I have written before about using airport lounges around the world. They are like a breath of fresh air in the chaotic environment that is the modern airport. They offer many amenities – drinks, snack foods, WiFi, comfortable seating, private bathrooms, showers, quiet rest areas, workstations w/ phones – that help time spent in the airports go quicker. In fact, many times I like longer layovers to be able to take advantage of the quiet work spaces. All in all, they are a nice perk to have.
So, how does one get access to these refuges hidden behind the ornate doors? There are many different ways and I would like to cover some of them here (in no particular order)
1) Purchase an annual membership: This is probably one of the least beneficial ways to gain access unless you are going to be doing a lot of flying. Memberships are expensive and will only allow access to those clubs (or alliance clubs) and not all domestic clubs. However, if you are so inclined, below is the information for each one of the domestic airlines and their lounges. Please note, if you have status with the airline, your membership fee will be lower. The prices below are assuming that you do not have any elite status.
– American Airlines – The American Airlines clubs are called Admiral Clubs and located in hub and spoke AA airports around the country and the world. To get a membership, it will cost you $500 or 80,000 miles. For a joint membership (with a spouse), it will cost $825 or 125,000 miles. The link to sign up is here. To find a location, click here.
– Delta Airlines – The Delta Airlines clubs are called Skyclubs and similarly are located in cities through the world. To purchase a membership will cost you $450 or 70,000 miles while a joint membership will cost $650 or 100,000 miles. The applications is here. To find a location, click here.
– United Airlines – The United Airlines clubs are called United Clubs (pretty original!) and likewise have locations throughout the world. To purchase a membership will cost you $475 while a joint with your spouse will cost you $700. The application is here. To find a location, click here.
– US Airways – The US Airways clubs are called US Airways Clubs and also have locations throughout the world. In fact, you can also use your US Airways membership to access United Clubs as well. To purchase a membership costs $450 or $675 for a joint membership. The application is here. To find a location, click here.
2) Have Top-Tier Status with an Airline: For now, the only domestic airline that I am aware that does this is Delta. Delta gives their Diamond Medallion members free Skyclub memberships for the length of them attaining that status.
3) Have Status Within an Alliance: If you have mid-tier status with an airline, that will typically give you top tier status within the alliance (for example, Delta Gold, Platinum, and Diamond members are considered Skyteam Elite Plus). With that top tier status comes lounge access when traveling internationally. To allow this to work, you have to have a ticket for same day of travel on an international itinerary and within the alliance that you have your elite status. This also works if you have mid-tier status with an international airline and will be traveling within that alliance.
Star Alliance: Star Alliance Gold is the requirement. If you are a United flyer, you must be Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, or Premier 1K. If you are a US Airways flyer, you must be Gold Preferred, Platinum Preferred, or Chairman’s Preferred.
Skyteam Alliance: Skyteam Elite Plus is the requirement. If you are a Delta flyer, you must be Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion, or Diamond Medallion.
Oneworld Alliance: Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald is the requirement. If you are an American flyer, you must be AAdvantage Platinum or AAdvantage Executive Platinum.
4) Having an International Premium Ticket: If you have purchased or redeemed miles for a premium cabin ticket (ie. Business or First Class) on an international flight, you will have access to the lounges that are within the airline’s system. You can use the lounges at any point throughout your trip, at the beginning in you departure airport, your layover airport, and your destination airport.
5) Have a Long-Haul Domestic Premium Class Ticket: Some of the domestic airlines will give you access to lounges if you purchase a First/Business Class ticket on their long-haul transcontinental flights (like JFK-LAX). The reason for this is that these flights have their premium product for these routes so these tickets command some of the higher prices. It works the same whether you purchased the ticket or redeemed an award ticket.
6) Obtain an Airline-Branded Credit Card: With the premium credit cards offered by the credit card companies and airlines, you will receive complimentary lounge access. Some of the airlines give you a full membership while some give a more limited membership. These cards are not cheap, but are definitely better alternatives to purchasing full memberships since these cards’ annual fees are either the same price as a membership or less. In addition to that, the credit card gives you other perks such as extra baggage allowance, extra mile earning opportunities, ability to earn elite miles by spending, priority airline access for boarding and check-in, etc.
American Airlines – The CitiExecutive / AAdvantage card gives you lounge access plus many of the other perks for a $450 annual fee. Credit card application is here.
Delta Airlines – The Delta American Express Reserve card gives modified lounge membership (must have a Delta ticket for that day for access) for a $450 annual fee. Credit card application is here.
United Airlines – The United MileagePlus Club card gives a full United Club membership for $395 (with a $95 statement credit). Credit card application is here.
In addition to the full/limited memberships that these cards can give you, the lower fee airline branded cards give you some opportunities as well.
Delta Airlines – If you have any Delta-branded American Express card, you can purchase a day pass for $25 (as opposed to $50 if you don’t have a card).
United Airlines – If you have the basic United MileagePlus Explorer card, you receive 2 club passes on each anniversary.
7) Purchase a Day Pass: You can purchase day passes to these airport lounges for $50 (except for Delta lounges if you have the credit card). You can also purchase multi-day passes (30 and 90 days) for $120 and less. These may be good options for you if you are going to be an airport for a very long layover. It is cheaper than a hotel while giving you all the comforts of one.
8 ) Get the American Express Platinum Card: This card is an expensive one as well – $450 annual fee – but it gives you many perks: $200 annual airline credit and Global Entry fee reimbursement ($100) to name just a couple. These are in addition to the airport lounge access that you get at Admiral Clubs (must be on an American Airlines flight), Skyclub (must be on a Delta Airlines flight), and US Airways Clubs (do not have to be flying US Airways).
So, there you have it! I have personally been in airport lounges controlled by each of the domestic airlines as well as international lounges (which actually are a lot better than any in the US). I love the ability to use them. One of my favorite methods of use is when I rush from the finish line of a marathon to the airport. When I get there, I am able to get into the lounge to clean up and change (and in some of the clubs, shower), relax, and get a drink while waiting for my flight. You can enjoy airport lounges as well with some of these options!