Should you keep your airline credit card? Here's what to consider as airport lounges reopen
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
With demand down and travel accessibility reduced around the world, the ability to access airport lounges has been restricted since the onset of the pandemic. The good news is that more U.S. lounges are reopening -- but you can expect major changes on your next visit.
Unfortunately, with fewer passengers passing through many non-hub airports, some U.S. airline lounges remain closed.
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What should you do with your credit card that specifically comes with airline lounge access? Let’s compare the coronavirus-related changes for cards that offer airline lounge access from American, Delta and United -- and evaluate whether it's worth holding on to these cards.
Related: Complete guide to the latest credit card benefit changes
Related: Complete guide to the best airline credit cards
Which premium airline credit cards offer lounge access?
The three legacy U.S. airlines -- American, Delta, and United -- each offers a top-of-the-line credit card that unlocks lounge access -- as long as you have a same-day boarding pass with the airline or eligible partner airline.
These cards all carry hefty annual fees of $450 or more. However, in almost all cases, it actually is more affordable to apply and be a cardholder for any of these three airlines than it is to pay outright for an annual lounge membership.
The $450 annual fee on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® gets you and immediate family members (spouse or domestic partner and children under 18 years of age) or up to two guests access to the Admirals Club and partner airport lounges. You’ll need a same-day American Airlines boarding pass or a pass from an eligible partner airline.
What makes this card’s lounge access even more valuable is that it extends to authorized users. You can add up to 10 authorized users to your account -- for free -- and they get lounge access too.
The $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) that comes with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card gets you access to Delta Sky Club and American Express Centurion Lounges. For Sky Clubs, you can bring up to two guests with you for $39 per person and for Centurion lounges, it’s $50 per person. However, Delta Reserve cardholders receive two complimentary one-time-use Sky Club guest passes. For entrance to either the SkyClub or Centurion lounges, the cardholder and any guests will need a same-day Delta boarding pass.
Similar to Delta and American, the card includes a United Club membership, which can cost up to $650 per year on its own. When you have a same-day United (or eligible partner airline) boarding pass, you and up to two guests can access any United Club lounge.
Related reading: Complete guide to airline lounges reopening
Accessing American Admirals Clubs with a credit card
Citi announced in early May that customers whose accounts were open as of March 31, 2020, would receive a one-time $225 statement credit upon account renewal. This represents a 50% rebate on the annual fee, and lowers the true cost for the Citi AAdvantage Executive card to $225 a year.
However, that doesn’t incentivize anyone to apply for a card now, as the offer only affects existing cardholders. Even then, for those that have the card, you may still have to consider your travel patterns and the availability of American flights and lounges before deciding to keep the card.
List of open Admirals Clubs (as of Dec. 9, 2020):
- Austin (AUS) – Gate 22
- Boston (BOS) – Terminal B
- Charlotte (CLT) – Concourses B and C
- Chicago O’Hare (ORD) – Concourse H/K
- Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW) – Terminals A, B, C and D
- Denver (DEN) – Concourse A
- Houston Intercontinental (IAH) – Terminal A
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Terminal 4
- Miami (MIA) – Gate D30
- Nashville (BNA) – Concourse C
- New York (JFK) – Gate 12 (Flagship Lounge with temporary Admirals Club service)
- New York LaGuardia (LGA) – Concourse D
- Orange County (SNA) – Gate 8
- Orlando (MCO) – Gate 55
- Philadelphia (PHL) – Terminals B/C
- Phoenix (PHX) – Gate A7
- Raleigh / Durham (RDU) – Terminal 2
- San Francisco (SFO) – Terminal 1
- Tampa (TPA) – Gate 85
- Washington Reagan (DCA) – Terminal C
Related: 3 reasons why this is the best card for Admirals Club access
Accessing Delta Sky Clubs with a credit card
Early this year, Delta announced a slew of updates including elite status extensions and Medallion® Qualifying Miles (MQMs) rolling over to 2021.
For cardholders, Delta announced further extensions of SkyMiles benefits including unused Sky Club guest passes from the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card now set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021. Furthermore, unused companion certificates (including those issued in 2019) have had their expiration dates extended to Dec. 31, 2021.
Unfortunately, there has been no official announcement from either Amex or Delta of a reduction in the annual fee. Anecdotally, there have been reports of generous retention offers on a case-by-case basis.
With that said, it may or may not be enough for current Delta Reserve cardholders. Many Sky Clubs have reopened, here's a look (as of Dec. 9, 2020):
- Atlanta (ATL – ACPT)
- Atlanta (ATL – A17)
- Atlanta (ATL – B18)
- Atlanta (ATL – D27)
- Atlanta (ATL – F)
- Atlanta (ATL – T)
- Boston (BOS – A7)
- Chicago (ORD-T2)
- Cincinnati (CVG – B)
- Dallas (DFW-E)
- Denver (DEN – A)
- Detroit (DTW – A38)
- LaGuardia (LGA – C)
- LaGuardia (LGA – D)
- Los Angeles (LAX – T2)
- Minneapolis – St. Paul (MSP – F/G)
- Nashville (BNA – B3)
- New York (JFK – T4)
- Orlando (MCO – 4)
- Phoenix (PHX – T3)
- Raleigh (RDU – T2)
- Seattle (SEA – A)
- San Francisco (SFO – C3)
- Salt Lake City (SLC)
- Tampa (TPA – E68)
- Washington, D.C. (DCA – B15)
Accessing United Clubs with a credit card
I have heard reports of cardholders receiving an up to $100 statement credit, again, on a case-by-case basis. With some United Clubs still closed and travel still curtailed, it may not be enough for current cardholders.
Here are the United Clubs open (as of Dec. 9, 2020):
- Chicago location Terminal 1, Concourse B, near Gate B6
- Denver location Concourse B East, near Gate B32
- Denver location Concourse B East, near Gate B44
- Honolulu location Diamond Head Concourse, Level 3, above Gates G2 and G3 (opening Nov. 21)
- Houston location Terminal E, between Gates E11 and E12
- Houston location Terminal C, near gate C1
- Los Angeles location Terminal 7, next to Gate 71A
- New York-Newark (EWR) location Terminal C, Upper Level, near Gate C74
- San Francisco location Terminal 3, Boarding Area F, Rotunda, near Gate F11
- Washington, D.C. (IAD) location Midfield Terminal, Concourse C, near Gate C7
- Washington, D.C. (IAD) location Midfield Terminal, Concourse D, near Gate D8 (opening Nov. 18)
Related: Should you apply for the United Club Infinite card?
While temporary non-travel benefits on these lounge-access cards are a solid perk, that doesn’t solve the fact that for many cardholders, lounges are largely unusable during the pandemic.
With each passing day, more lounges are reopening (including all of the Amex Centurion lounges). But at the end of the day, this isn’t purely about lounge access. Will you be traveling in the upcoming months? And as airlines slowly reinstate routes back into service, will they be flying where you need to go? Don’t forget, in order to access these lounges, you’ll need to have a boarding pass with that airline.
These are things to take into consideration whether you’re a current cardholder -- or looking to add one of these premium airline cards to your wallet.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Amex, please click here.