As you return to travel, few things will make your next trip – and long waits at the airport – more comfortable than having airport lounge access. At a minimum, you’ll find comfortable seating with a place to charge your devices, high-speed Wi-Fi, and complimentary food and drinks.
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 can easily outweigh the cost of the annual fee.
And just two credit cards stand out as the best options to get airport lounge access – both domestically and around the world.
The Platinum Card from American Express
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 13 U.S. locations (and one abroad) and counting, 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.
Critically, Amex Centurion lounges can only be accessed by Platinum Card® from American Express, Business Platinum Card® from American Express, and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express cardholders.
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 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 2023 when Amex will clamp down on free guest access and start charging $50 a piece for guests over the age of 18, and $30 for guest 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). New locations are underway in Washington, D.C.-Reagan (DCA) and London-Heathrow (LHR).
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 brand 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.
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 receive any free guesting privileges – 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 $5 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 Washington D.C. – Reagan(DCA), Phoenix (PHX), Seattle (SEA), Austin (AUS), 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 (Soon to be rebranded as Centurion Studio lounges) network is solid – in fact, it’s a great alternative to the Delta Sky Club at our home airport, 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), 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.
Read More: Escape Lounge Minneapolis (MSP) Review
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 at San Diego (SAN). While simple, it’s quite nice.
Full Benefits of the Platinum Card® from American Express
- 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 125,000 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 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 in 2021.
We’ve already gone through the ins and outs of Priority Pass airport lounge access, so we won’t repeat ourselves here. And while there are quite a few credit cards that offer some form of Priority Pass Select membership, getting it through the Chase Sapphire Reserve gets you a bonus beyond lounge access.
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 after using the full $300 travel credit (airfare, hotels, parking, Uber, etc.). 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 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership
- 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
- $60 Annual DoorDash food delivery credit
- Complimentary Lyft Pink Membership
- $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 two 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 or the Chase Sapphire Reserve card? The answer will be different for everybody. Both cards earn two of our favorite flexible points currencies: American Express Membership Rewards 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 Chase Sapphire Reserve has other advantages like an easy-to-use travel credit that makes the effective annual fee cost cheaper and easier to justify.
Make sure to compare both the Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum Card. We put these cards head to head in what we call our Premium Card Showdown to help you make the decision.
If you spend a lot of time in airports, one of these two credit cards with airport lounge access will drastically improve your experience. Whether you value Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards (or both), holding one of these two credit cards can help you get the most out of your next trip through the airport.