How to Get Free Airport Lounge Access

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 the 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 bonbons, 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 truly “free” way to get in. If you want to 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

American Express Global Lounge Collection

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

Priority Pass Logo

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. Here's a list of all the lounges.

The Club Logo

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).

How Airport Lounge Access Works

For example, with Delta Sky Club, not everyone who has a Delta flight gets access. If you are flying on an international Delta One flight or a domestic Delta One flight that connects to an international Delta One flight that day, you're in.

If you have Diamond Medallion status (the highest tier in the Skymiles program), you can get access for free.

(there are a few other very specific ways to get access)

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, 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).

Top 30 Airports & Their Lounges

Most airports in the United States act as hubs for a major airline.

This means most of the lounges in any airport will be from one airline, with a few independent operators and a USO Lounge. I aim to list the airlines covered in alphabetical order followed by the private lounges in italics.

  1. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): Delta, Minute Suites, The Club at ATL
  2. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): American Airlines, Star Alliance, Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Qantas, Air New Zealand, oneworld, Emirates Lounge, LAX International Lounge (free)
  3. O'Hare International Airport (ORD): Air France/KLM, United Airlines, Delta, American Airlines, British Airways
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): American Airlines, Delta, Etihad, Lufthansa, British Airways, Emirates, Korean Air, Qantas, Qatar, United Airlines, The Centurion Lounge, Minute Suites, The Club at DFW
  5. Denver International Airport (DEN): American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines
  6. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Aer Lingus, Air France/KLM, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Emirates, Korean Air, Lufthansa
  7. San Francisco International Airport (SFO): Air France/KLM, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines, The Centurion Lounge
  8. McCarran International Airport (LAS): United Airlines, The Centurion Club, The Club at LAS
  9. Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA): Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Delta, United Airlines, The Centurion Club, The Club at LAS
  10. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT): American Airlines, United Airlines, Minute Suites
  11. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Lufthansa, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic
  12. Orlando International Airport (MCO): American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, The Club at MCO
  13. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX): American Airlines, United Airlines, The Club at PHX
  14. Miami International Airport (MIA): American Airlines, Delta, The Centurion Club
  15. George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH): Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines, The Centurion Club
  16. Logan International Airport (BOS): Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Emirates, Lufthansa, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, The Club at BOS
  17. Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP): Delta, United Airlines
  18. Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW): Delta, Lufthansa
  19. Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport (FLL): Delta, United Airlines
  20. Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines, The Centurion Lounge, Minute Suites
  21. LaGuardia Airport (LGA): Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, The Centurion Lounge
  22. Baltimore–Washington International Airport (BWI): The Club at BWI
  23. Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC): Delta
  24. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA): American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines
  25. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD): Air France/KLM, British Airways, Etihad, Lufthansa, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic
  26. San Diego International Airport (SAN): Delta, United Airlines
  27. Midway International Airport (MDW): None (there's just a USO Lounge)
  28. Tampa International Airport (TPA): American Airlines, Delta
  29. Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL): China Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, Korean Air, Japan Airlines, Qantas, United Airlines
  30. Portland International Airport (POR): Alaska Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, House Spirits Distillery, Capers Cafe Le Bar, and Capers Market (all three are The Lounge and Priority Pass accessible)

USO Lounges

USO Logo

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 the dependent of one, you will not gain entry.

  • Albert J. Ellis (OAJ)
  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Baltimore (BWI)
  • Boston Logan (BOS)
  • Charlotte (CHL)
  • Chicago Midway (MDW)
  • Chicago O’Hare (OHR)
  • Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky (CVG)
  • Cleveland (CLE)
  • Columbia (CAE)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Dayton (DAY)
  • Denver (DEN)
  • El Paso (ELP)
  • Fayetteville (FAY)
  • Gulfport/Biloxi (GPT)
  • Honolulu (HNL)
  • Houston Hobby (HOU)
  • Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
  • Indianapolis (IND)
  • Jacksonville (JAX)
  • John Glenn Columbus International (CMH)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Milwaukee (MKE)
  • Nashville (BNA)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • New York City JFK (JFK)
  • Newport News (PHF)
  • Northwest Florida Airport (ECP)
  • Norfolk (ORF)
  • Ontario (ONT)
  • Orange County (SNA)
  • Orlando (MCO)
  • Palm Springs (PSP)
  • Pensacola (PNS)
  • Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Phoenix (PHX)
  • Portland (PDX)
  • Raleigh-Durham (RDU)
  • Richmond (RIC)
  • San Antonio (SAT)
  • San Diego (SAN)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Savannahv (SAV)
  • Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
  • St. Louis-Lambert (STL)
  • Tampa (TPA)
  • Washington Dulles (IAD)

Best Credit Cards for Lounge Access

OK, now that you know how lounges work and the different types, you realize the best way to get access without paying through the nose is by piggybacking off a credit card perk.

The Platinum Card from American Express

American Express Platinum CardThe Platinum Card from American Express is our top pick because you get access to 1,000+ lounges in 120 countries including:

  • The Centurion Lounges (and International American Express Lounges),
  • Delta Sky Club when flying Delta,
  • Priority Pass Select (which includes two guests),
  • Plaza Premium,
  • Air Space, and
  • Escapes

This card also gives you 100,000 Membership Rewards after you spend $6,000 in purchases within your first six months.

There is a $695 annual fee but you get $200 airline fee credit, $200 hotel credit, Uber VIP status with $200 in ride credits, as well many other benefits. This is a sample of the perks of this card, so review them carefully to see what other benefits you can take advantage of. (See Rates and Fees)

(it's worth noting that the Platinum Card from American Express is not a typical credit card, it allows you to carry a balance for certain charges but not all)

Learn about this card and others

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card

$550The Delta Reserve Credit Card is our second choice given the sheer number of Delta Sky Club lounges and because access is a perk of this card.

You can also earn 80,000 bonus miles, 20,000 Medallion(R) Qualification Miles (MQMs), and a $200 statement credit after you spend $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. Offer ends 11/10/21. Also, with Status Boost(R), earn 15,000 Medallion(R) Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to 4x per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Plus, throughout 2021 earn an additional 3,750 MQMs after making $30,000 in purchases, up to 4x. That's in addition to the 15,000 MQMs that you would earn with Status Boost.. There's also Status boost, where you get 15,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your new Card in a calendar year, up to four times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. If you get all the bonuses, you'll jump right into Silver status.

This is on top of some Delta related perks including Priority Boarding and 20% savings on in-flight purchases as a statement credit. This card has a $550 annual fee. (See Rates and Fees)

Learn about this card and others

United Explorer Card

United Explorer MileagePlus CardThe United MileagePlus Club Card gives you 2 United Club one-time passes each anniversary which means you get access to all United Club lounges as well as those participating lounges from airlines in the Star Alliance. It also reimbruses you up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

This card also gives 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, plus an additional 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months. It has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then it's $95.

Learn more about the United Explorer Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire ReserveThe Chase Sapphire Reserve rounds out our list as a card with a huge list of travel benefits but also offers Priority Pass Select membership. This gets you access to the lounges in the Priority Pass network. Another great perk of this card is complimentary Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit.

The new account bonus is a juicy 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months.

The annual fee is $550 but it's mitigated by a $300 annual travel credit (read our full Chase Sapphire Reserve review for full details). The credit is applied to all travel purchases, so you don't even need to request anything. Hotel, airfare, car rentals, etc – they all count. No games here.

Learn more about this card and others

Go enjoy those lounges!

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured, please visit the following links: American Express Platinum Card: See Rates and Fees. Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card: See Rates and Fees.

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

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  1. Greg says

    Portland Airport (PDX) has the Alaska Lounge (not none). Priority Pass also partners with Capers Market, Capers Cafe, and House Spirits Distillery in PDX, some of which are arguably better than the tiny Alaska Lounge.

  2. Tawcan says

    I used to have the Amex Platinum card and definitely took advantage of the lounge access. However, I usually travel for work and work pays for all the expenses, so whether going into the lounge or not is not a huge financial benefit for me.

    Now I did take advantage of the lounge access on a few family vacations and took the family into the lounge. We definitely saved a few bucks by eating in there instead buying stuff in the airport.

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