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The credit cards with unlimited lounge access

by on Fri May 19, 2017 • No Comment


More credit cards than ever offer airport lounge access, and while they have high annual fees, they’re often cheaper than buying membership directly, and many come with special travel credits that can save hundreds of dollars, making lounge access a great value.

While the airport lounges you can get into with a credit card aren’t flowing with champagne and caviar, they are a good way to recharge, fuel up with snacks, and unwind with a drink before you catch a flight.

These cards will get you unlimited access to their lounge networks, so you don’t have to think about paying extra for each visit.

CardAnnual feeTravel fee creditGuestsAuthorized user accessLounge network
Chase Sapphire Reserve$450$300 (any travel purchase)No set limit (at lounge discretion)$75Priority Pass
Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard$450$02 free or partner plus children under 18FreeAdmirals Clubs, select OneWorld airline lounges
Citi Prestige$450$250 (any air travel purchase)2 free$50Priority Pass
City National Crystal Visa Infinite$400$250 (airline purchases - but no airfare)No set limit (at lounge discretion)FreePriority Pass
Delta Reserve Card$450$0$29$175Delta SkyClubs
Ritz Carlton Rewards$450$300 (airline purchases - but no airfare)No set limit (at lounge discretion)FreePriority Pass
The Business Platinum Card from American Express$450$200 (airline purchases - but no airfare)$29 at Delta lounges, 2 free at other lounges$175Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass, Escape, Airspace
The Platinum Card from American Express$550$200 (airline purchases - but no airfare)$29 at Delta lounges, 2 free at other lounges$175Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass, Escape, Airspace


The Full Package: The Platinum Card from American Express

amexplat170This is the grand daddy of lounge access cards, and with access to over 1,000 lounges it gets you into more lounges than any other card family available in the U.S.

The core of the package is access to Delta Sky Clubs whenever you’re flying Delta that day, with guests costing $29 per person per visit.

Amex has also rolled out several of its own Centurion Lounges at U.S. airports, where as a Platinum Card holder you can enter with up to 2 guests free of charge. The Centurion Lounges are step up from typical airline lounges, with complimentary hot buffet food all day and complimentary premium drinks.

Priority Pass access with up to 2 guests each visit is also included, giving you access to hundreds of lounges throughout the world, though these are more useful for international, rather than domestic travel.

Rounding out is access to Escape Lounges which are at a few airports in the U.S., including Minneapolis, Baltimore, and Hartford, as well as AirSpace lounges in JFK Terminal 5 (the JetBlue terminal), San Diego, and Cleveland.

There’s a $550 annual fee, but a $200 annual airline fee credit to help offset it. You can use that $200 credit to cover the cost of lounge passes or membership with an airline not covered by your card if you’d like. And for $175 per year you can add up to 5 additional cards for family and friends that get them the same lounge privileges.

If you fly Delta, or fly out of an airport with a Centurion Lounge it’s a compelling package.

And if you have a small business, for a lower $450 annual fee The Business Platinum Card offers the exact same lounge package.


American Access: Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard

executiveaadvantage170There’s only one credit card that gets you into American Admirals Clubs.

The Executive AAdvantage has a $450 annual fee with full Admirals Club membership privileges. That also includes access to many OneWorld partner lounges from British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas when you’re flying with those airlines, or an international American Airlines flight. Here’s a full list of the 50+ lounges you can visit.

Plus it has a generous twist. Authorized users are free to add, and all of them get their own Admirals Club access privileges even when you’re not flying with them.

You also get a free checked bag and priority boarding on American flights.

Inside a Delta SkyClub

Delta Perks: Delta Reserve Card

If you just want Delta Sky Club access, the Delta Reserve Card will get you in for $450 a year whenever you’re flying on a Delta flight. Here’s a full list of the 30+ lounges you can visit. There are no guest privileges, but it does include an annual domestic companion ticket that lets you bring a companion along for no airfare, just the taxes and fees.

So why hold this instead of The Platinum Card? There’s no lounge access advantage to the Delta Reserve, and it’s actually at a big disadvantage with no Priority Pass or Centurion Lounge access. Instead, the key benefit is better priority for upgrades on Delta, the ability to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles, and free checked bags.


United Access: MileagePlus Club Card – Offer is no longer available.

If you want access to United Clubs, only the MileagePlus Club Card will get you in.

With a $450 annual fee it’s cheaper than buying a United Club membership on its own, at over $500 a year. And the membership you get isn’t watered down. 2 guests can enter free of charge, or your partner and kids under 18.

And when you’re traveling on any Star Alliance member flight you and one guest can access Star Alliance affiliated Business Class lounges at airports worldwide, including Lufthansa, ANA, Thai, and Singapore Airlines lounges. That opens up access to over 500 lounges – here’s a full list.

The Club Card also has United travel perks like the first two checked bags free, priority boarding, and priority security lane access. It’s also one of the few cards with lounge access that’s also lucrative for spending, earning an unlimited 1.5x United miles on all purchases.


Free Authorized Users: Ritz Carlton Rewards Card

The deal here is you get a Priority Pass membership with guest privileges, and a Priority Pass membership for every authorized user you add to the account. And unlike most of the other cards with lounge access, authorized users are free to add to the Ritz Carlton Rewards card, so you can gift lounge membership to friends and family free

There’s a $450 annual fee and a $300 annual travel credit that can get your cost of holding the card down to $150 a year.

And it’s loaded with an unlimited $100 discount on just about any domestic airfare for two people you book via the Visa Infinite travel service, which can add up if you travel with a companion a few times a year.

The information related to this card has been collected by and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

Good point earning: Chase Sapphire Reserve


The Sapphire Reserve isn’t very sexy on the lounge front. It offers Priority Pass membership with no set guest limit, but authorized users have to pay $75 a year to get their own card.

Where it shines is the ability to earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining spend. Ultimate Rewards points are incredibly flexible, and being able to earn 3x on travel and dining can add up fast. The $300 travel credit is the easiest to use among lounge access cards, so it’s not hard to cut this down to a $150 a year card.

But if lounge access is your primary motivator, you’re probably better off with The Platinum Card from American Express, your home airline’s card, or the Ritz Carlton Rewards card with free authorized users.

The information related to this card has been collected by and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.


4th Hotel Night Free: Citi Prestige

citiprestige170The Citi Prestige has a standard Priority Pass membership with 2 guests free per visit. Authorized users cost $50 a year and get their own membership card.

The card costs $450 a year, and has a $250 annual airline credit that’s automatically applied to airline purchases you make with the card.

But there are no other lounge perks.

The only reason to get this card over others that offer a Priority Pass is its 4th hotel night free benefit. That gets you your 4th night free at any hotel you book via the Citi travel concierge. They have access to the same low rates you’d see on a hotel’s own website, so you’re not paying an inflated rate to get the free night. And there’s no limit to the number of times you can use the benefit each year, so if you stay in hotels a lot it can add up fast.

How do lounges stack up?

Airline membership

American, Delta, and United each run their own network of lounges, and their lounges tend to be basic, but very convenient. You’ll find soup, salads, and free well drinks, along with premium drinks for purchase.

Priority Pass

This is a network of hundreds of lounges around the world run by airlines and independent operators, mostly outside the U.S., or in the international terminals of U.S. airports. The lounges range from spartan glorified waiting rooms to full featured lounges with spas like the Air France Lounge at JFK, and while there are several U.S. locations, they tend to be either inconvenient to domestic terminals or very crowded because so many people now have credit cards with Priority Pass access.

Centurion Lounges

Exclusive to American Express, these are the most well appointed lounges available to domestic travelers. Wine and spirits are a cut above the well offerings at regular airline lounges, and the food on offer is enough to make a small meal on par with what you’d get at an airport restaurant.

You’ll find them at the Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, New York – La Guardia, San Francisco, and Seattle airports.  Their biggest drawback is that they tend to get crowded.

Things to consider

Annual fee

Every card on this list has an annual fee of $400 or more, so be ready to pay upfront for lounge privileges, though they all have intro bonuses of some sort to defray the first year of membership. Unless a card is offering 100,000 or more points to start though, the intro bonus probably isn’t enough to justify most of these cards unless you travel more than a few times a year.

Travel credits

This is where things get interesting. Most of the cards offer an annual travel fee credit from $200 – $300 that lets you get reimbursed for travel purchases each year, which helps offset the big annual fee.

There are three flavors of travel credits:

  • Airline fee credits, which are good for airline purchases except airfare. These are the most restrictive, and are intended for things like change fees, bag fees, and lounge passes, though you can often get airline gift cards reimbursed. Some like The Platinum Card are automatic, though you have to designate one airline a year to get credit, while others like the Ritz Carlton Reserve require you call in to get the credit, but don’t limit you to one specific airline.
  • Air travel credits, which are good for airfare. The Citi Prestige automatically reimburses any airline charge made to your card, including airfare.
  • Travel credits which are good for any travel purchase. This is the most flexible option, offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve which automatically reimburses $300 in travel purchases each cardmember year (so you get a fresh $300 in travel purchases on the anniversary of opening your account).

Guest privileges

While all of these cards give the main holder the card unlimited access to lounges in their networks,  Delta charges $29 for each guest coming in with someone who has access via a credit card program.

Some Priority Pass memberships, like with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, have no set limit on the number of guests you can bring in, while others like the Citi Prestige limit you to two guests.

Authorized user access

Most cards charge a fee to add an authorized user account. That lets family or friends use lounges when you’re not traveling, but some, like the Ritz Carlton Rewards card have no fee to add an authorized user, which is great if you have a spouse who travels a lot for work.

Which to choose?

If you travel at least monthly you’re in the game for getting good value out of a card with lounge access.

The airline you fly the most is

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
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Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $95

Annual Fee


Foreign Transaction Fee Waived

Yes - transfer to United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Marriott Rewards, and more

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