The ultimate guide to American Airlines Admirals Club access

Dec 23, 2020

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If you’re a frequent traveler on American Airlines, one of the world’s busiest airlines by passenger volume, access to an Admirals Club lounge can bring relief from a crowded airport terminal. Unfortunately, last year the airline added a new restriction limiting eligibility — even for paying customers. Today we’ll take a look at the different ways you can gain access to this network of lounges, including through credit cards, elite benefits and paid memberships.

Keep in mind that lounge capacity, hours of operation and service levels are in constant flux during the pandemic.

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Same-day flights on American

No matter how you earned your Admirals Club access, whether it was by flying with American Airlines enough to unlock a high level of elite status or paying for an annual lounge membership, there’s a new restriction to contend with. As of Nov. 1, 2019, you’ll need to show a same-day boarding pass for American Airlines or one of its partners to gain access to an Admirals Club lounge. While this move was likely meant to reduce overcrowding in the lounges, it’s undeniably a devaluation for elite members and paying customers alike.

Credit cards

There’s only one credit card that gives you access to Admirals Club lounges: AA’s most premium cobranded credit card, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®. This card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening, worth $700 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

In addition to double miles, the primary way this card justifies its $450 annual fee is with a complimentary Admirals Club membership. This allows you and two guests traveling with you to enter these lounges. You can even get in when you leave your card at home.

The real reason this card is such a hidden gem is because you’re allowed to add up to 10 authorized users, each of whom gets their own Admirals Club access privileges. This applies whether the primary cardholder is flying with that person or not, a terrific perk that is notably different from similar premium cards offered by other U.S. carriers. When you factor in the guesting privileges, a single card could get 33 people into an Admirals Club (one primary cardholder and 10 authorized users, each with two guests). In fact, you could even discuss splitting the annual fee with several of your authorized users to bring down everyone’s lounge costs.

Just be aware that authorized users do not get a full membership, just access. This is critical because their privileges only extend to Admirals Club locations, not partner lounges. Nevertheless, it’s still a valuable way for you to make the travel experience easier and less stressful for your friends and family members who travel on American.

Paid membership

Of course, you can always purchase a membership the old-fashioned way: by paying cash. The chart below shows the new prices, though these rates are discounted for all AAdvantage elite members. With recent changes making it easier to earn elite status, that discount is closer than ever.

Type of membership (individual) Annual price
Regular $650
Gold $625
Platinum $600
Platinum Pro $575
Executive Platinum $550
Concierge Key Free

Below you can see the cost of purchasing a membership with miles, as well as the value of the miles you’d spend based on TPG’s latest valuations:

Type of membership (individual) New annual price (AA miles) ‘Cost’ of membership
Regular 65,000 $910
Gold 62,500 $875
Platinum 60,000 $840
Platinum Pro 57,500 $805
Executive Platinum 55,000 $770
Concierge Key Free N/A

As you can see, it’s generally never a good idea to redeem miles for a membership. Even at the discounted rates for Executive Platinum members, you’re still using a large number of miles that could be redeemed for other, more valuable redemptions.

Select lounges also sell day passes for $59, and while this represents a relatively poor redemption, you can also redeem AA Business Extra points for lounge access, with a day pass costing 300 Business Extra points and a membership costing 3,000 points.

Elite status

Mid- and upper-tier American elites (specifically Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members) can access Admirals Clubs on qualifying long-haul international itineraries operated by AA or a Oneworld partner, no matter what class of service they are flying. Concierge Key members have it even better, as they earn a complimentary Admirals Club membership. Finally, if you are a Oneworld Emerald or Sapphire member with another Oneworld carrier, you’ll also enjoy access when traveling on eligible international itineraries, and your privileges include one guest.

For international travel, AA and Oneworld elites would be better off seeking out one of AA’s flagship lounges for a better food, drink and service experience. Flagship lounges are currently open in Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), New York-JFK, Miami (MIA) and Dallas (DFW), with future plans for Philadelphia (PHL) and London-Heathrow (LHR).

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Access rules for these lounges are the same as those for Admirals Club locations, though note that only qualifying first-class passengers can utilize the Flagship First Dining facilities located inside select clubs.

Ticket type

While standard domestic first-class tickets won’t get you access to Admirals Clubs, the following types of tickets will:

  • Premium cabin tickets on qualifying international American- or Oneworld-operated flights
  • Premium cabin tickets on American’s premium transcontinental service between New York-JFK and both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and between Boston (BOS) and Los Angeles

Again, if you’re flying through JFK or LAX, you should seek out a Flagship Lounge, but for premium transcontinental passengers originating in Boston or San Francisco, Admirals Club access can be a nice benefit. However, gaining access based on your ticket type does not afford you guesting privileges unless you’re flying in international first class, in which case you’re allowed one guest.

Bottom line

Lounge access can go a long way toward making a stressful travel day more manageable. American Airlines offers a plethora of different ways to gain access to its network of Admirals Club lounges, though you’ll need a same-day boarding pass for AA or a partner airline. Unfortunately, the quality of these lounges varies heavily, so before spending $59 on a day pass you should do some research on what type of experience you’ll get. With a single credit card providing a membership for you and access for your guests, that may be your best option.

Featured image courtesy of American Airlines.

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