When it comes to making your next trip or long layover better, nothing goes further than getting airport lounge access. At the very least, you’ll find comfortable seating with a place to charge your devices, high-speed Wi-Fi, and free food and drinks. Some lounges take it to the next level with over-the-top amenities and great designs.
These private spaces have a reputation as being only for first-class flyers or frequent travelers with top airline status. But that’s wrong. While there are many ways to get airport lounge access, the easiest way boils down to what’s in your wallet: Some top travel credit cards can get you into lounges.
These top-tier credit cards aren’t free, of course. But getting into airport lounges and other premium travel benefits may easily outweigh the cost of the annual fee.
While some-top tier airline credit cards can get you into their own lounges, three other options stand out as the best credit cards for airport lounge access – both domestically and around the world.
The Platinum Card from American Express
When it comes to getting into airport lounges, one card is undeniably better than the rest.
The Platinum Card® from American Express is without question the top dog of credit cards offering complimentary airport lounge access. No card will get you into more airport lounges than the Amex Platinum Card, period.
Just for holding this credit card, you get access to the following lounges. Hold tight – it’s a long list.
American Express Centurion Lounges
In the U.S., there are airport lounges … and then there are Amex Centurion Lounges. It’s really that simple.
American Express’s signature collection of airport lounges scattered across the U.S. (and increasingly abroad) put most other lounges to shame. With more than a dozen locations around the U.S. and abroad, these lounges have set the bar high. Each and every Centurion Lounge offers food curated by local celebrity chefs; free beer, high-end wine, and cocktails; and even spa services in some locations. There’s comfortable seating, power outlets, quiet spaces to work, and more.
Amex Centurion lounges can only be accessed by cardholders with either the Platinum Card® from American Express or Business Platinum Card® from American Express – though Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express cardholders can get in if they’re flying Delta that day.
After paying the annual fee of $695 for the Platinum Card (see rates & fees), or the $550 annual fee for the Delta Reserve Card (see rates & fees), or $595 ($695 if the application is received on or after 1/13/22) on the Business Platinum Card (see rates & fees), you can use your card to get into these lounges free. You can also bring up to two guests free – at least until February 2023 when Amex will clamp down on free guest access and start charging $50 each for guests over the age of 18, and $30 for guests under the age of 18. Guests two years of age and younger will be complimentary.
There are currently Centurion lounges in Seattle (SEA), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), San Francisco (SFO), Las Vegas (LAS), Houston (IAH), Miami (MIA), Philadelphia (PHL), New York City-LaGuardia (LGA), New York City (JFK), Hong Kong (HKG), Denver (DEN), Phoenix (PHX), Charlotte (CLT), and Los Angeles (LAX), and London-Heathrow (LHR). New locations are underway in Washington, D.C.-Reagan (DCA) and Atlanta (ATL).
If you frequently travel through any airport with a Centurion Lounge, the Platinum Card can be a slam dunk for that reason alone. Make sure to check out our YouTube video review of the new Centurion Lounge in Denver (DEN).
Priority Pass Select Airport Lounge Access
The Platinum Card and Business Platinum Card from American Express also offer Priority Pass Select membership, a network of more than 1,200 lounges across the globe.
You’ll find these lounges at most airports across the U.S. and abroad. Most are part of independent lounge operators that partner with Priority Pass for airport lounge access, though you will find some airline-operated lounges, too.
Just for holding the Platinum Card, you will get a complimentary Priority Pass membership which also allows you to bring in up to two guests with you on each visit.
Just what you’ll get in each lounge can vary widely in terms of size, food, beverages, and amenities. Some Priority Pass lounges are outstanding, while many are fairly simple. Still, even the worst Priority Pass lounge is still better than sitting at the gate before your flight. At a minimum, you can get some free water, drinks, and light snacks. Generally speaking, Priority Pass lounges abroad are much nicer than what you’ll find within the U.S. Enrollment is required.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Priority Pass Lounges
Delta Sky Clubs
Just for holding the card, you will receive complimentary access to any Delta Sky Club so long as you are flying Delta. You will not, however, be able to bring guests in for free – you can pay for up to two guests for $39 each.
Consider this: An individual Delta Sky Club membership costs at least $545 a year. For just $150 more a year, you can get the same Sky Club access in addition to all the other Amex Platinum benefits.
With over 200 locations & partner lounges worldwide, you don’t have to try terribly hard to find one if you are flying with the airline. Check out our full reviews of the Delta Sky Club lounges in Atlanta (ATL), Washington D.C. – Reagan(DCA), Phoenix (PHX), Seattle (SEA), Austin (AUS), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), and San Francisco (SFO) to see what’s in store.
Escape Lounges, Plaza Premium, Airspace Lounges & More
In addition to the top-notch lounges above, the Amex Global Lounge Collection will get you into a handful of other smaller lounge networks.
The Escape Lounge – Centurion Studio Partner lounges network is solid – in fact, it’s a great alternative to the Delta Sky Club at our home airport, the Escape Lounge MSP at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). Like Priority Pass and the Centurion Lounges, you will be able to bring in up to two guests with you on each visit free of charge. There are also domestic lounges at Oakland (OAK), two lounges in Phoenix (PHX), Reno-Tahoe (RNO), Sacramento (SMF), Cincinnati (CVG), and others, as well as a few lounges in the U.K. in Manchester (MAN) and London Stansted (STN). See the full list of Escape Lounge locations in the U.S. here.
Plaza Premium Lounges are some of the best that you’ll find in Europe and Asia – and a first-ever U.S. location at Dallas-Fort Worth. They even have an incredible Plaza Premium First Lounge at Hong Kong (HKG), a step above even the normal Plaza Premium lounges with made-to-order food which requires a small surcharge to get in.
Finally, you can also get into Airspace Lounges – actually, make that Airspace Lounge, as there’s only one. The sole remaining Airspace Lounge is in San Diego (SAN). While simple, it’s quite nice.
Full Benefits of the Platinum Card® from American Express
While the Platinum Card® from American Express does carry an annual fee of $695, you could make up for that with its bonus points, money-saving credits, and travel benefits.
- Welcome offer of 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first six months (but check to see if you can get 150,000 points via the CardMatch tool!)
- Earn 10x Membership Rewards points on eligible purchases at restaurants and at eligible small businesses, on up to $25,000 in combined purchases in your first six months of card membership.
- 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent directly with airlines or at amextravel.com
- Up to a $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
- Up to a $179 annual CLEAR® credit
- Up to $200 Annual Airline Credit
- Up to a $200 Annual Hotel Credit
- Up to a $300 Equinox Gym Credit
- Up to a $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases at Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times.
- Up to $200 in Annual Uber Credits: Up to $15 each month (and up to $35 in December)
- Up to $100 each year to be used at Saks Fifth Avenue (enrollment required).
- Hilton & Marriott Gold Elite Status (enrollment required).
- Annual Fee: $695 (see rates & fees)
Click Here to learn more about the Platinum Card from American Express
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is the new kid on the block.
Capital One made a huge splash by launching its first-ever premium travel credit card in November 2021. It’s easily the most exciting new credit card to hit the market in years – if ever – and part of that comes down to its ability to get you into the brand new Capital One Lounges.
After years of planning and months of building, Capital One finally has its own branded airport lounge. There’s just one so far – an incredible new space in Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), but the second and third locations are opening in Denver (DEN) and Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD) sometime in 2022.
Capital One Lounges
The first Capital One Lounge location in Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) is an incredible space. While it’s early, it might just be one of the best lounges you’ll find in the U.S.
In our opinion, these are going to be the first real competitor to the American Express Centurion Lounges. And the brand new Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card will get you and two guests into the Capital One lounge for free.
Incredibly, Capital One also does not charge for Venture X authorized users. You can add up to four authorized users to your account at no additional cost. Best of all? Those authorized users will get their own lounge access with the ability to bring up to two complimentary guests as well.
The Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) lounge itself clocks in around 10,000 square feet, but it feels much bigger than that. There’s an open and airy design, with floor-to-ceiling windows and views of the tarmac below. Everything feels bright, fresh, and new. Once you enter the lounge, there’s plenty of seating, with armchairs, cafe-style tables, and long sofas.
Whether you’re at the bar, a high-top table, or lounging somewhere else, there are power outlets and USB ports seemingly everywhere.
Capital One put a big emphasis on offering excellent food and drinks in this lounge. That holds up for every visitor. And once you’re in the door, it’s all free.
Priority Pass Lounges
Just like the Platinum Card from American Express, the Capital One Venture X will also get you a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership that will get you and up to two guests complimentary access to over 1,200 airport lounges across the world. Even your authorized users will get their own Priority Pass membership.
But unlike the Platinum Card from American Express, you can also eat for free at a growing list of Priority Pass-affiliated airport restaurants at no cost. You’ll get a credit of $28 for yourself or around $56 if you are dining with a guest. Just a couple of uses of this benefit each year can take a huge chunk out of the credit card’s $395 annual fee.
Full Benefits of the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
- Earn 100,000 Venture Miles after spending $10,000 in the first six months of card membership. Cardholders will also get up to a $200 statement credit for Airbnb or VRBO stays in your first year. This is a limited-time offer!
- $300 Annual Travel Credit: Each year, cardholders will get up to a $300 travel credit to use through the Capital One Travel booking portal.
- Capital One Lounge & Priority Pass Select Lounge Access: Cardmembers will also be able to bring up to two guests with them at no additional cost on each visit.
- Up to a $100 Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck: Membership in either program is good for five years and cardholders will get this credit every four years.
- 10,000 Mile Anniversary Bonus: Every year on your account anniversary, you’ll receive 10,000 bonus miles after paying your card’s annual fee. These miles are worth a minimum of $100 towards travel.
- Earn 2x Miles on every purchase & More: Cardholders will earn 2x miles on every dollar spent. Cardholders will also earn 10x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through the Capital One travel portal and 5x miles on flights booked via the portal.
- Complimentary Hertz President’s Circle Status
- $395 Annual Fee: Add up to four authorized users at no additional cost
Click Here to learn more about the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
The Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase rolled out the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card at the end of 2016 and it was an immediate hit. Among many other premium benefits, the card offers Priority Pass lounge access – making it one of the best options for airport lounge access.
At least until now. If it’s primarily lounge access you are after, the Capital One Venture X is a much better (and much cheaper) option. In fact, we think that Venture X has made the Sapphire Reserve irrelevant.
We’ve already gone through the ins and outs of Priority Pass airport lounge access, so we won’t repeat ourselves here.
Like the Venture X Card, you can eat for free at a growing list of Priority Pass-affiliated airport restaurants at no cost. You’ll get a credit of $28 for yourself or around $56 if you are dining with a guest. Just a couple of uses of this benefit each year can take a huge chunk out of the credit card’s $550 annual fee.
On top of the free airport lounge access, the card earns 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points for all travel expenses. It comes with a $300 annual travel credit, a credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, and many other premium benefits.
Full Benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Welcome Offer of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership.
- Points are worth 50% more when redeemed through the Chase Travel Portal.
- 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel & dining worldwide after using the full $300 travel credit
- 10x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at Lyft through March of 2022
- Up to a $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
- $300 annual travel credit
- Annual Fee: $550
Click Here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve
Which Card is Best?
There are other cards out there that will get you into airport lounges. But these three are clearly the best of the bunch in terms of the benefits they provide and the airport lounge access.
Some top-tier airline co-branded credit cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, the United Club Infinite Card, and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® will get you into their own lounges. But then you’re tied to that one airline, often paying the same or a similar hefty annual fee as one of these cards that will open far more lounge doors.
But which one should you choose: The Amex Platinum, Capital One Venture X, or the Chase Sapphire Reserve card? The answer will be different for everybody. All three cards earn you ultra-valuable flexible points currencies: American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Venture Miles, and Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. Travelers should weigh these cards based on a number of factors, including location, airline status, future travel plans, and more.
There’s no denying that the American Express Platinum Card is the most powerful among the credit cards with airport lounge access. If that’s your primary consideration for one of these top-tier cards, it’s the clear winner. But the Capital One Venture X also provides great lounge access at a much cheaper annual fee cost of only $395.
If you spend a lot of time in airports, one of these three credit cards with airport lounge access will drastically improve your experience. Whether you value Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One Venture Miles, or American Express Membership Rewards (or all three), holding one of these credit cards can help you get the most out of your next trip through the airport.