Airport lounge access for the whole family takes planning

Business travelers need to learn rules on family, guest passes

Damon Brown
Business Travel Writer
Business consultant, frequent flyer aficionado

Choosing the right lounge membership

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Story highlights:

  • Some lounge memberships allow family members for free. 
  • Not all Priority Pass lounges have the same rules. 
  • High-end credit cards can be a cheaper route to lounge membership. 

Lounge access is one of the advantages that come with many high-end credit cards or with elite status with an airline. It’s a nice luxury when traveling for business, but a perk that comes in even more handy when taking your family along on a trip.

When I travel with my two toddlers and wife, a lounge is a lifesaver. Clean bathrooms, free food and free Wi-Fi make long layovers much easier. However, bringing a family of four into a lounge isn’t as straightforward as breezing in solo, so it’s important to make sure the card you’re using or the lounge membership you belong to is the right one, not just for your business needs, but your personal needs as well. 

Read the lounge membership rules

The No. 1 lesson is that each lounge has its unique rules – so learn them!

American Airlines Admiral Clubs swing heavily toward the inclusive, as members can bring their spouse and children for free. During one international trip, the club included my extended family, too (I’m sure the fact we were about to do a Europe-bound red-eye helped). United Club rules are comparable.

Alternatively, Delta Sky Club will let you in as member, but, depending on your level of membership – there are six! – each additional visitor will cost you $29. The higher the membership, the more people you can bring in for free. 

The rules vary even more when you are traveling international first-class or have top elite airline status. Check out your options with your carrier and respective airport once you get your ticket.

Cards can be a cheaper route

For the major carriers, credit cards are a quick way to actually save money with lounge access. We’re talking the premium $450 annual fee ones: The Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card and Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express.

While a high annual fee may seem expensive, remember that a lounge membership on its own can cost as much as $550 a year without the ability to accumulate miles or tap into other additional perks the cards provide. Each card has the same rules as the traditional membership from the airline.

Cards can also multiply your family access. For instance, the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite now allows authorized users to have lounge privileges, too: Add your spouse or family member and then he or she can bring their own guests. Both the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite and the United MileagePlus Explorer Card add authorized users for free, while the Delta Reserve will run $175 per user.

Nonaffiliated credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card from American Express give access to third-party lounges, too. The most popular chain is Priority Pass, a worldwide network of clubs.

Each club in the network is its own entity, which means it’s worth researching a club online or through the respective network app before you plan your trip around visiting. During one international trip, I found out that a seemingly ideal Priority Pass lounge allowed no family guests – and luckily was able to plan around the hiccup. Other lounges within Priority Pass may have different rules.

Limitations and benefits

Be sure to read the fine print, especially if you plan to get access from third parties. As an example, the Citi Prestige card had a long-time Admiral Clubs membership benefit – but only if you were traveling to or from an American Airlines-affiliated flight that same day.

Citi recently ended the membership perk altogether, proving that it is less risky to go directly through the carrier or carrier-affiliated card. Similar to some other high-end cards, however, it does include Priority Pass lounge access, along with two guests. 

On the other hand, your own status may get your family further into lounge territory. When I hit Alaska Airlines’ highest status, MVP Gold 75K, it came with four Alaska Airlines guest lounge passes. It’s great to know that I could get them if there was a jam.

Is it worth the strategizing and the money to get a guaranteed oasis during your travel? Absolutely. The sentiment goes double when you’ve got a young family in tow.

See Related: How to earn more points booking business travel, Premium card perk: Access to airport lounges 


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Updated: 10-18-2018