How To Get Into Airport Lounges Without Spending A Load Of Money

Expert advice on gaining access to these premium spaces without paying premium prices.

This article was originally published on HuffPost US.

Spending time in the airport is hardly anyone’s idea of a relaxing holiday, but it is nonetheless a necessity if you want to reach many far-off travel destinations.

To make the air travel experience a little less hectic and stressful, many travellers flock to airport lounges for a drink, bite or moment of rest before takeoff. Many of these exclusive spaces have become destinations in their own right, like the buzzy new Delta Sky Club at Los Angeles International Airport and United Club at Newark Liberty International Airport.

“Airport lounges can be a great oasis from the hustle and bustle of the terminal,” Zach Griff, senior reporter at The Points Guy, tells HuffPost. “While historically these outposts were reserved for members paying annual dues, most lounges are now accessible to a variety of travellers.”

Indeed, you don’t have to splurge on an annual lounge membership or expensive premium cabin ticket to experience the comfort and amenities of an airport lounge. Below, Griff and other travel experts share their tips for getting into the lounge without stretching your budget.

Get a travel credit card

“Certain premium credit cards can get you into the lounge, with no requirement to pay for an annual lounge membership,” Griff said. “American Express has a collection of lounges, some branded as Centurion Lounges, and others as affiliates, such as the Escape Lounge network and Delta Sky Clubs, that allow travelers access into these spaces with no additional payment.”

Many travellers opt for airline-branded credit cards, which offer complimentary or discounted access to those specific airlines’ lounges (in addition to other benefits like extra miles). Still others, as Griff noted, prefer non-airline-specific travel reward cards that grant access to additional lounge options.

The American Express Platinum Card is a popular choice for travellers, as it includes access to more than 1,400 lounge properties, including Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass Lounges and Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta).

The Centurion Lounge at Miami International Airport.
John Parra via Getty Images
The Centurion Lounge at Miami International Airport.

To determine the best travel reward card for you, review the various benefits you’ll get in addition to lounge access. Keep in mind these cards tend to come with pretty hefty annual fees, so you’ll want to take those into account as well.

“I can justify the cost because I get the maximum value from my American Express Platinum Card,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer.

Purchase a one-time pass

Many airlines offer one-day passes for their lounges. You just have to be traveling with that particular airline and willing to pay a fee.

“Note that these are subject to capacity restrictions and can creep up to $100 (`£80) or more,” Griff said.

Still, it’s worth weighing the costs and benefits when you’re dealing with a long layover or big delay, especially if you’re planning to eat during that time. You also may find very reasonable prices depending on the airport.

“Outside of America, I have found the lounges to be super low cost for daily use,” said Ravi Roth, host of The Gaycation Travel Show. “In my most recent layover in Nairobi, Kenya, the lounge at Jomo Kenyatta Airport was only $30 (£24) for the day. That is the cost of a sandwich, snack, and drink. To me, that is a win!”

You can also find discounted passes to airport lounges on websites like Groupon.

To purchase a one-time pass, however, your best bet is going directly to the lounge and inquiring at the check-in desk. Not all lounges offer single-visit passes, and some might temporarily restrict them to prevent overcrowding. So if you go straight to the source, you won’t waste your money paying for access but being unable to enter due to capacity restrictions.

Go as a guest

Another way to get into an airport lounge without shelling out the big bucks is to travel with someone who has access.

“My favourite lounge is The Centurion Lounge by American Express. My American Express Platinum Card gives me and two guests complimentary access to the entire collection of Centurion Lounges in the United States and around the world,” Dengler said.

Travellers with access to other types of lounges – like airline-specific clubs or Priority Pass lounges – can often bring immediate family or other guests free of charge or at least for a lower price.

Guest guidelines can vary depending on the type of lounge, capacity and reason for access (credit cards versus paid memberships, etc.). Research the rules and don’t assume you can waltz into any lounge with your friend who has access.

If they can get you in for free, however, it’s a win-win. You get to enjoy the amenities, and they get to feel more justified in their membership or credit card choice.

Guest passes into airport lounges can be a great way to save if you're traveling with someone.
alvarez via Getty Images
Guest passes into airport lounges can be a great way to save if you're traveling with someone.

Use LoungeBuddy

“Consider using LoungeBuddy, a booking service that allows you to purchase lounge access regardless of your ticket class or elite status,” said Stephanie Be, a travel blogger and founder of the travel website Buena.

Downloading the LoungeBuddy app is a free and easy way to see which lounges are available to you on a given day.

“You can input any criteria that could possibly allow you airport access such as being a certain credit card holder, a loyalty member of a relevant program, being on active duty in the US military, or if you have airline status that would allow you airport lounge access,” said travel blogger Esther Susag. “Then, you can input your flight and it will pull up any lounges that you would have access to, plus any that you can pay to use out of pocket. ”

Although you often still have to pay to get into the lounge, LoungeBuddy can help you compare your options and streamline the process.

Request complimentary access

Sure, lounges have specific guidelines that limit admission to paying members, travellers flying in premium cabins, holders of certain credit cards and those who meet other criteria. But certain circumstances can open up access to others.

“If you are experiencing major travel delays and stuck at an airport due to aircraft or crew issues, ask customer service if they can give you complimentary access to the lounge while you wait,” Woroch suggested. “It doesn’t hurt to ask!”

However you gain entry into an airport lounge, try to stay informed about the various rules and amenities.

“If you are thinking about utilising lounge access, definitely do your research before because there are different types of airport lounges with different access specifications,” Susag said. “Some limit the number of uses per year, while others are unlimited. Also, if you are going to use an airport lounge, make sure you get to the airport early enough to actually enjoy it!”