How do I get free access to airport lounges?

Most people are aware that airport lounges exist. However, few know exactly what benefits lounges can provide, and even fewer know how to get in. This is my quick and dirty tutorial on how to get “free” access to airport lounges. I say “free” because, while you won’t be directly paying for access, it comes as a side-benefit of spending money in other ways.

Some lounges are quite easy to access. Others are more exclusive. Some only require a lounge pass membership (like Priority Pass), some require you to have particular credit card, and some require you to have elite airline status or be flying in a premium cabin, such as business or first class.

Quality of lounges is also quite varied. At the bottom, you’ve got your very basic lounges, which will have at least the bare minimum of what all lounges offer: comfy seats, water, coffee, tea, soft drinks, alcohol, munchies, and WiFi.

ABC Business Lounge, Lisbon International Airport (LIS), Lisbon, Portugal. Lower tier Priority Pass lounge, but better than nothing.

In the middle, your alcohol options might include beer on tap, champagne, or top-shelf liquor and your food choices could be anywhere from finger foods and cup-of-noodles to a hot buffet that’s good enough for a filling meal.

Swiss Business Lounge, Geneva International Airport (GVA), in Geneva, Switzerland. Highlights: Beer on tap, ice cream, falafel.

Then at the top, you’ve got premium lounges that have could have spa amenities like massages and facials, comfort amenities such as daybeds or a private nap room, and food choices such as made-to-order meals or even my hands-down favorite lounge amenity: a sushi bar.

Japan Airlines First Class Lounge, Narita International Airport (NRT), serving Tokyo, Japan. Limited selection of all you can eat sushi prepared fresh to order.

Priority Pass Lounges

Diamond Lounge, Brussels Airport (BRU), in Brussels, Belgium. Priority Pass-accessible.

The easiest way for you to get airport lounge access is by signing up for a credit card that includes a complimentary Priority Pass membership, which gives you free access to thousands of lounges worldwide. Some of these lounges are owned by lounge companies and some by airlines. They’ve even started adding non-lounge spaces such as restaurants where you’ll get credit to eat for free or a free hour at Minute Suites, where you get a private room with a TV, a desk, and a daybed. Some memberships even allow a certain number of guests to accompany you for free.

Examples of popular credit cards with complimentary Priority Pass membership are:

  • Citi Prestige® Card (Applications are currently suspended, but either the Prestige® or another premium card in its place will almost surely return)

While these cards do have significant annual fees, those fees are largely offset by a number of benefits like travel credits and Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement. Check out my review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve for a breakdown of why the card is worth getting aside from its complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.

American Express Centurion Lounges

Centurion Lounge, Las Vegas International Airport (LAS), Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Don’t be surprised if it’s crowded.

Centurion lounges are few and far between compared to Priority Pass lounges. Currently, the only open lounges are at the following airports:

  • George Bush Intercontinental, Houston (IAH)
  • Las Vegas McCarran (LAS)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) (Closed for renovation until Oct. 2018)
  • San Francisco International (SFO)
  • Miami International (MIA)
  • Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
  • New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Hong Kong International airport (HKG)

A vast majority of the time, a Centurion Lounge will be the better option. Though some of them are known to suffer from overcrowding at time (Las Vegas, for example, is notoriously always busy), they all have full bars with bartenders, and their food choices are always above average. An example of options for dinner time could be something like rosemary chicken, beef stew, wild rice, potato salad, brussels sprouts, kale salad, mac and cheese, and french fries.

Access comes by being the account holder or an authorized user of the following American Express cards:

The Platinum Card® by American Express

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

The Corporate Platinum Card® from American Express

Centurion® Card from American Express (This is an invite-only card, so good luck.)

Other Lounges

Most other lounges that aren’t accessible directly through Priority Pass or credit cards are usually airline or airline alliance lounges. I won’t go into much detail here since, if these lounges are accessible to you, you’ll likely already know that you have access. While there are always exceptions, such as Bangkok Airways’ Boutique Lounge at BKK which is accessible by ALL Bangkok Airways passengers, airline/alliance lounges are usually only available to those with elite frequent flyer status or those flying on a premium cabin ticket. Always be sure to look up any benefits of your ticket or airline before flying.

Feel free to leave a comment with any questions about lounge access or to shout out your favorite lounge!

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