How To Get Airport Lounge Access – The Ultimate Guide

airport lounge DFW
AA lounge at DFW - Photo credit: Nelo Hotsuma/flickr

Airport lounges can be a welcome haven for the airline passenger. These days the VIP flying experience starts very much on the ground. Access to an exclusive lounge can separate you away from the crowds at a busy airport terminal and offer plush,
all-inclusive facilities.

Now, there are numerous ways for getting airport lounge access. You don’t necessarily have to be travelling first or business class. Nor do you require holding frequent flyer elite status. In this detailed airport lounge guide we’ll show you all the possible lounge access options worldwide at your disposal.

So what exactly can airport lounges offer? You can find comfortable seating, drinks and light snacks, newspapers and magazines, computer terminals and WiFi internet. Perhaps showers to freshen up. Some lounges can have great views of the airport apron and runways.

At the very top-end you can get full service à-la-carte dining, private day rooms, spa facilities and limousine transfers.

A few of the world’s best airport lounges include Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal at Frankfurt, Air France’s La Première Lounge in Paris, the Qantas International First Lounges at Sydney and Melbourne, Swiss First Class Lounge in Zurich, Thai Airways Royal First Lounge & Spa in Bangkok and the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai.

swiss airport lounge
SWISS lounge at Zurich – Photo credit: airbus777/flickr

First class VIP airline lounges have top-of-the-range facilities, whilst business class lounges from major airlines are usually well-appointed.

At the lower end of the scale, third party contract lounges tend to be more basic and their quality can be variable. However we are seeing a growing trend in the premium independent lounge sector which cater to economy flyers and leisure travellers wanting more comfortable facilities on the ground.

Free Airport Lounge Access for Premium Passengers

Flying premium – by flying first class or business class (internationally) you should get complimentary one-time access to the airline’s lounge or that of an alliance partner. However, premium class passengers on US domestic flights often do not get automatic lounge access – airline club membership is required (see further below).

Elite status – Passengers who have top-tier or mid-tier elite status in a frequent flyer program generally get lounge access even if flying on an economy class ticket.

Alliance Lounge Access

For the main 3 alliances here are the lounge access rules:

Oneworld Alliance Lounge Access – Emerald tier (AA Executive Platinum, BA Gold, Qantas Platinum/Platinum One) flyers can access first class, business class or frequent flyer lounges. Sapphire tier (AA Platinum, BA Silver, Qantas Gold) flyers can use business class or frequent flyer lounges except Qantas domestic business lounges. A single guest can be invited as long as they are also flying a Oneworld carrier.

Oneworld has around 650 lounges worldwide.

Skyteam Alliance Lounge Access – SkyTeam Elite Plus members (Delta Medallion Gold/Platinum/Diamond, Flying Blue Gold/Platinum) flying on a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam airline have access to a lounge. One guest is permitted if they are also on a Skyteam flight.

Skyteam has over 600 lounges worldwide.

Star Alliance Lounge Access – Star Alliance Gold Status members (Lufthansa Senator/HON Circle, United Premier Gold/Platinum/1K) have access to any lounge with a Star Alliance Gold sign at the entrance. 1 guest is permitted. Note, to access United Clubs in the US, Gold members must be flying internationally.

Star Alliance has over 1,000 lounges worldwide.

TIP: At some larger airports there may be multiple alliance lounges available to visit – for example London Heathrow Terminal 2 has 4 Star Alliance business class lounges. In that case get to know which lounges suit your needs. For example, one could have better food on offer whilst another could have a nicer ambiance or faster Internet.

TIP: Some airport lounges can have a large floor area with many different sections. On entering a new lounge you should walk around and orientate yourself to the various facilities available.

Free Lounge Access as a Guest – Perhaps you know a friend or colleague who can guest you into an airline lounge for free, as long as they are travelling at the same time. Otherwise check out some of the air travel forums (Flyertalk, Insideflyer) where members can meet up at airports and guest each other. If you are really desperate then stand outside a lounge and ask someone entering whether they can possibly guest you in!

For those who don’t travel at the pointy end of the plane or have a wallet full of shiny gold cards, you may need to buy your way into the lounge…

Paid-for Airport Lounge Access

There are various ways purchasing airport lounge access if you are not flying business or first class. Options includes buying one-time single access, getting annual membership to an independent lounge program (such as Priority Pass) or joining an airline lounge club.

There are a number of airline and independent lounges that will sell you a one-time or one-day visit pass.

One-time Access to Independent Lounges

You can buy access to a number of independent lounges which will generally set you back between £14 to £35 or $20 to $50 and will grant you about 3 hours access. US airlines sell either single visit or 24 hour day passes to their lounge clubs for about $50.

Lounge Pass (Collinson Group) offers single entry into around 300 (mainly) independent lounges worldwide at 190 airports in over 75 countries. Coverage to independent UK lounges is very good. Click here to book an airport lounge with LoungePass. Bookings are charged in GBP (British pounds) but all major credit cards are accepted.

Here is a listing of some of the best independent airport lounges, many of which are bookable via LoungePass:

No.1 Traveller offers stylish lounges with bar and bistro in the UK at Birmingham, Edinburgh, London Heathrow (T3), London Gatwick (North and South Terminals). Entrance costs £24-£36. The main Heathrow lounge also has a travel spa at extra charge. No.1 also operates a more basic My Lounge at London Gatwick North Terminal.

Escape Lounges (MAG airport group) has lounges at Manchester, East Midlands and London Stansted in the UK plus Minneapolis Saint Paul in the US. New lounges are due to open at Oakland and Bradley International Airport, Connecticut.

Plaza Premium Group has over 140 lounge locations at 35 international airports in 16 countries. Mainly in Asia (such as Hong Kong), Canada and the Middle East – but now expanding further internationally. Includes a lounge in Brisbane, Australia and the new flagship lounges at London Heathrow T2 (departures and arrivals) and Heathrow T4. A lounge in Rio international airport, Brazil will open soon.

The Club (Airport Lounge Development – Collinson Group) offers lounges at Atlanta, Cincinatti, Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Orlando, Pheonix, San Jose and Seattle-Tacoma. Book here via LoungePass. A new lounge will open late 2016 at Baltimore-Washington airport.

Servisair Executive lounges and Aspire lounges (both run by Swissport) has over 40 airport lounge locations mainly around UK and Europe, plus a few lounges in Africa, Middle East, Asia and Canada. You can book an Executive Lounges here in multiple currencies.

Airspace (Swissport) has stylish lounges at New York JFK T5, Cleveland and San Diego.

Wingtips Lounge is an independent offering for passengers at New York JFK Terminal 4 with self-service bar area, shower facilities and views of the runway. A day pass (valid for 4 hours) costs $50.

Paid Entry to Airline Lounges

Note that a few airline-run lounges are available to book through LoungePass including:
Star Alliance Lounge at Paris CDG T1
Oman Air First & Business Lounge at Bangkok
Skyteam Lounge at London Heathrow T4
Air France-KLM Lounge at Chicago O’Hare T5

Airport Lounge Access Membership Programs

Priority Pass

If you don’t have elite status and normally fly economy class then Priority Pass is probably the best way to go about getting regular lounge access. Priority Pass (Collinson Group) has a contract agreement with over 950 airport lounges worldwide in 400 cities across 120 countries – making it the most comprehensive program in terms of lounge coverage.

There are three tiers of Priority Pass membership:

Standard Membership costs $99 annually (or £69 UK or €99 in EU). Each visit costs $27 (£15 or €24) and any guests are charged additionally at the same rate.

Standard Plus Membership will set you back $249 (£159, €249) and this will give you 10 free visits. Any more visits are charged at the normal $27 rate, as are all guest visits.

Prestige Membership costs $399 (£259, €399) and this will give you unlimited ‘free’ access. Guests are charged at the standard visit rate.

Click here to get a special 10% discount off Priority Pass membership (The initial price is in GBP but enter your country of residence to get the same discount in USD or Euros).

Priority Pass Prestige membership can be excellent value if you fly on a regular basis as there are no restrictions in terms of which airlines you fly or class of ticket you buy.

All you need to do is show your membership card and the lounge staff will let you in – if there are any fees due you will be sent the bill at a later date. Priority Pass also makes a good back-up program for those with alliance elite status.

You need to decide whether Priority Pass lounges matches up with your travel patterns. The quality of the lounges does vary across the network so do your homework by checking out airport lounge reviews online. Most are independent contract lounges and this includes No.1 Traveller and Plaza Premium lounges. Some airline lounges are also in the program.

You must be departing from the same terminal where the lounge is located unless it is accessible landside (before security). Some of the larger airports with multiple terminals do not have a Priority Pass lounge at each terminal. Also note the sparse coverage in Australia.

Some high-end credit cards (see below) and bank accounts offer “Priority Pass Select” which is similar to Prestige membership.

Other Lounge Subscription Programs

Executive Lounges – Offers unlimited annual access program for £260 to Aspire, Swissport and Servisair Lounges in UK, Canada, Denmark and The Netherlands.

Lounge Club (Collinson Group) is a cut-down version of Priority Pass which is only available via financial institutions and businesses such as banks, credit card providers and telecoms. It is used as an added value to credit cards or subscription packages and gives access to 350 lounges worldwide.

DragonPass is a similar annual membership program to Priority Pass running out of China which offers access to over 800 lounges worldwide. It is slightly more expensive.

chitose lounge sapporo
CHITOSE lounge at Sapporo – Photo credit: MIKI Yoshihito/flickr

Airline Clubs: Australia

Qantas Club – Qantas offers an annual membership which will give you access to Qantas lounges in Australia when flying Qantas or Jetstar. For domestic travel you can enter Qantas Club lounges; for international travel you can use the Qantas international business lounges.

Members also have access to the Emirates business lounge in Dubai (if flying Qantas), American Airlines Admirals Club lounges (if flying AAmerican Airlines or Qantas) plus a variety of associated partner lounges at most international airports that Qantas serves. Note, access is no longer available to British Airways lounges at London Heathrow.

Qantas Club members can freely invite 1 guest travelling on the same flight into the lounge. Check-in is available at dedicated counters or business class desks. Effectively, benefits are similar to mid-tier elite status.

The standard price to join Qantas Club is a quite hefty – a AU$360 joining fee and rates of AU$400 (1 year), AU$720 (2 years) or AU$1350 (4 years). An annual guest card (to take in a second guest) costs AU$255. Residents of Australia and New Zealand have to pay GST (sales tax) on top of these fees – however it is possible to find slightly lower rates by joining through a corporate program.

Qantas Lounge Passes – Qantas has recently started a trial selling lounge access to its lower tier Frequent Flyer members. Costs are AU$49 for domestic Australian lounges, AU$69 for international business class lounges and AU$99 for premium international lounges such as Hong Kong or Singapore. Selected passengers will be invited by email to purchase lounge access 3-5 days before their Qantas flight.

Qantas lounge pass cards which are a perk of certain credit cards or frequent flyer status are often traded on sites such as eBay, Gumtree for AU$50-100. Note that officially Qantas prohibits the trading of its lounge passes.

Virgin Australia Lounge – This airline has a range of stylish domestic Australian lounges with a good standard of facilities. Virgin Australia Lounge annual membership is available for AU$420 plus a joining fee of AU$330 – you must be a member of the airline’s Velocity frequent flyer program. Velocity Silver members pay AU$300 annually with no join fee.

Access is granted on the day of travel with the airline. You can invite 1 guest free of charge and 2 children under 12. Lounge locations are at Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Gold Coast, Mackay, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Access is also given to Air New Zealand Koru lounges when flying trans-Tasman or within New Zealand.

Lifetime membership to Virgin Australia’s Lounge program is offered for AU$9,750; seniors 60+ pay a discounted lifetime rate of AU$6,750.

It is possible for non-members to purchase a single entry for AU$65 at the lounge reception – credit card payments only. You must have a valid VA boarding pass and entry is valid for 2 hours.

Airline lounge staff can often handle ticketing enquiries a lot more efficiently than having to queue at a standard airport customer service counter.

Airline Clubs: USA/Canada

American Airlines Admirals Club – American Airlines sells access to its Admirals Club lounges in the US plus 30 international partner lounges. A one-day pass costs $50 and can be used in multiple locations if making stopovers on a single day. Adult guests are not permitted with a day pass (each adult needs to buy their own day-pass) – however up to 3 children under 18 can be admitted with a day pass holder.

Annual membership costs $400 to $500 depending on AAdvantage status level – there is a $50 fee to join.

Members can bring up to 2 guests. Access also granted to all Qantas Club lounges (you must be flying American or a Qantas flight with an AA code), 5 Alaska Airlines Board Room lounges and various partner lounges in international locations.

United Club – United offers access to over 45 United Club lounge locations plus a variety of Star Alliance and international partner lounges. A one-time pass to a single United Club costs $59 at the door or via the United mobile app.

Annual membership ranges from $450-$550 (single) or $1,000-$1,100 (with spouse) depending on whether you have MilagePlus status. There is also a $50 initiation fee.

Members can bring 2 guests to United Club lounges, guest numbers may be restricted at other partner lounges.

Delta Sky Club – Delta Airlines offers access to its Sky Club lounges with access granted to over 50 lounges. International partner lounges include Virgin Australia Lounges and Skyteam facilities such as KLM Crown Lounge at Amsterdam Schiphol.

A single-visit pass costs $59 available at-the-door.

Executive Membership costs $695 annually and includes access for 2 guests. Individual membership costs $450 annually with any guests charged at $29 per visit.

Note there are credit cards available in the US (see below) which offer membership to Admirals, United and Delta Sky Clubs respectively.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Club – Air Canada has various annual membership options for entry into its Maple Leaf and partner lounges.

Canada membership costs CA$375 per year (spouse CA$175) and gives access to the 16 Canadian Maple Leaf lounges. Guests are charged at CA$15 per person (before 1100) and CA $25 per person (after 1100).

North America Plus membership costs CA$495 per year (spouse CA$235) and gives access to 66 lounges including United Clubs in the US and Maple Leaf lounges in US/Canada/Frankfurt/Paris/London. Guests are charged at the above Canada rates for North America, €25 for Europe and £25 for London.

Worldwide membership costs CA$665 per year (spouse CA$305) and gives access to over 210 lounges: Maple Leaf lounges in US/Canada/Frankfurt/London/Paris, United Club lounges, Star Alliance business lounges plus any Air Canada contracted lounge. 1 guest is permitted for free.

Alaska Airlines Boardroom – Alaska offers annual access to its 5 Boardroom locations plus over 60 partner lounges. Alaska Boardrooms are located at Anchorage, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. Partner lounges include American Admirals Clubs and some selected United Clubs.

You can bring 2 free guests to Alaska Boardrooms and Admirals Clubs.

Membership costs $350 per year (or $950 for 3 years) plus a $100 initiation fee. Spouse membership costs $250 (1 year) or $650 (3 years). Some discounted rates are available for Alaska Mileage Plan elite frequent flyers. One-day passes are available for $45.

Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club – Perhaps only useful to residents of Hawaii, Hawaiian offers access to its 5 lounge locations (Honolulu, Hilo, Kahului, Kona, Lihue) via its Premier Club. Other perks include free baggage allowance, priority check-in, security lines and boarding.

Annual membership costs $249 per year plus a $50 joining fee.

Hawaiian offers a single lounge pass to its Plumeria Lounge in Honolulu for $40.

Credit Cards with Lounge Access

A number of high-end credit cards offer airport lounge access as a perk. For example, the Citi Prestige card (card fee $450) gives access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs. Card holders also get a complimentary Priority Pass membership which allows free access to Priority Pass lounges and includes up to 2 free guests.

The following US co-branded cards (each $450) offer access to the respective airline clubs:

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard includes Admirals Club membership
United MileagePlus Club Card from Chase includes United Club membership
Delta Reserve American Express Card offers individual membership to Delta Sky Club

American Express Cards with Lounge Access

American Express offers various airport lounge access options depending on which card you hold and which country it is issued.

American Express Platinum card in the US provides access to Delta Sky Clubs, Airspace lounges and gives complimentary Priority Pass membership (no guests for free) to the main and supplementary cardholders. Annual fee is $450.

American Express Platinum in the UK (annual fee £450) gives a complimentary Priority Pass Prestige membership to the main and supplementary cardholders with 1 free guest allowed. You also get free lounge access at London, Brussels and Paris when travelling on Eurostar trains, no guests allowed.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card in the UK comes with 2 free lounge passes via Lounge Club. The card costs £140 annually (free first year).

American Express Platinum in Australia (annual fee AU$1,200) gives the same complimentary Priority Pass memberships (including 1 free guest) plus you get access to Virgin Australia Lounges if flying that airline.

Qantas American Express Premium Card (Australia) comes with 2 Qantas Club (single-entry) invitations per year after first spend on Qantas products. Annual fee is AU$249.

American Express Airport Lounges

American Express also has its own Centurion branded lounges at Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, New York La Guardia, Miami, Seattle and San Francisco. Lounges have a stylish design and offer meals from an in-house chef.

Free access (with 2 guests) is granted to Amex Centurion and Platinum card holders. Other American Express card holders (US and international) can pay $50 for a one-day pass. Members must have a boarding pass for a flight that day.

American Express also has lounge in Sydney airport (T1 international terminal) which is run by Plaza Premium Group. It gives free access to Centurion and Platinum card members. Other Amex holders can buy a day-pass for AU$55.

Other Cards and Accounts for Lounge Access

Diner’s Club card holders in the US get free access to over 500 airport lounges worldwide. Diner’s Club cards issued in other countries offer paid lounge access. For example, UK card members need to pay £15 per lounge visit.

6 reasons to avoid a lounge
1. Very busy with no seats available
2. Poor range of (unhealthy) snacks - airport restaurants are a better bet
3. Bad coffee machine
4. Dark and windowless with no natural light
5. Loud-mouth passengers making a call
6. Patchy WiFi internet

Miscellaneous Lounge Access Programs

Wexas – This London-based travel agent offers free UK airport access (except London Heathrow T5) for any customers booking an international flight and at least 2 hotel nights. It also offers a membership program (£85 per year) which includes a Standard Priority Pass and other benefits.

USO Lounges – The United Service Organizations (USO) is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers which services US military personnel and their families. The USO has lounge facilities in many US airports which offer comfortable seating, drinks/snacks and internet.

Air France-KLM Flying Blue Petroleum Club – If you work in the oil and gas industry and are flying with Air France-KLM on a designated oil route – quite a number of destinations are available – then membership to Flying Blue’s Petroleum Club is free. At Paris CDG this gets you lounge access and depending on stopover length, free meal vouchers and use of a day room at a CDG hotel, subject to availability. In Amsterdam you need to be on an overnight transfer to access the KLM lounge.

Lufthansa oil&energy club – Employees in the oil and gas industry can join the club which effectively gives complimentary Frequent traveller status. This entitles the holder to access Lufthansa Business Lounges, meal vouchers and day rooms at Frankfurt. Admittance to the club is vetted and may be limited by country of origin.

ABN Amro Lounge Amsterdam – Of possible interest to Netherlands-based flyers. ABN Amro Preferred Banking customers (minimum income or investment required) have free access to ABN’s compact lounge at Amsterdam Schiphol – they may bring a guest at no charge.

HSBC Premier Lounges – HSBC Premier customers can access the dedicated HSBC Premier lounges at the following airports: Istanbul (IST), Mexico City (MEX), São Paulo (GRU) and Curitiba (CWB).

In summary, we have discussed the various possibilities to get VIP airport lounge access – particularly for those who lack elite status or do not fly first or business class.