Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.
Before I learned about how to get airport lounge access, I hated
waiting at airports. I would try to arrive as late as possible so that I could run to the gate and board my flight. I would minimize layovers as short as possible. Now, I get to the airport early just to visit an airport lounge. Even while writing this article, I’m sitting inside the DFW airport Centurion Lounge.
I know what you’re thinking – there’s no way I can relate to this bougie travel blogger. Airport lounge access is for the rich and elite travelers who fly 365 days a year.
Except you’d be wrong! I have your typical 2 weeks off a year from work. Travel infrequently, and yet I still have airport lounge access. I get to eat all the food I want, and drink lots of free booze thanks to my access. And I’ll show you how to get airport lounge access too!
Book a Premium Class Ticket to Get Airport Lounge Access
The way most people think you get airport lounge access is by booking a premium class airline ticket – business or first class. While this is generally true, it won’t always even be enough to get airport lounge access!
For example, today I’m flying first class (more on how to afford first class for cheap later) from DFW to Houston on American Airlines. Unfortunately, despite being a first class ticket, I still can’t access the American Airlines Admirals Club.
American Airlines requires you to have a first or business class international ticket to receive airport lounge access to their Admiral’s Club. Domestic first class still isn’t enough sometimes!
Despite this, if you are ponying up the money for an international first class flight, you may as well take all of the benefits you can get. But if you aren’t, don’t fret, you can still get into lounges even if you’re flying basic economy.
Pay to Get Airport Lounge Access
Many lounges have a day-rate that you can pay to get airport lounge access. These typically range from $50-$70. While it seems steep, let’s look at the economics to see if it is worth it. Be sure you consider your own individual habits. For me it is well worth the expense, but it may not be for you.
I didn’t eat lunch before coming to the airport today because I knew I would have airport lounge access once I got here. Since it is late afternoon while I’m writing this (around 3:00PM), I am getting pretty hungry. So I decided to chow down two plates of food. Also, because I can’t pass up free booze, I started with a gin and tonic, and am currently sipping on a French 75 with Beefeater Gin.
Getting airport lounge access to the Centurion Lounge cost me $50. Considering the inflated price of airport food and booze, for $50 I got 2 plates of food and 2 drinks (so far!). This easily makes up for the cost if I had purchased this out at the public airport restaurants or kiosks.
If you consider each plate a meal, it likely would have cost about $10 each in the airport at a fast food joint. Same with each drink at an airport bar. In total, $40. But considering I ate tomato and basil bisque, Mediterranean style salad, pork carnitas nachos, and enjoyed drinks made with premium liquor it is quick to see how the lounge day fee still has me coming out ahead.
Although I have certainly paid to get into lounges before, that isn’t the only way. Keep reading to learn how you can get in without paying a dime!
Using Lounge Clubs to Get Airport Lounge Access
For the very frequent travelers, it may make sense to purchase a lounge membership. Many of the large airlines, such as American, United, and Delta, allow you to purchase a membership for unlimited airport lounge access to their branded lounges. These will routinely cost $400+, but if you fly often enough it can quickly pay off.
There are also lounge “clubs” that have hundreds of club members. By joining a lounge club, you will have access to a broader range of lounges that aren’t restricted to a single airline.
Priority Pass Memberships
If you’re looking for another way to get airport lounge access, consider a lounge club membership. The biggest of these is the Priority Pass membership. A membership runs from $99 to $399, depending on how many times you want to access lounges for free. You can find a link to sign up in this article, or on our Resources Page for a 10% discount.
The Standard pass costs $99 and will get you into Priority Pass member lounges for $27 each visit. Guests can also visit the lounge with you for $27. A Standard Plus pass will cost an extra $150, but will get you 10 free visits. After the free visits, you’ll pay the same $27 per visit. The Prestige will cost $399, comparable to a specific airline lounge pass, but you get unlimited free visits to any of the thousands of Priority Pass Lounges.
Unsure which one is for you? I’ve done the math so you don’t have to!
|Number of Uses|
You’ll want the Standard if you’ll use it 1 to 5 times per year, the plus if you will be using your pass 6 to 15 times per year, and the prestige if you will use it 16 or more times per year.
Although it may seem pricey, keep in mind the amount of money you will potentially be spending on airport food and drinks. Additionally, some of the lounges offer free perks like massages, manicures, or facials (which Miryea tells me are really nice!). Book these services in advance (where available) to guarantee you’ll get to enjoy all of the lounge benefits you’ve paid for.
Priority Pass Select Membership
You don’t have to pay directly to get a Priority Pass membership. Many premier travel credit cards provide airport lounge access by offering a Priority Pass Select membership.
If you have one of the following credit cards, you should already have a membership and may not even know it!
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Citi Prestige
- The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card
- American Express Platinum Card
The great benefit of the Priority Pass Select membership is that you can also get 2 or more guests lounge access for free, depending on which credit card you received your membership through. If you’re travelling with your family, it can quickly become cheaper to pay the annual fee on one of these credit cards instead of paying the lounge membership fee.
Get Into an American Express Centurion Lounge
The crème de la crème of airport lounges are the American Express Centurion Lounges. There aren’t many of them domestically, but those that are out there are phenomenal. Stateside there are 7 locations:
- LGA – LaGuardia Airport, NYC
- MIA – Miami International Airport, Miami, FL
- IAH – Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, TX
- DFW – Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Dallas, TX
- LAS – Las Vegas International Airport, Las Vegas, NV
- SFO – San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, CA
- SEA – Seattle Tacoma International Airport, Seattle, WA
If any of these are your home airport, I highly recommend you consider getting access to the American Express Centurion Lounges.
If you’ve ever heard of the Centurion Card by American Express, you know it is a very exclusive credit card to receive. But the Centurion Lounges aren’t limited to just Centurion Card holders. In fact, anyone with an American Express credit card can get in. The cost of access will depend on which American Express credit card you have.
Of course, having a Centurion Card will get you in for free. But free access isn’t limited only to Centurion Card members. If you have a Platinum Card by American Express, you can also get into the centurion lounge for free. This card does come with a hefty annual fee of $550, so let’s look at other options if you aren’t traveling frequently enough to get the full benefit.
Anyone, yes ANYONE, with an American Express credit card can get into a Centurion Lounge. If you don’t have a Centurion card or a Platinum card it will cost you $50 per visit. It is pricey, but you will be treated with top shelf liquor, and locally curated foods. Many will also offer massages if reserved in advance.
At the DFW Centurion Lounge today they were serving pork carnitas, elote, and a variety of other tex-mex dishes. If I had planned ahead, I could have reserved a massage online ahead of time. There are showers and sometimes quiet rooms for you to get cleaned up and a little bit of rest if needed, frequently used by international travelers.
Food for Thought
Waiting at the airport or having a long layover doesn’t have to be a torturous experience. Being crammed at the gate and paying prices for airport food that leave you feeling extorted can be a thing of the past. Having airport lounge access can get you good food and great booze, and it may be cheaper than going to the airport pizza hut!
See what resources you have, you may even have a travel rewards credit card that already helps you get into an airport lounge without knowing it! Maximize your resources and plan effectively so you can start traveling smarter and cheaper.
Until next time!