Premium card perk: Access to airport lounges

By  |  Published: December 31, 2016

Premium card perk: Access to airport lounges skynesher/E+/Getty Images

 

Premium card perk: Access to airport lounges skynesher/E+/Getty Images

Any chaos at airports – delayed flights, for instance – can send even the most seasoned traveler into a tailspin. The right credit card, though, can be your key to the oasis of calm offered by airport lounges.

Airport lounges are private spaces within airport terminals where travelers can relax in comfortable seats, plug in their devices, get complimentary internet access and enjoy free drinks and food. Some luxe lounges even offer spas.

If you run into a problem such as a flight cancellation or delay, lounge staff can help you rebook your flight while you relax, says Gilbert Ott, who writes God Save the Points, a blog about maximizing rewards.

Access to airport lounges has become a favorite traveler perk on premium credit cards, such as the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve, that charge a hefty annual fee and cater to frequent fliers.

When the terminal is complete chaos, a lounge is a nice escape.

— Gilbert Ott
  God Save the Points blog

“When the terminal is complete chaos, a lounge is a nice escape,” Ott says.

The appeal of airport lounges
Offered by both airlines and private operators, airport lounges run the gamut from bare bones to over-the-top luxurious.

Even the most basic lounges typically offer free Wi-Fi access, space to sit and simple free refreshments and snacks, says Tiffany Funk, a frequent traveler who works for PointsPros, a service that helps consumers use their points and miles wisely. “Even a lounge that’s not a really nice place to relax has seats and outlets so you’re not out in the airport huddled around a pillar,” Funk says.

Nicer lounges typically provide more luxurious seating, higher-end beverages and even waiter service, Ott says. Many also offer showers in case you want to freshen up on a long journey, says Shawn Coomer, managing editor of Miles to Memories.

Unfortunately for premium credit card holders, the most luxurious lounges are reserved for international first-class passengers who can show a boarding pass. “A credit card won’t get you into the world’s nicest lounges,” says Gary Leff, a frequent travel expert who writes at View from the Wing. First-class lounges offer sleek design, food whipped up by world famous chefs, fancy cocktails and free spa treatments. To get a glimpse into these lounges, check out CreditCards.com’s 13 luxe airport lounges you can access with a credit card or View from the Wing’s roundup of the 10 best airport lounges in the world.

One prime example: the first-class lounge for Lufthansa in Frankfurt, Germany, provides staff to whisk you through immigration, Leff says. “A driver takes you across the tarmac in a Porsche or Mercedes,” he says. The lounge includes shower rooms, dining and staff to escort you back to your plane, he says.

“The nicest lounges make for a seamless, completely stress-free airport experience,” Leff says.

How to get into airport lounges
If airport lounges sound appealing, you have a variety of options for gaining access on your next trip. Here are four main ways to get into an airport lounge:

  1. Own a credit card with lounge access.
    Some premium credit cards offer the perk of airport lounge access, usually through Priority Pass, a network of 950 lounges around the world. Some co-branded airline cards offer a free yearly pass to the airline’s network of branded lounges. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offers a free annual Admirals Club membership. And the United MileagePlus Explorer card includes two United Club passes per year.
  2. The nicest lounges make for a seamless, completely stress-free airport experience.

    — Gary Leff
    View from the Wing blog
  3. Buy lounge access.
    You can purchase a day pass to a lounge or a yearly membership. A day pass usually costs $30 to $50, depending on the lounge, Coomer says. Priority Pass offers three levels of paid annual membership. The standard membership costs $99 a year plus $27 per lounge visit. The next level costs $249 a year with 10 free lounge visits, then $27 for each subsequent visit. And the highest level, at $399 a year, comes with unlimited free lounge visits. Airlines also allow you to buy visits or membership. For example, American Airlines charges $59 for an Admirals Club day pass or $550 a year for a standard individual annual membership.
  4. Get a ticket to lounge.
    If you’re flying business class or first class internationally, entrée to the corresponding class of lounge likely comes with your ticket, Ott says. However, if you’re flying domestically in the U.S, your ticket probably will not include lounge access. Frequent fliers with elite status also may be given access to airline lounges, Leff says.
  5. Go in as a guest.
    If you’re traveling with a cardholder or paid airport lounge member, you might be able to get into a lounge for free or at a discount. For example, all three levels of Priority Pass membership allow the member to bring a guest for $27 a visit.

Getting lounge access through a credit card usually is a better deal than buying it directly, Leff says. “Card issuers buy it in bulk and use it to entice people to get premium cards,” he says.

Cards open door to lounges
Most cards offering lounge access charge annual fees of about $450, but the cost typically is offset by travel credits that reimburse some travel expenses each year. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a $300 yearly travel credit, while the Citi Prestige card has a $250 air travel credit. But the United MileagePlus Explorer, which offers only two passes per year, costs nothing for the first year, then $95 a year.

When shopping for a card, it’s smart to look at what lounges are included. Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige card both offer Priority Pass lounge access. But the American Express Platinum Card offers access to both Priority Pass lounges and American Express Centurion lounges, Coomer says. “That card has the very best range of access,” he says.

Also check to see if the card allows guests and how many. The Chase Sapphire Preferred allows an unlimited number of guests to accompany you for free. “That can be really valuable if you’re traveling as a family,” Coomer says. At the other end of the spectrum, the American Express Platinum limits access to only the cardholder.

Finally, crunch the numbers on cost. If you travel only once or twice a year, it’s probably not worth the cost of a premium credit card to get lounge access, Ott says. But if you’re a couple who travels 10 times a year, you could save lots of money by getting a premium credit card with lounge access rather than paying by the visit, he says. Even buying a day pass can pay off. “Value proposition wise, if you’re going to buy three beers and some airport Wi-Fi, it may be totally worth it to book into a lounge,” he says.

There are some bad lounges – Ott has been in one that was “the size of a closet” and served “7-day-old cookies” – so scout lounge locations and read reviews before you go. Most lounges are nice and offer a range of amenities, Ott says.

“They’re really nice just for a place to unwind,” he says. 

See related: Luxury reward perks: What you get for paying that big annual fee, Perks multiply in latest generation of elite cards, 5 ways to keep your elite status


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Updated: 10-23-2017

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