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Best credit cards for airport lounge access

By , Site Editor

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Best Credit Cards for Airport Lounge Access

Sitting and waiting at a bustling, noisy gate just adds insult to the injury of learning your flight has been delayed. It's moments like this that the longing for the oasis of a quiet retreat set apart from the hubbub of the general airport rises in your mind like a mirage in the middle of a desert. It's then you start wondering about how to get into airport lounges.

Airport lounge services and amenities vary wildly among operators and locations. Many, if not most, provide free drinks and snacks, and all offer a chance to unwind in relative peace while you wait for your flight. Most airlines charge $500 or more per year for a single adult club membership, dropping prices for elite status flyers. Another option for access is through membership in Priority Pass or SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club, which offer discounted daily access to most airport lounges.

Before you spend too much time wondering whether the cost of a membership is worth it, check your wallet. Your credit card just might be able to help you out.

A handful of credit cards offer free airport lounge access bundled into their featured benefits. Before you jump to apply for one of those cards, keep in mind that signing up for a credit card with airport lounge access may not make the most financial sense for you unless you travel with colleagues or family members more than five times per year since many of these cards do come with hefty annual fees. If that isn't you, you might get more value from purchasing airport lounge day passes or independent membership programs, and then signing up for a credit card with a lower annual fee and featuring rewards and perks you're likely to use often.

If you are looking for a travel credit card with lounge access, look no further. We tracked down the best credit cards that offer airport club access, all for less money than the cost of joining a single club on your own when you consider the multiple other benefits and perks offered by these cards.

MasterCard® Black Card™

About Our Ratings

Our editor's take:
Unlimited VIP airport lounge visits paired with other members-only benefits are sure to appeal to big spenders who won't mind paying the annual fee.

Card Details
Credit Needed Excellent
Purchase APR15.24% variable
Annual Fee$495 ($195 for each authorized user added to the account)

If you've grown weary of the standard breakable, bendable plastic and are wondering what it would be like to carry a card made of carbon and stainless steel, wonder no more. The MasterCard® Black Card™ offers "durability and distinction" in a credit card that also nets you some luxurious perks. Recent changes to the card's benefits (including a change from Visa to MasterCard) and a strong introductory APR balance transfer offer (15 months at 0 percent APR for transfers made within the first 45 days of account opening) have made this card 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 rewards program where you can redeem points for 1 percent value on cash back in the form of an account credit and myriad other rewards. You're also eligible for up to $100 annually in statement credit to cover airline-related charges like tickets and baggage fees. That's in addition to the $100 credit you can receive to cover the cost of your Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fees. Plus, the card's 24/7 concierge service is a must for the frequent traveler as is the all-important access to nearly 500 airport lounges in cities around the world. Keep in mind, that applying for multiple credit cards for which you are unlikely to qualify will hurt your credit, so make sure your financial situation is a good fit for the card before you apply. The best credit cards for high credit scores typically have requirements beyond a score threshold.

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United MileagePlus® Club Card

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Our editor's take:
Unlimited United ClubSM access and two free checked bags per flight allow frequent travelers to easily recoup the annual fee on this card.

Card Details
Credit Needed Excellent
Purchase APRSee Terms
Annual Fee$395

The United MileagePlus Club Card's $450 annual fee entitles you, as the primary cardmember, as well as your eligible travel companions, unlimited access to more than 50 United ClubSM locations and participating Star AllianceTM affiliated lounges worldwide. Your membership also includes access to priority check-in, security, boarding and baggage handling. United will also check the first and second standard bags on each flight, each way, at no charge, for the primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation, making this an ideal airline credit card for travelers who fly in pairs.

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The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express About Our Ratings
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Our editor's take:
The Platinum Card® from American Express is a well-rounded credit card that has benefits starting from the airport and continuing while you're in the air and upon landing at your desired destination.

Card Details
Credit Needed Excellent
Purchase APRN/A
Annual Fee $450

When it comes to airport lounges, the Platinum Card® does not skimp on options. It offers complimentary access to more than 900 airport lounges, including Amex's very own Centurion® lounge network. Among Centurion's® complimentary amenities, such as select wine and beer, locale-specific refreshments and fast Wi-Fi, some locations throw in spa services, family rooms, wine tasting areas and more.

When it comes to flights, the perks keep coming. Purchase a business or first-class ticket and receive savings on a ticket for a companion through the International Airline Program. You also get assistance with some incidental fees, such as checking a bag, purchasing an in-flight meal or refreshments and more thanks to a maximum $200 statement credit your Platinum Card® will provide annually.

Once you're off the plane you can hit the ground running without worrying about a foreign transaction fee. That can come in handy at hotels, particularly a select number where a stay of two nights straight, will earn you two times the Membership Rewards® points as well as a $75 hotel credit for use on dining, spa services and more. And signing up with the Boingo American Express Preferred plan will provide you unlimited Wi-Fi access across four devices via more than 1 million hotspots globally.

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Citi Prestige® Card

Citi Prestige® Card About Our Ratings
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Our editor's take:
The Citi Prestige® Card is tailor-made for the frequent traveler who will enjoy the whole host of luxury benefits the card offers when you hit the road or the friendly skies.

Card Details
Credit Needed Excellent
Purchase APR15.49%* (Variable)
Annual Fee $450

For starters, with this card you receive complimentary access to hundreds of VIP airport lounges around the globe through Priority Pass™ Select and, until July 23, 2017, you also have access to American Airlines' Admirals Club® lounges. The card does boast a steep annual fee of $450, but you can offset that by racking up Bonus ThankYou ® Points and redeeming them toward gift cards from a wide array of merchants, flights on American Airlines (where you'll earn more bang for your buck), flights on any other airline with a slightly lower rate of return and other perks.

Additionally, you'll enjoy an annual $250 Air Travel Credit applied to any flight-related purchases you make with your card, including airline tickets, baggage fees and more. Plus, the card provides a $100 Global Entry application fee credit, so you can apply for the program and, once approved by the U.S. government, sidestep lengthy lines and enjoy quick entry back into the U.S. when you travel abroad.

The Citi Prestige® Card skips out on any foreign transaction fees and you can earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points when you spend $3,000 within three months of opening your account.

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Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® About Our Ratings
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Our editor's take:
If you have an affinity for flying with American Airlines, then the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM MasterCard® might be the card for you. While the $450 annual fee is steep, it makes up for that with no foreign transaction fees and a number of other luxury and unique benefits.

Card Details
Credit Needed Excellent
Purchase APR 15.49%* (Variable)
Annual Fee $450

For a limited time you can take advantage of an intro offer of 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles if you spend $5,000 in the first three months of account opening. You can also earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles each year - two miles for every dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and one for every other purchase. And don't forget about the 25 percent savings opportunity on select inflight purchases.

The travel benefits of this card start are apparent when you check in for your flight. If you and up to eight others are on the same American Airlines domestic itinerary, all of you can check your first bag for free, allowing you to save big on potential luggage fees and carry more with you. Those savings could go a long way to offsetting the card's $450 annual fee.

Once you have that squared away, instead of waiting for your flight at the gate you can head over to the Admirals Club®, an exclusive American Airlines airport lounge with more than 50 worldwide locations, or one of many partner lounges. Don't leave your companions behind - the Admirals Club® will allow immediate family members traveling with a Citi® cardholder or up to two traveling companions into the lounge. The Club offers complimentary snacks; house drinks; Wi-Fi; and at select locations, even showers suites and computers.

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3 Comments

  1. JR July 12, 2015 at 3:50 pm
    What are the prerequisites for the AMEX black card and is it only by invitation?
      Reply »  
    1. Amber Stubbs July 13, 2015 at 11:09 am
      Yes, it is by invitation only and it seems invitations are only extended to existing American Express cardholders who meet certain spending criteria. Check out this interview with a Black cardholder for more information: http://www.cardratings.com/inside-the-life-of-centurion-cardholder-taysha-valez.html.
        Reply »  
  2. andrea ratkovic September 22, 2013 at 12:36 pm
    Go into a Chase bank and sign up for the credit card there that gives you free airline club access, and you get the first year free!
      Reply »  

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