Once marketed as havens for jet-setting executives, airport lounges now serve anyone who is willing to invest in a less stressful airport experience. If flight delays, crowded departure gates, and challenging travelers make you want to tear your hair out, a handful of travel credit cards can help you escape the fray with airport lounge access bundled into their featured benefits.
Airport lounge services and amenities can vary wildly among operators and locations. Many offer free drinks and snacks, but all offer a chance to unwind throughout your journey. Most airlines charge $500 or more per year for a single adult club membership, dropping prices for elite status flyers. Priority Pass and SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club offer annual memberships that offer discounted daily access to most airport lounges. We found four credit cards that offer airport club access, all for less money than the cost of joining a single club on your own.
American Express Platinum Card
Many companies now require business travelers to choose the cheapest available fare instead of sticking with a single provider. Since that booking philosophy makes it tougher to achieve elite status on your preferred airline, the Platinum Card from American Express replaces many of your former frequent flyer perks.
Your Platinum Card now gets you access to a network of over 600 airport lounges participating in the Priority Pass Select network. That list of locations includes some of the best-reviewed airport lounges in the world, including independent operations. Instead of abandoning your travel companions at the door, you can pay a $27 entry fee for each member of your party. The $450 annual fee entitles you to baggage check reimbursement, Global Entry program enrollment, and deep discounts on travel services.
United MileagePlus Club Card from Chase
When travel guide publisher Frommer's asked its readers to vote for the world's best airport lounge, those frequent flyers chose the Continental President's Club in Terminal E at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Now that United and Continental have completed their merger, United MileagePlus Club Card holders can access that lounge, along with more than 50 other United Club locations around the world.
Your $395 annual fee entitles you and a travel companion unlimited United Club access. Your membership also includes priority check-in, security, boarding, and baggage handling. United will also check two of your bags on each flight at no charge, making this an ideal airline credit card for travelers who fly in pairs.
Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard
Despite some highly publicized financial challenges, American has maintained a network of more than three dozen reliable Admiral's Club locations across the United States. With help from partners British Airways and Qantas, AA can offer Citi Executive World Elite MasterCard customers free access to over 50 airport lounges worldwide. Your membership includes lounge access for your family or up to two unrelated guests on your itinerary.
A $450 annual fee also entitles you to cardholder benefits that rival those of the Platinum Card from American Express. Expert concierges can help you make travel bookings and restaurant reservations, while customer service agents stand by assist with price protection and retail purchase protection claims. AAdvantage bonus miles can make booking flights on American more cost effective, even if they're not always the cheapest deals.
Visa Black Card from Barclaycard US
If you've always wanted to carry a credit card made of carbon, but you haven't yet earned a Centurion Card invitation, Barclaycard can help. When the Visa Black Card first launched in the United States, critics derided it as a pale imitation of AmEx's legendary charge card. Recent changes to the card's benefits and some strong balance transfer offers have made this account an attractive alternative to elite airline credit cards.
This card's $495 annual fee costs about a hundred dollars more than if you purchased one of Priority Pass' "prestige" membership packages. However, you can still make this card pay for itself by taking advantage of its 1 percent cash back rebate and its concierge service. Visa Black Card's promotional materials suggest that Barclaycard limits membership to just the top 1 percent of consumers. However, you can apply online instead of waiting for a bank representative to contact you.
Signing up for a travel rewards card with airport lounge access makes the most financial sense if you travel with colleagues or with family members more than five times per year. Otherwise, you might get more value from day passes or from independent membership programs. If you take advantage of rewards points, concierge services, and all the other benefits of these four credit cards, you can essentially get your lounge access for free.