7 Tips to Make the Most of Airport Lounge Access

by Lyle Daly | Updated Aug. 12, 2021 - First published on June 20, 2021

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A woman sitting in an airport lounge next to her suitcase and looking at her phone.

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Does your travel credit card offer airport lounge access? Here's what you need to know about it.

Airport lounge access is one of those credit card features that sounds great when you read about it. Instead of waiting in the boarding area and spending ridiculous amounts of money on snacks, you can relax in a private lounge with free food and drinks.

That could be your experience, but it's not always as simple as showing up at a lounge and flashing your credit card. I've usually enjoyed my time at airport lounges, and that's in large part because of some tips I follow.

1. Know which types of lounges you can enter

There are many different types of airport lounge programs. The types of lounges you can enter will depend on which credit card you have and the lounge program it offers.

The most expensive airline credit cards generally offer a complimentary membership to that airline's lounge program. A United credit card may include a membership to United's lounges, a Delta credit card may include one to Delta's lounges, and so on. Review the card's benefits to make sure, because not every airline card offers lounge access.

Luxury travel credit cards that aren't associated with a specific airline often have a complimentary Priority Pass membership. Priority Pass is a lounge program with over 1,300 lounges around the world. You can see which lounges it offers in each airport on its website.

2. See if you need to activate your membership

With some lounge programs, you need to activate your membership before you can use it. The aforementioned Priority Pass program is one example. You must activate this membership through your online credit card account. If your card's membership needs to be activated and you don't take care of it ahead of time, the lounge may deny you entry.

3. Research lounges before going to the airport

This might not qualify as a secret to success, but it's my key to making the most of airport lounge access. Whenever I fly, I look up the lounges I can access at all the airports I'll visit. You can do this on the website for your lounge program. Here are the two most important details to look at:

  • Hours: It's never fun to trek all the way across an airport to a lounge only to learn that it's closed. Checking a lounge's hours is especially important right now, because many are either closed or have cut their hours because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Location: Even if you're unfamiliar with the airport, you can get an idea of where the lounge is located. If an airport has multiple lounges you can access, knowing their locations may also help you decide which one to visit.

The lounge's rules are also important, and you can find them on the lounge program's website. Here are a few common rules to know about:

  • You almost always need a boarding pass for same-day travel. If you have lounge access with a specific airline, then the travel may also need to be with that airline.
  • Lounges usually have guest limits, which is often two guests per lounge member.
  • Many lounges only permit lounge access within a certain time frame before a flight, such as three hours before your flight's departure.
  • Some lounges permit lounge access whether you're departing or arriving, but others will only let you in if you're departing from the airport.

4. Review the guest policy if you're traveling with a group

Credit cards with airport lounge access typically let you bring up to two guests free of charge. This isn't always the case, so you should read the rules for your credit card and the lounge you'll be visiting.

If you have more guests than you're allowed, you may be able to bring more for a fee. This also depends on how many people are currently in the lounge.

5. Arrive early

Trust me on this one. There's nothing fun about trying to find a place to charge your phone, speed-eating a few snacks, sitting down for two minutes, and then leaving the lounge because your flight's about to board.

I recommend aiming for at least 30 minutes of lounge time if you plan to visit one. That gives you time to settle in, grab some food and drinks, and relax. If you'll barely be able to spend any time there, it's probably not worth the trip.

6. Check out the whole lounge before you sit down

A lot of lounges are on the large side, with several areas, various types of furniture, and multiple places to grab a bite. Walk around the lounge when you get there to scope it out. That way, you know where everything is, including the food stations, bar, and bathrooms.

Another benefit of doing a lap first is that certain areas of a lounge can be much more occupied than others. You might find a cozy nook with more space for you and your luggage.

7. Keep track of your flight

The relaxing lounge experience becomes much less relaxing if you get too comfy watching Netflix and miss your flight. Make a note of your flight's boarding time and set an alarm if necessary so you don't miss it.

It's also a good idea to Google your flight number periodically in case there are any status updates, such as a gate change or a delay. The lounge employees at the check-in desk may also be able to provide you with this information.

I've been able to use airport lounge access quite a few times, and it quickly became one of my favorite credit card features. If your card offers this or you're shopping for credit cards that do, then these tips could be a big help.

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