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If you like to travel in style, you probably want a credit card with airport lounge access. While these cards charge high annual fees, carrying one of them can be cheaper than buying lounge membership directly, and they often come with travel credits that can save hundreds of dollars.
In this article:
Here are cards to consider that will get you unlimited access to their lounge networks:
|Card||Annual fee||Travel fee credit||Guests||Authorized user access||Lounge network|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||$450||$300 (any travel purchase)||No set limit (at lounge discretion)||$75||Priority Pass|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®||$450||$0||2 free or partner plus children under 18||Free||Admirals Clubs, select OneWorld airline lounges|
|Citi Prestige® Credit Card||$495||$250 (any air travel purchase)||2 free||$50||Priority Pass|
|Crystal® Visa Infinite® Credit Card||$400||$250 (airline purchases - but no airfare)||No set limit (at lounge discretion)||Free||Priority Pass|
|Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express||$450 Annual Fee ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020)||$0||$29||$175||Delta SkyClubs|
|The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card||$450||$300 (airline purchases - but no airfare)||No set limit (at lounge discretion)||Free||Priority Pass|
|The Business Platinum® Card from American Express||$595||$200 (airline purchases - but no airfare)||$29 at Delta lounges, 2 free at other lounges||$175||Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass, Escape, Airspace|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||$550||$200 (airline purchases - but no airfare)||$29 at Delta lounges, 2 free at other lounges||$175||Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass, Escape, Airspace|
Now, let’s take a look at the details of each card.
Best overall for lounge access
60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.*
Up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees & more at one qualifying airline*
No foreign transaction fees & exclusive airport lounge access*
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express is the granddaddy of lounge access cards, and with access to more than 1,200 airport lounges across 130 countries, it gets you into more lounges than any other card family available in the United States.
The core of the package is access to Delta Sky Clubs whenever you’re flying Delta that day — and you can bring up to two guests for an additional fee.
Amex has also rolled out several of its own Centurion Lounges at U.S. airports, where as a holder of The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can enter with up to two guests free of charge. The Centurion Lounges are a step up from typical airline lounges, with complimentary, seasonally-inspired meals developed by acclaimed local chefs and complimentary premium drinks. (In addition to getting access to Amex’s Centurion Lounges, you also get International American Express Lounge access — 11 lounges in Argentina, Australia, India and Mexico exclusively for card members.)
Priority Pass access is also included, with complimentary access for one guest per visit allowed at lounges that allow guests (some lounges do not). Priority Pass has lounges in airports across 148 countries and is rapidly expanding.
This card also comes with access to Escape Lounges, which are located at a few airports in the U.S., including Minneapolis Saint Paul and Reno-Tahoe, as well as AirSpace lounges in San Diego and Cleveland.
Finally, the card also grants access to Plaza Premium — but this will be of more use to international than domestic travelers, since none of the lounges are at U.S. airports.
There’s a $550 annual fee for The Platinum Card® from American Express, but the card comes with a $200 airline fee credit every year that can help offset the annual fee. Plus, you can get a credit for Global Entry every four years or a credit for TSA PreCheck every 4 ½ years. Be aware if you want to get additional cards for authorized users, you can get up to three more cards for an additional annual fee of $175. A fourth card and every card after that will carry an annual fee of $175 per card.
If you fly Delta, or fly out of an airport with a Centurion Lounge, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers a compelling package. And if you have a small business, you have the option of applying for The Business Platinum® Card from American Express. The business card has an annual fee of $595.
Best for American Admirals Club access
Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases & 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*
No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
- Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you
- Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
- Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
- First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
- The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 17.49% - 25.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
See additional details for Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
There’s only one credit card that gets you into American Admirals Clubs for free.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® has a $450 annual fee, and comes with full Admirals Club membership privileges — including access for authorized users. There are more than 50 Admirals Club locations worldwide, as well as more than 60 partner lounges operated by partners such as British Airways and Qantas. (It should be noted that authorized users don’t have access to partner lounges.)
You also get a free checked bag and priority boarding on American flights.
Best for Delta perks
If you just want Delta Sky Club access, the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express with its $450 Annual Fee ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) will get you in whenever you’re flying on a Delta flight. Here’s a full list of the 30-plus lounges you can visit. You can bring up to two guests for the price of $29 per person per visit.
There’s also an annual domestic companion ticket that lets you bring a companion along for no airfare, just the taxes and fees, when you renew your card every year.
So why hold this instead of The Platinum Card® from American Express when the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, offers no Priority Pass or Centurion Lounge access? The key benefit is better priority for upgrades on Delta, the ability to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles and free checked bags.
The information related to the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Best for United Club access
If you want access to United Clubs, the United Club℠ Card can get you in. The card’s annual fee of $450 is cheaper than buying a United Club membership, which starts at $650 or 85,000 miles. You can bring two adult guests with you, or one adult and dependent children under 21 years old. In addition, cardmembers can get access to participating Star Alliance-affiliated lounges worldwide.
The United Club℠ Card also has United travel perks like the first two checked bags free, priority boarding and priority security lane access. And finally, it offers a solid flat rewards rate — earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on purchases.
The information related to the United Club℠ Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Best for no-fee authorized users
Cardholders with The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card get a Priority Pass membership with guest privileges, as well as a Priority Pass membership for every authorized user added to the account.
There’s a $450 annual fee, but the card also has a $300 annual travel credit. So if you travel frequently enough to use the travel credit every year, that effectively reduces the annual fee substantially.
Finally, the card is loaded with an unlimited $100 discount on just about any domestic airfare for two people you book via the Visa Infinite travel service, which can add up if you travel with a companion a few times a year.
The information related to The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Best for lounge access and earning points
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a complimentary Priority Pass membership to the primary cardholder, plus two guests free of charge.
Where it also shines is the ability to 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. Ultimate Rewards points are incredibly flexible, and are worth more value when redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal. Plus, this card comes with an easy-to-use $300 annual travel credit, which can essentially knock down the cost of the $450 annual fee.
Best for lounge access and a free hotel night
The Citi Prestige® Credit Card has a standard Priority Pass membership with two guests free per visit. Authorized users cost $75 a year and get their own membership card.
The card has a $495 annual fee, and has a $250 annual airline credit that’s automatically applied to airline purchases you make with the card.
The only reason to get this card over others that offer a Priority Pass is its Fourth Night benefit. That gets you your fourth night free at any hotel you book via the Citi travel concierge. They have access to the same low rates you’d see on a hotel’s own website, so you’re not paying an inflated rate to get the free night. You have access to two complimentary Fourth Night benefits per calendar year.
The information related to the Citi Prestige® Credit Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
How do lounges stack up?
American, Delta and United each run their own network of lounges, and their lounges tend to be basic, but very convenient. You’ll find soup, salads and free well drinks, along with premium drinks for purchase.
This is a network of more than 1,300 lounges around the world run by airlines and independent operators, mostly outside the U.S., or in the international terminals of U.S. airports. The lounges range from spartan, glorified waiting rooms to full-featured lounges with spas like the Air France Lounge at JFK, and while there are several U.S. locations, they tend to be either inconvenient to domestic terminals or very crowded because so many people now have credit cards with Priority Pass access.
Exclusive to American Express, these are the most well-appointed lounges available to domestic travelers. Wine and spirits are a cut above the well offerings at regular airline lounges, and the food on offer is enough to make a small meal on par with what you’d get at an airport restaurant.
You’ll find them at the Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, New York – La Guardia, San Francisco and Seattle airports. Their biggest drawback is that they tend to get crowded.
Things to consider
Every card on this list has an annual fee of $400 or more, so be ready to pay upfront for lounge privileges, though they all have intro bonuses of some sort to defray the first year of membership. Unless a card is offering 100,000 or more points to start though, the intro bonus probably isn’t enough to justify most of these cards unless you travel more than a few times a year.
This is where things get interesting. Most of the cards offer an annual travel fee credit from $200 – $300 where you get reimbursed for travel purchases each year, which helps offset the big annual fee.
There are three flavors of travel credits:
- Airline fee credits, which are good for airline purchases except airfare. These are the most restrictive, and are intended for things such as change fees, bag fees and lounge passes, though you can often get airline gift cards reimbursed. Some like The Platinum Card® from American Express are automatic, though you have to designate one airline a year to get credit, while others like The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card require you call in to get the credit, but don’t limit you to one specific airline.
- Air travel credits, which are good for airfare. The Citi Prestige® Credit Card automatically reimburses any airline charge made to your card, including airfare.
- Travel credits which are good for any travel purchase. This is the most flexible option, offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which automatically reimburses $300 in travel purchases each cardmember year (so you get a fresh $300 in travel purchases on the anniversary of opening your account).
While all of these cards give the primary cardholder unlimited access to lounges in their networks, Delta charges $29 for each guest coming in with someone who has access via a credit card program.
Some Priority Pass memberships, like with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Citi Prestige® Credit Card limit you to two free guests.
Authorized user access
Most of these cards charge a fee to add an authorized user account. That lets family or friends use lounges when you’re not traveling, but some, like The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card have no fee to add an authorized user, which is great if you have a spouse who travels a lot for work.
The bottom line
If you want a credit card that provides lounge access, be prepared to pay a premium annual fee. However, in many cases, paying an annual fee for a credit card with good benefits can be cheaper than paying directly for a lounge membership. What card you choose will likely be influenced by what airline you travel on most frequently, whether your flights are domestic or international, and what other perks you’re looking for. But if you simply want the broadest lounge access possible, you should strongly consider The Platinum Card® from American Express.