Paying for airline lounge membership with miles: Worth it or a bad deal?
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Airline lounges offer many benefits for all types of travelers. I’ve spent many hours happily working from lounges, which usually provide complimentary food and drinks along with personalized assistance with flight cancellations and rebookings.
These lounges provide a welcome escape from the craziness of airport terminals and gate areas. If you have a large stash of airline miles, you may be wondering if you should use those miles to purchase a lounge membership with your airline of choice. This guide will consider lounge memberships with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines before discussing several other options.
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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 and more than 60 partner lounges across the globe.
To gain Admirals Club access, Admirals Club members 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.
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.
The cost for an Admirals Club membership varies across the different elite levels of the AAdvantage program and new 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 1.63 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 cardmembers receive full membership access privileges to Admirals Club lounges, while authorized users receive access privileges to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges. Cardmembers must have a same-day boarding pass for an eligible flight to access the lounge.
The card’s annual fee is less than the least-expensive annual membership, so it can be a better option even if you don’t add any authorized users. To learn more, check out our Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard review.
Delta Air Lines Sky Club
Delta Sky Club members may only use the Sky Club in conjunction with same-day, ticketed air travel on Delta or its partner airlines.
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, and you can’t use miles to pay monthly. 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 1.46 cents each, so we generally wouldn’t recommend using your SkyMiles to purchase a Sky Club membership.
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), while the Delta Reserve Business Amex has an annual fee of $550 (see rates and fees). Both cards provide complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs when traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight.
Both cards also offer 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 booked on a U.S.-issued American Express card.
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 than 45 United Club locations worldwide.
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, Star Alliance or a contracted partner 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.
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, Premier Silver and 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.|
If you use United MileagePlus miles to purchase a United Club membership, you’ll get a value of between 0.73 and 0.76 cents per mile. This is well below TPG’s valuation of United MileagePlus miles at 1.13 cents each, so we generally wouldn’t recommend using your United MileagePlus miles to purchase a United Club membership.
Another option if you’re thinking of paying for a United Club membership is the United Club Infinite Card ($525) or the United Club Business Card ($450). The annual fees for these cards are lower than even the least expensive United Club membership, so it may make sense to apply for one of these 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.
This guide focuses on the airline lounges in the U.S. for which you can purchase a membership using your points or miles. But remember that airline lounge access is generally limited to when you’re flying a specific airline or its partners. Your membership to a Delta lounge won’t mean much if you are flying with United, so it’s important to consider 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. Many credit cards offer Priority Pass Lounge membership. Plus, the American Express® Green Card offers up to $100 in statement credits for lounge access through LoungeBuddy each year.
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.
The value you’ll get from purchasing these airline lounge memberships with miles ranges from 0.73 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.
We all have different valuations for our hard-earned frequent-flyer currencies, though. So, if you are short on cash, these memberships can offer an alternate way to spend your miles to make your airport experience more comfortable.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Amex, click here.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $815. 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
- 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
- Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from 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 17.49% - 26.49% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.