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Airport lounge access guide: Picking the best membership for you

Consider amenities, locations and cost when picking a lounge network

Summary

The ultimate guide to accessing airport lounges – including coverage, membership costs and shortcuts to access.

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Airport lounges are a great way to take some of the stress out of your travels, by providing a serene escape from hectic airports while saving you some money on food and beverages. If you are a frequent traveler, you might already be considering a membership to a lounge network.

Many major airlines offer these plush lounges, as well as many private networks. Some memberships even allow you to access a wide variety of lounge brands, to boost your chances of finding a place to rest no matter where you travel.

So how do you decide which of these programs is best for you? That comes down to amenities, membership costs and convenience of locations. Read on to learn more about the biggest airport lounge networks and which makes the most sense for you.

Major airport lounge networks

Most large airports have a lounge, but there are hundreds of different brands out there. Many networks are run by individual airlines or airline alliances, while others are a collection of private brands. Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest lounge networks, what perks they offer and their coverage.

Lounge networkAmenitiesCoverage
American Airlines Admirals Club
  • Food and beverages
  • Travel assistance
  • Showers (at select locations)
  • Business center (at select locations)
Good, 50+ locations and 60+ partner lounges
Alaska Airlines Lounges
  • Food and beverages
  • Wi-Fi and outlets
  • Conference rooms (at select locations)
  • Travel assistance
Limited, 7 locations and 50+ partner lounges
Delta Sky Club
  • Food and beverages
  • Travel assistance
  • Wi-Fi
  • Satellite TV
  • Printers and other business tools (at select locations)
  • Showers (at select locations)
Good, 50+ locations and 50+ partner locations
United Club
  • Food and beverages
  • Travel assistance
  • Wi-Fi
  • Printers and phone booths (at select locations)
Excellent, 40+ locations and 1,000+ partner locations
Priority Pass
  • Food and beverages
  • Wi-Fi
  • Travel assistance
  • Conference rooms and business tools (at select locations
  • Spa treatments for purchase (at select locations)
Excellent, 1,200+ locations
Centurion Lounges
  • Travel assistance
  • Concierge services
  • Food and beverages
  • Wi-Fi
  • Workspaces
  • Computers, printers and copiers
  • TVs, magazines and newspapers
  • Spa services (in select locations)
  • Wine tasting (in select locations)
  • Showers (in select locations)
Limited, 8 lounges
International American Express Lounges
  • Travel assistance
  • Concierge services
  • Food and beverages
  • Wi-Fi
  • Workspaces
  • Computers, printers and copiers
  • TVs, magazines and newspapers
  • Spa services (in select locations)
  • Wine tasting (in select locations)
  • Showers (in select locations)
Limited, 10 lounges
Escape Lounges
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Food and beverages
  • Wi-Fi
  • Business areas
  • Travel assistance
Limited, 10 lounges

As you can see, all of these lounge networks offer valuable benefits for travelers, but their coverage shifts drastically. But beyond lounge locations, there are several factors to consider when choosing an airport lounge.

See Related: Are you a VIP jerk? 10 things NOT to do in airport lounges

Choosing an airport lounge

While it might seem like you should purchase lounge membership based on which airline you fly most often, that is not always the case. Many airline lounge networks allow entry to anyone flying on any partner airline flight, meaning you might choose a different airline in the alliance if their lounges better suit your needs. Private lounge networks might also provide more extensive coverage to areas you frequently travel, and they allow access to passengers of any airline.

Before you purchase a membership to any lounge network, carefully research the following factors:

  • Do the lounges provide the amenities you want when you travel?
  • Are there lounge locations in your frequented airports?
  • How expensive is lounge membership, and does it fit into your budget?
  • Can you receive free or discounted membership with airline elite status or a luxury credit card?

If any lounge network meets most or all of these qualifications, it is likely a good choice for you.

See Related: Airport lounge 101: Tips for newbies

Gaining access to an airport lounge

Once you decide which airport lounge network is best for you, there are several different ways to start taking advantage of its locations. You can purchase either a day pass or annual membership with most brands. Alternatively, you might be able to earn complimentary or discounted access by leveraging elite status with an airline’s loyalty program or benefits on a luxury credit card.

Purchasing membership

Here’s a quick look at the cost of purchasing entry to some of the most popular airport lounges, by day or annual membership.

Lounge networkCost
American Airlines Admirals Club
  • One day pass: $59 (at select locations)
  • Individual membership: $650
  • Individual renewed membership: $600
  • Household membership: $1,250
  • Household renewed membership: $1,200
Alaska Airlines Lounges
  • One day pass: $50
  • Membership: $450
Delta Sky Club
  • One day pass: Not available
  • Individual membership: $545
  • Executive membership (two guests): $845
United Club
  • One day pass: $59
  • Membership: $550
  • Membership with spouse: $1,100
Priority Pass
  • One day pass: Not available
  • Membership: $99-$429 (varying visit and guest fees)
Centurion LoungesNot available for purchase
International American Express LoungesNot available for purchase
Escape Lounges
  • One day pass: varies by location (must book in advance)
  • Membership: Not available

See related: Airport lounge access for the whole family takes planning

Elite status

You also might be able to get discounted or complimentary access to an airport lounge by achieving elite status with the airline. Each loyalty program has its own policies, detailed below:

  • United Club allows access to Gold status or higher members (with any Star alliance airline) – on international trips only.
  • Alaska Airlines Lounges offers discounted membership for all elite status tiers, but none include complimentary access.
  • Delta Diamond Medallion members can choose Sky Club membership as one of their Choice Benefits. Additionally, passengers with elite status with other SkyTeam partners might qualify for entry.
  • American Airlines Admirals Club offers discounted membership for all elite status tiers, but none include complimentary access. Select international routes allow access to Platinum status members and higher. Some other oneworld partner status benefits allow entry.

Flying first class

In some cases, airline lounges allow complimentary access to first class passengers. With some airlines, this perk is only offered on international flights, while others are more lenient:

  • United Club offers complimentary access to business and first class flyers on international or premium transcontinental flights. You can see if your domestic flight qualifies as premium on the United site.
  • Alaska Airlines passengers traveling with a first class ticket can access Alaska lounges on the day of their flight.
  • Delta Sky Club offers access to travelers with a Delta One ticket, whether on an international or domestic flight. Travelers with another SkyTeam airline who have a first or business class ticket on an international voyage are also eligible for complimentary access.
  • American Airlines Admirals Club also offers free access to first and business class travelers, though you must have an international or transcontinental ticket. Find qualifying routes on the Admirals Club site.

Credit cards

In some cases, you might receive complimentary access to one or more of these lounges just by carrying the right credit card. Airline cards often promote discounted or complimentary access to their lounge programs as a top card perk, while luxury rewards cards boast access to lounge networks.

For example, if you are looking for a way to access American Airlines, Delta or United lounges while also earning miles on your purchases, you can sign-up for the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express or United MileagePlus Club Card.

See related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

If you aren’t loyal to a particular airline and could benefit from more widespread lounge access, luxury cards including the Citi Prestige Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® offer Priority Pass lounge access.

However, perhaps the most lucrative card for lounge access is The Platinum Card® from American Express. Not only does this card include access to plush Centurion and International American Express lounges, but you’ll also enjoy access to the entire Priority Pass network, Escape lounges, and Delta Sky Club. The Platinum card charges a steep $550 annual fee, but its travel perks are incomparable.

Final thoughts

No matter where you prefer to travel, there are luxurious airport lounges around the globe – designed to take the stress out of your next trip. You can enjoy perks like free Wi-Fi, complimentary food and beverages and quiet areas to get some work done. But with so many great lounge networks out there, you should carefully consider membership costs, amenities and coverage before deciding which is best for you.

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Published: August 6, 2019

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