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8 ways to get airport lounge access

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    One of the least desirable places to hang out is usually an airport. They can be loud, crowded and uncomfortable. If you find yourself stuck with a long layover or a delayed flight, you know it's going to be a draining day. This is exactly why airport lounges are becoming so popular, and in some cases, more accessible than you might think.

    Lounges are separate areas inside the airport where members and their guests can go to relax and escape the crowds. They can include amenities and comforts that you won't find in the main terminal. With perks such as free food and spacious seating, you may find that once you start visiting airport lounges, you'll want to go back again and again.

    But how do you get in? And what are the various membership options?

    In this article, we've broken down 8 ways to get access to an airport lounge.

    1) Buy Priority Pass

    Priority Pass™ is a global network of independently owned airport lounges. These lounges are available in approximately 1,500 locations in more than 600 airports in 148 countries. With that kind of footprint, you may be flying through an airport with a lounge participating in Priority Pass. Each lounge is slightly different in layout and features, but usually includes amenities such as free food, Wi-Fi and comfortable places to relax.

    If you buy a Priority Pass membership, you're able to utilize their participating lounges regardless of the airline you're flying or the class of your ticket.

    Priority Pass offers three membership levels to choose from. The one that's best for you depends on your travel preferences and frequency:

    • Standard: $99 annual fee plus $35 per member visit. Guests are also $35 per visit.
    • Standard Plus: $329 annual fee, members get 10 free visits then $35 for each visit after that. Guests are also $35.
    • Prestige: $469 annual fee, all visits are free for members. Guests are $35 per visit.

    Pro travel tip: If you are able to estimate how many times you plan to travel in a year, you might be able to figure out your ideal membership level. 

    2) Get a credit card with airport lounge access

    Many popular travel rewards credit cards come with airport lounge access as one of the benefits. The level of luxury will vary from card to card, as will the associated rewards, discounts and annual fees. But many cardmembers find this potentially long list of travel benefits are worth the annual fee. For example, you may be able to earn points for every eligible purchase you make with that credit card.

    While a Priority Pass membership may come complimentary with certain credit cards, these cards usually have an annual fee to consider before deciding to apply.

    Check to see if your travel rewards credit card already has airport lounge access as a benefit, or do some research to find one that fits your lifestyle and spending habits. 

    3) Purchase an airline-specific loyalty membership

    Some airlines have their own branded airport lounges — such as Delta and American. If you live near an airline's hub city or fly that airline frequently, buying an airline-specific loyalty membership may make the most sense for you.

    Some airlines offer reciprocal access to their alliance or partner clubs, such as Star Alliance, which has 26 member airlines in its international network.

    Airline-specific lounge memberships can range in cost and may have annual fees as well.

    Pro travel tip: Before purchasing a membership like this, you may want to ensure the airline you're considering has airports and lounges in the cities you are traveling to most often.

    4) Get a day pass

    If you're an infrequent traveler but still love the idea of chilling out in a lounge whenever you're at an airport, you may be able to buy a onetime day pass to your airline's lounge. Day passes typically range between $29 and $75. You can book a pass in advance on the lounge's website or purchase one at the door, though you may be denied entry if they're at capacity.

    This is a great way to indulge in the benefits of a lounge without paying for the full membership or a first class ticket. Not being tied down to one type of lounge keeps things flexible. Plus, a few hours of comfort and free snacks may be worth every penny.

    Pro travel tip: Arrive an hour or two earlier than usual to purchase a day pass and decompress in the lounge before hopping on your plane.

    5) Earn elite or loyalty status with an airline

    If you have a preferred airline that you travel with often, you could sign up for their loyalty program. This may allow you to earn points every time you fly. Over time, those points may be redeemed for discounted flights and they may also give you a certain status level with that airline.

    6) Be a guest of somebody with lounge access

    If you're traveling with someone who has a lounge membership, you're in luck. Most lounges allow guests, which means you can enjoy all the amenities while you are traveling with that person.

    Guest policies vary greatly depending on the airline, the membership status and the type of lounge. Some let guests in for free while others charge a fee which typically ranges between $25 and $65 per person. You'll typically find that children age 2 or younger are admitted at no charge.

    Pro travel tip: Airport lounges have become more popular in recent years. To avoid letting the lounges get too crowded (the exact opposite of their intended use), guest policies have been tightening. Be sure to do your homework on the guest policies of the lounge you'll be traveling through before assuming you'll get that R&R with your travel companion!

    7) Access an airport lounge as an active military member

    Most airport lounges offer free or discounted access to members of the military and their families. Depending on the lounge, the requirements for entry may vary such as having to be in uniform or be on active orders. Some only require your military ID and boarding pass to enter. You'll want to review the policies of the lounge you intend to visit in advance of your trip.

    Pro travel tip: Some credit cards may waive their annual fees for members of the military.

    8) Get access through an airline's co-branded credit card

    Again, if you're loyal to one airline, you may find that signing up for their co-branded credit card gives you tons of perks with that airline as well as a way to earn points a bit faster than you otherwise would. These cards do often come with an annual fee though, so you'll want to understand any potential fees before applying.

    A few advantages of co-branded airline cards include:

    • Welcome bonus. Many cards offer new cardmembers a welcome bonus, in the form of points, for signing up and spending a certain amount of money during the introductory period. Be sure to check the terms of the card you are interested in applying for.
    • Rewards points. These points are usually earned on travel purchases as well as everyday purchases. Most cards offer at least 1 reward mile (or point) per dollar spent. In certain categories or when used to purchase travel on that airline, the rewards points can be even higher.
    • Travel perks. This includes things like priority boarding and free checked bags and can vary by card.
    • Status promotion. Airline cards may get you to a higher loyalty status tier. Some premium airline credit cards include an automatic bump to higher airline loyalty program status. A higher status can mean better seats when you fly, early boarding, or free checked bags.

    Pro travel tip: Track your spending and decide if an airline credit card is best, or more of a general travel credit card aligns better with your lifestyle. Airline card rewards are highly specific to air travel, so they may not be the best choice if you don't take to the skies often.

    In conclusion

    Airport lounges are becoming more accessible to everyday travelers rather than being reserved for big spenders or first class ticket holders. However, that doesn't mean standards or amenities have been reduced. Most airport lounges are still quiet oases of relaxation and modest luxury, graciously removed from the clutter and chaos of the typical airport terminal.

    There are many ways for today's traveler to snag an airport lounge pass. Day passes may be a good option if you're an infrequent traveler and don't want to purchase a full lounge membership. Or you may want to apply for a travel credit card that offers complimentary membership to a network of lounges. Lastly, you may want to sign up for airline loyalty programs where you can work toward earning a higher status each time you fly with that airline.

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