Getting access to airport lounges for free is a bit of an awkward situation. On the one hand, WOOOHOOOO you’re rubbing elbows with the fancy people. On the other hand, you want to act like being in the lounge is totally normal and not at all exciting. Can anyone relate?
If you’re like the vast majority of travelers getting one vacation per year is a win. You might as well make your one vacation as bougie and luxurious as possible. Here are the four easiest ways to get into airport lounges for free.
Why Would You Want to Get into Airport Lounges for Free?
Airport lounges have a wide range of offerings depending on the type of lounge. There are airline lounges, credit card lounges, first class lounges, membership lounges, and private lounges. Amenities can include free food, free buffet, free alcohol, but also showers, nap pods, or dedicated work spaces.
Ultra high end lounges can have free massages, free facials, or free limo service to the plane. You might even stumble into a lounge with a cigar bar, rooftop pool, or oxygen bar. If you are traveling with kids, there are lounges with dedicated play areas away from the hustle and bustle of the main airport terminal.
All of these perks will make ordering an extremely inflated priced McDonalds meal seem like a distant memory. In a lounge you don’t just have more space but you also have elevated service. In the case of a delay or cancelation you don’t have to wait in the general help line, the airline lounge you have access to can re-book you with a much shorter line to contend with.
The piece de resistance to the whole experience is being able to stride into that airport lounge past the McDonalds, past the hoards of people, past the Sbarro pizza, and inside the lounge where you are special.
First Class Seat
The air is cleaner, the seats are bigger, and the food tastes better up in the first class cabin. Beyond just a more enjoyable in flight experience there are other perks as well. Upon check-in your luggage is allowed to weigh more without paying extra. As you move through security there is a separate elite line catering to first class passengers.
Instead of waiting in line at Starbucks you get to roll your carry-on into the best category of lounge in my opinion. A first class lounge is the most exclusive of the lounge categories because so few people qualify to enter during any given time period. Your first class ticket entitles you to lounge access for two hours prior to boarding.
Reach the Right Status
If using cash or points to get a first class ticket is not feasible, my next suggestion is to gain access to an airline lounge. A lounge run by the airline you are on that day will reward certain elite statuses lounge access regardless of the ticket class you are flying.
Not all statuses are awarded with lounge access and sometimes only international or only domestic flights will be granted access. The status access is entirely airline specific.
There are generally two ways to obtain status with an airline. The first way is to buy flights, put your butt in airplane seats, and earn miles for that travel. Reach the miles and spend thresholds to reach elite airline status. The second way to get airline status is to have the right credit card, which I will cover next.
Have the Right Credit Card
As an infrequent traveler it might be improbable that you’ll sit in enough airplane seats to reach a status worth of getting into airport lounges for free. But, you can be granted airline status via the airlines co-branded credit card. Almost all airline credit cards have a minimum spend requirement in exchange for elite status, lounge certificates for guests, or other perks.
The key to using credit cards for perks such as airline status, is to never spend more than you usually would and can afford to do so. Use the airline credit card of your choice like a debit card. Only swipe it if you have the money available to pay it off immediately. Once you have obtained the perks you were aiming for, it’s time to re-evaluate which credit card is best to use on an ongoing basis.
Some credit cards offer their own airport lounges for free. American Express Platinum card holders for example get access to Centurion Lounges. Capital One Venture X entitles card holders to enter Capital One Lounges. Chase Sapphire Reserve users will have access to their new lounge collection aptly called Chase Sapphire Lounge.
Most of the high annual fee credit cards include complimentary membership to Priority Pass. Being a member of Priority Pass gives you access to airport lounges for free on a much larger scale. Priority Pass has over 1,300 locations including independent lounges, airline lounges, and even restaurant partners.
Become a Member
Maybe you are not someone who spends enough to meet the requirements of airline co-branded credit cards or you aren’t ready to spring for a credit card with a high annual fee. If that’s the case then becoming a member of the Priority Pass network might make the most sense.
The most common membership is the Standard Plus which includes ten entry coupons per year. While this method of airport lounge access does come with a direct cost, it is significantly cheaper than a day pass price at the counter.
Military Traveling in Uniform
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines currently offer lounge access to U.S. military with some exclusions. At the time of writing this both American Airlines and United Airlines appear to extend the lounge access to limited family members of the service person in uniform.
If All Else Fails, Buy a Day Pass
I’ll end this airport lounge advice by saying that no matter what seat you have on the plane, regardless of how rarely you fly, no matter how low your credit score, and even if you don’t want to be locked into a yearly membership, you can still enjoy an airport lounge.
An airport lounge day pass will usually run around $40 to $75. While the direct relationship between the food you will consume and the fee you pay is kind of exorbitant the memories will be worth it.
Getting access to airport lounges for free will take some advanced planning. However, infrequent travelers should make an effort to enjoy an airport lounge at least once.