We’re so over the thrill of PreCheck or priority boarding. Now, the hottest new thing to do at the airport is to go to the lounge. No longer a haven only for weary business travelers or international flyers with long layovers, lounges are the key to saving money on expensive airport food and beverages for many travelers.
Airport lounges have become so popular that airlines are hurriedly constructing new ones to accommodate demand, according to a recent New York Times article.
But while access may be open to more travelers than ever, it doesn’t come cheap. Let’s take a look at what it costs to get in, and what your options are for doing so.
Your credit card might be the cheapest route
The cheapest way to get in is to use a credit card that gives you access as a cardholder benefit. But this benefit is usually reserved for elite cards that have hefty annual fees.
You should treat lounge access as a bonus perk for any of these cards, not a reason to spend $450 or more. You would have to use an airport lounge at least 10 times to break that annual fee down to a rate that’s comparable to buying a day pass. If you already have one of these cards and find the membership perks valuable in exchange for the annual fee, then by all means, go wild at every lounge you can get into and stuff your pockets with cookies before you leave. Below, the most prominent options in this category:
American Express Platinum cardholders can access Centurion lounges as well as several others. You can bring two guests for free. The card has a $550 annual fee.
Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can access Priority Pass lounges. The card has a $450 annual fee. You must enroll in Priority Pass and wait for your membership card to be mailed to you before waltzing into a lounge. (We’ve got more details on Priority Pass below.)
Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard users can get into the more than 50 Admirals Club lounges worldwide and bring two guests. There’s a $450 annual fee.
Delta Reserve SkyMiles card includes access to Delta Sky Club lounges and access for two guests for $29 each (per visit). The card has a $450 annual fee.
United Club Card includes United Club membership and access to Star Alliance lounges. The card has a $450 annual fee.
If you’re not interested in applying for one of these credit cards, you have a few other options.
Buy a day pass
LoungeBuddy offers day passes for a variety of airport lounges. Access starts at $25, although my search through some major airports found options starting at $39 and going up to $69.
Minute Suites doesn’t offer a membership, but offers access by the hour (or portion thereof) to its nap rooms starting at $42 per hour.
The Club lounges offer day passes starting at $40.
Airspace Lounge offers access for $20, although it’s only available at Cleveland and San Fransisco airports currently.
You may want to experiment with a couple of day passes before investing in either Priority Pass or a credit card, to help you figure out how much you might benefit from lounge access.
Want a membership? Try Priority Pass
Priority Pass offers access to more than 1200 lounges in airports around the world.
Pay $99 for membership and visit a lounge for $32. Pay $299 for a membership and get 10 free visits, then pay $32 per visit. For unlimited visits, you’ll need to pay a $429 membership fee.
The $299 Standard Plus plan is the best deal; you essentially get your first 10 visits for $30 each. If you plan to use the lounge more than 14 times in a year, you might want to consider the most expensive plan, Prestige.
Having Priority Pass is not a guarantee that you’ll get into a lounge, though. The company makes it clear which lounges have limited hours or peak times when they tend to hit capacity.
The last time I flew out of Boston, my flight was delayed several hours and I had to put my name on the waiting list specifically for Priority Pass members when I reached the lounge. They told me it would be a 90-minute wait, but I got in within an hour. (I have Priority Pass through the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.)
The company recommends checking its app before hauling your roller bags over to the lounge. However, you can also use Priority Pass to get a discount on your bill at some airport eateries, which helps cushion the blow if you can’t get into the lounge for the gratis salad bar.
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