Airport Lounge Access Policies for Active Duty Military

Apr 29, 2018

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Pretty much all of the airlines in the US have generous military policies in one form or another. Free checked bags, waived fees, early boarding and military fares have saved me thousands of dollars over the last nine years.

But one of the best perks I enjoyed many times while I was active duty was airport lounge access provided by the legacy US carriers. Let’s take a look at these policies today and how you can take advantage if you’re active duty.

Consistency is Problematic

Before I dig into each of the airlines’ written policies, let me tell you that in my experience over nine years of lounge hopping in and out of the US, I found the written policies were often unknown, unenforced or sometimes contradicted. The policies also changed many times (and continue to change) over the course of my active duty time. That doesn’t help lounge agents who, in many cases, don’t have to deal very often with an active duty member requesting access.

Here are some of the things I had lounge agents tell me were required for entry, which may or may not have been true given the policy at the time:

  • Must be in uniform
  • Must be on orders (no leisure travel)
  • Must be on orders and traveling on an international leg
  • Must be returning from an overseas deployment
  • No guests allowed
  • The lounge agent would try and direct me to the USO

Many times these were not the correct airline policies, so I usually had the actual policy pulled up on my phone ready to (very politely) show the agent. This was always an uncomfortable situation, as I didn’t like insisting on a generous policy, especially one that directly benefited me. However, I also didn’t like written policy not being enforced correctly (hey, I’m a military man). But it was a rare occasion when an agent pushed back.

I’d say that 90% of the time, even though I never once traveled in uniform in my career, I produced my military ID, orders/leave chit and a boarding pass for same-day travel on the carrier whose lounge I was accessing and the lounge agent would welcome me right in. Or they’d say that technically I should be in uniform or on orders, but they were happy to let me in anyway. They also always let my wife and son enter with me. So with the inconsistencies reviewed, let’s look at specific lounge access policies.

American Admirals Club

An empty Admirals Club in BOS
The Admirals Club in Boston’s (BOS) Terminal B.

US military personnel traveling in uniform on a same-day flight operated by American can receive lounge access in both domestic and international lounges. Your immediate family is also welcome, or up to two guests traveling with you. You only need your military ID and boarding pass to enter.

This policy doesn’t make a lot of sense and is also poorly worded on AA.com. It doesn’t require you to be on official travel, but does require you to be in uniform. If you’re on leave, it surely isn’t worth traveling in uniform just to get Admirals Club access. As noted above, I never traveled in uniform and Admirals Club agents always let me in, even if they remarked that uniform is technically required. This policy also doesn’t say you must be active duty, so reservists, it’s worth a polite request at the desk to see if they’ll let you enter.

Delta Sky Club

The Delta Sky Club in Seattle (SEA).

There’s no specific policy for military gaining entry to Delta Sky Clubs. However, because The Platinum Card from American Express gives Sky Club access when flying Delta the same day, and because there’s no annual fee for active duty Platinum cardholders, you should have this card in your wallet. You’ll then also have free Priority Pass membership and lounge access almost anywhere in the world.

United Club

The United Club lounge in London.
The United Club in London Heathrow (LHR).

Active duty members in uniform or on leave/R&R may visit United Clubs as long as you’re flying United the same day. Your family members can also enter the lounge with you. United asks for military ID, boarding pass and a copy of your orders or leave chit for entry. This policy is very clear online, so even if an agent gave pushback, a quick, polite show of United.com allowed me access.

Bottom Line

Because of the AA policy ambiguity and access for both UA and AA requiring the lounge agent to know the rules, I say you might as well guarantee yourself lounge access for no annual fee by getting a Chase Sapphire Reserve (for Priority Pass membership) or Platinum Card from American Express (for both Sky Club and Priority Pass access). Don’t forget most major airports have USO lounges, which can often be better than the legacy carrier’s own offerings or located in airports that don’t have airline or priority pass lounges. Of note, Alaska Airlines does not give military complimentary Boardroom access.

I am very grateful to United and American for the dozens of times my family and I enjoyed the lounges during my active duty years (Go Navy, Beat Army) and the friendly lounge agents offering their own thanks and well wishes on our travels.

Featured image of the United Club at LAX by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.

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