Airports are not the most comfortable places to spend a lot of time waiting around for your flight. Airport lounges are a welcome reprieve from the noise and movement in the terminal. They offer you a quiet space with free food and drinks, comfortable seating, and sometimes even showers and massages.
Did you know that you can gain access to airport lounges even when flying in economy and/or on a low-cost carrier like Spirit or Allegiant? You do not need to be flying first-class (or spend any extra money) to enjoy the benefits of a little pampering before your flight.
Here’s how you can get into airport lounges for free.
1. Get Free Priority Pass Membership Through A Credit Card
By far, the easiest way to get access to airport lounges across the U.S. and around the world is to choose a credit card that includes a free Priority Pass membership.
Priority Pass is a program that offers access to over 1,300 airport lounges around the world. Memberships can be purchased, or are included with some (usually high-end) credit cards. For example, the top-level ‘Prestige’ plan offers unlimited access to lounges in the Priority Pass network for $499/year.
However, the cheaper way to get a Priority Pass membership is through a credit card. The most popular credit cards offering this benefit include the Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Platinum, and American Express Business Platinum cards.
You’ll also usually get two free guest privileges for each visit, with additional (adult) guests paying $27-32 each. Children under 18 years of age can usually enter for free and do not count towards your guest privileges.
It doesn’t matter which airline or cabin you are flying in. You just present your boarding pass and either physical or digital Priority Pass membership card before entering the lounge. When you get your credit card, make sure you go to the Benefits page on the bank’s website and sign up for your included Priority Pass membership. They don’t usually do this automatically; you’ll have to manually request it yourself.
It’s important to point out that the quality of the lounges within the Priority Pass network varies greatly. As such, I would suggest doing the following to choose the best lounge for your trip:
- Go to the Priority Pass website or app
- Type in your origin and/or connecting airports
- Look at the list of lounges you can gain access to
- Go to LoungeBuddy and/or Google to see what others have written about these lounges
- Make special note of opening hours to ensure it lines up with your flights
Related: Airline Credit Cards or Flexible Points Credit Cards
2. Get A Credit Card That Includes An Airline Lounge Membership
Each of the big three U.S. airlines—American, Delta and United—have a top-tier credit card that offers an annual lounge membership as a key benefit of the card. These cards include the AAdvantage Executive World Elite, Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express and United Club℠ Infinite cards.
Standalone annual lounge memberships for these airlines usually start around the $550-650 mark. Conversely, the annual fee for each of these cards is $450-550, which more than covers what a lounge membership would cost if purchased separately.
3. Buy Lounge Passes With Your Airline Fee Credit
If you have a specific American Express card, you might have an airline fee credit to use each year, which helps offset the annual fee. The cards that have this benefit include the American Express Platinum, Business Platinum and Hilton Honors Aspire card.
You’ll get $200-250 each calendar year to spend on charges like checked baggage, seat assignments and change fees with one specific U.S. airline. But you can also use the credit to buy day passes to specific lounges.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines all offer one-time day passes for $49-59 each. That means that if you had the Hilton Honors Aspire card, you could purchase five $49 day passes with your airline fee credit.
You need to be flying on American or United (or one of their partner airlines) to enter their lounges with a one-time pass; you can be flying on any airline to enter an Alaska lounge.
Just make sure that you select the airline you want your fee credit to go to before you purchase the day pass. That will ensure that you receive reimbursement for these charges.
You can also use your airline fee credit to help offset an annual membership to an airline’s lounge membership program, as detailed in the previous section.
Related: 7 Shameless Ways to Make a Flight More Comfortable
4. Status Match Your Elite Status To Another Program
If you already have Gold or above status with one of the big three U.S. airlines, then you get access to the airline and their partners’ lounges—but only when flying on international itineraries.
One way to get access to lounges when flying on purely domestic itineraries is to status match your elite status to another (foreign) airline’s program. When you have elite status with a partner airline, you’ll get access to lounges even before US domestic flights.
For example, if you have American Airlines Gold or above status, you could status match to their partner Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo frequent flyer program. If you have Gold status with Cathay Pacific, you’ll get access to Alaska Airlines and American Airlines lounges before US domestic flights with those airlines.
The airlines most likely to approve status matches are:
- Star Alliance: Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, TAP Portugal and Turkish Airlines
- SkyTeam: Garuda Indonesia
- oneworld: Alaska Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways
The best place to start is to go to StatusMatcher, which is a site that aggregates travelers’ reports on which airlines are most likely to approve a status match. Look at the individual reports and follow the instructions on how to apply for a status match with that particular program.
Related: The 6 Best Flight Search Sites
5. Fly In Business Or First Class On An International Trip
If you fly in Business or First Class internationally, you’ll get access to airport lounges throughout your journey. This includes any connecting domestic flights before your international flight. This applies to passengers who have purchased their ticket with either points or cash.