Best Credit Card for Lounge Access (10 Expert Picks)

Best Credit Card for Lounge Access (10 Expert Picks)

credit card advice

Aaron Crowe
By: Aaron Crowe
Updated: May 31, 2019
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Our articles follow strict editorial guidelines and are updated regularly.

Finding somewhere to relax in an airport before your flight departs can be challenging. Finding an open seat, nabbing an outlet to plug your phone into, and getting a snack without waiting in a long line can be nearly impossible — but not if you have a credit card that offers lounge access.

Fliers with free lounge access as part of their credit card benefits can get into an airport lounge without being a first-class or business-class traveler. Features differ by airport, but common benefits offered at airport lounges include free snacks and beverages including alcohol, WiFi and computer workstations, comfortable seating, showers, and massages. Some even offer sleep rooms. 

Here are four of the best credit cards available that offer airport lounge access:

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® provides a range of travel benefits, including lounge access to over 1,000+ lounges around the world through enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select.

Additionally, enjoy a Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® fee credit to smooth your way through security and customs. And cardholders also earn 3X points per $1 spent on travel and dining purchases, plus 1X point per dollar on all other purchase.

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.24% - 26.24% Variable
$450
Good/Excellent

While the card’s $450 annual fee may give many pause, its $300 annual travel credit easily brings it down to a reasonable cost. Plus, the card’s signup bonus is valuable enough to cover the remaining fee for several years to come.

Photos of Priority Pass Airport Lounges

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, LAX International (left), Lounge L, Seoul Incheon International (right)

Other nice travel perks available to Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can give a little peace of mind, like trip cancellation, trip interruption, and baggage delay insurance, as well as lost luggage reimbursement and travel accident insurance.

2. The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum offers access to more than 800 airport lounges, including the Centurion Lounges at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, Dallas, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, and Seattle. It also allows access to Delta SkyClub and Priority Pass Select.

While amenities differ among lounges, the Centurion Lounge at the San Francisco airport is 8,200 square feet, offers a variety of local beers, and has a wine machine that offers up to five different wine samples per visit. There’s even a separate sound-proof family room for kids to play in.

Photo of American Express Centurion Lounge, San Francisco International Airport

American Express Centurion Lounge, San Francisco International Airport

The card’s $550 annual fee may be high, but its lounge access and travel benefits help make it worthwhile for many users. Additional benefits include a fee credit of $100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSA Pre✔®, monthly Uber credits, an annual airline fee credit, and elite status with Marriott and Hilton.

3. United MileagePlus Club Card by Chase

The United MileagePlus Club Card offers free snacks and beverages to the primary cardmember and eligible travel companions at all United Club locations and participating Star Alliance affiliated lounges worldwide.

This card also offers 1.5 miles per $1 spent, free first and second checked bags, premier travel services such as security screen privileges, and no foreign transaction fees. The annual fee is $450.

Photo of United Club Lounge, Chicago O'Hare International Airport

United Club Lounge, Chicago O’Hare International Airport

One thing to note is that the credit card alone won’t get you into the airport lounge — a United Club membership card is required.

Chase says the membership is worth up to a $550 value per year. The fine print on the card’s website says that United Club membership will be renewed automatically on each credit card anniversary date, though members can cancel their membership at any time and receive a prorated refund.

4. Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® offers free access to over 50 American Airlines Admirals Club lounges for the primary cardholder and immediate family, or up to two traveling guests, when flying on American Airlines. Cardholders also get a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application fee credit.

The Admirals Club lounges are undergoing a makeover — better food and furniture with power ports built in are being added, for example. Light snacks and drinks are free, and more food is available for purchase.

Photo of American Airlines Admirals Club Lounge, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York

American Airlines Admirals Club Lounge, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York

Other benefits of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® include your first checked bag free, priority boarding, and double miles on eligible American Airlines purchases.

Less-Frequent Flyers Can Buy One-Time Lounge Passes

Although most airlines sell full-access memberships for their branded lounge networks, the prices of those passes hovers around the same cost of a premium credit card’s annual fee. Rather than pay hundreds for lounge access you may not use enough that you break even, most lounges allow flyers to purchase single-use lounge day passes.

The typical day pass can cost between $20 and $60, depending on the specific lounge. While it’s not a great deal for a short stop, if you have several hours to spend taking advantage of the lounge’s offerings — which can include free drinks and meals — then the lounge pass may pay for itself. Of course, using the right card to earn rewards on that purchase doesn’t hurt, either.

Consumer | Business

Best Consumer Cards for Purchasing Lounge Passes

If you’re a regular traveler who sees the inside of an airport every few weeks, then investing hundreds in a premium travel card with automatic lounge access seems like a no-brainer. If you’re just a casual traveler trying to be comfortable on that five-hour layover, you probably don’t need a $500-a-year travel card.

Instead, you can find some affordable travel cards that work well for typical consumers who want to earn rewards on their everyday spending — and on their vacation buys, like that one-time lounge pass that is worth its weight in gold when faced with a long stretch in a busy airport.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

This card is a popular mid-range travel card because of its 2X Ultimate Rewards® points per dollar on both dining and travel — the latter of which should include airport lounge passes. Use the rewards to book travel through Chase, or, for even more potential value, transfer them to a partner airline or hotel loyalty program.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 25.24% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good

If strategizing for maximum rewards isn’t your bag, this card may be a good option, offering unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase. Venture miles can be redeemed as statement credit toward a variety of travel-related expenses, a list that should include airport lounge passes purchased directly from the airline.

7. Citi Premier Card

The Citi Premier Card is a competitive pick for purchasing lounge passes thanks to its 3X ThankYou® Points per dollar on travel purchases. It can also be great for other aspects of your trip, offering 2X points per dollar on both dining and entertainment purchases.

Citi Premier Card

  • Earn 3X points per $1 spent on eligible travel purchases, including gas stations
  • Earn 2X points per $1 spent on dining out and entertainment
  • Pay $0 annual fee the first year, then $95

New cardholders can earn a pretty decent signup bonus for meeting the spending requirement, and all users can receive extensive travel insurance, including trip delay and baggage delay coverage. ThankYou® Points can be redeemed for travel through Citi, but often provide the best value when transferred to a partner airline frequent flyer program.

Best Business Cards for Purchasing Lounge Passes

Frequent business travel is a fact of life for many small business owners, and lounge access can make that travel significantly more enjoyable. If you’re traveling enough to make regular access cost effective, then a premium business travel card that includes lounge access may be worthwhile.

For the business owners who travel less frequently — but still quite enough — purchasing the occasional airport lounge day pass can be the best solution. Fortunately, some of the best overall business cards also happen to be ideal for earning quality rewards on those lounge pass purchases.

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases - with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.24% - 23.24% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

This card is frequently ranked as a top business credit card, and it’s easy to see why. Users earn 3X Ultimate Rewards® points per dollar in several useful categories — including travel, which would include airport lounge passes. Plus, the Ultimate Rewards® cardholders earn can be transferred to a number of hotel or airline partners, perhaps paying for that flight that gets you to the lounge.

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 2 miles per $1 on every purchase, everywhere
  • Earn a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles – equal to $500 in travel – once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Receive up to $100 credit for one Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® application fee
  • Fly on any airline, anytime, with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is lost or stolen
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.24% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good

Although this card doesn’t offer bonus rewards on travel — users earn the same 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, regardless of category — it does give users the option to redeem miles to “erase” a travel-related purchase, which should include airline lounge passes purchased directly from the airline. Pair that with a big signup bonus and quarterly Global Entry credit, and you have a solid, low-cost travel card.

10. Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express is a solid option for buying lounge passes — or anything else, really. The card offers 2X Membership Rewards® points per dollar spent for any card purchase for the first $50,000 in card purchases each year.

Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express

  • Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points per $1 on the first $50,000 in purchases each year
  • Earn unlimited 1X points per $1 thereafter
  • Pay $0 annual fee

Card purchases made after hitting the yearly spend cap will earn unlimited 1X points per dollar. Membership Rewards® points can be redeemed for a variety of things, but they will typically unlock the most value when transferred to a partner airline or hotel loyalty program.

Final Thoughts

When deciding which credit card is best for you to gain airport lounge access, consider how often you travel. The annual fees for these credit cards are high, and frequent traveling can make them worthwhile.

Also, consider which airports you travel to most often and what lounges are available there. The credit card won’t be much of a benefit if it doesn’t offer free access to a lounge at your main airport. But once you’ve got the right card in your wallet, you’ll be lounging VIP-style in no time. 

Photo credits: airnation.net, efficientasianman.boardingarea.com, thecenturionlounge.com, prioritypass.com