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Navigating crowded airports can be a pain — it’s loud and stressful, and you may end up paying $28 for a questionable sandwich served on a styrofoam plate. Luckily, there’s a way to get virtually unlimited free food and drinks at airports in a quieter, more private area: airport lounges. 

Airport lounges are like airport clubs where you can get food, drinks, some personal space, comfortable seating, free Wi-Fi, charging outlets, clean bathrooms, and possibly even extra perks like a shower or children’s playroom. While these lounges have traditionally been more exclusive, it is becoming increasingly easier to gain access.

Some lounges come with more perks and amenities than others. Nearly every lounge will have some free food, and options could range from bulk snacks and bar nuts to a full hot buffet or even a sit-down restaurant experience.

For example, the American Airlines Flagship® lounges partner with the James Beard Foundation and offer award-winning dining experiences for Flagship First and Flagship Business Plus flyers traveling on qualifying international or transcontinental flights.

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Airport lounges also typically offer free (or sometimes premium-level paid) drinks. These can include fancy coffee beverages, juice, soda, or alcohol. 

In addition to the dining experiences, lounges will offer more room if you need to get some work done while at the airport or if you simply want to stretch out and relax. Some lounges, like Minute Suites, also offer nap rooms for travelers who are on a long layover and need to get some rest.

How to Get Into Airport Lounges for Free

There are a variety of ways to access airport lounges. One way is to purchase a business class or first class flight, which often comes with automatic access to the lounge associated with that airline. For example, travelers who purchase a United Polaris® international ticket (either with money or points) get access to the United Polaris lounge at certain airports. 

Alternatively, you can have elite status with an airline to gain lounge access. For example, Star Alliance® Gold members have access to member airline lounges like United Club℠, even if they are flying economy with an airline associated with that alliance. 

There are also several ways to access airport lounges, even if you are a budget traveler. You do not need to purchase an expensive airline ticket nor be a frequent flyer to have a more luxurious pre-departure experience. Many credit cards allow you to access airport lounges, even if you are flying basic economy on an ultra-low-cost carrier. 

Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and The Platinum Card® from American Express let you access Priority Pass™ lounges. For the non-Amex cards, this perk also includes Priority Pass restaurants, where you can receive up to $56 off of your restaurant bill (for two people) when you dine at partnered restaurants in the airport. 

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Different credit card companies also have co-branded lounges. If you have The Platinum Card or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you can access Centurion® Network lounges in addition to the Priority Pass lounges.

The Centurion Lounge
American Express

Capital One (if you have this card) has also recently launched Capital One Lounges, with the flagship lounge open at the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport and other lounges set to open in Denver and Washington, DC.

Buy a Lounge Pass For as Little as $25

If you do not have a business or first class ticket, elite airline status, or a qualifying credit card, there is also the option to purchase a lounge day pass for as little as $25 through websites like loungebuddy.com. Also, check the app of your preferred airlines to purchase lounge access on the day of your choice for a fee of approximately $59 (on United for example).

Featured photo courtesy of American Airlines

JM

Julia Menez

Julia Menez is a points and miles personal finance coach, travel expert, and host of the Geobreeze Travel Podcast. After traveling to over 30 countries before age 30 and saving thousands of dollars along the way with points and miles, Julia provides easy-to-practice advice to consumers on how to get the most out of their credit card benefits, including trip protection and luxury travel opportunities.