Most products on this page are from partners who may compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how they appear on the page. However, opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

You probably won't get a meal on your next domestic flight unless you're lucky enough to be in first class. And even then, the food probably won't be that great, especially compared to what you could have gotten on the ground—but airport restaurants aren't exactly known for being budget friendly. Thankfully, I've found a way to enjoy a free meal at the airport before most of my flights, and it's all about having the right credit card.

Several travel rewards credit cards offer airport business lounge access, but these typically just have free drinks and light snacks. However, these four exceptions can land you a free meal every time you fly.

Recommended Travel Credit Cards

Credit Card Intro Bonus Annual Fee Rewards Rate Learn More

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,380 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

$95 1x- 5xPoints More Info

The card offers 5x points per dollar on Chase Travel℠, 3x points on dining (including eligible takeout and delivery services), as well as 3x points on select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs). This card earns 2x points on all other travel spending and 1x point per dollar everywhere else. Chase broadly defines travel to include not just airfare, hotels and rental cars, but expenses like parking, tolls and public transit too.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

50,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

$69 1x - 2xPoints More Info

Earn 2X points on Southwest® purchases. Earn 2X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners. Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare. Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming. Earn 1X points on all other purchases.

United Gateway℠ Card

20,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Dollar Equivalent: $280 (20,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

$0 1x - 2xPoints More Info

Earn 2X United miles per dollar on United purchases, local transit and commuting and at gas stations. You’ll earn 1X mile per dollar on all other purchases.

Citi Premier® Card

60,000Citi ThankYou Points More Info

Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou Points after making $4,000 worth of purchases during the first three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,080 (60,000 Citi ThankYou Points * 0.018 base)

$95 1X-10XPoints More Info

10X total ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through June 30, 2024. 3X -- Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Other Hotels 3X -- Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets 1X -- Earn 1 Point on All Other Purchases

1. Priority Pass Select Lounges

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK
Virgin Atlantic

Priority Pass™ Select earns you access to many top airport lounges. Most of these only offer the typical lounge fare rather than a full meal, but a few exceptions go above and beyond.

For instance, whenever I'm passing through Washington Dulles International Airport, I make a point of using my Priority Pass Select card to enter the Turkish Airlines lounge. It's renowned for offering a full buffet of finely prepared Turkish food, including soup, lamb, fish, rice and even baklava for dessert.

Other top Priority Pass Select lounges with meal service include:

  • SkyTeam Lounge in Vancouver International Airport
  • The Grand Lounge Elite in Mexico City International Airport

Priority Pass Select Restaurant Credits

The Priority Pass Select program offers access to more than 1,500 lounges, but also many decent airport restaurants if you get it through a non-American Express card. When you present your Priority Pass Select card at these restaurants, you typically get a credit toward food, beverages and taxes. Just note that it doesn't cover tips, so you need to pay that out of pocket.

For example, on a business trip to Washington, D.C., I stopped at the Bracket Room bar and restaurant at Reagan National Airport with two colleagues. There, I was able to treat them to dinner and drinks before our flights using the Priority Pass Select card I received as a benefit of my Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card. We each got a $28 credit since this benefit was valid for the cardholder and up to two guests. That means we ordered $84 from the menu before we had to pay for anything but the tip.

couple scuba diving at W Maldives Related Article

The 5 Best Hotel Loyalty Rewards Programs

Read More

Which Credit Cards Offer Priority Pass Benefits?

The Priority Pass Select program is offered by more than a dozen premium rewards credit cards in the United States. The following cards include the restaurant credit perk:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card (12 months free with four individual passes and four individual guest passes)

Several American Express cards also offer Priority Pass Select but don't include access to the restaurants, just the lounges (terms apply):

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
  • Hilton Honors American Express Business Card (10 complimentary visits per year)

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Apply Now

Secure application on issuer’s website

Rates & Fees
  • Our Rating 4.5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR22.49% - 29.49% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$550
  • Sign-Up Bonus 60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after using your card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,380 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

This card features an annual credit for travel purchases, which can offset the annual fee, plus bonus points when you sign up. You'll also get free access to tons of Priority Pass lounges and restaurant options around the world, along with access to the upcoming Chase Sapphire Lounge network.

Overview

If you’re looking to elevate your travel experience, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. When you first get approved, you’ll earn a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months—that’s worth at least $900 in travel-related spending booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards® and potentially more if you transfer your rewards to one of Chase’s airline or hotel partners.

Read the review

Pros

  • An array of premium travel perks including access to Priority Pass lounges
  • Easy-to-use $300 travel credit that helps offset card's annual fee
  • Generous rewards rates for spending

Cons

  • High annual fee may be a deterrent for some
  • Perks are starting to get stale relative to newer competition

2. American Express Centurion Lounges

Centurion Lounge Denver
American Express

Another way to enjoy a free meal at the airport is by visiting an American Express Centurion® Lounge. In addition to the drinks and light snacks you'll find at any airport lounge, they offer buffets featuring locally and seasonally inspired cuisine from award-winning chefs.

For example, my wife and I have enjoyed lunch at the Centurion Lounge in the Las Vegas airport, which featured cuisine designed by James Beard Award nominated chef Kim Canteenwalla.

  • Atlanta (ATL)

    Dallas (DFW)

    Houston (IAH)

    Las Vegas (LAS)

    New York (LGA and JFK)

    Denver (DEN)

    Charlotte (CLT)

    Los Angeles (LAX)

    Philadelphia (PHL)

    Phoenix (PHX)

    Miami (MIA)

    Seattle (SEA)

    San Francisco (SFO)

You can find international Centurion lounges in these cities and more: Hong Kong (HKG), London (LHR), Stockholm (ARN), Mexico City (MEX), Sydney (SYD) and Mumbai (BOM).

How to Get Centurion Lounge Benefits

To get access to an American Express Centurion Lounge:

  • Present an eligible card, such as the Platinum Card® from American Express at the lounge, along with your ID and your boarding pass for that day. Terms apply.
  • You can also use your Amex app to get a QR code for contactless check-in.

3. United Club Airport Lounges

United Club lounge
United

United Club airport lounges are a haven from the busy, outdated common areas found in many airports. Many of United's clubs offer members and pass holders snacks, power banks, Wi-Fi, and pleasant seating to recharge before or between flights. Still, some lounges offer more amenities.

United Club airport lounges that offer meal service include:

  • Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C. (DCA)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston (IAH)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Narita International Airport, Tokyo, Japan (NRT)

The availability of meal service is subject to change at any time.

United airplane in the sky Related Article

Best United Credit Card Bonuses: Up to 75,000 Bonus Miles

Read More

Which Credit Cards Offer United Club Airport Lounge Access?

Here's a look at the cards that offer access to United Club lounges, along with some their rewards and other details to help you compare.

Credit Cards Offering United Club Airport Lounge Access

Credit Card Intro Bonus Annual Fee Rewards Rate Learn More

United℠ Explorer Card

50,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

$95 More info

$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95

1x - 2xPoints More Info

2X miles per dollar on United purchases, hotel accommodations when purchased directly from the hotel and dining at restaurants, including select delivery services. 1x on everything else.

United Club℠ Infinite Card

80,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,120 (80,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

$525 1x - 4xPoints More Info

The card earns 4X miles per dollar spent on United purchases, 2X miles per dollar spent on all other travel and dining purchases and 1X mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.

United℠ Business Card

75,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Dollar Equivalent: $1,050 (75,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

$99 More info

$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.

1x - 2xPoints More Info

Earn 2x miles per dollar on United purchases, dining at restaurants, including eligible delivery services, local transit and commuting, and at gas stations and office supply stores. You’ll earn 1X mile per dollar on all other purchases.

United Club Business Card

United Club℠ Business Card

50,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

Earn 50,000 bonus miles + 1,000 Premier qualifying points (PQP) after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

$450 1.5x - 2xMiles More Info

Earn 2x miles on United Airlines purchases; 2 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases, including tickets, Economy Plus®, Inflight food, beverages and Wi-Fi. Earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on other purchases.

Some of these cards offer complimentary passes after opening the account and then again on each cardholder's anniversary. You can also purchase a United Club membership, which is renewable annually and offers constant airport lounge access, but at an expensive price.

4. Delta Sky Club Lounges

Delta Sky Club lounge
Delta

While not as well known for offering luxury accommodations and conveniences for fliers, Delta Sky Club® does have several locations that are worth a visit.

Delta operates over 50 Sky Club lounges, mostly in U.S. airports. But the airline also offers select members access to a wide network of partner and third-party lounges worldwide. While many of these lounges offer snacks, some of the more notable Sky Club lounges feature more amenities like meals, massage, spa access and stunning views.

Delta Sky Club lounges that offer meal service include the following:

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York (JFK)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

The availability of meal service may change at any time.

Which Credit Cards Offer Delta Sky Club Lounge Access?

Travelers can access Delta Sky Club with two of the airlines' SkyMiles® credit cards (terms apply):

  • Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business American Express Card

Are Airport Lounge Benefits Worth the Cost?

As the saying goes, there's no such thing as a free lunch. The travel credit cards that offer these benefits have considerable annual fees, but I'd argue that even with the fees, you're getting a bargain.

For example, my Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $550 annual fee, which isn't cheap. But it also comes with an annual $300 statement credit toward travel purchases, majorly reducing the card's net cost. When I compare it to the $95 Sapphire Preferred® (which doesn't offer travel statement credits), I'm only paying a net additional cost of $155 to receive the Priority Pass Select membership. And as you can see, I easily came out ahead after just a single meal with two colleagues.

The American Express Platinum Card also has a high annual fee of $695. But it also offers a variety of fee credits that reduce its net cost down.

Bottom Line

The credit card industry is extremely competitive, and no one is more sought after than premium travel rewards card users. When you look at all of the ways you can use a credit card for travel, opting for a card with these sorts of benefits just makes sense.

For more information on top credit card options that offer a variety of benefits and rewards, be sure to check out our list of the best credit cards.

JS

Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.