One of the perks of having some free time at the airport is being able to stroll around and take in the luxuries of its lesser-visited areas. More often than not, a traveler will come to the airport with little time to spare only to jump on a plane and jet - but what if there was a reason to arrive super early?

Airport lounges give travelers that reason and, contrary to popular belief, they're not only for the elite credit cardholders. Many travelers can access these lounges by paying a fee, and all it takes is a bit of research beforehand. They're something to be taken advantage of (anxious fliers, we're looking at you) for a myriad of reasons, especially due to their privacy and amenities.


Updated by Lauren Feather, February 23, 2022: This is it! Airports are operating, flyers are flying, and borders are opening once more - much to frequent travelers' excitement. And expert jet-setters know that the journey is part of the adventure, which is why it's no surprise that many seasoned globetrotters pick out prime perks to make the most out of their time at the airport. One of the best, most exclusive bonuses to any airport stay is the lounge - but the majority of people fail to realize such luxury is not restricted to the wealthy elite and the most loyal flyers. With even more airport lounge tips and perks popping up to entice travelers into splashing out on the lavish experience, we've added extra information and hints on how to make the most of one's stay in the coveted lounge - as well as how to bag access for less.

Related: These U.S. Airports Have The Best Food So You Don't Need To Fly Hungry

Why Is The Airport Lounge So Alluring?

There are plenty of perks associated with the airport lounge that are worth considering. Before diving into the how's of accessing the lounge, it's time to go over the why's about why it's something to gain access to. These are only a few of the perks that travelers can look forward to:

  • Comfortable seating (that's nothing like boarding area seating)
  • Complimentary beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic)
  • Access to lounge restrooms
  • Access to conference seating
  • Itinerary help
  • Newspapers and television services
  • Premium lounge access often includes a buffet or table service, cabanas or private showers, complimentary spa services, private access to boarding gates, partitioned sections for certain passengers

Obviously, any number of these things would be worth the price to a passenger who arrives at the airport early. While many of the lounge services are tailored toward executive passengers, the common misconception is that lounges are all business, and this isn't exactly accurate, either.

  • When deciding between regular vs. premium lounges, consider upgrading for the food and spa services (if any).

How Can Travelers Gain Access To Airport Lounges?

There are several different ways that travelers can gain access to airport lounges. For starters, this is always dependent on the airport and which lounges are available; ticket holders should always do their research prior to arriving at the airport. This way, it can be determined whether or not an airport lounge is only accessible by cardholders, can be accessed for a fee, or whether priority ticket holders have access to a lounge simply by purchasing their ticket.

Cardholder Lounge Access

A number of credit cards permit travelers to access airport lounges just by having the card in hand. These are:

  • The Platinum Card by American Express
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
  • Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
  • United Explorer Card
  • Citi Prestige Card
  • United Club Card

Related: The Best Long-Flight Tips According To Our Pro Readers

Paying A Fee

Those interested in paying a fee to use the airport lounge can do so by researching prior to arrival. Another option is called the Priority Pass, which allows travelers to gain access to more than 600 lounges around the world. Pass holders can select from four tiers:

  • Standard
  • Standard Plus
  • Prestige
  • Select

What's also important to note - particularly for Priority Pass holders - is that not all airports have lounges, and some may have lounges that are not accessible for those with the pass. However, travelers with a pass who find themselves in a lounge-less airport (or one they don't have access to) may be able to get complimentary or discounted food instead at member restaurants - so it's important to check if a specific airport's restaurants do offer this in lieu of a lounge in such a case.

Another option is to purchase an annual lounge membership, which is great for frequent fliers. This is available through the following airlines:

  • Air Canada
  • Air New Zealand
  • American Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Delta
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Qantas
  • United Airlines

Priority Ticket Holders And Day Passes

Travelers who don't wish to do either of these options might find that they can purchase day passes, which run anywhere from $29 to $75 per entry, per day. These are usually available through airlines and airports in the U.S. Those who are flying first-class and business-class will usually have access to a lounge simply because of their ticket priority.

How About Friends And Family?

In some cases it may be possible to bring guests with you to enjoy premier airport lounge access. There are numerous credit cards out there that offer free lounge access for accompanying guests without extra charge, allowing you to treat friends and family to a first-class experience reserved for the elite. In many other instances though, travel companions may have to pay for access. Still, free lounge access or not, it's worth shopping around for credit cards that offer such a fantastic perk - especially if you want your buddies to enjoy such luxury with you.

Related: Pro Tips From Our Readers On How You Can Finally Beat Jet Lag

Getting Airport Lounge Access For Less

Acquiring coveted airport lounge access doesn't always entail high prices and signing up to premier contracts; it is possible to avail the five-star service for much less. "But how?" you might ask. Well, we do have a few tips for you to keep in mind the next time you're shopping around for passes, credit cards, and loyalty schemes:

  • Purchase a pass well in advance - passes, more often than not, cost far more when bought at the airport or with the purchase of the flight ticket.
  • Buy lounge passes from other travelers. Sites like eBay, Craigslist, or the FlyerTalk forums are great places to scope out passes that others no longer want - but be sure to check before buying that they can indeed be used without restriction.
  • Check out alternative lounges. There are numerous independent lounges appearing in airports all around the globe, offering lower-cost lounge options still with all the same luxury and perks as the originals - though still, typically, you get what you pay for; some are the epitome of luxury with showers, gyms, pools, and oxygen bars, while others are simply comfy seating with a drink in hand. Also, many of these trendy independent lounges are pay-to-enter or pay-by-the-hour public lounges that are far more comfortable than the gates, with some even offering complementary refreshments.

Related: Airports That Offer More Than Just A Flight

The Only Lounge App You'll Ever Need

In addition to all of these ways that travelers can get into their airport lounges, there's an app that might help solve the problem. LoungeBuddy is an app that travelers can download without need any specific cards or tickets in order to access more than 280 lounges worldwide before a flight. The app allows users to find out which lounges they'll have access to with no additional fees, as well as the option to purchase lounge access straight through the app.

Those who do have some type of elite airline access can also plug this information into their account. After doing so, LoungeBuddy will let users know which lounges they have access to with their premium memberships as well as through the app. The details for each lounge are all on the app, including whether or not complementary members are permitted in with the owner of the LoungeBuddy app. Prices for entry start as low as $20 and go up from there, depending on the lounge.

Next: Long-Haul: Hacks To Survive The Long Flight And Actually Enjoy It