5 Travel Cards That Give You Free Airport Lounge Access

by Lyle Daly | Nov. 30, 2018

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Yes, you can spend your pre-flight time in comfort and style without spending a dime … as long as you hold one of these credit cards.

boarding passes and a latte with an airplane drawn on the foam

Image source: Getty Images

Of the many perks of high-end credit cards focused on travel rewards, free airport lounge access can be one of the most pleasant. Lounges make waiting for a plane a far better experience than shuffling around a terminal looking at overpriced sweaters and ties.

Airport lounge access isn't exactly a common perk, even among the ritziest cards on the market. Still, we've come up with five cards that have this among their feature set.

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The popular Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a top travel credit card, largely because of  its strong lineup of travel-related perks. One is the complimentary membership in the Priority Pass™ lounge program at the Select level.

Once activated, membership opens the door to airport lounges that participate in the Priority Pass™ Select network (plus the cafes, restaurants, and markets also in the network). According to the program's literature, this means access to more than 1,300 lounges across the globe. Here are some of the many big-city airports Chase Sapphire Reserve® owners can kick back and relax in:

  • Los Angeles International
  • O'Hare International (Chicago)
  • JFK (New York)
  • Heathrow (London)
  • Fiumicino (Rome, Italy)
  • Pudong International (Shanghai)
  • Narita International (Tokyo)
  • Cape Town International (South Africa)
  • Buenos Aires International (Argentina)

Cardholders can bring two guests free of charge. Additional guests cost $27 per guest, per visit.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® does have an expensive annual fee ($550), which is typical for airport lounge access cards. Outside of the extensive free airport lounge access, its other travel-related perks and benefits include: 

  • $300 annual travel credit
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earns 3 points per $1 on travel and dining purchases 
  • Earns 10 points per $1 on Lyft rides until March 2022
  • Up to $100 credit towards Global Entry or TSA Precheck

2. Citi Prestige® Card

Citibank's travel-focused Citi Prestige® Card also grants free Priority Pass™ Select membership to the cardholder. Two guests of the cardholder or the cardholder's immediate family members can accompany him or her, and additional guests must pay the aforementioned $27 per person, per visit, to Priority Pass™ lounges.

The Citi Prestige® Card's features broadly mirror those of Chase Sapphire Reserve®. It has a $495 annual fee and bestows similar perks and benefits on its cardholders. These include: 

  • Annual travel credit of $250
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Extra points for travel and dining purchases. Air travel and restaurant purchases earn 5 points per $1 in the issuer's ThankYou® points, hotel and cruise purchases earn 3 points per $1, and all other purchases earn the card's standard rate of 1 point per $1
  • Up to $100 credit towards Global Entry or TSA Precheck

3. The Platinum Card® from American Express

American Express, which operates directly in the travel sphere with its traveler's checks service, has always been big on travel-related perks for its card "members." Not surprisingly, it has a very large airport lounge access program members can take full advantage of with The Platinum Card® from American Express.

The program begins with complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership that allows two guests to accompany the primary cardmember free of charge (extras incur a fee). On top of that, presenting the card will grant a member admission to The American Express Global Lounge Collection. This comprises:

  • The Centurion Lounge -- Amex's proprietary chain of airport lounges
  • International American Express Lounges
  • Airspace Lounge
  • Escape Lounge

Additionally, through an arrangement with major U.S. carrier Delta Airlines, American Express Platinum Card® members may also gain free airport lounge access to any Delta SkyClub lounge, as long as they are flying with Delta on the trip.

The Platinum Card® from American Express's annual fee of $550 is high compared to other rewards cards, but it has several unique travel-related benefits that set it apart:

  • $15 per month in Uber credit for rides on the service, with a $20 bonus each December, and complimentary Uber VIP status
  • 5 points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com
  • $200 annual credit for incidental airline fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments

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

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is the high-end credit card from American Airlines, in conjunction with Citibank. As it's airline-specific, its complimentary Admirals Club membership grants access to the carrier's Admirals Club lounges.

There are nearly 50 of these lounges spread around the world. Cardholders can also access more than 60 lounges operated by American Airlines partners in the U.S. and abroad. Here are some of the major facilities where Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® owners can get airport lounge access:

  • Los Angeles International
  • Toronto Pearson International
  • New York LaGuardia
  • Philadelphia International
  • Rio de Janeiro -- Antonio Carlos Jobim International (Brazil)

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®'s annual fee is $450. That also buys a cardmember a set of other travel-related benefits, among which are:

  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases
  • First checked bag free for the cardholder, plus up to eight companions, on domestic flights
  • Up to $100 statement credit for a Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee

5. United ClubSM Infinite Card

Another airline-specific credit card is the United ClubSM Infinite Card, a product from United Airlines and Chase credit cards. With complimentary United Club membership, it grants access to the carrier's eponymous chain of lounges. Also, since United is part of the global Star Alliance group of airlines, the card grants airport lounge access to participating Star Alliance member facilities.

United is one of the major airlines in the U.S., so there are a great many United Clubs. Some are even located abroad. For example, they can be found in these airports:

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
  • Logan International (Boston)
  • O'Hare International (Chicago)
  • George Bush International (Houston)
  • Heathrow (London)
  • Hong Kong International

In what seems to be more or less standard for free airport lounge cards, United ClubSM Infinite Card has a $525 annual fee. Other travel perks and benefits enjoyed by its cardholders include the following:

  • Free first and second checked bags on United flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Up to $100 statement credit for a Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee
  • Earns 4 miles per $1 on United purchases, 2 miles per $1 on all other travel purchases, and 2 miles per $1 on dining
  • Premier Access travel services, which grant priority check-in, security, boarding, and baggage handling when flying on the airline

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As long as you pay them off each month, credit cards are a no-brainer for savvy Americans. They protect against fraud far better than debit cards, help raise your credit score, and can put hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars in rewards back in your pocket each year.

But with so many cards out there, you need to choose wisely. This top-rated card offers the ability to pay 0% interest on purchases until late 2021, has some of the most generous cash back rewards we’ve ever seen (up to 5%!), and somehow still sports a $0 annual fee.

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