Paying for airline lounge membership with miles: Worth it or a bad deal?
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Editor’s note: At TPG, we paused traveling to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Local and federal governments around the globe are now debating the appropriate levels of isolation and distancing. Before booking that next trip, we recommend you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions. TPG is continuing to publish deals, reviews and general travel news to inform and prepare you for that trip, whether it is next month or next year. But, note that as of publishing many of the lounge networks mentioned in this guide are partially or completely closed.
Airline lounges offer many benefits for all types of travelers. For example, I’ve spent many hours happily working from lounges. And, airline lounges usually provide complimentary food and drinks, as well as personalized assistance with flight cancellations and rebookings.
These lounges are a welcome escape from the craziness of airport terminals and gate areas. So, if you have a large stash of airline miles, you may wonder if you should use your miles to purchase a lounge membership with your airline of choice. To help you decide, this guide will consider lounge memberships with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Air Canada before discussing some other options.
American Airlines Admirals Club
If American Airlines is your airline of choice, you may want to purchase an annual Admirals Club membership. Admirals Club membership offers access to nearly 50 Admirals Club locations as well as more than 60 partner lounges across the globe. However, as of Nov. 1, 2019, to gain Admirals Club access you must have a boarding pass for same-day travel on any departing or arriving flight that is:
- Marketed or operated by American
- Marketed and operated by any Oneworld airline
- Marketed and operated by Alaska Airlines
Admirals Club membership includes access for the member and the member’s immediate family members (spouse or domestic partner and children under 18 years of age), or up to two guests when these individuals accompany the Admirals Club member.
Related reading: The best uses of 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles
The cost for an Admirals Club membership varies across the different elite levels of the AAdvantage program. And first-time memberships require additional miles or cash to cover the initiation fee. Travelers can choose between a single membership or a household membership that also provides full membership to a spouse or domestic partner.
|Membership type||AAdvantage member||AAdvantage Gold||AAdvantage Platinum||AAdvantage Platinum Pro||AAdvantage Executive Platinum|
|Individual (new)||$650 or 65,000 miles per year||$625 or 62,500 miles per year||$600 or 60,000 miles per year||$575 or 57,500 miles per year||$550 or 55,000 miles per year|
|Individual (renewal)||$600 or 60,000 miles per year||$575 or 57,500 miles per year||$550 or 55,000 miles per year||$525 or 52,500 miles per year||$500 or 50,000 miles per year|
|Household (new)||$1,250 or 125,000 miles per year||$1,225 or 122,500 miles per year||$1,200 or 120,000 miles per year||$1,175 or 117,500 miles per year||$1,150 or 115,000 miles per year|
|Household (renewal)||$1,200 or 120,000 miles per year||$1,175 or 117,500 miles per year||$1,150 or 115,000 miles per year||$1,125 or 112,500 miles per year||$1,100 or 110,000 miles per year|
As you can see in the table, AAdvantage miles are valued at 1 cent each when used to purchase an Admirals Club membership. This is well below TPG’s valuation of AAdvantage miles at 1.4 cents each, so we generally wouldn’t recommend using your AAdvantage miles to purchase an Admirals Club membership.
Another option for an Admirals Club membership is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®. Although this card carries a $450 annual fee, primary credit cardmembers receive full membership access privileges to Admirals Club lounges. And authorized users receive access privileges to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges. Cardmembers must have a same-day boarding pass for an eligible American Airlines flight or partner flight to access the lounge. The card’s annual fee is less than the least-expensive annual membership, so it can be a more valuable option even if you don’t add any authorized users. To learn more, check out our Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard review.
Related reading: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers
Delta Air Lines Sky Club
If Delta Air Lines is your airline of choice, you may want to purchase a Delta Sky Club membership. Sky Club membership offers access to more than 50 Sky Club lounges. But, effective Jan. 1, 2019, Delta Sky Club members may only use the Sky Club in conjunction with same-day, ticketed air travel on Delta or its partner airlines and will no longer have access to partner lounges.
Related reading: The best Delta Sky Club lounges in the U.S.
Delta offers two types of Sky Club membership: executive or individual. Executive membership includes unlimited Delta Sky Club access for the member and up to two guests per visit, while individual membership includes unlimited Sky Club access for only the member. However, members with an individual membership may bring up to two guests for $39 per guest per visit.
|Membership type||Cash cost||Miles cost||Cash cost in monthly installments*|
|Individual membership||$545 per year||54,500 miles per year||$50 per month|
|Executive membership||$845 per year||84,500 miles per year||$75 per month|
*Payment plan requires a one-year contract and initiation fee.
As you can see, the monthly cash rate is more expensive than the annual rate, even before the initiation fee. You can’t use miles to pay monthly. But, when used to pay for a one-year Sky Club membership, Delta SkyMiles are valued at 1 cent each. This is below TPG’s valuation of Delta SkyMiles at 1.2 cents each, so we generally wouldn’t recommend using your SkyMiles to purchase a Sky Club membership.
Related reading: Best sweet spots with Delta SkyMiles
A different option for getting a Delta Sky Club membership is with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card.
The Delta Reserve Amex has an annual fee of $550 (see rates and fees) and the Delta Reserve Business Amex has an annual fee of $550 (see rates and fees), but both cards provide complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs when traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight. The Delta Reserve comes with two Delta Sky Club one-time guest passes each year. And both cards provide complimentary access to Amex Centurion Lounges when flying on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight that was booked on a U.S.-issued American Express card.
Related reading: Credit card showdown: Amex Platinum vs. Delta Reserve
United Airlines Club
If United Airlines is your airline of choice, you may want to purchase a United Club membership. As a United Club member, you’ll have access to more 45 United Club locations worldwide as well as select partner lounges around the world. But as of Nov. 1, 2019, United Club customers, including members and their guests, must provide a same-day arrival and/or departure boarding pass in the customer’s name on a United or Star Alliance partner-operated flight for entry into all United Club locations.
United Club membership includes access to select guests that accompany the United member. Guests are limited to either two adults or one adult and dependent children under 21 years of age.
Related reading: These are the world’s best United Clubs
The cost for a United Club membership varies across the different elite levels of the United MileagePlus program.
|Membership rate||Cash cost||Miles cost|
|General member||$650 per year||85,000 miles per year|
|Premier Silver||$650 per year||85,000 miles per year|
|Premier Gold||$650 per year||85,000 miles per year|
|Premier Platinum||$600 per year||80,000 miles per year|
|Premier 1K||$550 per year||75,000 miles per year|
|United Global Services||$550 per year||75,000 miles per year|
If you use United MileagePlus miles to purchase a United Club membership, you’ll get a value of between 0.73 and 0.76. This is well below TPG’s valuation of United MileagePlus miles at 1.3 cents each, so we generally wouldn’t recommend using your United MileagePlus miles to purchase a United Club membership.
Note that it is possible to purchase a “subscriber and spouse” membership, but this provides no discount since the spouse is simply charged at the normal general member rate regardless of their status.
Another option if you’re thinking of paying for a United Club membership is the United Club Infinite Card ($525 annual fee), the United Club Business Card ($450) or various card products that are no longer accepting new applications such as the United Club Card ($450 annual fee). The annual fees for these cards are all lower than even the least expensive United Club membership. So it may make sense to apply for one of these cobranded United credit cards instead of paying for a United Club membership. To learn more, read our United Club Infinite Card review.
The information for the United Club Business 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.
Related reading: United Club Infinite Card vs. United Club Card
Air Canada Maple Leaf Club
Since United is a part of Star Alliance, there is another way of gaining access to United Club lounges by redeeming miles: using Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent-flyer program. Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Club membership provides lounge access as you wait for your confirmed Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, Air Canada Express or other Star Alliance member-operated flight.
Related reading: The best websites for searching Star Alliance award availability
Maple Leaf Club membership is available in three tiers using miles. The basic Maple Leaf Club Canada option offers access to 18 lounges in Canada. If you do not use Canadian airports exclusively, the other two tiers could be interesting options. But, except for the Maple Leaf Club Worldwide option, which includes a guest, you’ll need to pay a fee per guest that generally ranges from $20 to $36 per guest per visit.
|Membership type||Access type||Cash cost||Miles cost|
|Maple Leaf Club Canada||18 lounges in Canada||About $266 per year (or CA$375)
About $390 per year) including membership for your partner (or CA$550)
|40,750 miles per year
59,500 miles per year including membership for your partner
|Maple Leaf Club North America Plus||More than 60 lounges in Canada, the U.S. and Europe||About $351 per year (or CA$495)
About $518 per year, including membership for your partner (or CA$730)
|53,500 miles per year
79,000 miles per year including membership for your partner
|Maple Leaf Club Worldwide||More than 210 lounges around the world
May be accompanied by one guest
|About $471 per year (or CA$665)
About $688 per year, including membership for your partner (or CA$970)
|72,000 miles per year
105,000 miles per year including membership for your partner
If you use Aeroplan miles to purchase a Maple Leaf Club membership, you’ll get a value of about 0.65 cents each. This is well below TPG’s valuation of Aeroplan miles at 1.5 cents each, so we generally wouldn’t recommend using Aeroplan miles to purchase a Maple Leaf Club membership.
Remember you can transfer points to Aeroplan from select transferrable currencies at the following ratios:
- American Express Membership Rewards: 1:1
- Capital One miles: 2:1.5
- Marriott Bonvoy: 3:1 (with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred)
But, unless you have a large cache of rewards and are earning rewards faster than you can redeem them, you likely won’t want to transfer rewards to Aeroplan to redeem for a Maple Leaf Club membership.
Related reading: The best ways to maximize Air Canada’s Aeroplan program
This guide primarily focuses on airline lounges in the U.S. for which you can purchase a membership using your points or miles. But, especially since airline lounge access is generally limited to when you’re flying a specific airline or its partners, it’s important to note that there are other methods for accessing a wider variety of airport lounges.
For example, cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express can access lounges in the American Express Global Lounge Collection including American Express Centurion Lounges, Escape Lounges, Airspace Lounges, Priority Pass lounges and Delta Sky Clubs when flying with Delta.
And, many credit cards offer Priority Pass Lounge membership. Plus, the American Express® Green Card offers up to $100 of statement credits for lounge access through LoungeBuddy each year.
Related reading: Best credit cards for airport lounge access
The value you’ll get from purchasing these airline lounge memberships using airline miles ranges from 0.65 cents per mile to 1 cent per mile. In each case, TPG values these miles at a higher rate than what you’ll get by redeeming them for a lounge membership.
But, we all have different valuations for our hard-earned frequent-flyer currencies. So, if you are short on cash and long on miles, these memberships can offer an alternate way to spend your miles to make your airport experience a bit more comfortable.
Featured photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy.
Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $700. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you. Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.
- Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Admirals Club® membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you
- Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
- First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
- The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.99% - 24.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.