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I am, habitually, a booker of long layovers. Even though my personal probability of missing a flight or connection is somewhere around 2%, that’s still too high for me and I generally do whatever I can to plan for delays in advance. Because of this, I don’t book flights with layovers of less than an hour (or less than two hours if they involve a border crossing!).

Needless to say, I’ve killed a whole lot of time within the hallowed halls of terminals around the world. I know well the aimless wandering, the aching shoulders, the overpriced cafe snacks, and the search for ample seating that includes the ever-elusive charging station… and don’t even get me started on the hunt for stable WiFi.

If you resonate with any of those feelings, then this next statement is for you: my entire traveling life changed the moment I realized that airport lounge access is not only possible but accessible.

United Polaris Lounge At Chicago O’Hare
United Polaris Lounge At Chicago O’Hare

In This Article

What Is an Airport Lounge?

An airport lounge functions as an “exclusive” in-airport club (I use quotations because that exclusion is getting a bit more inclusive) and it provides members with all of the things you’ve been scrambling to find in the terminal: food, rest, seating, charging ports, nice bathrooms, WiFi, and even a shower.

Not all airport lounges are created equal. Some lounges are designed around a specific airline or alliance and are open to elite travelers within that airline or alliance. Others are a bit more general, and access to these lounges is getting more and more accessible. I’ll explain a bit more about accessibility in a bit, but first, let’s talk about the perks of airport lounges.

Complimentary Snacks

Gummy Bears at the Lufthansa Business Lounge
Gummy Bears at the Lufthansa Business Lounge!

Every lounge comes with snacks, but the presentation varies between lounges. Generally, you can expect a selection of fresh fruits, snack foods like chips and cookies, and at least a variety of cold salads and sandwiches. Sometimes, the lounge will also feature a hot buffet with food that rotates with the time of day.

Complimentary Drinks

El Al Business Class Tel Aviv-King David Lounge-drinks
El Al Business Class Tel Aviv – King David Lounge – complimentary drinks

Whether you’re after a latte or a beer, you can find a wide selection of sodas, juices, coffees, cocktails, wines, and brews in most lounges. The majority of the time, these products are free with entrance but some lounges charge an extra fee for alcoholic drinks.

Seating, Charging, and WiFi

Turkish Airlines Lounge in Washington DC
Turkish Airlines Lounge in Washington DC

I am all about free food, but ample seating and power outlets are my favorite things about hitting up the airport lounge between flights. The chaos of the terminal outside fades away as I sink into a comfortable armchair and connect to the lounge’s own WiFi, with my laptop and phone powering up. Some lounges also have dedicated napping areas, which is great for travelers who need some shut-eye before their red-eye or during a short overnight layover.

Showers & Bathrooms

Lufthansa Welcome Lounge Shower and Bathroom– Frankfurt

Not every lounge has a shower room, but it’s pretty common. Just be sure to take into account the fact that the shower may not be available when you need it, especially during peak hours. Bathrooms, though, are always available and almost always spotless in my experience.

Lounge-Specific Surprises

Throughout the past decade, airport lounges have really stepped up their game. For a little while, David Guetta hosted his own airport lounge in Ibiza which included a DJ and a dance floor. Unfortunately, that airport club doesn’t exist now, but instead, head to Punta Cana and take a dip in their infinity pool that overlooks the tarmac.

How to Access Airport Lounges With Credit Cards

This is the one; this is the ticket currently making lounge access attainable to many and it’s the fastest way to get yourself in, even on an economy ticket. There are several different ways by which you could play this one, and it depends on which lounges you’d like to access.

Of course, premier lines of credit are not practical nor accessible to everyone, but they are more accessible than elite status, and having the right card is a quicker way to gain lounge access, plus earn points and miles towards future travel.

Priority Pass Select Membership

Lufthansa Senator and Business Lounge, Washington D.C. with Priority Pass

Most ultra-premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, and The Platinum Card from American Express will get you into Priority Pass network lounges. However, not all access to Priority Pass lounges is created equal. Notably, the Priority Pass access through the Platinum Card does not include access to Priority Pass restaurants.

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Amex Platinum & Amex Business Platinum

Centurion Lounge
Centurion Lounge Bar – Seattle

The Platinum Card by American Express and The Business Platinum Card from American Express will get you into American Express Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta same-day, and Global Lounge Collection lounges, in addition to Priority Pass lounges. These are the top cards available for access to airport lounges of various types.

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Airline Cards

Premier credit cards that are airline-specific also offer access to each airlines’ individual lounges. The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card, and the United Club Infinite card by Chase will get you into specific airline alliance lounges if you find that you’re frequently flying the same airline.

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Other Ways to Access Airport Lounges

Credit cards aren’t the only way to access airline lounges, of course. Here are three other ways to gain access before your next flight.

Airline Elite Status

If you’re an elite traveler for a particular airline or alliance, your status generally includes complimentary access into all alliance lounges. However, this isn’t necessarily the case if you have status with a U.S. airline and want access to that airline’s lounges within the U.S.

Elite travelers know, though, that the road to stardom is paved with, well, miles flown and miles earned. This can take quite a lot of time to build from the ground up, so there are a few other alternatives that will get you into the lounge quicker.

Fly Business or First Class

If you’re flying in Business or First, your ticket will usually include complimentary access into alliance lounges. However, sometimes this perk only extends to international itineraries so you’ll need to double-check your entitlements if you’re planning on flying only domestically.

Buy a Day Pass

This method is a little bit dated due to recent surges of cardholders with newfound lounge access, but some lounges still allow passengers to buy their way in. You can purchase a one-time entry or a day pass, depending on your travel needs. Note that this only works for specific lounges and is something that is a little bit less common since many lounge-goers hold at least one relevant credit card anyway.

Final Thoughts On Airport Lounges

Lounge access isn’t just for the ultra-elite anymore, and it’s something that every weary traveler could use at least once. If you’re like me, you’re already booking long layovers; you might as well enjoy them!

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2 Responses to “How to Access Airport Lounges”

Louis Jacobsen

The United Explorer Mileage Plus credit card from Chase gives you one-time free access to United’s (and code-share partners’) lounges on each aniversary of your card membership.


There is one other method of lounge access for users of multi-airline credit cards, and that is to use the American Express Platinum or Biz Platinum or Gold Card annual Travel Fee credit to pay for American Airlines or United Airlines lounge day passes at airports that have no Priority Pass or American Express lounges. Of course, you should know which airports these are so you pick the correct airline in advance.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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