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HomePoints and MilesHere's How I Get Free Meals at Airports Every Time I Travel

Here’s How I Get Free Meals at Airports Every Time I Travel

Travel rewards cards are offering more than just free miles.

Advertiser Disclosure: Most products in our articles are from partners who may provide us with compensation. However, opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be fed on your next 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. Of course, 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. Undoubtedly, it’s all about having the right credit cards. Here’s how it works.

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Priority Pass

How to Get a Free Meal at the Airport With Your Credit Card

Several premium travel rewards credit cards offer airport business lounge access, but these facilities typically offer just free drinks and some light snacks. However, there are three exceptions that will land you a free meal every time you fly.

1. Priority Pass Select Lounges

As mentioned above, Priority Pass Select earns you access to many top airport lounges. Similarly, most of these only offer the typical lounge fare rather than a full meal. However, there are a few exceptions that 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 desert.

Other top Priority Pass Select lounges with meal service include:

  • The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Newark Liberty International Airport
  • SkyTeam Lounge in Vancouver International Airport
  • Grand Lounge Elite in Mexico City International Airport
  • Turkish Airline Lounge in Washington Dulles International Airport

2. Priority Pass Select Restaurant Credits

The first option is the Priority Pass Select program, which offers access to more than 1,000 lounges, but also to about 30 decent airport restaurants.

When you present your Priority Pass Select card at these restaurants, you’ll typically receive a $28 credit per person towards food, beverages and taxes. Just note that it doesn’t cover gratuities for the server, so you’ll need to pay that out of pocket.

Here’s a recent example of how this program works. On a business trip to Washington D.C., I stopped at the Bracket Room bar and restaurant at Reagan National Airport with two of my colleagues. There, I was able to treat them to dinner and drinks before our flights using the Priority Pass Select card that I received as a benefit of my Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card.

Each of us received the $28 credit, since this benefit is valid for the cardholder and up to two guests. That means that we were able to order a total of $84 from the menu before we had to pay for anything but the tip.

>>READER SUCCESS: “Here’s How I Took My Dad on an International Trip Business Class for Less Than $100”

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, including:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • Citi Prestige® Card
  • U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa® Infinite Card (12 months free, and eight passes per year after that)

There are also several American Express cards that offer Priority Pass Select, but these cards don’t include access to the restaurants in the program, just the lounges:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card© from American Express
  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire® Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (10 free visits per year)
  • Hilton Honors American Express Business® Card (10 free visits per year)
people relaxing before a flight
Credit: /andresr

3. American Express Centurion Lounges

The second 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 recently enjoyed lunch at the Centurion Lounge in the Las Vegas airport, which featured cuisine designed by James Beard Award-nominated chef, Kim Canteenwalla.

There are American Express Centurion lounges at the following airports:

  • Dallas (DFW)
  • Hong Kong (HKG)
  • Houston (IAH)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • New York (LGA)
  • Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • San Francisco (SFO)

Additional lounges are also planned for Denver, New York-JFK, LAX, Charlotte, London-Heathrow and Phoenix.

Which Credit Cards Offer Centurion Lounge Benefits?

To get access an American Express Centurion Lounge, you need to present either the Platinum or Business Platinum Card from American Express. These are valid for the cardholder and up to two additional guests. Finally, those who hold the ultra-premium, invitation-only black Centurion Card are also offered admission and special reserved seating.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Priority Pass Option 1

Offer Details

Secure application on issuer’s website.

Annual Fee: $550
Bonus: 60,000 Points
APR: Variable Rate
Rewards Rate: 1X-10X Points
Details: Full Review

Terms and restrictions apply

Offer Terms

Annual Fee: $550

APR: Variable APR depending on credit worthiness.

Rewards Rate: The card offers 10x points per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars as well as 5x points on air travel booked directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards immediately after you spend $300 on travel purchases annually. Additionally, earn 3x points per dollar spent on all other travel and dining purchases and 1x everywhere else.

Sign-Up Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after using your card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening.

Who Should Use This Credit Card? Frequent travelers who are serious about earning travel awards.

Why We Like It

Why We Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card

Right off the bat, Chase Sapphire Reserve features a $300 annual credit for travel purchases. That means the annual fee is effectively just $250 per year for frequent travelers. You also get free access to more than 1,300+ Priority Pass lounges and restaurant options around the world. Those lounges usually give you free food and drinks, cleaner bathrooms, fast internet and a comfortable place to sit outside of the ruckus of an airport terminal. Plus, the Sapphire Reserve will get you access to the upcoming Chase Sapphire Lounge network.

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 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months — that’s worth $900 in travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and potentially more if you transfer your rewards to one of Chase’s airline or hotel partners.

traveler waiting for a flight
Credit: /jacoblund

5. United Club Airport Lounges

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

United Club airport lounges that offer meal service:

  • Washington Reagan National Airport
  • Newark Liberty International Airport
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport
  • Los Angeles International Airport
  • Narita International Airport, Tokyo, Japan

Which Credit Cards Offer United Club Airport Lounges?

United credit cards that offer United Club access are the United℠ Explorer Card, United℠ Club Card, United℠ Business Card and the United℠ Club Business Card. Some of these cards offer complimentary passes after opening the account and then again on each cardholder anniversary. Moreover, the expensive United Club cards act as an annual membership and offer constant airport lounge access.

United℠ Explorer Card (two free passes each year)

Offer Details

Secure application on issuer’s website.

Annual Fee: $95 (fee waived first year)
Bonus: Up to 70,000 Bonus Miles
APR: Variable APR
Rewards Rate: 1X-2X Miles
Details: Full Review

Terms and restrictions apply

Offer Terms

Annual Fee: $95, waived for the first year

APR: Variable APR depending on credit worthiness.

Rewards Rate: The card features 2X miles for every dollar spent on United purchases, at restaurants and eligible meal-delivery services like GrubHub, DoorDash, Seamless and Caviar. You also earn 2X miles for every dollar spent on hotel accommodations booked directly through the hotel. Additionally, you get 1X miles per dollar everywhere else.

Sign-Up Bonus: This card’s bonus is worth up to 70,000 bonus miles. New cardholders earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases with their new cards in the first three months of account opening. Then, earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles by spending $6,000 total on purchases in the first six months the account is open.

Who Should Use This Credit Card? United loyalists who want to earn free and discounted airfare.

Why We Like It

Why We Like the United℠ Explorer Card

The United Explorer Card’s benefits are what makes it really stand out from the crowd. Here’s what you’ll get: One free checked bag for each flight, priority boarding, 25% back on inflight purchases, two United Club airport lounge passes every year and Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application fee credit every four years.

The United Explorer Card also offers several trip protections including primary rental car insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and trip delay reimbursement. The card’s annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95 after that, which will give you some time to confirm that it’s a good fit before the fee hits.

United℠ Business Card (two free passes each year)

Offer Details

Secure application on issuer’s website.

Annual Fee: $99 (fee waived first year)
Bonus: 75,000 Miles
APR: Variable APR
Rewards Rate: 1X-2X Miles
Details: Full Review

Terms and restrictions apply

Offer Terms

Annual Fee: $99 (fee waived first year)

APR: Variable APR depending on credit worthiness.

Rewards Rate: The card earns 2X miles for every dollar spent at United, gas stations, dining, office supply stores and transit including train tickets, taxis, rideshares and tolls. You can earn 1X miles per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Sign-Up Bonus: New cardholders can earn 75,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Who Should Use This Credit Card? Freelancers and business owners who regularly fly with United Airlines.

Why We Like It

Why We Like the United℠ Business Card

While this card’s 75,000-mile sign-up bonus is lower than previous offers, the assortment of helpful perks and first-year $0 introductory annual fee do a lot to make up for it.

This card’s perks include a $100 annual United travel credit after seven United flight purchases over $100, two United Club passes, a free first checked bag each flight, 25% back on inflight purchases and priority boarding.

There are other benefits when flying United, like travel and purchase protections. For example, the card features no foreign transaction fees for international purchases and 5,000 bonus miles awarded on each anniversary year when you own both the United Business Card and a personal United credit card.

If you’re serious about getting awarded for travel and find United convenient or simply prefer it, you can maximize your United miles earned every year. Plus, business owners can also provide employees with cards, at no additional cost, to maximize rewards earning potential.

5. Delta Sky Club Lounges

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

Delta operates some 50 Sky Club Lounges, mostly in U.S. airports. But the airline also offers select members access to a network of 250 partner and third-party lounges worldwide. While many of these lounges typically offer snacks, some of the more notable Sky Club Lounges do feature more amenities like meals, massage, spa access and stunning views.

Delta Sky Club Lounges that offer meal service:

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
  • Phoenix SkyHarbor International Airport
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Which Credit Cards Offer Delta Sky Club Lounge Access?

Travelers can access Delta Sky Club access with four of the airlines’ SkyMiles credit cards:

  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card.

However, the Platinum cards only offer discounted access.

Are Airport Lounge Benefits Worth the Cost?

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. All of the credit cards that offer these benefits have considerable annual fees. However, I’d argue that even with these fees, you’re still 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 towards any travel purchases, effectively reducing the card’s net cost to $250. When I compare it to the $95 Sapphire Preferred (which doesn’t offer any 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® has an equally high annual fee of $550. 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 take a look at all of the ways that you can use a credit card for travel benefits, opting for a card with these sorts of benefits just makes sense.

For more information on top credit cards options that offer a variety of benefits and rewards, be sure to check out the Slickdeals Credit Card Hub.

Read More About Rewards Travel, Points & Miles:

While we work hard on our research, we do not always provide a complete listing of all available offers from credit-card companies and banks. And because offers can change, we cannot guarantee that our information will always be up to date, so we encourage you to verify all the terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply.

Jason Steele
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.