How to Get Airport Lounge Access: The Best Memberships to Sign Up For

Here are the best memberships—and credit cards—that will get you into airport lounges around the world.

The Plaza Premium Lounge at Orlando International Airport decorated with artwork and photography on loan from the Orlando Museum of Art

To enter the Plaza Premium Lounge at Orlando International Airport, you’ll need a Priority Pass membership.

Courtesy of Plaza Premium Group

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Airports can be stressful to navigate, especially the busiest ones. The best way to find calm within the chaos—and generally enhance your preflight experience—is to seek refuge in an airport lounge. In addition to personal space, power outlets, and free Wi-Fi, airport lounges may offer amenities like full-service cocktail bars, gourmet food spreads, showers, micro-spas, design-forward relaxation areas, and dedicated work zones.

Once upon a time, airport lounge access was exclusive to those holding business- or first-class tickets. But times have changed. Nowadays, entry is granted by simply having the right credit card or buying your way in. To make your next preflight experience or layover an enjoyable one, here are the best airport lounge memberships and passes out there—and how to get them.

Best general airport lounge membership: Priority Pass

As the world’s largest independent airport lounge program, Priority Pass offers access to more than 1,400 lounges in more than 600 cities across 148 countries, making it the most worthwhile lounge membership. (The network’s app makes it easy to search for lounges by global airport code and terminals.)

Priority Pass does not actually own and operate airport lounges but rather consolidates them through a single membership program. Making things a bit complicated, about 100 of the Priority Pass lounges are part of another cohort called Plaza Premium Group (PPG). PPG operates its own network of lounges plus numerous airline-branded lounges. PPG’s proprietary lounges are bundled into Priority Pass membership, but these lounges can also be accessed by purchasing day passes for those who don’t have a Priority Pass membership.

There are two main ways to become a member of Priority Pass. The first is buying a membership outright. There are three levels of membership—Standard, Standard Plus, and Prestige—all of which have an annual membership fee and charge for guests.

Priority Pass Membership Level
Annual Fee
Access Cost
Guest Fee
$35 per visit
Standard Plus
10 visits free, $35 thereafter

The second—and more optimal—way of obtaining a Priority Pass membership is getting complimentary membership through a credit card. This second avenue is far more cost-effective. Why? The cost of Prestige membership is in the ballpark of the annual fee commanded by most premium credit cards (while credit card membership also allows two guests free of charge versus $35 apiece). In fact, many high-fee travel credit cards offer airport lounge access as a primary perk of being a cardholder. Lounge access varies by card, but at a minimum, most top-tier travel credit cards provide a form of Priority Pass Select membership that allows unlimited entry to the more than 1,400 airport lounges in the Priority Pass network globally. Entrance is granted on the flight date, regardless of airline or class flown, with up to two guests complimentary.

The credit cards include:

These three cards also grant access to their own proprietary branded lounges in addition to those in the Priority Pass network. So getting Priority Pass through one of these cards yields far greater worth than buying membership outright.

Best credit card lounge memberships

As previously mentioned, some credit cards include memberships to their own snazzy proprietary airport lounges like the ones Capital One, Chase, and American Express have invested heavily in over the past few years. These credit card–branded lounges are some of the world’s best and put a whole lot of glamour back into the airport experience—especially at domestic terminals.

Beyond Priority Pass and Plaza Premium lounges, those with the Platinum Card from American Express can enter Amex-branded Centurion Lounges free of charge as well as Amex-branded Escape Lounges, Delta Sky Club airline lounges, AirSpace lounges, and Lufthansa lounges. Holders of the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card have access to Capital One’s growing network of amenity-rich branded lounges, which currently include outposts in Dallas, Denver, and Washington Dulles. Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders get unlimited entry to Chase’s lounges and terraces at airports in Austin, Boston, and Hong Kong.

Best airline lounge memberships

Legacy airlines like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines have their own lounge networks, which can be accessed through annual memberships. While pricing can vary based on elite status or being an active cardholder of a cobranded credit card, here are the starting annual membership fees for non-elite fliers:

  • Alaska Airlines Alaska Lounge Membership: $650
  • American Airlines Admirals Club Membership: $850
  • Delta Sky Club Membership: $695
  • United Airlines United Club Membership: $650

Note that while Alaska lounges allow members to enter when flying same-day ticketed air travel on any airline, the other legacy carriers require same-day ticketed air travel on their metal or their partner airlines.

It’s important to point out that the annual fees for lounge membership with American, United, and Delta are higher than the annual fees of their respective premium credit cards, all of which come with lounge membership. So, for frequent fliers of these three airlines considering a lounge membership, it’s worth getting a premium airline-specific credit card with lounge benefits. The United Club℠ Infinite Card ($525 annual fee), for example, comes with United Club membership while the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® ($595 annual fee) comes with access to Admirals Club lounges, and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card ($550 annual fee—see rates and fees) provides entry to Delta Sky Clubs. (Starting February 1, 2025, Reserve cardholders will receive 15 visits per year to the Delta Sky Club.) By getting lounge membership through a credit card versus purchasing it outright, you’ll save $125 with United, $145 with Delta, and $255 with American.

Best ways to get a day pass to an airport lounge

It’s possible to get airport lounge access by buying a day pass to select lounges within the Priority Pass network, all Plaza Premium lounges, and some airline-branded lounges.

One great way to find out which lounges offer day passes is by downloading the LoungeBuddy app or visiting the website. The app and website contain helpful information about almost every lounge worldwide and indicate which can be accessed for one-time use and for how much. At press time, due to overcrowding, far fewer lounges are available for day passes than in the past.

Type Boston Logan (BOS), for example, on LoungeBuddy, and the page will populate with details on each of the airport’s 13 lounges, including 2 that can be booked through LoungeBuddy: the Lufthansa Lounge in Terminal E for $49 per person and the Lounge BOS in Terminal 3 for $50 per person. Before booking, be sure to note your departure terminal and ensure that you can physically access the lounge via your terminal’s designated security checkpoints.

Although LoungeBuddy is a handy tool, it does not sell day passes to legacy airline lounges. Those seeking entrance to a United Club for one-time use can do so for $59 through the United app. American also sells day passes to its Admirals Club through its website for $79. Alaska Lounge day passes can be purchased directly at its Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York–JFK lounges for $60 per person. Delta does not sell day passes.

It’s also possible in select cases to get day passes as part of the perks package of low-fee credit cards. For example, the $95 per year Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card grants two complimentary visits per year to Capital One Lounges or to 100+ Plaza Premium Lounges through the Partner Lounge Network. Meanwhile, the United℠ Explorer Card (no intro annual fee the first year, then it’s $95) gives cardholders two, one-time passes to United Clubs each year.

Get airport lounge access by flying long-haul business or first class

Sometimes buying a membership or day pass isn’t necessary. In fact, a boarding pass for a long-haul international flight in business or first class can still be the ticket to some of the world’s best airport lounges—ones that aren’t accessible to credit card holders or Priority Pass members. For example, the only way into Air France’s La Première lounge is with a first-class ticket on Air France.

One of our favorite lounges on the planet, Qatar Airways’ spacious Al Mourjan Business Lounge at Doha Airport, is included for passengers flying Qatar Airways First Class and Business Class (Elite, Comfort & Classic) and oneworld First Class and Business Class passengers. However, those flying Business Class (Lite) and economy class on Qatar Airways can also prepurchase lounge entry (at press time the price fluctuates around $100).

However, keep in mind that in some cases, a business- or first-class ticket no longer guarantees lounge access. This rings true for domestic tickets within the United States as well as short-haul international flights from the United States to the likes of the Caribbean and Central America.

Get lounge access by achieving top elite status and flying internationally

In general, achieving top elite status no longer equates to complimentary airport lounge access. There are a few outliers, however. For example, those with Delta Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion Status are considered SkyTeam Elite Plus and have access to SkyTeam lounges for international flights, even on economy tickets. United Airlines’ MileagePlus Gold, Platinum, and 1K members (all of whom qualify for Star Alliance Gold Status) can enter United lounges with a same-day international United boarding pass, regardless of class flown, as well as Star Alliance partner lounges when flying Star Alliance member airlines outside the United States. These exceptions are nice, but the bottom line here is that if you’re chasing elite status in hopes of lounge entry, you’ll be disappointed in many circumstances.


It’s possible to get access to top airport lounges through either membership or day passes obtained through credit cards, lounge apps, or elite status. But the best—and most cost-effective—airport lounge memberships are obtained through the right credit card.

This article was originally published in 2022; it was updated on November 29, 2023, with current information.

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.

Paul Rubio is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer. His byline appears in AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, LUXURY, MSN, NerdWallet, Palm Beach Illustrated, Yahoo Lifestyle and more. He has visited 133 countries (and counting) over the past 20 years and won 27 national awards for his writing and photography. When he’s not plotting out his next trip, Paul loves to spend time at home watching reruns of Portlandia and Parks and Recreation with his husband and rescue dog, Camo.
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