airport lounge visits, though each card is different. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers $300 in annual travel credits, plus access to a vast lounge network that includes Priority Pass lounges with restaurant locations.

Elena Nikolova, founder of Muslim Travel Girl, often travels solo or with her four-year-old daughter. She recently renewed her high-annual-fee The Platinum Card® from American Express for the lounge benefit alone: “The ability to relax, eat, drink, freshen up and not chase a child over the terminal is what makes travel enjoyable. We can’t always travel in business class (although I try my best) so having a card that gives you free access even in economy and independent of an airline is what makes it worth the high fee.” Nikolova estimates she’s saved $2,000 on lounge passes in the last year alone, all while flying budget airlines sound Europe.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

See Rates and Fees

Intro bonus
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after spending $8,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of card membership
Annual Fee$695
Purchase APRSee Pay Over Time APR
Foreign Transaction FeeNone

Elevate your airport experience with 8 ways to get free airport lounge passes (2)

Reward Rates
  • 5XEarn5x Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year)
  • 5XEarn 5x Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel
  • 1XEarn 1x points on all other eligible purchases

Pros

  • Packed with valuable potential credits for digital entertainment, Equinox gym, Walmart+ membership, and more.
  • Airport lounge access with a larger network than any other card
  • Membership Rewards are valuable due to their flexibility.

Cons

  • The multiple potential credits can be cumbersome to track.
  • Sky-high annual fee
  • Some of the perks can be hard to use if they don’t align with your lifestyle.
Other benefits
  • Travel benefits including hotel and car rental chain statuses, car rental insurance, trip cancellation/interruption and travel delay protection
  • Consumer protections including extended warranty and return protection
Learn more

Priority Pass

Priority Pass is a network of over 1,400 airport lounges worldwide, including airline lounges and select restaurants. Annual memberships range from $69 to $469, with higher tier memberships including unlimited lounge visits. Priority Pass can provide excellent value for frequent travelers, though guest access comes with a $35 per-visit fee. The great news is many premium travel cards offer complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, which includes guest access. Examples of this includes the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Intro bonus
Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee$395
Purchase APR19.99%–29.99% variable
Foreign Transaction FeeNone

Elevate your airport experience with 8 ways to get free airport lounge passes (3)

Rewards Rates
  • 10X 10x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 5X 5x miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • 2X 2x miles on everyday purchases

Pros

  • Annual $300 travel credit and 10,000 Miles upon card anniversary make up for the annual fee
  • Airport lounge access

Cons

  • Capital One Miles require effort to maximize
  • Limited cash redemption options
Other benefits
  • Travel protections including car rental insurance, trip cancellation/interruption and travel delay protection
  • Consumer protections including extended warranty and return protection
Learn more

Day passes

For those who don’t have access through credit cards or memberships, many lounges offer day passes that can be purchased at the airport. These passes allow one-time access in exchange for a fee of $25-60, though the exact fee varies by lounge. Some credit cards even include annual day passes as a cardholder perk, like the United Explorer Card. Day passes are ideal for occasional travelers seeking a comfortable space during layovers or delays.A number of credit cards offer day passes and have reasonable annual fees. We’ve compiled a list of the best credit cards for cheap airport lounge access.

Guest access

Some lounge memberships allow cardholders to bring guests into the lounge, free of charge. Guest access policies can vary in terms of the number of guests allowed. For example, Priority Pass Select members can bring two guests with them free of charge. The same goes for Capital One Venture X and Capital One Venture X Business cardholders, who can bring up to two additional guests into Capital One lounges without charge.

Fly international business or first class

Passengers flying business or first class on international itineraries also get complimentary lounge access. If the airline doesn’t have its own lounge, qualifying passengers will typically be directed to a partner airline’s lounge. While this seems like a far-fetched idea, premium cabin travel is actually pretty attainable through airline miles and credit card points.

Airline elite status

Nearly every domestic frequent flyer program offers lounge access as a perk to members who achieve elite status. You don’t have to be a top-tier elite member either to take advantage of this benefit – it’s available for most mid-tier elite members on international flights:

  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: Complimentary lounge access for MVP Gold, Gold 75K and Gold 100K members traveling on Oneworld airlines to destinations outside of the U.S., Canada or Mexico.
  • American Airlines AAdvantage: Complimentary lounge access for Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members traveling on international flights operated by American or partner airlines to select international destinations.
  • Delta Air Lines SkyMiles: Complimentary lounge access for Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members traveling in Delta Premium Select cabins or Delta One.
  • United Airlines MileagePlus: Complimentary lounge access for United Premier Gold, Platinum and 1K member traveling on an international Star Alliance flight.

Military members

Members of the U.S. military traveling in uniform and their families can access USO airport lounges free of charge. In addition, many domestic airlines offer complimentary lounge access to qualifying military personnel and their families. To gain access, most lounges require military members to be in uniform or present an I.D. with leave orders.

The takeaway

Whether you’re a frequent flyer or an occasional traveler, airport lounges can vastly improve your travel experience. Lounges can elevate any trip by providing a quiet place to unwind and load up on snacks and drinks without paying outrageous airport prices. By leveraging the right credit cards and taking advantage of membership-based benefits, you can enjoy free airport lounge passes without breaking the bank.

Please note that card details are accurate as of the publish date but are subject to change at any time at the issuer’s discretion. Before applying, please contact the card issuer to verify rates, fees, and benefits.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions, and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.

Elevate your airport experience with 8 ways to get free airport lounge passes (2024)
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