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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. This page may include information about American Express products currently unavailable on Slickdeals. American Express is not a partner of Slickdeals.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be fed 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. 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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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 four exceptions that will land you a free meal every time you fly.

1. Priority Pass Select Lounges

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK
Virgin Atlantic

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 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 1,300 lounges, but also to about 30 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 receive a $28 credit per person towards food, beverages, and taxes. Just note that it doesn’t cover gratuities for the server, so you 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 (DCA) 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®
  • Capital One Venture X
  • U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card (12 months free with four individual passes and four individual guest passes)

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)

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.

Worth reading next: All About the New Chase Sapphire Airport Lounges

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 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 domestic airports:

  • 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).

Which Credit Cards Offer Centurion Lounge Benefits?

To get access to an American Express Centurion Lounge, you present the Platinum or Business Platinum Card from American Express. These are valid for the cardholder and up to two additional guests. You can also get access with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business American Express Card.

Finally, those who hold the ultra-premium, invitation-only black Centurion Card are also offered admission and special reserved seating.

3. United Club Airport Lounges

United Club lounge

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, 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 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)

Worth reading next: A Roundup of United Airlines Credit Cards and Bonus Miles

Which Credit Cards Offer United Club Airport Lounge Access?

United credit cards that offer United Club access are the United℠ Explorer Card, United℠ Club Infinite 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’s anniversary. Moreover, the expensive United Club membership is renewable annually and offers 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: 60,000 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: 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.

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
Bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles
APR: Variable APR
Rewards Rate: 1X-2X Miles
Details: Full Review

Terms and restrictions apply

Offer Terms

Annual Fee: $99

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: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when they spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from 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

The United℠ Business Card features an impressive 75,000-mile bonus, which is among the best travel bonuses currently on offer.

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.

4. Delta Sky Club Lounges

Delta Sky Club lounge

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 over 50 Sky Club Lounges, mostly in U.S. airports. But the airline also offers select members access to a network of around 250 partner and third-party lounges worldwide. While many of these lounges typically 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:

  • 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)

Which Credit Cards Offer Delta Sky Club Lounge Access?

Travelers can access Delta Sky Club 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 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 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 card 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:

Great Deals and Bonuses to Check Out on Slickdeals Money:

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.

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