How to Get Free Airport Lounge Access With the Right Credit Card

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Free Airport Lounge Access

Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow, Terminal 2 — Priority Pass 2016 Global Winner

I love airport lounges. Airports are overwhelming, crowded, boring; they emanate misery and discontent, from unhappy porters to grumpy TSA officers to overworked gate agents to all the poor souls fighting for a charging spot, or fighting their kids, or fighting for a charging spot with their kids… When was the last time you were excited to visit an airport? Seriously? How about never? I’m so used to having free airport lounge access whether with a premium class seat or via my credit card benefits, that I really don’t mind longer layovers or getting to an airport a bit earlier than I have to. It’s not a bother anymore.

The point is: unless it’s one of those rare awesome airports like Changi, where there are tons of things to do, we do not normally look forward to long airport layovers.

This is why I love airport lounges. Spending my pre-boarding time in a nice and relaxing lounge takes the edge off dealing with an airport and the journey that follows – especially when that journey is in the back of the bus. If you don’t feel the same way, go ahead and write a glowing review about your airport layover, followed by your middle seat journey so we could all have a laugh. Or, alternatively, you can have a cup of good coffee and a snack (I happen to like the soups in Admiral Clubs; so sue me) or even a quick meal if you find yourself in a better facility. Use free WiFi to work in peace. Have a shower. Enjoy a clean uncrowded restroom. And don’t forget a lounge on arrival, too, especially when there is no reason to rush. Unless, that is, you’re positive you’re scoring that early check-in at 8 a.m.

I did my last write-up on lounge access options in 2015. A lot has changed since then. Some things have changed for the better, and others for the worse.  For example, the Chase Ritz-Carlton card now provides access to Priority Pass instead of its poor cousin the Lounge Club. Of course, it also costs $55 more, and the welcome bonus is not nearly what it used to be. So take the bad with the good.

Or don’t.

But aren’t some airport lounges just god-awful? 

No! If there are really bad lounges, I mean, really, really bad, I haven’t seen those yet. True, some airport lounges are nothing to write home about. Then again, there are folks who are convinced that no Priority Club lounges are upscale enough for them. Please, before you go all fancy-pantcy on me – what exactly do your expect? At the very least you are getting comfortable seating, free WiFi, some free booze, free finger food, and free coffee. In better places, you’re getting free showers, free top-shelf booze, free hot food, and even a free massage (hello, Coral at HKT). Note how often I’ve used the word free to make my point.

Or, every now and then, you might find yourself in a truly great lounge like Plaza Premium at LHR, the winner of the Priority Pass’ 2016 Lounge Of The Year Award. There are plenty of solid Priority Plaza lounges all over the world.

But is there such a thing as really free airport lounge access?

Well, there is this one way (keep reading), but normally, your free access comes with a premium credit card.

Check Priority Pass Lounge Directory to see if you’re likely to benefit according to your travel pattern, although you most likely will, especially if you travel internationally. Priority Pass is not the only player in the lounge game, but it’s the biggest one, and it’s constantly evolving.  Just 2 years ago it had 700 lounges; now it has over a 1,000 in 500 cities, in 130 countries. However, the access plans they sell to third parties are not created equal. They offer different terms to different partners. Here are the best ways to get free airport lounge access.

American Express Platinum credit cards

American Express Platinum is the only family of cards that offer access to several kinds of lounges. There are currently four AMEX Platinum products that provide you access to Priority Club Select lounges along with several other systems.

Ameriprise AmErican express Platinum, no annual fee for the first year

Direct Link

To the best of my knowledge, this card is your only option to get the full lounge access for the first year absolutely free. The Ameriprise Amex Platinum card offers the same benefits as all other Platinum cards, but it doesn’t charge you for the first year. Highlights:

  • $550 annual fee waived for the firsts year
  • $175 annual fee for up-to-3 authorized users waived for the firsts year
  • $200 a year credit for “incidental” air expenses
  • $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre (you can get it for anyone)
  • Free Gold Hilton and SPG status (and corresponding Marriott status)
  • Access for member with up-to-2 guests for:

You are supposed to be an Ameriprise client, but nobody cares

Here is why this is such a fantastic deal: you can get cards for authorized users for free for the first year, and they get their own access to lounges (up to 2 guests of their own). Party on!

Free Airport Lounge Access

American Express Centurion Lounge at LGA

American Express Platinum

Direct Link

Highlights:

  • $550 annual fee
  • 40,000-100,000 MR points sign-up bonus
  • $175 for up to 3 authorized users
  • Other terms and benefits are the same as above
Free Airport Lounge Access

A Minute Suite at DFW (not a lounge, but a great napping option)

American Express Platinum Mercedes Benz

Direct Link

Highlights:

  • $550 annual fee
  • 50,000 – 150,000 MR points sign-up bonus
  • You are supposed to have one MR bonus per each personal AMEX Platinum card, but they still seem to treat it as a different product
  • A couple of bennies for Mercedes owners
  • Same terms and benefits as above
Free Airport Lounge Access

The Corona Beach House at MIA is not a lounge — you get A $30 credit to use at a restaurant or the outside prepacked section

American Express Platinum Business

Direct Link

Highlights:

  • $450 annual fee
  • 50,000-150,000 MR points sign-up bonus
  • A few bennies for business owners
  • Same terms and benefits as above

Only the holder and authorized users are covered for Delta SkyClubs visits. All other companions are charged $29 per visit.

Free Airport Lounge Access

Delta SkyClub at ATL

Chase credit cards

Chase Ritz Carlton Credit Card

Direct Link

fell in love with Chase Ritz Carlton card when it offered 70,000 Ritz Carlton/Marriott points with no annual fee and 140,000 points with a $395 annual fee. I grabbed the no-fee version (cheap bastard that I am) and I’ve been enjoying this card up until last august when I had to dump it in favor of Citi Prestige!

That awesome sign-up bonus is gone now, and the only bonus you get out of it is 2 free nights at a Tier 1-4 Ritz Carlton, which is not as good a benefit if you ask me, but still might be quite useful. And this card will also pay you for gracing their lounges with your presence.

Highlights:

  • $450 annual fee
  • $300 credit for air travel incidentals per calendar year
  • Priority Pass access for you and your guests (unlimited)
  • Gold RC status for the first year and reciprocal elite benefits for Marriott and SPG
  • Excellent travel protection benefits
  • Excellent Ritz Carlton benefits
Free Airport Lounge Access

Airport Lounges: Coral at Phuket — Excellent neck ’n’ shoulder massage

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Direct Link

Even though the glorious days of the 100,000-point bonus are long gone, this is still a great card. You can earn 3x points on travel and dining, book flights on Chase’s travel portal with a 50% bonus (that makes your points worth 1.5 to 4.5 cents each), and enjoy a $300 credit for a wide range of travel purchases including airfare (not just incidental expenses). Last but not least, you get Priority Pass access for yourself and guests with no stated limitations. Of course, any particular lounge has the right to turn guests away in case of over-capacity.

Highlights:

  • $450 annual fee
  • $300 annual travel reimbursement
  • 50% more for redeeming travel on the Sapphire Reserve website
  • Priority Pass access for two people and their guests!
  • Additional cards for authorized users are free
  • Great protection benefits
Free Airport Lounge Access

VIP Lounge at BKK

See if Priority Pass lounges are going to work for your travel plans: Priority Pass Lounge Directory

Other cards

Citi ThankYou Prestige card

Direct Link

The Citi ThankYou card has a whopping $450 annual fee, but it gives you $250 back in air credits annually, and they don’t have to be incidentals, either. Just buy your tickets outright with the Citi Prestige card and you will be reimbursed.

Furthermore, if you open a Citi Gold account (with a 30,000 AAdvantage miles bonus, for example), you will receive a $350 annual fee rather than $450. Read my Citi Prestige post and mintcilantro’s comment.

Highlights:

  • $350-450 annual fee
  • 40,000 ThankYou Points (no bonus currently, wait for it to come back)
  • $250 Annual Air Travel credits
  • Access to Priority Club lounges for a family or up to two guests
  • $50 annual fee for authorized users, and they can bring up to 2 guests to the lounge as well. Party up!
  • Free fourth hotel night
  • Great protection benefits
Free Airport Lounge Access

Cute Priority Pass Lounge at USM (Koh Samui)

UBS Visa Infinite credit card

Link (try to call for 50,000-point bonus: 888-762-1232)

This is a new card issued by a Swiss USB bank. The path for obtaining this card may seem a bit weird for a U.S. customer, but depending on your travel pattern, it might be worth it. You have to call the bank to receive the application by mail, and the welcome bonus varies between 25,000 and 50,000 points. Presumably, the 50,000 points bonus is reserved for USB banking customers, but there are enough data points to suggest that they don’t stick to the plan, and many people who have had no previous relationship with UBS have gotten the full bonus.

Highlights:

  • $495 annual fee
  • 25,000 points are redeemable for an up-to-$350 flight, and 50,000 for an up-to-$900 flight
  • Earn 3x points on air travel and 2x points on gas and groceries
  • $250 annual airline fee credit for incidental air-travel expenses with one airline
  • Free Priority Pass access for the cardholder
  • $500 lounge credit after spending $50,000 per year
  • Visa Infinite $100 Discount Air Benefit (like the one that comes with the Ritz Carlton card)

Airline co-branded credit cards

Citi AAdvantage Executive card

Direct Link

If you fly a lot on American and oneworld airlines, the AA Executive card makes a good sense.

Highlights:

  • $450 annual fee
  • 50,000 AAdvantage miles
  • Access to AA Admiral clubs and oneworld clubs (with which AA has reciprocal agreements) for immediate families or up to 2 guests
  • Free access for authorized users
  • Up-to $100 Global Entry or TSA PRE reimbursement
  • Priority check-in, screening, and boarding
  • Trip Cancellation & Interruption insurance
Free Airport Lounge Access

AA Admiral Club at JFK

Chase United Club card

Direct Link

  • $450 annual fee
  • 50,000 bonus miles
  • Access to United Club and most Star Alliance lounges worldwide to you and your travel companions
  • 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all purchases and 2X on United
  • No close-in award booking fees on United tickets
  • Hyatt Discoverist Status and Hertz President’s Circle Elite Status
  • Trip Cancellation / Interruption, Baggage Delay / Trip Delay, and Primary Car Rental insurance
Free Airport Lounge Access

United Club at EWR — always busy

Are there other credit card options to get access to lounges? Of course, but they are restricted and limited, so why even bother? In all honesty, I wouldn’t probably pay a $400-550 annual fee a year just for the access to lounge, but the credit cards above have a lot to offer and go beyond just lounges — to the point where I keep at least one premium card year after year despite the lack of a sign up bonus.

What do you think about getting a credit card for access to airport lounges?

Do you keep your premium credit card beyond the first year?

Worth it or not?

Share with the class.  🙂

 

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5 Responses to How to Get Free Airport Lounge Access With the Right Credit Card

  1. […] C0mprehensive post over at Lazy Traveler on the subject: Free Airport Lounge Access With the Right Credit Card. […]

  2. Al says:

    Andy: My Prestige fee is due this month. Even though they are still giving me the Citigold $350 fee, I don’t see any reason to justify keeping the card since Admirals Club access was removed. I have a Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum which are both superior. I used the Prestige $250 air credit and think I should cancel. Do you agree? Also, does the Amex Ameriprise earn MR points?

    • Andy Shuman says:

      Yeah, I like Prestige for $250 air credit and 4th free hotel nights, but carrying 3 extra-premium cards is quite a burden. What you could do, though, is talk to the retention. They gave me 7 $50-credit every month I spend $1,500. In conjunction with the Citigold $350 makes it free.

  3. Al says:

    I got the same offer last July after they removed Admirals Club access & I threatened to cancel. But my 7th month is February & the rep told me you can receive only 1 offer every 12 months. She said I’m ineligible for another offer. So I think it’s time to transfer my TYPs to Singapore & cancel the Prestige.

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