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Sunday Reader Question: What Is the Best Domestic Lounge Membership?

by on October 30, 2011 · 7 comments

in Lounges, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Carling writes:

“I am looking into buying an annual lounge membership. I mostly fly domestically. Is there an airline that you recommend I purchase lounge access with? Which airline has the best domestic lounges?”

Lounge membership is great – not only does it give you a somewhat quiet place to relax in between flights, but the agents staffing clubs can help you out immensely – especially when experiencing weather or other irregular operations. Instead of waiting in a long re-booking line, you can usually get helped long before the masses.

However, lounge access generally isn’t cheap – it can run you around $350-$450 a year. However, there are some ways to get it without outright paying for it:

1) American Express Platinum Card - it’s $450 annual fee is similar to what you’d pay for a normal lounge membership, but you also get: 25,000 bonus points (worth ~$500), $200 a year in airline rebates (including gift cards), free Global Entry/Nexus, Starwood Gold, car rental benefits and elite status and a bunch of other benefits. Plus, you get access to American, Delta, US Airways and Priority Pass Select lounges. Overall, its probably the best card for those that value lounge access. See my full card review.
The Mercedes-Benz Platinum has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 and also provides most of the same benefits, plus valuable Mercedes-Benz benefits.

2) Priority Pass Membership- Depending on how often you use lounges, you may want to go with a Priority Pass. Memberships start at just $99 (plus $27 per visit), and they include United, Alaska, US Airways and a bunch of international lounges.

3) Airline co-branded cards- Most offer high-end cards that include lounge access and valuable airline specific benefits like elite miles, free baggage and priority boarding. For example:
Delta Reserve Card: 10,000 MQMs with first purchase, 15,000 MQMs if you hit $30,000 within a calendar year and then an additional 15,000 when you hit $60,000. Other benefits include; Delta SkyClub access, domestic first class companion ticket (this works for coach and discounted first class so it’s actually pretty valuable), free checked bag. Current Sign-up Bonus: 10,000 MQMs after first purchase. Annual fee: $450. Maximum potential MQMs with sign-up bonus = 40,000.
American Executive AAvantage: 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. Other benefits include: Admirals Club lounge access, no foreign transaction fees and free checked bags.

If those options don’t work from you, you can buy lounge access directly from the airlines and most will discount it if you have elite status (Delta actually gives it away for free to top tier Diamond Medallions). No domestic US lounges are amazing necessarily, but I feel that Delta SkyClubs are the nicest – free wifi, alcohol and snacks (including healthier options like vegetables and hummus).

US Airways lounge membership is good for 250 lounges worldwide, including Continental’s Presidents Clubs, United’s Red Carpet Clubs and Star Alliance lounges. They often run discounts, so keep be on the lookout for any discounts. Currently the only offer is for 500 elite miles for new members.

In general, the best lounge access is the one that you will get the most use out of. I’d recommend pursuing the option that best aligns with the airline you fly the most. If you don’t fly often, lounge membership might not make the most sense – these days many airlines sell day passes for $50 or under, so that might be the most economical solution.

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  • Nybanker

    This reader should make his choice based on which airlines has the best schedule for her/him. The quality of the lounge is deeply subordinate to the best travel schedule.

  • PJ

    Brian,
    I have had amex platinum since mid aug after biting the 100K “bait” i got the global entry Paid by Amex and 3 lounge visits with Priority Pass. I have NOT disignated the airline of my choice to use the $200 credit
    how to I best utilize the 200 credit allownace from airline ? which gift cards can I buy to use up the $200?

  • Rowergirl7531

    Also, if you are at the Platinum level of Interval International membership, you get free Priority Pass. As with PJ below, I also have Priority Pass through Am Ex. Wish I had known this last year, when I spent about 20K Marriott points to get a base level Priority Pass!

  • JL100

    I tried to use the United Club in Vegas with the Priority Pass last week in Terminal D and they are no longer accepting it (since Sept 30). There was not any other lounge in that terminal to use.

  • Anonymous

    You forgot (or just chose not to mention) the United/Continental Presidential Plus card from Chase. $395 fee (with a $95 statement credit after first use). It gives you access to US Airways, Continental, and United lounges (it is actually a full membership, unlike the Delta Amex card, so it can be used anytime at any of the clubs even without flying on the airline you are using the lounge of). I have used it a few times and it is great for the flexibility. However, I agree, the skyclubs are definitely better.

  • SarahA

    I’ve got the regular old Gold Delta AMEX. Using the card, I can get into any Delta Lounge for $25 (& I believe I can bring up to 3 people with me – all at the $25/ea rate).

  • Charles

    I use the BA Concorde Club card which is absolutely fantastic – decent access to all Oneworld lounges (except Cathay which is annoying) plus the Concorde room at JFK and HRW.

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