Sure, traveling is fun — but the airport itself can quickly lose its appeal thanks to delays, squalling babies, crowded restaurants and the hunt for electrical outlets.
The right travel credit card can help you ditch the chaos and get access to a lounge with things like complimentary food and drinks, much-needed personal space, and even sometimes a bed or shower.
First, though, it helps to know your options.
Types of airport lounge networks
Different credit cards unlock the door to different kinds of airport lounges for you — and maybe even for your guests. These cards typically charge an annual fee, but they can save you several hundreds of dollars on an airport lounge membership plan.
Here are some types of airport lounge networks that allow access with a credit card:
Priority Pass lounges: Priority Pass is a network that offers members access to over 1,200 airport lounges worldwide. You can access these lounges by purchasing a membership plan through the Priority Pass network or by applying for a credit card that offers complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.
Airline-specific lounges: Some airlines have their own exclusive airport lounges. You can sometimes get in for free if you purchase a business-class or first-class ticket. Otherwise, you'll have to pay for membership, and the cost generally varies according to your frequent flyer status with the airline. But a co-branded airline credit card can offer free visits to these lounges.
Exclusive membership: Some airport lounges are even more exclusive. The American Express Global Lounge Collection, for example, is available only to cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express and to Centurion members. Terms apply. The American Express Global Lounge Collection includes AmEx’s Centurion and International American Express lounges, Delta Air Lines Sky Clubs, Priority Pass Select, Plaza Premium and Airspace lounges. Combined, the network offers access to more than 1,200 lounges across 130 counties.
Credit cards with airport lounge access
(Note: As of March 1, 2019. This table does not include cards designed for small businesses.)
NerdWallet's top credit cards that offer airport lounge access
For overall lounge access: The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express gives you access to lounges in the American Express Global Lounge Collection. It offers 5 points per $1 spent on airfare purchased directly from airlines or booked through American Express Travel; 5 points per $1 spent on hotels booked through American Express Travel; and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Terms apply (see rates and fees).
It has a $550 annual fee, but the long list of perks can help offset the cost. Here are a few that merit a glance:
Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
A $200 annual airline fee credit for checked bags, in-flight meals and other travel expenses.
Up to $200 annually in Uber credits for rides in the U.S.
Up to $100 in application fee credit for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
No foreign transaction fees.
For airline lounge access: Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® gets you and immediate family or up to two guests into Admirals Clubs that have nearly 50 locations worldwide. You’ll earn 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per $1 on everything else.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® has a $450 annual fee, but its perks and features can offset the cost. And if you’re eyeing it for the airport lounge access, consider that the cost of an annual Admirals Club membership is valued at $650.
A free first checked bag for you and up to eight companions on your reservation when you have a domestic American Airlines itinerary.
10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $40,000 in purchases annually.
Priority check-in, airport screening and boarding when flying with American Airlines.
Up to $100 in statement credit every five years when you use your card to pay a Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee.
25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card.
If you’re not loyal to any brand, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® can also offer access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide through Priority Pass Select. This card, too, packs a lot of value for frequent travelers in the form of perks and rewards. It has a $550 annual fee.
For limited access: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
You don’t have to pay an excessive annual fee to get your foot in the door. The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, for example, offers complimentary Priority Pass Select Membership and 10 free lounge visits per year. It has a $95 annual fee.
This card gives you 12 points per $1 spent with a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio; 6 points per $1 spent on all eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and 3 points per $1 spent on all other qualifying purchases. Terms apply (see rates and fees).
Other key incentives include:
Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
A Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend $15,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
No foreign transaction fees.
To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, see this page. All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet. To view rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, see this page.