Relax or work away from the crowds while you wait for your flight. These cards offer complimentary access to airport lounges around the world.
Travel, for both business and pleasure, has become a stressful, cramped and exhausting experience, but it doesn’t have to be – at least, until you board the plane.
Several rewards credit cards and travel credit cards offer complimentary access to airport lounges, where you can relax, work and freshen up before your flight. You might also be able to take advantage of free food and drinks.
These travel, airline and hotel cards can get you access to the best airport and hotel lounges around the world.
See related: Airport lounge 101: Tips for newbies
Airport lounge networks
There are a few lounge networks you can access with credit cards. Here are the most common offerings.
Priority Pass Select
Priority Pass lounges are a perk on American Express cards including the Platinum Card, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card*, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and the Marriott Bonvoy™ Brilliant American Express® Card. This perk is also available on the Citi Prestige®Card, the United Club Infinite Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Priority Pass Select has more than 1,300 lounges around the world. All have free Wi-Fi and comfy seats. And most feature a selection of complimentary alcoholic drinks. Some have small, one-stall showers, so you can freshen up before or after a long flight. Nap rooms are rarer, but they do exist and usually require a reservation. You will likely find snacks and finger foods, and some Priority Pass lounges now have full-service restaurants.
Airline executive lounges
Airlines offer lounges to travelers who have a membership and are flying the airline. Some examples are the Delta Sky Club, the United Club and American Airlines Admirals Club. These airlines offer memberships to cardholders with certain co-branded cards.
In addition to the customary free Wi-Fi, bar service, light snacks and beverages, airline lounges usually offer a designated agent for reservations, seat assignments and e-ticketing along with digital magazines and newspapers for download, plus information on local entertainment and dining options. Some may include a business center for a quick before-flight meeting, shower suites and made-to-order specials beyond the available snacks.
These lounges aren’t tied to airlines and don’t have as many lounges in their network as Priority Pass, but they’re accessible via credit card and sometimes are the credit card issuer’s own lounge network. American Express’s Centurion lounges, AirSpace, Escape, Diner’s Club and Mastercard Airport Experience come to mind.
These lounges feature things like children’s rooms, private rooms, TVs, spas, bars, restaurants, comfy chairs, high-speed internet, retail options, shower facilities and premium food and drinks. You can access these features and the lounges that provide them through cards like the American Express Platinum and – in the case of the Mastercard Airport Experiences – any credit card with the World Elite label.
Capital One is also working on opening its own lounges – one Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in summer 2021 and another one in 2022 outside of Washington, D.C. at Dulles International Airport – and will offer special pricing to cardholders.
Best credit cards for airport lounge access
Best premium option: The Platinum Card from American Express
No matter the airport you’re stuck in, the Platinum Card from American Express is your key to between-flights relaxation since it gives you access to five lounge networks: AirSpace, Delta Sky Club, Escape Lounges, Amex Centurion and Amex International lounges. That’s more than 1,300 lounges in more than 140 countries (and counting), which is the most available on the credit card market. You can bring two guests free to each of these lounges, except Delta Sky Club, where it costs $39 for each guest.
On top of that, you get a complimentary membership to Priority Pass (for even more lounges), 75,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in the first six months and, during the first six months, 10X points at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets. This card has a whopping $550 annual fee, but when you add up all the benefits, its value more than makes up for it. Here are some additional perks you’ll get:
- Cruise Privileges Program with special amenities and savings on river, ocean and luxury cruises
- 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on flights booked with airlines or through American Express (starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year)
- Up to $200 in annual Uber credits
- $550 value benefits when you book fine hotels and resorts
- $85 TSA Precheck or $100 Global Entry credit
- $100 Saks Fifth Avenue or Saks.com purchase credit
Best premium alternative: Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the card you want if you love getting airport lounge access, but you want something more flexible than the Amex Platinum.
This card also gives you a Priority Pass Select membership, which translates to more than 1,000 airport lounges in 500+ cities. And it includes restaurants as part of the lounge access not available on the Amex Platinum. Though the card also has a hefty $550 annual fee, it comes with a $300 annual travel credit. You’ll also get these additional premium benefits:
- 60,000 bonus Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months ($900 in travel rewards when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal)
- 3X points on dining and travel (immediately after earning the $300 credit), 1X points on everything else
- Earn up to 10X total points (up to $500) when you order takeout or make prepaid reservations via Chase Dining through June 30, 2021
- 10X points on Lyft purchases through March 2022
- 50% more redemption value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Premium airline option: United Club Infinite Card
The United Club Infinite Card tops the lounge list among airline credit cards for one reason: It taps cardholders into the Star Alliance airline network, which gives them access to more than 1,000 lounges worldwide.
It also has one of the highest return rates on purchases for any airline lounge credit card – you get 4 MileagePlus points per dollar on United purchases like tickets, Wi-Fi and in-flight food. Plus, you get 25% back in statement credits on those purchases. Access to United Club and Star Alliance Lounges alone is estimated at a $650 value. It also comes with additional benefits:
- Includes free snacks and beverages and access to all United Clubs and Star Alliance lounges around the world
- First and second checked bags are free for you and one traveling companion
- Up to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck every four years
- 2 miles per dollar spent on all other travel purchases
- 2 miles per dollar spent on dining at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash
Airline card alternative: Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
While the network here isn’t quite as extensive as United’s, this might be the option if you’re a regular American Airlines flyer.
In addition, Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard’s sign-up bonus of 50,000 AAdvantage miles (after spending $5,000 in the first three months) is worth the price of admission alone, because it gives you up to $650 in airline value.
The card gives you access to nearly 50 Admirals Club lounges for you and authorized users, even if they aren’t with you. Primary cardholders also have access to nearly 60 partner lounges around the world.
Plus, eight people on the same reservation can get one free checked bag, priority check-in, screening and boarding privileges. This benefit covers a pretty high number of travelers compared to other cards.
Other benefits include:
- 2 AAdvantage miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases (1 mile per dollar on other purchases)
- Priority boarding on American Airlines flights
- Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee credit up to $100 every five years
- 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights
- 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
Best for the occasional lounge user: American Express Green Card
If you’re not a frequent flyer, but you still enjoy the luxury of an airport lounge when you do fly and you don’t want to pay a hefty annual fee for the privilege, the American Express Green Card is right for you.
The Green Card grants cardholders an annual credit of up to $100 for Lounge Buddy, an Amex-owned app where travelers can purchase airport lounge access from airports worldwide starting at $25 up to $50 or more. This feature democratizes lounge access and gives anyone with the app a way to experience the same perks as premium credit cardholders and frequent flyer loyalty program members. Plus, the Green Card comes with a more standard and affordable $150 annual fee.
Other benefits with the new Amex Green Card included the following:
- 45,000 Amex Membership Reward points when you spend $2,000 in the first six months.
- 3 points per dollar on dining (including takeout and delivery), transit (including rideshares) and travel (including home-shares)
- $100 annual statement credit for a CLEAR membership to help you breeze through security at select airports and stadiums nationwide
- Trip delay and car rental insurance
- No foreign transaction fees
To narrow down and select the best cards for airport lounges we asked a wide swath of experts across several industries, including travel and finance. Many of these people use these cards personally and were all willing to share their experiences.
We also combed through hundreds of CreditCards.com and third-party reviews as well as official credit card issuer landing pages to get a sense of each card’s benefits package and how they may have been updated for the current year and compare these benefits and features against one another. These cards aren’t ranked – instead, we’ve placed cards in subcategories that fulfill particular needs for our readers.
Any one of the cards above would be perfectly serviceable for lounge access at any level, whether it be the industry-leading Amex Platinum, which has the most lounges in its network of any card on the market; the United Club Infinite card, with access to the most lounges of any U.S. airline; or the Amex Green with its $100 Lounge Buddy credit to give cardholders a taste of the high life every so often. Each one, and their respective alternatives, are a key to a less stressful travel experience wherever you find yourself, so you really can’t go wrong selecting any of them.
*All information about the American Express Green Card, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. These cards are no longer available on our site.