13 luxe airport lounges you can access with a credit card

Behind closed doors at some of the cushiest waiting rooms in the world

Traveling can be stressful -- but less so if you can unwind between flights with a massage, cocktail, a movie and maybe even a nap in a private room. 

Around the globe, there are hundreds of private airport lounges. Most of them are open only to first- or business-class fliers, elite members of frequent-flier programs or to those willing to pay up to $70 for a day pass.

But there's another way in: having the right credit card in your wallet. Rewards cards with lounge privileges typically don't come cheap -- annual fees are more than $300 a year in most cases. Some come with automatic access to an airline's airport lounge program, while others give you a way in through other international lounge networks.

To find the top airline hideaways available through credit cards, we consulted with the airlines. We scoured online reviews on sites such as Yelp and FlyerTalk. We examined online photos on blogs. We talked with makers of an app called LoungeBuddy, which breaks through complicated lounge-access rules to guide travelers to their "airport oasis."

Most ordinary clubrooms offer drinks, snacks, comfortable seats and workstations. But in building this list of the top 13 airport lounges accessible with credit cards, we looked for features that made a lounge stand out. Think distinctive architecture, stylish furnishings, innovative food and uncommon services.

Our picks are highlighted in the map below. Click on a city to get a taste of what each one has to offer.

By Tony Mecia

Traveling can be stressful – but less so if you can unwind between flights with a massage, cocktail, a movie and maybe even a nap in a private room.

Around the globe, there are hundreds of private airport lounges. Most of them are open only to first- or business-class fliers, elite members of frequent-flier programs, or to those willing to pay up to $70 for a day pass.

But there’s another way in: having the right credit card in your wallet. Rewards cards with lounge privileges typically don’t come cheaply -- annual fees are more than $300 a year in most cases. Some come with automatic access to an airline’s airport lounge program, while others give you a way in through other international lounge networks.

To find the top airline hideaways available through credit cards, we consulted with the airlines. We scoured online reviews on sites such as Yelp and Flyertalk. We examined online photos on blogs. We talked with makers of an app called LoungeBuddy, which breaks through complicated lounge-access rules to guide travelers to their “airport oasis.”

Most ordinary clubrooms offer drinks, snacks, comfortable seats and workstations. But in building this list of the top 13 airport lounges accessible with credit cards, we looked for features that made a lounge stand out. Think distinctive architecture, stylish furnishings, innovative food and uncommon services.

Our picks are highlighted in the map below. Click on a city to get a taste of what each one has to offer.

 

1. American Express Centurion Lounge, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Almond bread French toast and smoked BBQ chicken tacos -- with a choice of seven salsas and toppings -- are just a couple of the gourmet items created by an award-winning chef and available for free when you set foot in this new lounge at DFW. Also included are spa treatments such as massages and mani-pedis, plus free cocktails, wine and beer, an espresso bar and shower facilities. AmEx also has a Centurion lounge in Las Vegas, with two more scheduled to come online in 2014 in San Francisco and New York’s LaGuardia airport.

Open to: Holders of American Express Centurion (Black) or Platinum cards. All other American Express card holders can enter for a $50 fee.

Photo courtesy of American Express

2. Almost@home Lounge, Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.

Miss the comfort of home on your trip? This lounge seeks to offer the coziness of a traditional Finnish house, with bookshelves, a self-serve kitchen (with working stove) and living-room style seating all wrapped up in Scandinavian style. Amenities include free beer and wine, showers and a play area, complete with PlayStation.

Open to: Holders of credit cards that come with Priority Pass, Lounge Club or Airport Angel memberships, including American Express Platinum, Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Citi Prestige cards and super-elite cards such as American Express Centurion, Visa Black, JPMorgan Palladium and Citi Chairman cards.

Photo courtesy of SSP Finland

3. Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge, Hong Kong International Airport.

With a sweeping view of the terminal, this lounge is a great place to watch the planes go by. Throw in complimentary massage chairs, a colorful décor, self-serve dining area with dim sum and salad bar, a game area and a mini-freezer with a selection of ice cream bars, and you have a great place to kill a few hours.

Open to: Chase United MileagePlus Club or Presidential Plus cardholders (traveling on United Airlines or another Star Alliance carrier).

Photo courtesy of Loungeindex.com

4. Virgin America Loft, Los Angeles International Airport.

Spectacular views of the runway? Check. A hip vibe, with red and purple lights and sleek chairs? Check. Stylish bar with free signature cocktails such as a Virgintini and Mile-High Margarita? Check. Travelers say it’s a relaxing retreat from the crowds before a long flight.

Open to: Holders of credit cards that come with Priority Pass or Lounge Club memberships, such as American Express Platinum, Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards and super-elite cards such as American Express Centurion, Visa Black, JPMorgan Palladium and Citi Chairman cards.

Photo courtesy of Virgin America

5. Alaska Airlines Board Room, Seattle/Tacoma International Airport

The lounge at Alaska Airlines’ main hub is noteworthy for its Pacific Northwest character, with local and seasonal microbrewed beer (complimentary) and -- this being Seattle -- a free Starbucks machine that makes lattes and espressos. There are also complimentary cocktails and a wide selection of food including soups and salads. If you’re there for breakfast, don’t miss the pancake machine.

Open to: Holders of Citi Executive AAdvantage card (traveling on American) and to holders of credit cards that come with Priority Pass or Lounge Club memberships, such as American Express Platinum, Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards and super-elite cards such as American Express Centurion, Visa Black, JPMorgan Palladium. Open to holders of Citi Executive AAdvantage card who are traveling on American.

Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines

6. Delta Sky Club (Terminal 4), John F. Kennedy (New York) International Airport
A spacious 24,000 square feet, the newly remodeled Delta Sky Club at New York’s JFK International Airport is Delta’s flagship lounge. Travelers can enjoy complimentary snacks (though you'll pay for premium eats such as sushi or sirloin sliders) while soaking in airport ambiance at the lounge’s airy outdoor terrace, The Sky Deck, which was designed in partnership with Architectural Digest.

Open to: Holders of Delta Reserve Credit Card, American Express Platinum or American Express Centurion cards.

Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines

7. All Nippon Airways ANA Lounge (Terminal 1, Satellite 4), Narita (Tokyo) International Airport
Many Asian lounges get high marks, and this lounge is one of the nicest that’s accessible to cardholders. Features include sake bar, noodle bar and a row of massage chairs. Reviewers frequently mention its excellent customer service.

Open to: Chase United MileagePlus Club or Presidential Plus cardholders (traveling on United Airlines or another Star Alliance carrier).

Photo courtesy of Loungeindex.com

8. United Club, Narita (Tokyo) International Airport

Praised as one of the nicest United Clubs, the lounge in Terminal 1 receives a big thumbs-up for its Asahi beer-dispensing machine and self-serve bar. Add in a grand entrance, Japanese artwork and free sushi, and you can see why this is a popular lounge.

Open to: Chase United MileagePlus Club or Presidential Plus cardholders (traveling on United Airlines or another Star Alliance carrier).

Photo courtesy of Loungeindex.com

9. No. 1 Heathrow, London Heathrow Airport.

Many travelers dislike transferring through sprawling London Heathrow Airport, but they might not if they set foot in this lounge, which has a game room, cinema, showers and complimentary food and drinks. For an extra charge, you can book spa treatments or a by-the-hour bedroom.

Open to: Holders of credit cards that come with Priority Pass or Airport Angel memberships, such as American Express Platinum, Citi Prestige cards and super-elite cards such as American Express Centurion, Visa Black, JPMorgan Palladium and Citi Chairman cards.

Photo courtesy of No. 1 Traveller

10. American Airlines Admirals Club, San Francisco International Airport

This lounge, which opened in 2011, is distinctive for its design, which showcases Northern California scenery -- most notably, pine trees that seem to sprout from the middle of the main room toward the skylight above. Travelers also give high marks to its reclining leather chairs. Other amenities are typical of domestic lounges, such as complimentary snacks and drinks.

Open to: Holders of Citi Executive AAdvantage card. Holders of American Express Centurion or Platinum cards traveling on American can enter until March 22, 2014.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines.

11. Salon LAN VIP Lounge, Bogotá El Dorado International Airport

Opened in November 2013, the new VIP lounge from South American carrier LAN Airlines offers a children’s area, chaise lounges for sleeping and a broad selection of regional food and beverages. One reviewer says its “Mad Men” style offers “a hint of 1960s luxe that brings our hearts back to an era of true JetSet glamour.”

Open to: Holders of Citi Executive AAdvantage card, as well as holders of credit cards that come with Priority Pass or Lounge Club memberships, such as American Express Platinum, Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards and super-elite cards such as American Express Centurion, Visa Black, JPMorgan Palladium and Citi Chairman cards.

Photo courtesy of LAN Airlines

12. Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge, Istanbul Atatürk International Airport

This large lounge says it’s capable of handling 2,000 passengers a day. And who wouldn’t want to come enjoy a place with a billiard hall, private relaxation rooms, movie theater, children’s playroom, and an impressive selection of food and drinks including made-to-order egg and panini stations and a circulating cheese cart? There’s also occasional live music and massage therapists who roam the place offering head and neck massages. Travelers who have been there say it’s not to be missed -- consider extending your layover in Istanbul if you have a chance.

Open to: Chase United MileagePlus Club or Presidential Plus cardholders (traveling on United Airlines, Turkish Airlines or another Star Alliance carrier).

Photo courtesy of Turkish Airlines

13. Star Alliance Lounge, Los Angeles International Airport

Opened in 2013, this lounge at LAX is one of several new Star Alliance lounges. The design is inspired by the Los Angeles of the ’50s and ’60s, with an open bar and lounge area, library, den and study. An outdoor terrace features fire pits, a water wall and views of runways and the Hollywood hills. Cocktails and a selection of cheeses, snacks, entrees (such as a Vietnamese pho bar) and desserts are all included.

Open to: Chase United MileagePlus Club or Presidential Plus cardholders (traveling on United Airlines or another Star Alliance carrier).

Photo courtesy of Star Alliance

See related: Using credit cards to unlock elite airport lounges, Is airport lounge access worth a new credit card?


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Updated: 11-21-2017