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AA, Delta and United lounges have limited access to customers flying with them: Here’s what to do

Nov. 27, 2019
11 min read
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Lounge access is critical for many travelers who need to remain productive while flying, and a lounge can also help you relax when traveling for pleasure or with family. Whether I work in a lounge for hours or simply stop in for five minutes to get a coffee and bagel, lounges provide comfort and value when I travel.

Historically, you could get access to American, Delta and United lounges simply by purchasing a lounge membership from the airline or as a benefit of select premium credit cards. But Delta already limits Sky Club access to those who are flying with Delta and its partners on the same day of their flights, and American and United implemented similar policies on Nov. 1, 2019.

These access policies can be frustrating. After all, even the most loyal customer may choose to periodically fly with another carrier when the schedule or price is significantly better. And some travelers have little say in what airline they fly if their company books their travel. If you've been relying on Admirals Club or United Club lounges when flying on other carriers — or would simply like lounge access more often — here are some ways you can expand the number of lounges available to you going forward.

Related: The best credit cards for airport lounge access

Apply for (more) cobranded airline cards

American, Delta and United all still offer paid lounge memberships. And there's at least one premium cobranded airline credit card that offers lounge access or membership to each airline's respective lounge network — usually with an annual fee that is less than an annual lounge membership cost.

So, if you want lounge access when flying American, Delta or United, you may want to consider one or more of the following personal credit cards:

CardWelcome bonusAnnual feeAccess typeGuestsUpcoming changes
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening$450Admirals Club membership for you and up to 10 authorized usersYour immediate family or up to two traveling guests who accompany youYou need to show boarding passes for same-day travel on American Airlines or partner airlines for lounge access
Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American ExpressEarn 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles and 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Terms apply.$450, or $550 for applications and renewals on or after Jan. 30, 2020 (see rates and fees)Delta Sky Club access for the primary cardholder when traveling on a Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flightUp to two guests and children under 21 for $29 per person per visitGuest fee will increase to $39 per person per visit and same-day boarding pass will be required starting Jan. 30, 2020
United Club Card50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening$450United Club membership for the primary cardholderTwo guests, or one adult and dependent children under 21A same-day boarding pass for travel on United, Star Alliance or a contracted partner operated flight is required

It's important to note that these cards will not help you when you're flying other, non-partner airlines such as Southwest and Spirit. But, if you stick mostly to American, Delta and United, having a few of these cards may allow you to have lounge access before most flights — especially if you also have a card that provides Priority Pass lounge access.

Related: The best airline credit cards of 2019

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Get access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection

Get lounge access through some of Amex's most premium cards. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express provide various premium membership benefits to cardholders including multiple types of lounge access through the American Express Global Lounge Collection. Enrollment required for select benefits.

The Amex Platinum and Amex Business Platinum are the best cards for airport lounge access that don't require an invite due to the quality and quantity of lounges you can access. In particular, you'll get complimentary access to the following lounge networks with the Amex Platinum or Amex Business Platinum:

In total, you can access more than 1,200 airport lounges in 130 countries. The easiest way to see if a particular airport has a lounge you can access through the American Express Global Lounge Collection is to use the search function on the Global Lounge Collection website.

Apply here for The Platinum Card from American Express or The Business Platinum Card from American Express

Add a card with Priority Pass lounge access to your wallet

Get access to lounges all around the world, including the Oman Air lounge in Bangkok (BKK). (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Various cards offer Priority Pass lounge access as a benefit. There are currently more than 1,300 Priority Pass lounges in 148 countries, and many of these lounges are excellent. There are also some restaurants that participate in the Priority Pass program, but Priority Pass memberships that come as a benefit of Amex cards do not include restaurant access.

My favorite card that offers Priority Pass Select membership is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. But if you're looking for a lower annual fee card that provides a few Priority Pass entrances each year, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card might be a better fit with its $95 annual fee (see rates & fees), since it offers 10 complimentary visits each year. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Related: The best credit cards for Priority Pass lounge access

Use the American Express® Green Card's lounge credit

You can purchase access to the Club at SJC for $39 through LoungeBuddy. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Another way to get a few complementary lounge visits each year is with the American Express® Green Card. The newly refreshed Amex Green Card offers up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year when you use it to purchase lounge access through LoungeBuddy. Lounge access through LoungeBuddy starts at $25 per visit, although most lounges I checked charge $39 to $59 per person per visit.

The Amex Green Card earns three Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on travel, transit and restaurants — which provides a 6% return based on TPG's valuations. And, you'll get a $100 statement credit each calendar year that can help offset a Clear membership fee paid for with your card. Check out our full Amex Green Card review for more details.

Related: Is the Amex Green Card worth the annual fee?

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Consider non-lounge options

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
For some passengers, a restaurant in the terminal can provide a better temporary office than a lounge. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

I spoke with a woman who travels frequently for business at a party recently, and she said she doesn't really miss having Delta Sky Club access when flying other airlines. I asked her to elaborate, and she responded that she was just as comfortable working in the terminal as she was in the Sky Club lounges. She attributed this to improving restaurants, cafes and seating areas in terminals.

I still prefer to work in a lounge when possible. But I've found that I can work effectively almost anywhere with my noise-cancelling headphones if I have a comfortable place to sit, fast Wi-Fi and power. This basics can be difficult to find at some airports though, which is when lounge access can be especially valuable.

Related: TPG special report on the best and worst U.S. airports of 2019

Travel on airlines for which you have lounge access

If you can fly on Delta, American or United for a trip, choose carefully if you don't have lounge access with all three. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If you have an airline lounge membership with American, Delta or United — or you have a premium credit card to provides access — you may opt for this airline over other options. This is especially true if you know you'll want lounge access on a particular trip.

I certainly consider lounge access if prices and itineraries are similar. For some trips, I can fly with any airline since I know I'll be visiting a Centurion Lounge using The Platinum Card from American Express or a Priority Pass lounge. But, for other trips, I'll travel on American or Delta since I have lounge access when flying these airlines through my elite status with Malaysia Airlines and being an authorized user on my husband's Amex Platinum.

See TPG's full guides for American Admirals Club access, Delta Sky Club access and United Club access

Bottom line

No airline cards offer lounge access while flying non-partner airlines now that American and United changed their policies on Nov. 1, 2019. And even the paid memberships for American, Delta and United only offer access when flying the airline or its partners (unless you have an existing lifetime Delta Sky Club membership or an existing Admirals Club lifetime membership).

If you've been relying on lounge access to any of these airline clubs when flying on other carriers, this access also ended for American Admirals Clubs and United Clubs on Nov. 1, 2019 (and ended for Delta Sky Clubs on Jan. 1, 2019). If these changes mean you won't have lounge access when you need it, now is the time to consider adding a new card to your wallet or reconsidering how you travel.

Further reading: The best credit cards for airport lounge access

For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, please click here.

Featured image by (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.