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Relaxing in a lounge before a flight can create a sense of airport nirvana. No loud gate announcements. No crowded waiting areas. No one plopping down next to you to scarf down smelly fast food. Instead you’ll typically get comfy chairs, fast (and free) Wi-Fi and some type of complimentary snack and drink options. Fortunately, these oases aren’t just for the most frequent travelers or the businessmen and women whose companies spring for paid first or business class tickets. Most premium travel rewards credit cards include lounge access among their lists of benefits.
But which of these cards gets you into the most lounges in the most airports around the world? Getting complimentary access sounds great in theory, but what if it’s only to a handful of locations? Today we’re putting several cards head-to-head to determine which card has the most comprehensive lounge coverage out there, including an in-depth analysis of the various access policies.
Before getting into the weeds, here’s a quick summary table that ranks these top cards based on the number of worldwide lounges you’d be able to access as a cardholder of each:
|1||The Platinum Card® from American Express||1,303||647|
|2||The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card||1,220||629|
|3||Citi Prestige Card||1,220||629|
|4||Chase Sapphire Reserve||1,220||629|
|5 (tie)||Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||1,220||629|
|5 (tie)||Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card||1,220||629|
|7||United MileagePlus Club Card||233||136|
|8||Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard||119||88|
|9||Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express||50||33|
Note that these numbers are accurate as of the time of writing (June 2018) and include both standard lounges as well as “lounge-like” perks that are continuing to pop up through the Priority Pass program, like Minute Suites and dining outlets. These numbers also take into account overlapping airport coverage. In other words, if there’s both a Priority Pass lounge and American Express lounge in a single airport, it was only counted once. The numbers also include all lounges in each card’s network, though I did find a few that are temporarily closed for renovations. These locations have been noted below. Finally, there are some distinct reasons why I placed a couple cards ahead of others with identical numbers, which I’ve included in the analysis that follows.
The first premium card on the list stands ahead of the others, with roughly 6.8% more lounges than its nearest competitor, covering 2.9% more airports. The Amex Platinum includes not only Priority Pass Select membership and its 1,220 locations in 629 airports, but also the following partners, which push the card to the top spot:
- American Express Centurion Lounges: As the new standard for domestic lounges in the US, these are currently available in 9 airports with three more to come in New York (JFK), Denver (DEN) and Los Angeles (LAX).
- American Express international lounges: Platinum cardholders can also access 10 additional global Amex lounges in 7 airports, though this doesn’t include the Mumbai (BOM) location that’s temporarily closed.
- Airspace Lounges: 3 locations in 3 airports
- Escape Lounges: 4 locations in 4 US airports (the British lounges under the Escape brand are included in the Priority Pass program)
- Lufthansa: 7 locations in 2 airports (though you must be flying Lufthansa, Austrian or SWISS to access)
- Delta Sky Clubs: 50 locations in 33 airports (though you must be flying Delta to access)
Another great aspect of the lounge perks on the Amex Platinum is that authorized users on the card will enjoy access to all of these lounges as well. This actually makes sense given that you have to pay $175 for the first three authorized users and then $175 for each additional cardholder beyond that point (See Rates & Fees). While this isn’t cheap, it makes for a great holiday or birthday gift for your loved ones!
One final thing to consider is how many guests you can take into these lounges. Each one comes with its own guest policies, so keep the following in mind:
- Priority Pass: Two guests
- Centurion Lounges: Two guests
- Other American Express lounges: Minimum of one guest
- Airspace Lounges: Immediate family members or two guests
- Escape Lounges: Two guests
- Lufthansa lounges: “Certain locations will allow guests for a fee.”
- Delta Sky Club: Immediate family or two guests for a fee of $29 per person
Even with these restrictions, The Platinum Card from American Express gets you into the most lounges of any card out there!
The second spot goes to the Ritz-Carlton card. As a cardholder, you get complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, giving you access to 1,220 lounges and other perks at 629 airports around the world (as noted above). At first glance, you may be wondering why the card occupies the second spot by itself, given that the next four entries on the list also include the exact same number of lounges and airports. There are two reasons:
- Authorized users: When you add authorized users to your Ritz-Carlton Rewards card, they can get their own Priority Pass Select membership. Even better? There’s no fee for doing so.
- Guest policy: Most cards that offer Priority Pass privileges explicitly limit the number of guests you can bring into participating lounges. However, that isn’t the case with the Ritz-Carlton card. The Offer Details section of the card’s application page doesn’t provide any language limiting how many guests can accompany you into a lounge.
These two big differences are enough to break the tie and earn it second place on this list.
The next card on the list is the Citi Prestige, which offers the same Priority Pass coverage (1,220 lounges in 629 airports) as the two previously mentioned cards. Once again, it’s the details on the card that pushes it just ahead of the next three cards on the list.
For starters, authorized users on the card are eligible for their own Priority Pass Select membership, though there is a $50 annual fee for each additional cardholder. In addition, rather than restricting you to just two guests, you’re allowed to bring in two guests or your immediate family (defined as your spouse/domestic partner and/or children under the age of 18). This is a notable plus if you have two or more kids — with most of the other cards on the list, you’d only be able to bring your partner and one child for free. The other(s) would be subject to a $27 fee per visit.
Fourth place goes to the Sapphire Reserve. Once again, you have access to the same 1,220 lounges across the same 629 airports through Priority Pass, and like the Prestige, authorized users are able to get their own membership. This pushes the card just ahead of the other two further down on this list. Just keep in mind that the added fee is a bit higher — you’ll need to fork over $75 each year for every authorized user you add to the card.
The Sapphire Reserve initially allowed cardholders to bring unlimited guests into Priority Pass lounges, matching the perk on the Ritz-Carlton card. Unfortunately, as of August 26, 2018, Chase will be devaluing the perk to only allow two guests. While this may be a positive update for some travelers, it isn’t a welcome change for many others, especially those who typically travel with three or more immediate family members. This is why the card now falls just behind the Prestige when it comes to lounge access.
5. American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card
(tie) Starwood Preferred Guest Amex Luxury Card
The final two cards with Priority Pass Select membership are tied, since they are essentially identical when it comes to lounge privileges. Again, you have the same number of lounges (1,220) covering the same number of airports (629). You also have the same guest privileges (two) as the Amex Platinum and Sapphire Reserve. However, what drops these two cards to a tie for the fifth spot is the following verbiage from the Priority Pass Select section of the cards’ terms and conditions:
“Please note, Additional Card Members are not eligible for membership.”
Thus, these two cards have the most limited Priority Pass benefit of the six cards that offer it, dropping them to fifth place.
The remaining cards on the list are co-branded with specific airlines and don’t include access to Priority Pass lounges. There’s actually a pretty large disparity between the three, with the United Club Card coming out ahead of the other two by a fairly wide margin. For starters, you’ll be able to access 46 United Clubs across 31 airports whenever you travel, whether you’re flying United or another carrier. This also includes two adult guests or one adult guest and dependent children under the age of 21. Note that this is slightly better than most guest policies in that it doesn’t restrict you to your spouse/domestic partner and also allows your kids to accompany you for free until they’re 21 years old.
In addition to the United Clubs, you’ll also have access to another 187 partner lounges in 114 airports around the world thanks to the Star Alliance network. Unfortunately, the alliance’s lounge finder tool doesn’t display a comprehensive list, so I had to manually search across all major airports to arrive at this number. If you use the tool as well, you’ll definitely want to make sure to select “United Club” under the “Paid Membership Card” drop-down, as many airports have lounges accessible to elite members or business class travelers that aren’t open to United Club cardholders.
In addition, bear in mind that you must be traveling on a Star Alliance flight and show your club membership card — not your credit card — to access these partner lounges. You’re also only allowed a maximum of one guest, who also must be traveling on a Star Alliance flight. However, given the broad coverage offered by the card (233 lounges in 136 unique airports), the United Club card earns the seventh spot on the list.
The next airline co-branded card is the AAdvantage Executive card. This one grants members access to 55 Admirals Club locations in 37 airports (though note that one of the Miami lounges is temporarily closed for renovations). In addition, you’re eligible to enter 64 additional partner lounges, including Qantas lounge locations and Alaska Airlines Board Rooms. However, for this latter group of lounges, you must be flying on a flight operated and/or marketed by American, Qantas and/or Alaska. Check out the Partner Lounges section of the locations page on AA.com for full details.
It’s also worth noting that you can bring in up to two guests or your spouse/domestic partner and children under the age of 18, and you can get into the Admirals Club locations when flying any airline. You can even extend these privileges to friends and family members, as authorized users have the same access and guesting privileges for Admirals Clubs (and with no additional fee!). However, authorized users are not able to utilize the partner lounges.
All in all, as a primary cardholder, you’ll be able to utilize 119 lounges in 88 unique airports around the world with this card, as well as provide access to Admirals Clubs for authorized users.
Bringing up the rear is the Delta Reserve card, which fully deserves its last-place finish. For starters, the card only allows you to access Delta Sky Clubs, of which there are just 50 locations in 33 different airports worldwide. The big distinction here is that the Delta Reserve card provides access, not a membership like the United and American cards detailed above. As a result, there are no additional partner lounge privileges, and you must be flying on a Delta-coded or Delta-operated flight to get in.
To add insult to injury, you’re allowed up to two guests but must pay $29 for each of them. Finally, you can add authorized users to the card to get them access, but each additional Reserve card will set you back a whopping $175 per year! (See Rates & Fees)
If you’re truly after Sky Club access, the Amex Platinum is probably the better bet. The access policies are identical, plus you’ll enjoy a huge number of additional lounges and many other perks that make the annual fee easily worth it. To put some numbers to this, the Amex Platinum gets you into 26x more lounges covering roughly 20x more airports than the Delta Reserve card. That’s an incredible difference. And you can add three authorized users to the card for the same $175 it costs to add one authorized user to the Delta Reserve card. That’s about a close to a no-brainer as it gets.
Carrying a premium travel rewards credit card in your wallet can unlock a variety of valuable perks to make your travel more enjoyable, less stressful and more rewarding. Lounge access is one such perk, though not all of these benefits are created equally. The Platinum Card from American Express is currently the king of lounge access, though you may feel differently if you’re loyal to a particular airline or value another currency more highly. At any rate, if you’re eyeing one of these cards in order to relax in a lounge on your next flight, hopefully this analysis has shown which one would be the best fit for you.
Featured image of the Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow (LHR) courtesy of Priority Pass.
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