Airport Lounges: How to Get in Without Flying First or Business Class


If you often travel by plane, you know that airports can be extremely crowded and noisy. Sometimes, you desperately need a comfortable, quiet zone to relax and recharge while you wait to board your flight. The solution you’re looking for is an airport lounge that is usually tucked away in airport terminal areas that are off-limits to other travelers. Airport lounges offer access to excellent food, free snacks and drinks, complimentary Wi-Fi, comfortable chairs, and other valuable benefits. These sanctuaries make long transit waits on international flights less torturous.

Access to an airport lounge is sometimes a necessity. Fortunately, these zones are not just for elite frequent flyers and passengers who can afford luxury travel. Aspiring to be a first-class traveler to enjoy airport lounges is no longer required, having the right credit card opens the door to these exclusive clubs. However, there are also other ways to qualify for airport lounge access without spending a fortune.

If you are keen to find out more about how to access an airport lounge without having to fly first class or business class, keep reading.

What is an Airport Lounge?

Airport lounges are restricted areas that are operated by airlines or third parties. They can provide an escape from the chaos of departure terminals. These lounges offer a comfy spot where passengers can relax and rest — for a maximum of three hours — before their upcoming flight. Traditionally, the creation of airport lounges was to benefit first-class travelers, but that is slowly changing.

Today, all reputable airlines have lounges at their hub airports and outsource lounge services at other, smaller airports. At Narita International Airport, for example, you can check into one of eight different lounges run by international airlines. These airlines’ goal is to provide an enhanced travel experience to their passengers.

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Benefits of Airport Lounge Access

Peace & Quiet

Airport lounges provide much-needed peace while also offering a way for you to keep an eye on your departure time. You get access to ample and comfortable seating and plenty of space to relax or work. Lounges often offer large-screen TVs and complimentary newspapers and magazines for travelers to kick back and relax. Access to free Wi-Fi helps you stay connected with the world. Most lounges include computers and printers in dedicated work areas. You can work on a few daily tasks or check your emails. There are also charging desks where you can charge your phone, tablet, or laptop.

Complimentary Food and Drink

Airport lounge access offers numerous perks, and one of the main perks is free drinks and snacks. Tired travelers can recharge by having a cold snack like pretzels, chips, or crackers. Most airport lounges offer cold snacks, but others, which are more exclusive, feature chefs who prepare fresh food. There is usually an open bar with soft refreshments, beers, wines, and other premium beverages. At some lounges, there is a bartender service, while at others, you pour drinks yourself. And the best part is that everything is free.

Premium Customer Service

Airport lounges come staffed with agents who are ready to provide personal assistance. If you need flight details or want to change seat assignments or reservations, an airline employee at the lounge reception desk is more than ready to help you out. These services can be invaluable, especially when your flight is canceled or delayed.

Special Services

Some airports have stylish lounges with access to luxury perks and amenities. Depending on their quality, the offerings can vary widely. You might find that you get access to extra services at lounge facilities that are unavailable elsewhere. Many lounges in hub and international airports offer showers to freshen up, as well as free spa treatments, including massages, facials, and manicures. Other exclusive services include en suite rooms, gyms, mini cinemas, game rooms, and more.

Airport Lounge

How You Can Get Airport Lounge Access

Are you wondering how to get access to a lounge? A long time ago, there was only one way to gain entrance — you had to have a business or first-class ticket. Today, there are many ways to enter airport lounges, and some of them are relatively inexpensive. However, getting into the lounge of your choice might depend on the airline you are flying with, the airline status you have, and whether you are traveling on a domestic or international flight. Possible options for gaining airport lounge access include:

Credit Cards

Several travel credit cards will get you into a lounge program without having to pay for a lounge membership. Lounge access is just an added perk that comes along with other travel-related benefits, like free checked bags, accelerated mileage earning, no foreign fees, and more. However, these cards typically come with annual fees that can cost as much as $550 per year. Nevertheless, they are still a better value than airline lounge membership.

Programs vary depending on the card. Sometimes you can bring a guest with you, other times you cannot. Also, lounge access may depend on whether the airline you are traveling with is in the same alliance as the airline that runs the lounge you want to visit.

Top Airline Lounge Credit Cards

These premium travel cards, which are popular among frequent travelers, and that also offer lounge access include:

  • American Express Platinum Card — It provides free access to the Amex Centurion Lounge network and Priority Pass Select Lounge Access. Also, if you are flying Delta, you get access to Delta Sky Club lounges. The annual fee is $550, but you may bring two additional guests with you.
  • The Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard — With this card, you get Admirals Club membership and access to select partner One World Alliance lounges. The annual fee is $450.
  • The United MileagePlus Club Card — This card from Chase offers you access to United Club lounges and select partner Star Alliance lounges worldwide. The annual fee is $450 and gives you and two guests lounge access.
  • The Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card — You get access to Priority Pass Select lounges for an annual fee of $450.

In addition to these premium cards, Diners Club cards provide access to airport lounges worldwide.

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Priority Pass Membership

Priority Pass is a membership program that provides entry into over 1,300 airport lounges worldwide. It operates independently of airlines. If you are a member of Priority Pass, you gain access to these lounges regardless of your ticket class or the airline you are flying.

Priority Pass has three tiers of membership:

  • Priority Pass Standard — The annual membership fee is $99. You pay $27 per lounge visit.
  • Priority Pass Standard Plus — The membership fee is $299 per year, and you get ten free lounge visits.
  • Priority Pass Prestige — The annual membership fee is $429. You get unlimited lounge member visits.

If your credit card offers a Priority Pass benefit, you need to become a Priority Pass Select member. Select membership benefits are similar to the Priority Pass Prestige. However, different credit cards offer various lounge programs, so it is wise to check the perks that your card provides.

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Day Passes

If you are an occasional flyer and you don’t fly enough to justify high annual fees, you can buy an airline lounge day pass. The entrance prices range from $29 to $50. You can get a single pass online through websites like Lounge Pass or Lounge Buddy, or through lounge operators like Executive Lounges by Swissport. Each of these websites uses cookies to provide a tailored experience to you, the consumer.

First-Class or Business Ticket

Most airlines offer international passengers with a boarding pass in the business or first-class categories access to airport lounges. The airline will invite you to join their business class lounge. If they do not provide amenities at the airport you are visiting, you can use their partner’s lounge. In a few large international airports, separate lounges exist for business and first-class passengers. First-class travelers usually get a superior level of service. However, domestic flights don’t always provide first-class passengers with premium lounge access.

Elite Status

Having elite status with a specific airline will get you complimentary access to lounges. Frequent flyer loyalty programs usually have several tiers of elite status. The status levels have different names with different airlines. For instance, American Airlines has four elite ranks: Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro, Platinum, and Gold.

Annual Airline Lounge Membership

If you fly a lot, purchasing a yearly lounge membership might offer excellent value. If you buy a branded airline pass, you get access to the lounges of that carrier and its partner lounges, regardless of what airline you may be flying that day. Some of the most popular airline lounge memberships include American Airlines, United Airlines, Air Canada, and Delta Sky Club. Annual fees for lounge memberships range from $350 to $500. Even though that seems like a lot, it can save you money in comparison to the day passes or spending thousands of dollars on first-class tickets. Members can bring up to two guests with them.

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Airport Lounge Access is Not Just for First-Class Passengers

Access to airport lounges is not only valuable to frequent flyers — it can provide advantages to even once-a-year travelers. Sometimes you need a place to relax and grab drinks and a free bite to eat as you wait for your flight, and the lounge area is the perfect solution. With all the added perks and benefits, it can be an excellent chance to spoil yourself a bit; casual travelers should get lounge access too.

Are you a fan of airport lounges? How do you access airport lounges? Do you have tips and tricks for gaining cheap lounge access? Please comment below.

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