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How To Get Free or Discounted Airline Lounge Access

by on January 13, 2014 · 53 comments

in Club Lounges, Maximize Monday

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

There has been a lot of news on the airport lounge front lately, what with Amex Platinum cardholders soon to lose access American and US Airways lounges and having their Delta SkyClub guest access restricted (as will Delta Reserve cardholders) and Delta jacking up membership fees for everyone else, so a lot of people have been writing in wondering whether lounge access is even worth it anymore and how to get it cheaply when they need it, or when they are entitled to it as part of their travel plans.

Starting off with JFK-Taipei on Eva Air Royal Laurel Class.

International premium class tickets come with lounge access.

Book A Premium International Ticket – Paid or Award

Airlines generally don’t give lounge access for domestic first class itineraries (with the main exception being transcontinental flights I’ll get to below), but they do for international premium class flyers – even those flying on award tickets. The great thing is that you get lounge access for your entire itinerary – not just at the airport where your international flight departs. So if you book a business class ticket and travel Orlando-Atlanta and then Atlanta-Paris, you’ll get lounge access in Orlando, Atlanta and generally in Paris on arrival. If you are traveling in first class, airlines will often have separate first class lounge sections, but you can also access the business class lounge with your first class ticket (in case you want to lounge hop).

Book First or Business Class Transcontinental Flights

Several domestic airlines grant lounge access when you book premium tickets on their transcontinental routes.

Air Canada: Customers holding a Business Class ticket are entitled to Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge access.
American Airlines: Customers traveling in First or Business class on U.S. transcontinental flights between JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO and MIA-LAX (and vice-versa) are eligible for lounge access.

Passengers eligible for access must provide their government-issued ID and a ticket or boarding pass valid for departure on the same-day.

  • First Class traveling on nonstop, three-class transcontinental flight
  • First Class traveling nonstop on two-class transcontinental flight
  • Business Class traveling on nonstop, three-class transcontinental flight
Certain transcontinental flyers get access to American's Admirals Clubs.

Certain transcontinental flyers get access to American’s Admirals Clubs.

Delta: SkyClub access is granted to those traveling on a nonstop Delta First Class, BusinessElite, or full Y-class ticket between JFK and Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco.

United: United grants access to BusinessFirst travelers between JFK and Los Angeles/San Francisco on both paid and award tickets.

Buy a Day Pass

Just an occasional lounge visitor, or want to test the waters before committing to an expensive annual membership? Most airlines buy a $50 one-day passes to the lounges of all four major US legacy carriers – American Admirals Club, Delta SkyClub, United Club and US Airways Club – and if you decide to join, that $50 goes towards your annual fee on American and United.

Test out lounge access with a day pass.

Test out lounge access with a day pass.

You can get access for only $25 on Delta if you have a co-branded Delta American Express card and you can buy US Airways access in advance for $29. Additionally, if you are an American Express Platinum cardholder, these day passes count towards the yearly $200 in airline fee reimbursement benefit.

Get the Amex Platinum Card

As I mentioned, this card suffered a major blow recently when it announced that its partnerships with American and US Airways were ending in March, but the card will still get one cardholder into Delta’s SkyClubs (additional guests pay $29) and also still grants Priority Pass Select membership, which includes hundreds of other lounges, including Alaska Airlines Boardrooms. Amex has also opened two Centurion lounges that Platinum cardholders have access to at DFW and Las Vegas with two more planned at San Francisco and New York La Guardia for now. The Ink Bold and Ink Plus also offer two free lounge visits in a program similar to Priority Pass Select, called Lounge Club.

Platinum cardmembership confers automatic Priority Pass Select membership.

Priority Pass Select membership can get you into over 600 lounges worldwide.

Priority Pass Membership

Priority Pass membership gets you access to over 600 lounges worldwide, including many airline and non-airline-branded clubs. Membership starts at $99 a year plus a $27 per visit fee, though you can also get the Prestige membership for $399 a year and get all visits free (guests still have to pay $27 per visit). Select Membership (no access to United clubs) comes free for cardholders of select American Express cards including the Platinum card and the Ritz-Carlton card.

Some airline co-branded credit cards include lounge access as a benefit.

Some airline co-branded credit cards include lounge access as a benefit.

Airline Cobranded Credit Cards

One of the most valuable perks airline co-branded credit cards can offer flyers–even frequent flyers who will get elite discounts on club memberships–is free access to airline clubs.

Delta Reserve American Express ($450 annual fee) – though cardholders will only automatically get Individual membership and no guests per Delta’s recent announcement.

Chase United MileagePlus Club card  $395 annual fee, though they are giving out promotion codes in the United lounges that waive that first year annual fee and also waiving the annual fee in Chase branches. You can also get 2 free lounge passes each year with the United MileagePlus Explorer card ($95 annual fee waived for first year).

Citi AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard.$450 annual fee.

While these annual fees are significant, if you were considering buying membership in one of these clubs anyway, you’re pretty much offsetting the cost of membership and getting other valuable perks like priority access, free checked bags for you and travel companions, modest sign-up miles bonuses and miles-earning potential for your everyday purchases (including Elite Miles with the Delta and American cards).

Preferred members with Gold status or higher get Star Alliance gold status.

Star Alliance Gold members get lounge access.

Alliance Elite Status

In addition to airline-specific elite status, most airlines that are part of an alliance will also grant elite status, which includes benefits like lounge access when traveling internationally (even in economy) and expedited check-in and baggage handling.

Oneworld
Sapphire tier (AA Platinum) frequent flyers are welcome in Business Class* or frequent flyer lounges. (*does not include Qantas Domestic Business Lounges)
Emerald tier (AA Executive Platinum) frequent flyers can use First Class, Business Class or frequent flyer lounges.

Emerald and Sapphire members may invite one guest to join them in the lounge. The guest must also be travelling on a flight operated and marketed by a oneworld carrier.

SkyTeam
SkyTeam Elite Plus
members, regardless of their travel class, are allowed access to a SkyTeam lounge at a particular airport if traveling on or connecting to/from a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member airline. Simply present your same-day ticket for an international SkyTeam airline flight and a valid Elite Plus membership card.

Star Alliance
Gold Status
(United Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, 1K and US Airways Gold, Platinum and Chairman’s): Customers have access to any Star Alliance member carriers’ owned lounges with the Star Alliance Gold logo at the entrance.

  • Customer must present proof of Star Alliance Gold level status via a valid frequent flyer program Star Alliance Gold level card or other valid indication of Star Alliance Gold level status
  • Customer must also present a boarding pass for travel on a Star Alliance flight departing from the local airport
  • Customer is entitled to one guest
  • United and US Airways Star Alliance Gold customers may only access the United Clubs and US Airways Clubs within the U.S. when traveling in conjunction with a Star Alliance international flight.

Use Elite Status and Miles for Membership

Some airlines let you use miles to pay for annual club membership with discounts for elites. I wouldn’t usually suggest doing this unless you have tons of extra miles to burn since this is not a very good value redemption.

Some airlines let you use miles to pay for club membership.

Some airlines let you use miles to pay for club membership.

American: Membership mileage redemptions range from 55,000-80,000 miles for individual memberships depending on your elite status level.

Delta: Between 80,000-110,000 miles depending on status level.

United: United let’s flyers pay for membership using between 50,000-65,000 miles depending on elite status.

US Airways: Though US Airways makes you pay for membership, now that their clubs have reciprocal access with American’s club network, you should be able to access them with your Admirals Club membership.

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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  • BLI

    Does the Aegean Airlines trick still work to get quick Star Alliance Gold status? I remember reading about that a year or two ago, not sure if it’s still a viable shortcut.

  • Ben Price

    I’ve had terrible experiences w/ Priority Pass. A dozen airports, nationally and internationally, and not one has been anything over a C+ lounge. (They make celery/carrot DL lounges look good.

    Also, customer service in these lounges are awful. Totally unable to help if you need help on a ticket or airport services. They basically check you in and send you on your way.

    Furthermore, they have an archaic check-in system. A few times I’ve left my PP cards at home because my trips were unforeseen or I just forgot them. NO access without your card. Shocked they can’t look you up on the system and usher you in. I even provided them w/ my PP number, no good. Thank god it came free with my Hilton AMEX.

  • AAJunkie

    How about Lounge club through Chase Ink?

  • Brian

    I travel weekly on US Air and United, so I have Star Alliance Gold. But I don’t have access to lounges, because my FF# is with United. If I were to make SA Gold on Lufthansa instead, would I have access to the United lounges even when traveling domestically?

  • Spg

    I can’t help but wonder if some of these clubs are unaware of the first class ticket entry. Twice now I have tried to get in with my first class ticket and was denied. Our last trip being DEN-LAX-MIA-PSL an international trip, which including the la to Miami leg. I was denied entry and sat for five hours, well, shopped. Btw i pd for that ticket, not an award ticket. I stopped trying, as it is embarrassing to be turn away.

  • Andrew

    I just qualified for this (though I haven’t gone to a lounge yet). Just register for Aegean’s frequent flier status, earn 19,000 miles on any star alliance flights within a time period & you’ve got Gold status. For me that was one RT ticket on Ethiopian & I’ve got gold. In addition, they gave me a 50% more miles for my Ethiopian flight than United would have. To keep Gold, you just have to earn miles every three years. It doesn’t matter how many miles — just prove to them you haven’t forgotten them.

  • Andrew

    On purchasing lounge tickets, you didn’t mention purchasing secondhand one-use passes! You can buy a United pass on Ebay for about $16 each, as opposed to the $50 you suggest. I give them as gifts.

  • cbkcc1

    yes

  • cbkcc1

    if you have SA Gold status with any int’l SA carrier you can get into Domestic SA carrier lounges for free when flying an SA carrier. and if you have SA Gold you can get into SA Gold branded lounges as well.

  • Jumus

    Why would you be “shocked” they cannot look you up ? Do you expect every lounge around the world that accepts PP to have some kind of link into PP’s database in order to look you up ? It’s basically your fault for not carrying your PP card in your wallet at all times. Don’t blame it on the lounge, 100% of the blame is on you…you should accept that.

  • ASW

    I am truly enjoying how travel bloggers are almost all employing the term “Jacking Up” when referring to Delta’s exorbitant increase of SkyClub membership fees. I feel the terminology is apropos because Delta’s greedy money grab from current and potential SkyClub members is fundamentally “All Jacked Up”.

  • Amy

    I think entry into United lounges are restricted to international ticket holders– you can’t enter during the domestic portion of your trip. When I had a DFW-IAH-LHR itinerary, I was told at DFW that I could only have access to the IAH lounge.

  • Miles

    There’s a Ritz Carlton Amex card? I was curious, but that link doesn’t seem to work…

  • Jonathan

    I would say another way could be to use eBay and buy discounted passes that way. I’m flying AA soon with a 4-hour layover in Denver and after confirming that AA has a lounge there, I looked up Admiral Club passes on eBay. Passes originally given as an AA branded credit card perk were selling for about $30 each, a $20 savings.

  • thepointsguy

    It is in the post “The Ink Bold and Ink Plus also offer two free lounge visits in a program similar to Priority Pass Select, called Lounge Club.”

  • thepointsguy

    Interesting- didn’t think about that

  • thepointsguy
  • thepointsguy

    Often it is a misinformed agent, so it is good to know the access rules in advance and escalate to a manager if necessary. If you’re unjustly denied, complain to the airline so a) that employee doesn’t make the same mistake with another person and b) you can probably get some miles for your trouble!

  • thepointsguy

    Yes

  • Andrew

    I forgot to mention: United Club cards (probably others as well) don’t require you to have a ticket on their airline to use, which is particularly convenient.

  • Mike W.

    I got into a Alask boardroom with just my PP membership number. I had too forgotten my card and they just needed ID and the #.

  • Nick

    I fly AA a lot and earn with BA executive club. With my sapphire Oneworld status I get free access to Admiral Clubs (even with guests), drink tokens, priority access, and free seats in Economy Comfort at time of booking. So it’s a trade-off – lounges with BA or upgrades with AA… I find BA status easier to maintain and BA is an amex partner unlike AA.

  • Brian

    I’m a newbie to lounges and just redeemed a business class flight using United miles to go to Europe in business (via Lufthansa) and St Thomas in First (via AA), my first ‘free’ one-way. Flight in April is IAD-NAP (stopover in Frankfurt), then MXP-IAD (stopover in Frankfurt). In July I’m flying USAir from DCA-STT (stopover in CLT). Are you saying that I can get access to the Lufthansa lounges in IAD, Frankfurt, NAP, & MXP, then the USAir lounge in CLT as well? How does the process work, do I just show them my boarding pass for access?

  • Brian

    Forgot to mention that this was an award booking, sounds like that doesn’t matter?

  • Andrew

    I’m with Ben on this one. In 2013 I can look up a list of my Facebook friends anywhere with an Internet connection: having a website accessible to all PP lounges with a searchable database of users (or a 50MB list emailed monthly) is a reasonable expectation, especially for a company whose bread & butter is third party lounge access.

  • Ben Price

    100% of the blame was on me? Kinda excessive….

    Why wouldn’t a PP number and ID get you into a lounge?

  • Sol

    Same here. Was flying DFW-AIH-PEK-SIN in business on Star Alliance (Us Airways) award. At DFW United lounge, they didn’t let me in (had to use free passes from United Explorer card).

  • 2ruse

    if one buys an access pass to US Airways (for $29) will that work for getting into an Admirals Club in a couple of months? (am also wondering something similar with the free passes i got with my US Airways credit card)

  • thepointsguy

    I believe so.. For all intents and purposes US and AA lounges have reciprocal access so a pass for a US club should work at an AA club and vice versa

  • Ben Price

    Check T&Cs on these things…can’t be transferred. A more knowing desk agent won’t allow them. Toss up.

  • Jonathan

    That might be true, but they never ask to see the credit card as proof.

  • Tatyana

    What are the rules for accessing lounges if a ticket has mixed classes segments, e. g. you start with economy on Air Canada and continue on Lufthansa 1st class? Is Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge access allowed?

  • sam

    Can Chase Sapphire Preferred get you any lounge access?

  • Sam

    How about Lounge club through Chase Sapphire Preferred?

  • Neb the Serbian

    I’m not sure what the officials rules and regs of United Club membership say, but I was asked several times upon check in in various United Clubs to present a United or Star Alliance same-day outbound boarding pass

  • Matt P

    If you have the United Club membership that comes with the Chase United Club credit card, you don’t need to provide any boarding passes. I’ve had the club card for a year and have never been asked for a boarding pass at a United lounge. I was asked for a boarding pass at the Air Canada lounge though.

  • john

    I have united gold, can i get into other star alliance lounge(other than US/UA) when travel domestic? For example, if I travel from sfo-ord on united economy tkt, Can I get in to singapore airline or eva air lounge in sfo international terminal?

  • Hannah

    This is definitely useful! Thanks for this post!

  • Andrew

    @thepointsguy:disqus I’ve got a question about this too! Do you get in by showing your SA Gold member card, or do you have to have your status marked on your ticket? I want to use Aegean to get in but earn miles on United. Thanks!

  • dande

    no- according to the US site

  • Mil Guy

    You can also serve your country in the military and get deployed to

    a combat zone to get AA lounge access when traveling in and out of the combat zone or on R&R.

  • manny

    Has anybody else have problems using United Lounges in ORD on domestic flights using Aegean Gold?

    I got SA Gold with Aegean in November 2013, flew United EWR-ORD was able to go in to United lounge in EWR but was denied entry in 2 of the United lounges in ORD since my itinerary did not have an international component.

  • The Guy

    I obtain a lot of lounge access through Business Class flights and high status on my frequent flyer cards. I’ve also written on my blog about a lot of the lounges I’ve visited around the world. I must say that I do find the lounges based in the US to be of relatively low quality and overcrowded compared to non-US based lounges. The food and drinks offerings are minimal, particularly with Delta Sky Club etc. I’m glad that I often have free access because there is no way I’d pay $27-$50 a day to get a soft furnishing chair (if it is not overcrowded) and internet access for an hour whilst I wait for my flight.

  • Ken

    Just curious, what perks are involved with Lounge Access. Is it similar to club level at a hotel?

  • tivoboy

    Has anyone actually seen the Chase Club sign-up cards that offer the first year free? Either in clubs or a chase branch? I haven’t seen those since like May of last year

  • D

    I had to comment that lounges in the US are rapidly becoming indistinguishable from sitting at the gate. The only difference is finger food and cheap booze. The number one thing I value at a lounge is something cost-free, and increasingly elusive: silence. Utter, total, quiet. Now, lounges have screaming children and televisions just like outside. I’d gladly sack the rabbit food for a “quiet room” or even yet, sleeping rooms (I hear they exist). I hope airlines remember the point of lounges in the first place.

  • wwittman

    this is a MAJOR blow to AMex Platinum, as I see it.
    It basically makes the annual fee not worth it, versus the Gold Rewards card

  • 2ruse

    here’s the reply i got from US re: an upcoming trip in April:
    “Thank you for contacting US Airways Club Services.

    Currently we are still operating as separate carriers and we are not accepting each other’s one day Club passes.

    As we continue with the merger policies are subject to change, so please verify this policy again closer to your trip.

    We appreciate your continued patronage of US Airways.”

  • UA Traveler

    Has anyone responded? I have the same question regarding international business lounge access on I-class fares.

    Flying business (award travel) from EWR to BKK via FRA. Wondering if I will have access to Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Frankfurt – carriers are United and Thai.

    If I’m reading the above correctly – there should be no problem. Pointsguy?

  • Dkasp

    Maybe you can help. I am flying Southwest from SNA to SEA and then boarding a flight to Iceland. We have about a 6 hr layover at SEA that we would like to spend in a lounge. Delta, KAL, and British Air have lounges in that terminal. I’m a Delta Platinum Amex holder so I think I can buy discounted passes. Can I go in without flying Delta? How about KAL or BA? Thanks so much.

  • Sue

    We are Delta Skymiles Platinum AMEX members, and are flying economy to Bucharest in April. We have an 8 hour layover at CDG, and would like to get access (even if we have to pay something for it) to the Air France Lounge. Our first flight is Delta, and the connecting flight is AF. Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

  • Dkasp

    Can I fly on Iceland Air and buy a pass in a Delta Lounge in Seattle on the way to Iceland? Please and thank you. I will reciprocate will the results.

  • Elly

    how can i purchase Star alliance Gold membership card? and which airline?

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