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How to Pay Less to Use an Airport Lounge

Consumer Reports logo Consumer Reports 2/5/2019 Aimee Picchi
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If you’re traveling by plane this spring, you could find the airports crowded with college kids on spring break. That might be enough to send you looking for a quiet zone while you wait to board your flight.

One option: Head to an airport lounge.

Discreetly tucked away in airport terminals, lounges such as Delta Sky Club, Admirals Club, and United Club provide drinks, food, WiFi, charging stations, comfortable seats, and, yes, quieter surroundings.

But they can also be expensive.

American Airlines, for example, increased the price of a new annual membership to its Admirals Club to $650 or 65,000 miles this month, according to Sunny Rodriguez, a spokesperson for American Airlines. Membership can get you into more than 50 Admirals Club airport lounges as well as 60 other partner lounges around the world. 

United charges $550 or 70,000 miles for an annual membership and gives you access to more than 45 locations and other partner lounges worldwide. 

Delta is a little less expensive, with membership prices starting at $545 or 54,500 miles per year. The airline offers 50 Delta Sky Club locations.

Ways to Pay Less

Fortunately, there are other ways to use these facilities without spending a lot of money, says Tracy Stewart, an editor at Airfarewatchdog.com.

Here are some suggestions.

Buy a one-time pass. If you don’t travel too often, it probably isn’t worth paying the annual fee, says Tracy. If you know you’ll have a long layover, however, American’s Admirals Club and United Club offer one-day passes at some of their locations for $59. Delta doesn’t offer a one-day pass.

Join a lounge network. If you do travel frequently, there are a number of networks that offer access to lounges. Each offers more choices than any one airline can, and the membership price is lower than the cost of joining an airline club.  Here are four networks to consider.

  • Priority Pass provides access to more than 1,200 lounges across the world, including those run by Virgin, Air Canada, and Air France. But it doesn’t provide access to all the lounges run by the main U.S. carriers. The cost for Priority Pass’ least expensive membership is $99 per year plus $32 each time you enter a lounge. The most expensive plan costs $429 per year with no additional fees to enter a lounge.

  • LoungeBuddy doesn’t require a membership. Instead, customers can use its app to buy lounge passes at more than 200 lounges. Day passes cost about $50 each, depending on the lounge.

  • Airspace Lounge offers access to airport lounges in Cleveland and San Diego. Passes start at $20. 

  • Club Airport Lounge operates lounges at 11 U.S. airports and two London airports. There is no membership fee but you can purchase a day pass for $40, which can be used any time within a 6-month period.

Get the right credit card. If you’re a frequent traveler, you could be better off taking out a credit card that gives you access to a lounge instead of paying the lounge's annual membership fee, says Nevin Spearman, a spokesman for Smarter Travel, an online travel website.

The Citi/AAdvantage Executive credit card, for instance, costs less than membership—$450 per year—but includes access to Admirals Club. When you arrive at the lounge, you'll have to show your credit card as well as your boarding pass and ID. You can bring family or two other guests for free.

If you have the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, you can use Delta Sky Club. The credit card costs $450 per year and you can take up to two guests with you for $29 per person. You’ll need to show a same-day ticket on a flight operated by Delta.

The United MileagePlus Club Card also costs $450 and includes membership to United Club. You may be able to bring guests with you, but it depends on the location.

Other cards offer lounge access as well. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Credit Card, for example, both charge $450 per year. But they include membership to Priority Pass’s network of airport lounges. You can bring in two guests for free and if you bring more, there is a charge of $27 each.

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2019, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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