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While airport lounges are hit or miss, the hits (and even the misses) can make your travel experience much more comfortable and enjoyable. In this post, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr explains which credit cards offer lounge access as a standard benefit or otherwise.
If I had to guess about the most common online searches performed by travelers, I would say “airport lounge access” would be in the top 10. We all want somewhere to relax, have a snack, plug-in, recharge, and get help from an airline representative while waiting for our flights. Knowing I have an oasis in the airport is relaxing not only while I’m in the lounge, but also during the rest of my time in transit. To help you enjoy a similar travel experience, today I’ll look at which credit cards offer airport lounge access as a cardholder benefit, and examine which ones offer the most value.
The Platinum Card and The Enhanced Business Platinum Card give you access to the Centurion Lounges at Laguardia (LGA), Dallas (DFW), San Francisco (SFO) and Las Vegas (LAS), with new ones opening soon in Miami (MIA) and Seattle (SEA). You also still get Delta SkyClub access and Priority Pass Select, a Global Entry application fee rebate, and more.
Annual Fee: $450
The Delta Reserve Card and Delta Reserve Business Card from American Express offer SkyClub access and the ability to earn 30,000 MQMs per calendar year (15,000 after you spend $30,000, and another 15,000 when you spend $60,000). While you no longer get complimentary guest access, these cards also come with a free checked bag for you and up to 8 people on your reservation, Priority Boarding, and 20% in-flight Savings. The business version can save you 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN Savings. Plus, you get an annual Reserve Companion Certificate for first/business (or economy) travel within the 48 contiguous United States.
Annual Fee: $450
The Amex Centurion Card is available by invitation only. It comes with all the benefits of the Platinum cards, plus membership in the Gulfstream Aerospace Private Flyers Club, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold status, US Airways Platinum Preferred and Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion status. Cardmembers have access to a dedicated concierge service and travel agent, complimentary companion airline tickets on international flights on select airlines, first-class flight upgrades and access to airport clubs, membership in Sony’s Cierge personal shopping program, and dozens of other elite club memberships. You also get hotel benefits like one free night at Mandarin Oriental worldwide when you book at least one paid night, plus privileges at hotel chains like Ritz-Carlton, Leading Hotels of the World, and Amanresorts.
Annual Fee: The card requires a one-time initiation fee of $5,000, and then has an annual fee of $2,500.
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card offers complimentary membership in the Lounge Club program, and access to its more than 350 airline lounges around the world. You can also enter any lounge you like and be reimbursed up to $300 per year for lounge passes you buy with the card. Earn 5 points per dollar spent at Ritz-Carlton and Marriott properties, 2 points per dollar spent on airline tickets, car rental agencies, and restaurant purchases, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.
The card also comes with a 10% annual bonus on all points earned, no foreign transaction fees, three upgrades to Ritz-Carlton Club Level per year on paid stays of up to 7 nights each, a $100 hotel credit on paid Ritz-Carlton stays of at least two nights, Gold Elite status for the first year of account opening and in each subsequent year after spending $10,000, Platinum Elite status when you spend $75,000 or more in a year, and the aforementioned $300 yearly travel credit for baggage fees/lounge membership/upgrades/Global Entry.
Annual Fee: $395
The United MileagePlus Club Card and United MileagePlus Club Business Card offer access to United Clubs, Star Alliance branded business lounges around the world, and Amtrak Acela lounges. Make sure you have your United Club membership card in hand, not the credit card. The other big draw is that these cards earn 1.5 United miles per dollar spent everywhere. You’ll received waived checked baggage charges for 2 bags each for 2 people, waived close in ticketing fees, and premier access travel services like priority boarding.
Annual Fee: $395
The JP Morgan Palladium card is only available for private banking clients who reportedly hold between $250,000 and $1,000,000 in assets with Chase. The card gives full Priority Pass lounge program membership, 35,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $100,000 annually, 2X Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. You also get complimentary upgrades to first class with each purchase of a round-trip business class ticket from the U.S. to London on British Airways, and a complimentary companion ticket for each full-fare, non-restricted, round-trip business class ticket from the U.S. to anywhere British Airways flies. Access to Palladium Concierge, and Marquis Jet Perks.
Annual Fee: $595
The Citi Prestige Card gives you complimentary, unlimited access to 40 American Airlines Admirals Clubs for the primary cardholder and immediate family or up to two traveling guests when traveling on American Airlines. You also get Priority Pass Select membership and access to its 600 lounges around the world. Earn 3x ThankYou points per dollar spent on airlines and hotels, 2x on dining and select entertainment, and 1x everywhere else. You can also earn a 15~25% annual relationship bonus depending on your banking relationship with Citi: 15% for Citigold, Global Clients, or employees in a special offer, or 25% for Private Bank clients. The card has quite a few other benefits that make it a strong performer and one I’m keen to get.
Annual Fee: $450 ($350 for CitiGold clients)
The Citi Executive /AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard comes with Admirals Club membership, along with access for up to two traveling guests. Earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after making $40,000 in purchases each calendar year. There are no foreign transaction fees on purchases. Earn 2x miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases (including US Airways codeshare flights booked on AA.com), priority boarding , 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases, your first eligible checked bag is free, and the card comes with SmartChip technology.
Annual Fee: $450
Diners Club Premier — Last year, Diners Club International reinstated transfers to airline and hotel partners, and relaunched its credit cards as part of the MasterCard payment network. With the Premier card you gain access to the Diners Club Airport lounges. The Premier Card earns 1 point per dollar on all purchases, and comes with a primary rental car collision damage waiver policy, no foreign transaction fees, and EMV smart chip technology. Unfortunately, Diners Club is not taking applications at the moment.
Annual Fee: $100 for the primary card and $35 for additional cards.
Diners Club Elite — Gain the same access to the Diners Club Airport lounges as the Premier Card. Earn 3 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and drug stores, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Also comes with the primary rental car collision damage waiver policy, no foreign transaction fees, personal assistant services, and is equipped with an EMV smart chip.
Annual Fee: $300 for the primary card and $150 for additional cards.
The Visa Black Card comes with Priority Pass Prestige membership and markets itself as a premium card competitor. I think it falls short, as its rewards system offers a standard 1x points on all spending, with 2% cash back when redeeming for airline tickets and 1% cash back on everything else.
Annual Fee: $495
The Fidelity Private Client Card from American Express is essentially a 2% cash back card, but it comes with a Lounge Club membership. You can redeem points for airline travel without blackout dates, or deposit your points at 1 cent/point into your Fidelity investment account.
Annual Fee: $200
When weighing which card is right for you, I recommend you take into account the following factors:
- How often you travel
- Which airports you visit most often and what lounges are available there
- Other benefits offered by the card to make the annual fee worthwhile
Of all the cards listed, I definitely enjoy the Centurion lounges and Priority Pass membership that comes with my American Express Platinum card. That’s partly because American Express waives the annual fee for all active duty military and I get these perks completely free, and because living in Japan and traveling around Asia there always seems to be a Priority Pass lounge wherever I go.
Which card do you use for airport lounge access? While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.