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FlyerTalk 101

How to Get in the Airport Lounge When You’re Flying Budget

How to Get in the Airport Lounge When You’re Flying Budget
Adam Luehrs

Welcome to FlyerTalk 101, a guide to traveling like an expert from the experts. For more guides like this, check out our FlyerTalk 101 tag or head to the forum links in this article to have any of your questions answered. 

There is a particular type of joy that comes from wheeling your suitcase up to the entrance of an airport lounge and knowing that you can take refuge until it’s time to begin the next chaotic leg of your journey. However, it can feel like only an elite handful of travelers actually have the credentials and flying power to get into airport lounges.

But, even if you only fly a few times a year in economy, you can do more than dream of huge, comfortable spaces that boast buffets, coffee stations, bars, showers, work spaces and enviable views of some of the world’s best runways. There are plenty of ways to get into airport lounges without spending a fortune or becoming an elite-level airline customer. Check out the cheapest ways to get into airport lounges for budget travelers.

Join a Rewards Program

Joining the rewards program of your favorite airline is the first and most obvious strategy for gaining free or cheap lounge access. This will open the doors to airline-branded lounges and even allow you to bring along a guest for free in most cases. Of course, there are other outside-the-box ways to enjoy lounges if you don’t travel that frequently or if you aren’t loyal to any single airline. If you want to figure out what programs to join or how to get the most out of your rewards program, check out the FlyerTalk forum. We have a guide to every airline’s rewards program here.

Explore What Your Credit Card Offers

The credit card you use every day without thinking about it could actually be your undiscovered passport to some of the top airport lounges. Many credit cards offer lounge access as a perk. It’s okay if your go-to credit card doesn’t offer any lounge perks. You can always upgrade to a card that does. Keep in mind that airline-branded cards are going to be your best bets. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the best cards when it comes to lounge access:

  • The United ClubSM Card will open the doors to United Club lounges and Star Alliance business lounges. It even provides access to the Amtrak Acela lounge.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® cards offer access to Priority Pass lounges.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express gives you access to Centurion Lounges at hubs like at Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), LaGuardia (LGA), Las Vegas (LAS), Miami (MIA), Philadelphia (PHL), Seattle (SEA), San Francisco (SFO) and Hong Kong (HKG). You’ll also get access to Delta Sky Club locations whenever you fly with Delta.
  • The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® sets you up with an American Airlines Admirals Club membership.
  • The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve® for Business Credit Card provide Sky Club access whenever you fly with Delta.

Keep in mind that this is just a small sample of what’s available out there. How can you know if your card provides lounge access? You can read through the terms of your contract or simply call up the customer service line and ask. Some frequent travelers who don’t want to miss out on lounge access often get multiple cards that offer access. Those with multiple cards can pick and choose the best lounges too.

Get to Know Day Passes

Many lounge providers are beginning to embrace the day pass. In fact, you can often visit a lounge for as little as $30 or $40. This one-time cost can be more than worth it if you’ve had a rough connecting flight or if you need to get some work done in a quiet place. You can use an outlet like LoungeBuddy to gain lounge access on the same day as travel without any type of membership status, elite ticket or long-term commitment. Lounge Pass is another outlet that links to day passes for tons of airports around the world. It’s also possible to walk up to the lounge belonging to the airline you’re flying with and ask to purchase a day pass. For instance, Alaska Airlines provides day passes for $50 per guest or $25 per guest if you have a qualifying Alaska Airlines Visa® card. Almost every major carrier offers some type of similar setup.

Utilize Your AAA Membership

Are you a member of AAA? You may have noticed that membership comes with tons of perks that most of us overlook. AAA sometimes partners with airport lounges to provide discounts. Some of the past collaborations have been with Escape Lounges and The Club lounges. Deals can rotate and they are often based on region. The bottom line is that it never hurts to ask about a potential AAA discount before you buy a day pass at an airport lounge.

Ask a First-Class Traveler to Invite You as a Guest

This strategy is a little bold. However, it just might work. First-class travelers actually get to bring along a guest for free at most lounges. Why let a free pass go to waste when you could be that guest? This strategy involves hanging around outside a lounge entrance and simply asking travelers to do you a favor as they make their way toward the entrance.

The Lounge Lifestyle Is Closer Than Ever

Can you practically smell the fresh-brewed artisan coffee and hear the gentle buzzing of a lounge’s free Wi-Fi whipping all around you already? It’s true that lounges were once reserved only for elite travelers. However, lounges are more accessible than ever before. You can use the tips above to unlock lounge access even if you’re a budget traveler.

View Comments (15)


  1. annetraveller

    August 27, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    I have to say, good luck with asking a First Class Passenger to take you into the lounge! One of the perks they get for paying top dollar is to get lounge access, so why on earth would they take a stranger in who has paid much less? Especially as it would make the lounge more crowded. Maybe best to try some of the other strategies suggested.

  2. afCAMEO


    August 27, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    I believe day passes are around $50 a day, which if you have chosen to fly bdget you probably won’t try to manage. Joining a rewards program may gave you a slight membership discount when you pay for a year membership. the only thing that will generally work is having a branded credit card that provides access (again not cheap, and if you don’t fly that much, maybe not worth the expense). I also have never seen a AAA discount offered, although YMMV.

  3. fotographer

    August 28, 2019 at 2:50 am

    A lot of lounges now are not selling day passes anymore..
    and dont forget lounges are not what they used to be.. CC have ruined that

  4. Barrheadlass

    August 28, 2019 at 2:55 am

    Delta day passes are $29. I have a Delta branded Amex Gold and that is what I pay.

  5. alangore


    August 28, 2019 at 3:58 am

    This article has one obsolete piece of information: LoungeBuddy has been bought by American Express and is now available only to its “cardmembers.”

  6. mot29

    August 28, 2019 at 10:27 am

    Joining a rewards program won’t get you access unless you have fairly high status. Delta, for example – gold gets you skymiles elite plus and that is only good for lounge access on an intl itin. Diamond gets you a benefit that can get you annual access, but you choose it instead of something else.

  7. PHL

    August 28, 2019 at 10:45 am

    There’s some misleading information here…

    Speaking from the perspective of the north american airlines, though other global airlines are similar in their lounge policies:

    1.) Joining a rewards program does not in and of itself grant lounge access at all. When you reach a higher elite tier (e.g. 50,000 elite qualifying points in a calendar year), you are usually granted lounge access when flying international (beyond USA/Canada/Mexico/Caribbean), but still not on intra-USA/CAN/MEX flights.

    2.) First (and business) class travelers on international itineraries typically get lounge access. They do not, however, get lounge access when traveling on a purely USA/CAN/MEX itinerary.

    3.) Credit cards that offer lounge access have an annual fee that is about, or more than, just paying for the annual lounge membership. So, unless the other benefits those cards offer is worth the total annual cost, they aren’t really for the budget minded person.

    4.) Lounges were never designed for “elite” travelers. They were initially designed for frequent travelers who can utilize the amenities (meeting space, fax machines, work stations, etc). Until recently, many domestic lounges did not offer free food or alcoholic beverages, but that’s open up a bit with some airlines now.

  8. red75231

    August 28, 2019 at 11:32 am

    There is another glaring mistake in this article, at least for AA. It states “Joining the rewards program of your favorite airline is the first and most obvious strategy for gaining free or cheap lounge access”. Just joining the Rewards program gives you nothing for lounge access. As a longtime Admirals’ Club member, I have to pay an annual fee, and depending on my status, it can be a bit less expensive. At no level is it included for free (maybe Concierge Key?). A certain Master Card has access included, but it has a hefty fee. Very misleading. And I agree with the comment that “CC have ruined that”..

  9. dallasdave22

    August 29, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    I use to be a member of the Admiral’s Club using my points to pay for my membership. When I’ve missed connections or had mechanical delays lasting several hours, it’s a nice place to get away to and relax. The employees managing the desks in lounges do a lot better job in helping get other flights than folks out in the terminal. I stopped re-enrolling a few years ago after not being able to find a seat in the main lounge in Chicago a few times.

  10. jagat101

    September 9, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    Ditto on my $29 access, via my Delta Gold AMEX. Thaat or my Penfed Pathfinders Rewards AMEX that has an annual $100 travel allowance, that covers free lounge access

  11. jrpallante

    October 2, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    To recap, if you do not have elite status, then you must pay for lounge access, either through daily passes or a high fee credit card. Many folks on FT seem to place a lot of value on lounges, but the appeal escapes me. When traveling internationally, I do appreciate a nice lounge during a layover, especially if showers are available. For domestic, I am rarely at an airport long enough to even use a lounge, and the ones I have seen are unimpressive. The two passes per year from my Chase United card are either gifted or go unused. I could not imagine paying $30-$40-$50 for a daily pass, especially since most airports nowadays have a nice selection of restaurants/bars, free wifi, and plenty of workstations and power ports. What exactly is the appeal of a lounge, other than a perception of exclusivity?

  12. MSPeconomist

    January 1, 2020 at 12:52 am

    Yet another correction is to point out that in addition to some Chase cards giving a Priority Pass membership (not just access), the AmEx Plat card does this too, although the list of lounges included in the membership differs. Moreover, AmEx Plat charge card gives (free) access to certain lounges in addition to the Centurion ones, for example Escape lounges in the USA.

  13. tris06

    January 1, 2020 at 1:21 am

    I like how always it starts with. Its nice to have exclusive access to a quiet place (lounge). But it feels like it is only for a selected few elite. Umm is that not the point? And i don’t think it means those on middle incomes cannot afford to get say a elite membership card. It is just depends if it is something you are willing to sacrifice for. I try always to fly with my selected airline even when it is not the cheapest. My sister will fly the cheapest carrier (or the most direct). Where I go out of my way flying through the airlines hub to get to the destination I want to go. It does mean it is a bit longer trip. Why should there not be a reward for that? 50 dollar entry is pretty reasonable for those who want something now without the commitment and it is not that expensive especially if we are talking about international flights from say Australia or Asia….

  14. Barrheadlass

    January 1, 2020 at 2:19 am

    Delta Gold Amex Cards as of today no longer allow Delta lounge access.

  15. Dublin_rfk

    January 1, 2020 at 4:37 am

    Do the math. Start with the cost of lounge access now divide that by 80 – 100+ flights a year Just on one airline. Now factor in arriving early 60 – 90 minutes minimum for security and baggage. Then add random factors like traffic, weather, layovers, and standing by for an earlier flight and you have substantial number of variable time blocks that bring the actual cost of the lounge pass down to the cost of an adult beverage and snack.

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