How to Access Airport Clubs and Lounges
Airport Club Access
Several charge and credit cards provide airport lounge and club access. The most well-known card, the Platinum American Express Card, at one time provided access to the airport lounges of several airlines. As airlines created their own premium, lounge access credit cards, those Amex Platinum privileges were cut back. Now the Platinum American Express only provides access to Delta Sky Clubs. Amex has tried to counter this by creating their own Centurion® Lounges. Currently, however, there are just six (DFW, LAS, LGA, MIA, SEA, SFO) Centurion Lounges. The Platinum American Express also provides access to independent airport clubs providing its members with Priority Pass Select (which provides access to more than 600 lounges worldwide). The downside of this card is a steep $450 annual fee, which can be partially offset by an allowance of $200 every year in airline incidental charges (which you could use for daily lounge access passes).
If you’re loyal to one airline and want to access only its lounges, options include the United MileagePlus Club Card for access to United Clubs, as well as the Delta Reserve American Express which provides free access to all Delta Sky Clubs.
If you wish to visit airport clubs only occasionally, some cards like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card provide a few free airport club passes each year. Another option is to buy a day pass (usually available for $50). Finally, airport club vouchers are commonly sold around half-price on ebay (but be careful here as some vouchers are only intended to be used by the named recipient).
If you have elite status, Delta provides complimentary club access to its highest level Diamond Medallion members.
If you are traveling internationally in Business or First class, you can typically access your airline’s lounges and those in the same alliance. Also, if you have at least mid-tier elite status, you can typically access airport lounges even when flying coach on an international flight. For example, Star Alliance Gold/Platinum Members can access Star Alliance airport lounges. oneworld Emerald and Sapphire (American Platinum and Executive Platinum) members can access oneworld lounges. Delta Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members can access all SkyTeam lounges.
Another option is to simply purchase an annual club membership with cash (generally around $500 but lower with higher level elite status) or with miles (American is 80,000 miles or lower; Delta is 70,000 or lower; United does not sell access with miles). 30 or 90 day club passes are also sometimes available.
Finally, Priority Pass memberships are available that can provide access to about 600 contract airport lounges. There are various membership options from $99 (access clubs for $27) to $399 (unlimited free access). Priority Pass membership is included as a benefit of the Platinum American Express card.