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How to Get Access to an Airport Lounge Even When You’re Flying Coach

By: Caroline Lupini

Have you ever arrived at the airport early, only to find out that your flight is delayed? What about a missed flight connection that caused you to spend a few unwanted hours in the airport? This scenario happens every day to hundreds of travelers. Thankfully, airport lounges relieve some of the burden and stress associated with these airport blunders, even if you’re only flying in economy class.

With lounge access, you can relax and enjoy yourself before boarding your flight instead of dallying in the duty-free shop or flipping through magazines at Hudson News. From complimentary snacks and drinks to free WiFi and entertainment, airport lounges help you make the most of your pre-boarding experience. Here are the easiest ways to get access to an airport lounge, even if you’re flying coach.

Use Your Credit Card Benefits

When Chase launched its Sapphire Reserve luxury travel credit card in 2016, any new members who signed up for the card gained access to Priority Pass, an airport lounge membership program that grants access to 1,200 lounges worldwide. The Sapphire Reserve still offers this benefit, as do other premium credit cards like the Citi Prestige Card and the Platinum Card from American Express.

While some lounges within the program’s reach are better than others, having so many options both near and far will help to make your experience more comfortable and enjoyable. More credit cards include lounge access as an option every year, so if you don’t think you have a card that offers lounge access, double-check your card’s benefits to see if an airport lounge program is offered to you as a cardholder.

Pay What You Want With LoungeBuddy

If it feels like there is an app for everything, that’s because there is, including airport lounges. Mobile app LoungeBuddy makes it easy for the everyday traveler to purchase access to airport lounges in both domestic and global airports. Prices for day passes start at only $25.

Getting started is easy. Simply enter your airport in the search bar, then click enter. A complete list of all of the available lounges in that airport will populate, along with prices.

Take this scenario as an example: when you enter JFK as your airport of choice, you will see a list of available airport lounges for purchases. One of them is the Swiss Business Class lounge, where for $49, you will be treated to a complimentary buffet and champagne. You can also enjoy a power nap in the relaxation room or take a shower in the complimentary facility. The app provides real user photos and reviews, so you can look through the different lounge options before committing to the one you want to use during your next trip.

Get an Airline-Specific Credit Card

Airlines are catching on to what their customers want: lounge access and points. That is why many airlines offer airline-specific credit cards with high sign-up bonus points/miles and complimentary lounge access with membership.

One of the best airline-specific credit cards is the United MileagePlus Club Card. Since 2012, the United MileagePlus Club Card has been a staple for travelers who value lounge access and fly regularly on United. While the $450 annual fee is hefty, it’s a more economical way to purchase a membership to the United Club network than buying a membership directly, which costs $550 per year.

As a member, expect full access to some of the best airport lounges, including plenty of snacks and beverages, as well as unrestricted access to Star Alliance business lounges when flying on a Star Alliance airline. With airline credit cards, you also typically get your first checked bag free for yourself and a companion, which is another perk of adding an airline-specific card to your wallet. There are plenty of additional benefits to owning a credit card as well, such as certain risk coverage and protection that may be included.

Both American and Delta offer a credit card that provides access to their lounges, and United also offers two lounge passes each year with their $95-annual fee United Explorer card.

Buy a Day Pass at the Counter

From charging for carry-on bags and seat upgrades to making passengers pay to choose a seat assignment and board early, airlines are doing everything they can to increase their bottom line. Part of their strategy is to make lounge access affordable to travelers seeking out day passes. This move may help to keep passengers from purchasing cheaper airfare with a competing airline since lower-budget airlines do not offer lounge access, complimentary or for purchase, to flyers.

Airlines you can expect to sell you a one-day lounge pass include Alaska Airlines and United. Alaska Airlines sells day passes for their lounge for $50, while United charges $59 for the day. If you are a frequent traveler, it may be worthwhile to ask about a membership fee, which would be more economical than always paying for single-day use passes.