The Best Credit Cards for Airport Lounge Access

Avoid the airport masses, sip complimentary cocktails, and even get a free massage—just by carrying the right travel credit card.

The Best Credit Cards for Airport Lounge Access

Pull up a seat at the bar at Amex’s newest Centurion Lounge that opened at London Heathrow in October 2021.

Courtesy of American Express

AFAR partners with and may receive a commission from card issuers. This compensation may impact the presentation of offers or affiliate links on this site. AFAR does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Our coverage is independent and objective, and has not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are entirely those of the AFAR editorial team.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit to learn more.

Today, fliers are desperately seeking ways to dodge congested airport concourses while also enjoying preflight indulgences that celebrate the return of travel. Both are entirely possible thanks to the reopening of airport lounges, some offering amenities that include celebrity chef–driven food presentations, artisanal cocktails, design-forward relaxation areas, and micro spas.

Back in the day, relaxing in an airport lounge was reserved for those holding business-class tickets, but nowadays the right credit card is your ticket into most of the world’s airport lounges—even when flying economy. Here are the best credit cards to suit your lounging and travel needs, keeping your willingness to pay hefty annual fees (or not) in mind.

The overall best credit card for airport lounge access

We’ll cut right to the chase: The Platinum Card® from American Express is hands down the best personal credit card available for airport lounge access, in terms of both quantity and quality. The American Express Global Lounge Collection grants Platinum Card holders entry into more lounges than any other credit card on the market. Plus, the card is your ticket into Amex’s collection of highly coveted Centurion Lounges. Frequent fliers will want to consider applying for this card.

The most extensive lounge network

Most travel credit cards with annual fees of $450 and above come with Priority Pass Select membership, which grants complimentary entry to over 1,300 lounges across 130 countries, regardless of airline or class flown. These credit card memberships allow up to two guests per visit, free of charge. For most travel credit cards, the lounge access story ends there. However, the Platinum Card’s lounge network goes further. In addition to Priority Pass lounges, Platinum Card holders can also enter Delta Sky Club airline lounges, Plaza Premium lounges, AirSpace lounges, Lufthansa lounges, International American Express lounges, and . . . drumroll . . . the Centurion Network, which includes 40+ Centurion Lounges and Escape Lounges-the Centurion Studio Partner.

Effective February 1, 2025, those with the Platinum Card from American Express will receive six Sky Club visits per cardmember year that can be used when flying a fare class other than Basic Economy on Delta (or equivalent on partner airlines). Cardholders can earn unlimited Sky Club access after spending $75,000 on their eligible card in a calendar year, valid for the year in which the spending is achieved plus the following calendar year.

Top-tier Centurion Lounges

Centurion Lounges are the signature airport lounges of American Express. They are exclusive to Platinum and Centurion cardholders (and their guests) and bring a lot of glamour into the airport experience. These state-of-the-art establishments feature noteworthy food and beverage programs, often created by local celebrity chefs and mixologists, thoughtfully designed work and relaxation spaces, and sometimes salons and spas, where complimentary treatments are given. In short, they’ll make you want to linger in the airport and even arrive a few hours before departure.

There are 13 currently in major U.S. airports (Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-LGA, New York-JFK, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Seattle) and a growing number internationally. On October 12, 2021, American Express debuted the 7,000-square-foot Centurion Lounge at London Heathrow, which pays homage to its location through menus by noted British chef Assaf Granit, a tea cart rife with hot and cold selections plus pastries, a British-tinged cocktail menu (John Collins, anyone?), and photography by celebrated fashion photographer Norman Parkinson.

Platinum Card holders can enter any Centurion Lounge on their date of air travel, regardless of airline flown or class of travel.

Why apply now?

It seems more relevant than ever to escape airport crowds—and taking refuge in a snazzy lounge is a smart solution. But beyond the promise of unapologetic preflight lingering, the Amex Platinum Card is offering up to 80,000 bonus points after spending $8,000 in the first six months of card membership. (Terms apply.) Also helping offset an annual fee of $695 (see rates and fees) are such perks as annual statement credits per calendar year toward incidental fees on the U.S. airline of your choice, $200 in statement credits each year on prepaid bookings made through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and the Hotel Collection (requires minimum two-night stay) through Amex Travel, monthly Uber/UberEats credits (amounting to $185 annually), monthly digital entertainment subscription credits for the likes of SiriusXM and the New York Times (up to $240 per year), and more (enrollment required for select benefits, terms apply).

The best credit cards for Priority Pass Select membership

Many high-fee travel credit cards provide cardmembers with Priority Pass Select membership, allowing them to access more than the 1,300 airport lounges around the world in the Priority Pass network. These cards are Chase Sapphire Reserve® ($550 annual fee), Citi Prestige ($495 annual fee), Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card ($650 annual fee—see rates and fees), and the Platinum Card from American Express ($695 annual fee). All five cards allow entry on the flight date, regardless of airline or class flown, with up to two guests complimentary.

However, Priority Pass membership obtained through the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige is superior to membership obtained through an American Express–branded card. Why? Well, in addition to its lounges, Priority Pass has numerous airport restaurants, cafés, and bars in its network. At press time, there are 29 of these so-called lounge alternatives where Priority Pass members receive a food and beverage credit of $28 to $32 per guest. Unfortunately, those who obtain membership through an American Express–branded credit card are not privy to the credits at Priority Pass’s lounge alternatives, while those who do so through Chase are. If you don’t happen to live in or transit often through cities with Amex Centurion Lounges, you may want to gain lounge access by applying for one of these Priority Pass front-runners.

In our opinion, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best choice given its $300 annual credit for travel purchases (effectively dropping the annual fee to $250), a current welcome offer of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months on account opening, and a rewards earning structure filled with bonus points in certain spend categories. (Terms apply.) What’s more, Chase has started to open its own airport lounges, beginning with outposts at Boston’s Logan International Airport and Hong Kong International Airport.

The best credit cards for airline loyalists

If you are loyal to a particular airline and fly it often, it may be worth getting an airline-specific credit card. The United Club℠ Infinite Card, for example, comes with United Club membership while the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® comes with access to Admirals Club lounges, and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card provides entry to Delta Sky Club at no cost. (Starting February 1, 2025, Delta Reserve card holders will receive 10 Sky Club visits per year and can earn an unlimited number of visits after spending $75,000 on their eligible card in a calendar year, valid for the year in which the spending is achieved plus the following calendar year.)

However, to enter these lounges, you must be flying the carrier of your branded card. For those who want more freedom in where they lounge and who they fly, a credit card with some sort of Priority Pass membership or the Platinum Card from American Express is a wiser choice.


If you can get over the initial shock of the hefty annual fee (and realize that the benefits outweigh the fee), the Platinum Card from American Express provides entry to more lounges than any other credit card and experiences at some of the world’s best. There’s no other card like it, and frequent fliers should strongly consider applying for this card. If a full Priority Pass membership offers enough options for your liking and you don’t feel the need for the Platinum card’s mega-selection, go for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll thank us when you are sipping that morning mimosa and feeling great as you board your next flight. You’re welcome.

This article was updated on January 25, 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.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More from AFAR