How do You Get into Airline Lounges?

As air travel becomes more hectic and popular, more and more people are stuck in airports, waiting for their flights in the gate area, desperately searching for an unused plug to recharge their phone or just a quiet place to work.  However, an option that is becoming very popular is the airline lounge. But if you’re not traveling in business or first class, how do you get in?  

There are lounge programs that you can join that offer access to airport lounges around the world and membership to these programs is often free with certain credit cards as a perk.  You can also purchase day passes to lounges which will get you access regardless of the class of service on your ticket. You can also try to attain elite status with airlines or alliances that will gain you access. Finally, you can even try to (politely) ask someone to guest you into these lounges.  

If you’re trying to get in past the double glass doors to escape, try one of these tactics to get you into the lounge the next time you’re at the airport. 

Priority Pass

This might be the best all around lounge access program.  It comes as a standard perk for many top credit cards (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Amex Platinum, Citi Prestige, etc.).  These lounges are located throughout the world and even I’m surprised at some of the locations (there was a lounge at the airport on the Galapagos).  

Depending on the type of card you have determines your membership level and thus how much (or how little) you’d have to pay when you visit a lounge  However, most of the cards will allow the primary card holder in for free with any guests being charged a fee to enter. You can also purchase an annual membership as well but you might want to check the math to make sure it’s worth it. The annual credit card fee that comes with Priority Pass is around $400 and so if the membership alone costs $250 (depending on the level), it may be more worthwhile to get the credit card (depending on how much you travel).  

The downside to Priority Pass is that they’ve become so popular that many domestic lounges are packed every time I go.  Also, during peak times, the lounge may limit the number of people or even not accept Priority Pass members so that elite members of a particular airline can get in.  I’ve found more use of my Priority Pass at international airports vs. domestic.  

Purchasing a Day Pass

This is just like purchasing a ticket to an amusement park.  For a fee (usually around $50), you can access the lounge and enjoy all the food, drinks, and amenities the lounge has to offer.  Although I’ve primarily seen this option for domestic travel, a lot of international carriers are starting to offer this as well. 

Although the fee may be a bit of a shock, I actually think it’s a great option especially for those who don’t travel very often and if the conditions are right.  If you’re stuck in an airport on a long stopover, it becomes very difficult to pass the time. Let’s be honest, there are only so many times you can walk through the duty free store and pretend to be interested in that neck pillow.  

But if you guy a lounge pass for $50, you’ll not only have a more secluded place to sit and relax but you’ll also have food and drinks (and whatever other amenities there) at your disposal.  If you were to spend that time walking around the terminal, chances are you’d be sitting down for a meal somewhere and by the time you add beer, wine, or cocktails, the price can easily get to or surpass $50.  In that sense, I think purchasing a day pass can be a real good value. 

Get Elite Status 

If you’re a loyal customer and fly constantly and consistently with a specific airline, that airline will typically reward you with perks.  Those perks can be a shorter check in line, free upgrades when possible, and even airline lounge access.  

Unfortunately, if you’re flying this much, you probably already have a routine and/or lounge access but if you don’t, this is a reason to stay loyal to one airline or alliance vs. spreading your flying time and money over different airlines  

Amex Platinum

Although the Amex Plat comes with a Priority Pass membership, it also comes with access to other lounges NOT in the Priority Pass network.   Mainly, this is the Centurion lounge network. The Centurion lounges are mainly located in the US (San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, Miami, etc) but slowly making a presence internationally as well with locations in Hong Kong, Mexico City, etc.  

These Centurion Lounges are MUCH nicer than priority pass lounges and offer a higher quality of service and food.  However, it isn’t just the Centurion lounges as the Amex Plat also offers access to the Airspace and Escape lounges as well.  

Also, if you’re flying Delta, the Amex Plat allows you access to the Delta Skyclub as long as you have a valid boarding pass for a flight that day.  Since Delta Skyclubs can be found fairly easily throughout the US, it’s a nice option to have.  

Although the Amex Plat comes with a $550 annual fee, if your home airport has a Centurion lounge, it may be worth it to have.  However, it probably won’t be worth it for many since there aren’t as many Centurion lounges and the card does come with a very high annual fee. 

The “Hey Mister” Approach

Ever play “hey mister” as a kid where you wait outside a liquor store in the hopes of some random stranger buying you alcohol?  Well that’s sort of the idea here (but it isn’t illegal or breaking the rules). Many lounges offer guesting privileges with the idea that you and your significant other will be entering.  But many travelers (especially business travelers) will be traveling solo. Well those people still have guesting privileges and it doesn’t cost them anything to identify you as a guest and let you into the lounge.  

Now you have to remember that the primary member is typically only allowed 1 or 2 guests for free and then a charge applies so this method probably won’t work if you’re trying to get an entire group into the lounge.  But if it’s just you, my guess is your odds are pretty good at getting in. 

I’ve done this a few times and it doesn’t bother me at all.  I think if it’s included in my membership already, it doesn’t matter who uses it.  Others may be weird about it so I guess it’ll all depend on the person. But if you’re desperate to get in the lounge and don’t want to pay for it, you really have nothing to lose by standing out front and just asking people to guest you. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are multiple ways of getting access to airport lounges.  However they all cost some money (except when asking to be guested) either on the front end or the back end.  If you’re a frequent traveler, airline lounges can be a nice perk since you’ll typically have more space to spread out and it’s a nice place to have a quick bite and drink before your flight.  

However, as access becomes more and more accessible, I find myself avoiding lounges more frequently (at least in the US).  Oftentimes, these lounges are so packed that finding a seat is impossible and it’s usually quieter and more comfortable to sit at an empty gate than it is to sit in an overcrowded lounge.  


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