Your credit card could get you a free drink and a comfortable place to relax at the airport

Hong Kong Centurion Lounge BarAmex

  • Airport lounges include perks like fast internet, clean bathrooms, and complimentary adult beverages.
  • Premium travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card® from American Express include membership to travel lounges around the world.
  • While they carry annual fees of $400 or more, premium travel credit cards can be worth the cost, especially for frequent flyers.
  • Especially around the holidays when airports are extra crowded, airport lounge access can make a huge difference.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

Before hopping on a plane, I enjoy taking a few minutes to relax. I'll charge up my phone, log in to high-speed internet, use a clean bathroom, and enjoy some free snacks and a free drink or two before meandering my way to my gate.

This isn't a fantasy reserved for millionaires or frequent business travelers. A free beer, wine, cocktail, or spirit might be waiting just on the other side of those frosted doors. All you need is the right credit card and your luxury airport dreams, or at least a few free drinks, can come true.

Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It's important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.

Airport lounges 101

When you go into any old airport bar, you'll likely pay prices reserved for captive audiences in major sports stadiums and theaters. To me, $12 beers and $16 cocktails are far from a bargain. If I had to pay, I would skip those drinks completely. But I get them for free in an airport lounge thanks to my credit card.

Most airlines and airport lounge networks provide a number of premium travel lounges at airports around the world. Depending on the size of the carrier, it may have just a few lounges or dozens at its most frequented airports.

For the most part, these lounges are reserved for international premium travelers, elite travelers with a ton of annual flights, those who pay a fee, or cardholders of the airline's top-level premium travel credit card. Expect to pay over $400 per year for this type of credit card. For example, the United Club Card from Chase charges a $450 annual fee.

Intro to Priority Pass Select

Many lounges operate independently of the airlines. Priority Pass Select is a service that gives you access to 1,200+ lounges around the world, some airline-affiliated and some independent. My Chase Sapphire Reserve card gets me a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, as does the popular American Express Platinum card.

Each lounge has its own rules on admission, guests, and complimentary beverages. Most give you and two guests admission at no charge. Extra guests cost a little less than $30 each. Once inside, you can drink to your heart's content without paying a dime.

Most Priority Pass lounges I've visited include all top-shelf liquors, but some limit you to beer, wine, and sometimes well drinks, unless you want to pay an extra fee.

American Express Centurion Lounges

The personal Platinum card, as well as the Business Platinum® Card from American Express and the Amex Centurion card, includes a suite of lounges going beyond Priority Pass. Others include Delta Sky Club, Escape, Plaza Premium, Air Space, and Amex's own Centurion Lounges. The Amex Centurion Lounges are not as easy to come by but include a luxury experience you can count on every time.

There are only nine of them. Amex operates an additional 10 American Express International lounges at major hubs around the world.

My biggest problem with Centurion Lounges when I had a Platinum card was finding one. In two years, I only had one visit to the lounge in Philadelphia. It was nice, but considering how much I travel I was surprised I didn't come across one of these lounges more often.

Popular credit cards that offer airport lounge access

The following cards offer airport lounge access through Priority Pass (while the Amex Platinum also offers access to other lounge networks).

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve - This is my single favorite travel rewards credit card, offering up to $300 in annual credits on travel purchases, 3x point bonuses on travel and restaurant purchases (excluding the $300 travel credit), and more. It has a $450 annual fee.
  • American Express Platinum - The Platinum card has a $550 annual fee but includes a host of annual statement credits, elite status at popular hotel brands, and a collection of lounges around the globe.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card - Marriott's premium card is issued by American Express and includes up to $300 in annual statement credits at Marriott-family hotels, a free night worth up to 50,000 points, and automatic Gold Elite status. It charges $450 per year.
  • Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express - This $450-per-year Amex comes with up to $250 in annual statement credits at Hilton, plus Hilton Diamond status, huge point bonuses for Hilton purchases, and other benefits.
  • U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card -This travel rewards card charges $400 per year, and offers up to $325 in annual travel statement credits, and other valuable benefits.

An oasis away from the terminal hustle-bustle

Airport lounges may not seem that great until you get inside. I always enjoy a quiet, clean, comfortable place to escape when waiting for my next flight.

If you consider yourself a frequent flyer, a credit card with Priority Pass is worth every penny. Free drinks aside, once you give it a try, you won't want to leave home without it.

Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.

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