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Paying For Airline Lounge Membership With Miles – Worth It?

by on February 20, 2013 · 10 comments

in Aeroplan, Air Canada, American, Delta, Lounges, TPG Contributors, United, US Airways

Annual airline lounge membership – when it’s offered at all – can be an expensive proposition. However, several airlines let you redeem miles for membership rather than paying cash. TPG contributor Nick Ewen takes an in-depth look at the miles options out there and whether any of them are a good value.

Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.

Airport lounges offer many benefits for all types of travelers. Although by no means lavish (well, not many) they can be an oasis from the craziness of airport terminals and gate areas. They provide complimentary food and drinks to help avoid (in part) the dreadful and expensive options in the terminal. Many offer personalized assistance with flight cancellations and rebookings. They can sometimes be invaluable for a frequent traveler, but many more casual flyers may balk at how expensive they are. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to use miles to purchase yearly membership to these clubs, and this post will highlight those options.

The American Airlines Admirals Club in Buenos Aires.

The American Airlines Admirals Club in Buenos Aires.

American Airlines Admirals Club

For any regular American Airlines travelers, you can use your AAdvantage miles to purchase membership in the Admirals Club. This offers access to 37 club locations plus numerous partner lounges across the globe. The number of miles varies across the different elite levels of the AAdvantage program, and first-time memberships require additional miles to cover the initiation fee. Travelers can also choose between a single membership or a joint membership with a spouse or domestic partner.

Here are the details for new members:

 

Single Annual

Annual with Spouse

Cost

Miles

Value

Cost

Miles

Value

AAdvantage

$500

80,000

0.625 cents/mile

$825

125,000

0.66 cents/mile

AAdvantage Gold

$450

65,000

0.69 cents/mile

$725

105,000

0.69 cents/mile

AAdvantage Platinum

$400

55,000

0.73 cents/mile

$625

90,000

0.694 cents/mile

AAdvantage Executive Platinum

$350

50,000

0.7 cents/mile

$525

70,000

0.75 cents/mile

 

Here are the details for renewals:

 

Renewal Single Annual

Renewal Annual with Spouse

Cost

Miles

Value

Cost

Miles

Value

AAdvantage

$450

70,000

0.64 cents/mile

$775

115,000

0.674 cents/mile

AAdvantage Gold

$400

60,000

0.67 cents/mile

$675

95,000

0.71 cents/mile

AAdvantage Platinum

$350

50,000

0.7 cents/mile

$575

80,000

0.72 cents/mile

AAdvantage Executive Platinum

$300

40,000

0.75 cents/mile

$475

60,000

0.79 cents/mile

Delta Air Lines SkyClub

Delta Sky Club

There are over 50 Delta Sky Clubs systemwide.

Delta offers three different lengths of membership to access their 50+ SkyClubs and numerous partner lounges around the world: 30-day, one-year, and three-year. Only the yearly membership is payable with miles, though you do have the option of purchasing an individual membership or joint membership. The former will only allow your spouse/partner to access the club when traveling with you, while the latter will offer him/her independent access, great for couples who both travel extensively for different jobs.

It’s important to note that Delta recently announced changes to their paid membership rates that take effect March 1st, which is also the date that status changes based on 2012 MQM/MQS earnings. If you are considering purchasing a membership, be sure to take advantage of the lower rates ahead of March 1st!

The mileage redemption levels will not be changing, but keep in mind that members dropping one or more Medallion levels can still redeem miles at their current status for a membership before falling down the ranks.

Here are the current rates (valid through February 28, 2013):

Membership Level

Individual Membership

Joint Membership

 

Cost

Miles

Value

Cost

Miles

Value

General Member

$450

70,000

0.64 cents/mile

$650

100,000

0.65 cents/mile

Silver Medallion

$400

60,000

0.67 cents/mile

$600

90,000

0.67 cents/mile

Gold Medallion

$350

50,000

0.7 cents/mile

$550

80,000

0.69 cents/mile

Platinum Medallion

$300

40,000

0.75 cents/mile

$500

70,000

0.71 cents/mile

Diamond Medallion

$300

40,000

0.75 cents/mile

$500

70,000

0.71 cents/mile

Here are the new rates (effective March 1, 2013):

Membership Level

Individual Membership

Joint Membership

Cost

Miles

Value

Cost

Miles

Value

General Member

$450

70,000

0.64 cents/mile

$700

100,000

0.7 cents/mile

Silver Medallion

$450

60,000

0.75 cents/mile

$700

90,000

0.78 cents/mile

Gold Medallion

$400

50,000

0.8 cents/mile

$650

80,000

0.81 cents/mile

Platinum Medallion

$350

40,000

0.875 cents/mile

$600

70,000

0.86 cents/mile

Diamond Medallion

$350

40,000

0.875 cents/mile

$600

70,000

0.86 cents/mile

Notice that the “value” you receive after March 1st is actually higher than the value through February 28th. This is a bit misleading, as you are using the exact same amount of miles but simply redeeming them for a club membership that has increased in price.

One final thing to note…any new memberships (including those that have been inactive for over 6 months) are subject to an initiation fee of $50 or 10,000 miles. You don’t get to choose how this fee is assessed; paid memberships require $50 cash (no miles), while memberships purchased with miles require 10,000 miles (no cash). This will lower the above “values.”

United Airlines Club

United Club

United only allows elite  MileagePlus members or United credit cardholders to purchase a membership with miles.

United MileagePlus only offers Platinum, 1K and Global Services elite members the opportunity to purchase a club membership directly for the rate of 59,000 miles including the initiation fee, and then after the first year, the rate is 52,500, so you’re getting a value of between 0.76-0.81 cents per mile.

There is also a little-known workaround for travelers with the United Club card from Chase. This card grants free lounge access and comes with an annual fee of $395, but through their Choices Program, cardholders can redeem miles earned on the credit card towards an annual fee credit. This FlyerTalk thread discusses the card in great depth and using miles for the annual fee credit, you can redeem for a fixed rate of 0.8 cents/mile (or 49,375 miles to cover the entire fee).

However, make sure you understand the terms & conditions on this option before you apply for the card and expect to get a credit for the annual fee. For example, your “Choices” balance is a separate balance from your regular MileagePlus balance and only includes spend from your United credit cards. In other words, you can’t open a United Club Card, transfer 50,000 points from Ultimate Rewards to United, and redeem those miles for an annual fee credit. You would have to earn the 49,375 miles through eligible spend only on the card. In addition, your MileagePlus account needs to have enough miles to actually redeem the reward. If you earned 70,000 miles on the credit card and redeemed 50,000 for an award flight, you will only have a balance of 20,000 in both your MileagePlus account and Choices program account.

US Airways Club

US Airways, like United, does not offer the ability to redeem Dividend Miles for a club membership, and they do not have a workaround like the United Club Card method mentioned above.

Other Options

Air Canada Maple Leaf Club.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Club.

Since both United and US Airways are a part of Star Alliance, you do have a backdoor way of gaining access to their lounges by redeeming miles: using Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program. Their Maple Leaf Club membership is available in three different tiers using miles, and while the basic one probably won’t help many readers (it only offers access to the 16 Maple Leaf Lounges in Canada), the top two tiers (listed below) could be an interesting option.

Here are the details:

North America Plus

Worldwide

Cost

CA$485

CA$648.99

Miles Required

57,000

76,500

Value

0.85 cents/mile

0.85 cents/mile

Details

Access to Air Canada lounges plus United Clubs

Access to Air Canada, Star Alliance, and contract lounges

Number of Lounges

60

Over 270

Guests

None

1

Remember that Air Canada is a 1:1 transfer partner of both American Express Member Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (with the added 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred).

Bottom line – all of these club memberships available with miles offer a relatively consistent “value” of 0.6 – 0.8 cents/mile.

So is this a good choice? As always, “YMMV” or Your Miles May Vary. At the end of the day, we all have different valuations for our hard-earned frequent flyer currencies, but if you are short on cash and long on miles, these memberships offer an alternate way to spend your miles to make your airport experience a bit more tolerable.

Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership.

Although these miles options are great for travelers who don’t want to spend the cash but have miles to spare, if a few hundred dollars isn’t a stretch for you and you’re looking to get access to several airlines’ lounges at once, a great option is to get the Platinum Card from American Express, which carries a $450 annual fee, but also gets you access to Delta, American and US Airways lounges – and you can even bring two guests or your spouse and any children under 21 – as well as Priority Pass Select access to over 600 airport lounges in 100 countries (guests can also enter for a $27 per person fee) plus a menu of other benefits that make the $450 annual fee worth it.

See also: Travel Tuesday Top 10: Ways to Get Access to Airline Lounges

Have any of you redeemed miles for club memberships before? Please feel free to share your personal experiences in the comments section below!

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Mark Friedman

    With AA and US Air merging what will their policy be about Amex Plat members going into their clubs? Now I can us any US Air club at any time with my Amex, but I believe I can only use the AA club if I have Amex and I am flying AA that day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001049775463 สุภา วงค์เมือง

    No lifetime club memberships offered any longer?

    maybe some of us lucked out with worldclub lifetime memberships when they changed to delta and sent out lifetime cards.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JNFSXN4ANC7RH5VQCOEJGFUJZQ Nick

    Yep, I think you did get lucky. None of the four (soon to be three) big airlines offer lifetime memberships anymore. Enjoy it while you can!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JNFSXN4ANC7RH5VQCOEJGFUJZQ Nick

    That’s really anyone’s guess. However, I’d bet that the lounges will not change as quickly as other things in the merger. I remember Delta took a while to combine & consolidate their Crown Rooms with NWA’s WorldClubs.

  • http://www.bentleychauffeur.biz/ James Brown

    You have defined number of ways to use miles to purchase yearly membership to these clubs.Thanks for share .I got to know many new information.

  • Mhamrell

    actaully United does allow you to purchase club membership with points. they don’t advertise it on their web page, but if you call MileagePlus the option is available.

  • thepointsguy

    Thanks for pointing that out, we updated the post.

  • Pingback: Is it wise to buy skyclub membership with skypesos? - Page 2 - FlyerTalk Forums

  • ReschDMD

    I inquired about this with the Admiral’s Club and this was their official take: We are still “ironing out the details” if you will. Nothing has been determined as of yet. The merger transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2013, subject to customary approvals and closing conditions, and you can look to http://www.aa.com/arriving to keep up with our progress. Until that time we will remain two separate companies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.ward.56863 Brian Ward

    What credit card should I apply for to get a the most free miles on a ticket from San Francisco, CA to Bogota Colombia?

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