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How to get 'free' airport lounge access

Mediafeed logo Mediafeed 26/12/2018 Jim Wang
a room filled with furniture and a table: airport lounge © airport lounge I have a few close friends who do a lot of international travel for work and business. One of the perks is travel to far-flung corners of the globe and they do so in the comfort of business class.

They have all kinds of crazy statuses. They're Executive Club Gold on British Airways or Diamond Medallion on Delta or AAdvantage Executive Platinum – you know, the top of the top in status.

One of perks of those top tiers is waiting in luxury. You don't sit with the rest of the commoners in the waiting area. You sit in lounges. You sip champagne, eat bon-bons, and live the good life.

See those fancy looking plaques that say “Admirals Club” or the “Concorde Room” as you walk through the airport concourse? That's where my friends are.

I don't travel enough, nor do I spend enough, but what if I want to enjoy the good life too? It's possible. Let's learn how.

Ask a First Class Flyer

There is only one “free” way to get in – ask someone flying first class to take you in as their guest.

When someone flies first class, they get access to the lounge. They can also bring in a guest or two for free. You know where I'm going with this.

While I don't recommend it, because it involves standing around the lounge's entrance, but it's the only free way. If you want access and don't want to pay (or can't), ask someone politely if they'd be willing to add you as their guest.

To up your chances, make sure you look professional and you give a reason for needing it. Studies have shown that people are more likely to help you out (like letting you cut in line) if you give a reason.

If you don't want to ask, here is a primer on how lounges work followed by other ways you can get in.

The Airport Lounge Ecosystem

There are three “types” of airport lounges:

With airline and private lounges, sometimes you can get access as a credit card perk and flying with them that day. More on that in the airline lounge section.

Private Lounges

There are private airline lounge companies that let you pay for an annual membership or a Day Pass.

The Centurion Lounge

One of the most well-regarded networks is The Centurion Lounge by American Express.

They have lounges in:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW)
  • Hong Kong International (HKG)
  • IAH/Intercontinental Houston (IAH)
  • Las Vegas McCarran International (LAS)
  • Miami International (MIA)
  • New York's LaGuardia (LGA)
  • Philadelphia International (PHL)
  • San Francisco International (SFO)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA)

If you have an American Express Platinum card – it can be the business, corporate, or personal card – you get access.

Priority Pass

Founded in 1992, Priority Pass started an annual subscription service that gives you access to their network of airport lounges. They do not operate all the airports in their 1200+ lounge network spanning 500 cities, but membership gives you the ability to enter those lounges.

They have a huge network both inside and outside the United States. Inside the US, the network is limited but you get access to a lot of private lounges and even discounts at restaurants. For example, in Miami, you can get $30 off your bill at the Corona Beach House at Miami Airport (it counts as a visit).

They offer three tiers of membership:

  • Standard: $99/year, you pay $32 per visit ($32 for guests)
  • Standard Plus: $299/year, 10 visits free then $32 thereafter ($32 for guests)
  • Prestige: $429/year, unlimited visits ($32 for guests)

One of the nice things is that Priority Pass is being offered as a perk of some credit cards.

Lastly, there are even smaller private companies that operate their own small network for lounges. One such company is The Club, with lounges in Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Baltimore (BWI), Cincinnati (CVG), Dallas (DFW), Las Vegas (LAS), Orlando (MCO), Phoenix (PHX), Pittsburgh (PIT), Seattle (SEA) and San José (SJC). Some of these companies operate a single lounge while others operate several. The Club is a member of Priority Pass so if you have a Priority Pass, you get access to The Club lounges.

Airline Lounges

Airline lounges run the gamut.

At a minimum, you get a relaxing environment where you can eat and drink to your heart's content. Some may have showers, nap areas, massages, and more. If you need to catch up on work, there's going to be wi-fi and work areas. Some even have conference rooms.

It's a decadent experience that you should try if you can. The airline lounges are nicer and better run than private ones (especially if first and business class travelers get free access, the airlines step up their game).

USO Lounges

USO stands for United Service Organizations and for over 77 years, they have been one of the country's leading organizations to support active military and their families. They operate a series of USO airport centers that are accessible (and free) only to active duty personnel, National Guard, reservists, and their dependents.

It is a private organization that is congressionally chartered. Created just before World War II, the USO consists of several private service organizations that came together to form the USO. If you want to support the USO, you can donate to the cause.

To gain access to their lounges, you must show your military ID. If you are not a member of the armed forces and are not a dependent of one, you will not gain entry.

How Airport Lounge Access Works

As an example, with Delta Sky Club, not everyone who has a Delta flight gets access. If you have a First class or Business class ticket, you're in. If you have Diamond Medallion status (the highest tier in the Skymiles program), you can get access for free.

Otherwise, you need to buy an annual pass that costs $495 a year. This lets you bring up to two guests for $29 each OR you can get the Executive pass ($745/year) and that lets you bring in two for free. Finally, you can pay $59 for a single visit pass.

Finally, you can get in if you have a regular ticket and the right credit card. With Delta, if you have a Delta Reserve credit card, an American Express Platinum or Centurion card, and a flight that day, you can get in.

The tricky part is that all the airlines run it slightly differently with different partnerships. The key, it seems, is to find a credit card with a wide range of perks if you want to get into an airport lounge without paying an annual membership (or fly first/business class).

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