If you travel regularly, or take a few flights a year with long layovers, getting into the more refined space of an airport VIP lounge can make your trip much more pleasant. More comfortable furniture, work spaces, snacks, and even a shower in some of them. Road warriors who put in enough miles to get to the elite level of an airline usually get access for free, but the rest of us need to pay for a shortcut.
Here’s how to buy your way in, apart from getting a day pass on the spot (usually $40-$50 per person).
Credit Cards with Lounge Perks
Most of the airlines offer some kind of “platinum” or “president” card that charges a hefty annual fee in exchange for a list of perks that elite travelers get, like the ability to check one bag for free and a year-long pass to the airport lounges. United’s high-end card, for example, is a hefty $399 a year ($304 the first year), but you also get “access to United and US Airways lounges; first and second checked bag fees waived; Hyatt Platinum elite status; 1,000 Flex elite-qualifying miles per $5,000 in purchases; priority check-in, boarding, and express security screening.”
This company’s card gets you into the widest range of lounges available, including foreign carriers, but carries a fee of $249 for 10 visits or $399 for unlimited visits. It’s worth it if you fly solo a lot internationally, but for vacationers you will need to pay $27 for each guest. Get a discount if you purchase through this link: Priority Pass – 10% Off
American Express Platinum
This has been my method of choice for the past few years and while it pains me to pay the $450 a year for the card, I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Just flash the card, your boarding pass, and your passport and you get into the lounges of American, Delta, and Continental. What really makes it worthwhile is you can bring your family in, which I’ve done multiple times flying to Mexico or across the U.S. The card also includes emergency evacuation service, which is also a few hundred dollars in value, plus it gets you extra perks when you use it at many luxury hotels, like free breakfast or a room upgrade. And of course the Membership Rewards mileage program, which is very handy for topping off different mileage/points accounts from airlines and hotels. The downside is, you have to be flying on the airline to use the lounge. So if you fly into Santiago on LAN instead of one of the U.S. carriers, you’re out of luck.
Buy a membership
This is the worst choice because you pay top dollar just to get into a single airline’s lounge (and sometimes their partners’ as well). You’re better off just getting their credit card or an Amex Platinum card since the cost can be north of $400. You do get to bring in family or a guest though, which can really bump up the value compared to something like Priority Pass. Be advised though that some lounges–like American’s—are much stingier with what they give you than others, like Continental’s—where free cocktails and Wi-Fi are standard. Choose accordingly.