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Credit cards that give airport lounge access

I am wondering what people's experience has been with using credit cards for lounge access. Did it become as handy as you expected? I like the idea of lounge access for multi-hour connections and delays due to mechanical issues, but the annual cost of some of these cards, like the $695/year American Express Platinum card does give one pause. Some of the costs can be immediately defrayed depending upon your personal circumstance, like $240/year credit off New York Times subscriptions would come right off the top for me with the Amex card. The $179/year reimbursement for CLEAR is not that much of a benefit because I already have TSA-pre. I realize that CLEAR puts you at the front of the TSA-pre line but that is a marginal benefit. There's the promise of hotel and flight credits but they have to be booked through some portal.

The goal in getting the Amex Platinum card would be to meet the spend limit ($6000 in 6 months) for the 100,000 Amex points bonus, which could be transferred to Virgin Atlantic giving enough points for 1 business class flight to Europe (one way) on Delta. And then after a year evaluate the lounge access benefit vs the $695 fee.

Maybe there are credit cards with free lounge access with cheaper annual fees. I see that Capital One has a card with free lounge access and a low annual fee, but the only Capital One lounges are at DEN, DFW, IAD which is of little benefit to me.

Posted by
849 posts

You have done a great analysis. About Chase's lounge benefits--they partner with Priority Pass which has more than significantly reduced their network of lounges. Honestly, unless you have access to lounges in your home airport, then it may not be worthwhile.

Posted by
3661 posts

unless you have access to lounges in your home airport

American Express Platinum includes access to every Delta lounge (as well as many others around the world), so that includes the home airport which is a Delta hub.

Some of the other potential benefits are bag fees paid on an airline of your choice up to $200/year, and a hotel credit of $200 for a hotel stay booked through a portal, but I don't know if the price is higher inside the portal than out. Other stuff like free membership to Walmart+ and Equinox online fitness club I am not sure have value to me.

Posted by
147 posts

Do you subscribe to The Points Guy's newsletter? It's had a lot of coverage of lounge access lately, especially in the context of overcrowded lounges with with waiting lists to get in, how useful Priority Pass is, etc.
I believe Chase Sapphire Reserve provides a free Priority Pass membership, or did at one time.
I have the Delta gold AMEX and I keep getting upgrade offers to the Platinum but as a longtime budget traveler who has managed just fine thus far without lounge access (and like you I already have Precheck), I can't justify that annual fee.
Anyway, TPG has pretty thorough coverage of credit card benefits and lounge access, if you're interested.

Posted by
5161 posts

Chase Sapphire Reserve: $550 annual premium; $300 direct credit back to your account for the first $300 in travel expenses. Net cost $250. Benefits from that $250 include bonus points for signing up that can transfer; cash back; priority pass membership; some of the best credit card travel insurance out there; free door dash deliveries; $100 toward Traveler programs every 4 years, and a few other items. I find that the $250 is worth the travel insurance alone.

I enjoy the lounge access, use the credit card as my primary travel insurance, and always make money on the cash back. I don't always find a lounge in every airport, but there are lounges in most major airports. With Priority Pass you can also access food at designated restaurants if you prefer. The last time I traveled, I received a $27 lunch for free due to this benefit.

Posted by
1074 posts

Hi Tom,

I suggest that you also look at a Sky Miles Amex card.
I have a Sky Miles platinum Amex card and my yearly fee is I think about half of what you quoted. Lounge access isn't free unless you are flying up front, but you can get access for $59.

My experience using the Delta lounge was in Minneapolis. The lounge was fairly crowded. We had no trouble finding seats, but occupancy was over 75%. Free beer, wine, liquor. You can use miles to purchase higher shelf drinks like champagne. The food wasn't great. There was some salad, noodles, chicken, snacks, soup. The humus was very good. I would have enjoyed purchased food from one of the places outside the lounge more, but of course it would have been expensive. The seats are more comfortable and access to plugs for charging electronics was plentiful.

I get miles for general purchases, more for restaurants and gas. I am Delta loyal and use my miles to get (almost) free domestic trip each year or to reduce the price of a Delta one seat. You also get priority boarding, free checked bags, vouchers for drinks, etc.
It is also easier to earn status as the dollars you spend reduce the miles you have to fly. You also get one domestic free companion ticket each year.

I like the perks on the platinum card more than the reserve card as it doesn't give as many miles for general purchases.

Posted by
5859 posts

I have the Delta AMEX Reserve card, so I get free lounge access at Delta, Centurion (AMEX), and partner airlines. It was much more of a deal before I retired (and the pandemic) when I was flying about every other week, especially since just about anywhere I went, included a change and a few hour wait. I could drop in, use the Wi-Fi, have a drink and a snack, and if I had any flight issues, they could deal with it there, more competently than a random agent.

I have re-evaluated the value, but since it gives me miles, and a hefty MQM mile bonus, plus checked bags, better call-in access, and some other benefits, it probably is at least a wash if not still some value. I run most every discretionary purchase through it so getting the mileage and a bump, as well as the MQD waiver, is not a problem.

Posted by
3661 posts

Carol: Thanks for the reply, I knew there was someone in California who has posted about lounge access before but I could not remember the card. I think highly of Chase products and I have waited 48 months since my last Sapphire bonus so I can churn again, but I am looking for at least 80,000 points so I can do the Virgin Atlantic / Delta One thing and right now the Sapphire cards are at 50k-60k. Crazy that It takes 200k-300k Delta Skymiles for a one-way Delta One seat when Virgin Atlantic sells them for about 75k.

Delta Amex: I am currently on my fourth basic Amex card, without lounge access. I will have to check if I can get another sign up bonus right away on the more expensive card, but in any case it would not be enough points for the one-way Delta One ticket.

Kayla: I do like the Points Guy and read the webpage, but it can be repetitive or overly specific to things that don't appeal to me like luxury resorts in the Maldives or upgrades on airlines like Emirates that I can't access easily. He does rate the satisfaction of the travel experience rather higher than I would, I can't ooh and aah about the exclusive lounge-within-a-lounge at the Newark Polaris Club with a free sit-down order-off-the-menu restaurant the way he did for example.

Posted by
744 posts

Tom- Chase is back up to 80k bonus, but it's on the Prefered, not Reserve. So no lounge access.

I've found Priority Pass lounges to often be... meh. Sometimes I just stop in for a free drink and snack and then wait for the bulk of the layover at the gate. Especially within North America.

Posted by
2580 posts

The cards for points game is just that, a game, and some folks really enjoy it. I tired of it and I'm changing cards over to rebate cards (since I like cash).

We used our Amex Plat cards to get into the Delta lounges at LAX and JFK. Bear in mind that access is pretty easy these days, it's not like you will be sitting amongst captains of industry and movie stars eating caviar. It seemed like most folks there were road warriors who fly for a living, and they were hitting the bar first thing in the morning (no judgement). For me it was slightly nicer than sitting outside in the terminal and there were adequate food and drink on offer.

Also note that Amex Plat keeps playing with their "free" offerings to keep people around. They help you out with streaming services and you get an Uber credit every month that I use for Uber Eats. They also have a useless Equinox credit. If you work at it and keep up with it, a card can almost pay for itself plus you get all those points to use.

Posted by
3661 posts

Scudder: 80,000 would work (but not for lounge access) but I don't see it, at least publicly

The cards for points game is just that, a game,

It's more like a part time job. I just meet the spend limit, take the bonus, use the free bags or lounge passes for 12 months then quit before the annual fee kicks in. My primary cards are cash rebate cards.

Posted by
11247 posts

Delta really charges more for champagne in its lounges?

I'm an AA/BA traveler and use their lounges. Just last week at in the AA lounge at JFK, someone was offering a glass a champagne as I walked through the door. Champagne or Mimosa. (It was a morning flight.) Good food, full bar, all included. The same for BA. It's mostly self-service for the alcohol except in some first class lounges.

AA lets you buy lounge access with cash or points.

Posted by
3661 posts

Delta really charges more for champagne in its lounges?

I've been in 2 domestic lounges, both United and curiously both at IAH where I have only been twice. The lounges at IAH had different policies: the one in the C Terminal allowed one drink served pp then charged for more, the one in the B Terminal had unlimited served "house" wine and liquors, and charged for special brands. No self-serving at either location. No idea about Delta lounges but I believe Delta is the last to serve free liquor in coach transatlantic, American and United are beer and wine only.

Posted by
5859 posts

In Delta lounges drinks are included, basic mixed drinks that is with better than well liquor (They have decent brands that they serve on the flights) You can pay in miles or cash for premium top shelf stuff. I think they have a basic sparkling wine included, but if you want to spring for a bottle high end bubbly, you can do that too.

Posted by
621 posts

We have the Amex Platinum and use many of the benefits on a regular basis. For us, it more than pays for itself. The lounge access was the big draw as my husband travels a lot for business, so that is key for him. I like that it covers a number of different lounges. Here at SEA some are definitely better than others. We go to the lounge that we like the best, nit the one that is closest to our gate, so having this option is really nice.

Posted by
301 posts

I'm late to this discussion, but highly recommend the Capital One Venture X card. You mention that Capital One has only a few lounges (the first one--in Dallas--is very nice and others are on the way), but included with the Venture X is Priority Club access as well as discounts at restaurants which can often cover most of the price of an airport meal. There are stand-alone Priority Clubs throughout the world, but Priority Club also allows access to lots of airline clubs. I've already benefited far beyond the $395 annual fee for Venture X since I got the card in November. Earned this year: $100 reimbursement for Global Entry, 100,000 miles for spending $5,000 within a few months of opening the card (that benefit is gone now--down to 75,000 miles, I think), $300 for spending through Capital One's travel portal, a $200 Airbnb credit, plus lots of uses of airport clubs (you can bring 2 guests with you for free). I highly recommend the Venture X.

Posted by
61 posts

The Capitol One Venture card (at the $95 annual fee level) gives you access to Capitol One Lounges or any Plaza Premium lounge twice per year plus 2 free guests, which is plenty for me. We always fly out of DFW, where the first and so far only lounge is and look for forward to using it in July before our trip to Germany.

Posted by
57 posts

It won't help you on the flights front, but the cheapest card I've seen that includes lounge access is the Amex Hilton Surpass card. $95 annual fee and includes 10 Priority Pass lounge visits. My understanding is that the 10 is total visits, so if traveling with a spouse, it's really 5 each. It also gives gold status which I think includes breakfast or a food & beverage credit at Hilton. I think the Amex Platinum also gives hotel status though but obviously the fee is much higher.

I have the CSR and it typically pays for itself. I was considering changing to the Amex Platinum myself but I feel like its usage is a lot more limited internationally compared to a Visa. Still, if you only want it for the sign-up bonus and 12 months of perks, it seems like a good deal to me!

Posted by
5576 posts

I'll just add a couple things based on my experience...

  • If you are playing the game and flying business class (which to me is the whole reason to play the game...), in almost all cases (though not 100% of the time) in most major airports, your business class boarding pass gets you lounge access. So any benefit for the extra "lounge perks" is limited. This is especially true at bigger hubs, less true in smaller, more far-flung outstations. Given a choice, IME most lounges that you can access with a business class ticket are much better than the standard "Priority Pass" type lounges anyway. The PP lounges are better than hanging out at a gate looking for a power port, but often pretty basic.
  • Lounge crowding has always been an issue, even pre-pandemic. Now, with the whole world squeezing into airports, it seems lounge access has become a game of its own you have to play even if you have access. When lounges get crowded (happens often now), they put up a sign and turn you away. There are now separate "elite access" lines to lounges to get around capacity control, but the old saying "when everyone is elite, nobody is" does apply.
  • I used to enjoy the Amex lounges, but even before the post-pandemic travel boom, I've found Amex lounges to be badly overcrowded more often than not (I used to commute between Seattle and SFO, and eventually just gave up on the SFO Centurion lounge). I'd hike over to the Delta lounge (when flying Delta), and found it blissfully empty. I understand that's no longer the case.
  • Last time I cared to look, I believe that an Amex Platinum card did NOT necessarily get you into Delta lounges; only if you were flying Delta that day (being based at MSP, that may be somewhat moot, since Delta is so dominant there).
  • Your ability to get much use out of lounges will depend (to a very great degree) on where you typically fly to/from/through. Lounges (especially good ones) are not everywhere. Take an honest look at your planned/likely flight routes in the next year and see how that matches up with lounges worth paying for (in the form of a CC fee).

@Tom – I would need to be traveling a lot more than I currently am to justify the astronomically high AF of those Amex Plat cards (if you are still going there, I believe there are 150K and 180K and maybe even higher SUBs if you call and ask for them before applying...but the AFs still keep me away). Good luck.

Posted by
492 posts

As mentioned, it really comes down to your personal circumstances.

Yes, the annual fee of the AmEx Platinum is considerable, but I do find I offset all of it thanks to...
- Saving on digital entertainment subscriptions. That was harder to do before when they only had a few options but they've added services to it. I already subscribed to a bunch, so when I got the card I updated my billing for them and get them for free as a statement credit now.
- I do use the airline credit. Admittedly I use the full amount each year because I know I can - I'll buy internet access when I wouldn't have otherwise, knowing it's paid for.
- Lounge access and other travel perks like status with Hilton and Marriott and such.

Most everything I use my card to pay for I'd have been paying for already, so doing what I can to get those points that I do put to good use for a trip now and then also more than covers the annual fee. The Amex rewards points are pretty good value, and I will occasionally do something like book a hotel through their FHR program and get all the bonus points for that, which I then use for a trip down the line. Further, their FHR program gets me the perks of status at hotels I might not otherwise have any status at (late check out, early check in, breakfast, and so on). I take full advantage of that.