Using credit cards to unlock elite airport lounges
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
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Dear Cashing In,
just gotten a job where I am going to be traveling 50 percent of the time,
flying all around the country, as well as internationally. With those long
hauls, I want to have good airport lounge access. Which cards are best for
that? -- James B.
off, congratulations on the new job.
people who travel frequently, airport lounges offer a break from the crowded
terminals that teem with crying babies and beeping carts. They feature comfortable
seating in a quiet setting as well as snacks and drinks. Business travelers
appreciate them for their work carousels, conference rooms, free Wi-Fi and
other work-friendly amenities.
are three main ways to get in: travel in business or first class, buy access
(with a day pass or annual membership) or flash the right credit card for free
entry. Usually, when you buy an annual membership or have the right plastic,
you have access to the airline's lounges and those of its partner airlines
these options is cheap. Day passes usually sell for $50 or more. Annual
memberships to an airline's lounges typically go for $400 or more.
credit cards that offer lounge access are also expensive. But their fees can be
lower than the cost of buying a membership outright, and they often include
other perks, such as free checked baggage and the waiving of other annoying
fees. If you're considering buying a membership, look first at the credit cards
that are co-branded with your preferred airline.
buying an annual membership to United Clubs costs $500 a year (although members
of the airline's elite flier programs can buy it for as little as $400). The
Chase United MileagePlus Club Visa has an annual fee of $395 and includes
a $100 statement credit on first use, two free checked bags, priority check-in
and boarding, the waiving of certain award-ticket fees and platinum membership
in Hyatt's frequent traveler program.
airline-branded credit cards with lounge access include the American Express
Delta Reserve card (annual fee: $450) and the Citi Executive AAdvantage World
Elite MasterCard (also $450). Many other airline credit cards include a
day pass or two per year.
are also premium travel cards unaffiliated with the airlines, such as the
American Express Platinum card (annual fee: $450) and Visa Black Card (annual
fee: $495), which allow access to certain U.S. and international lounges,
although you'll want to check the details before applying.
best way to choose among these options is by working backward, says Tyler
Dikman, CEO of LoungeBuddy, an iPhone app that helps guide
travelers to airport lounges. First, consider where you are likely to be
traveling and having layovers. Then determine what clubs exist at those
airports and which cards get you into them. For instance, if you travel
frequently to Miami and Latin America, it would make more sense to have access
to American Airlines lounges than United's, because American has more lounges
in the region.
aren't just a place to escape and relax, he says. They can be essential for
business travelers like you.
airport lounges make that time so much better," Dikman says. "Being able to
make the most of your time when you are traveling for business can mean ... being
twice as productive on your trip."
See related: Which credit cards are best for expedited airport security?,
Credit card perks can save you cash this Christmas, Who owns frequent flier miles from a corporate credit card?
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Published: December 24, 2013