At one point in my life, I used to think that airport lounges were only for business travelers who flew every week, and figured it was something I would probably never get to experience.
I finally did get to experience my first airport lounge several years ago, when I was able to use one of the lounge passes that came with my United MileagePlus Explorer card to experience the Singapore Airlines lounge at the Taipei-Taoyuan airport. (I would not actually recommend applying for the card through that link, as there are routinely higher offers of 50,000 miles).
Unfortunately, having two lounge passes a year with limited use wasn’t really going to cut it with my travel schedule.
Thankfully, I discovered the American Express Platinum Card from Ameriprise. Now, some of you may have heard of the AMEX Platinum Card before, given its reputation as a fancy, high-end card. But you may have been turned off by the annual fee of $450. Luckily there are several different types of Platinum cards, and the Ameriprise-branded one does not come with an annual fee the first year (and despite the terms and conditions saying otherwise, you do not need to have an Ameriprise account to be eligible for one).
Now, the Platinum Card is awesome for many reasons, but let’s focus on the lounge access for this post. With the card, you get access to:
All American Express Centurion Lounges, which have kitchens run by high-end chefs that will prepare buffets with amazing gourmet food (like the braised chicken and other items below, from the lounge in Las Vegas), and a bar with incredible mixed drinks.
All Priority Pass lounges, a global network of over 900 lounges in most major airports in the world, including 13 of the top 15 airports in the US (sorry Denver and Charlotte). Now, to be fair, these generally aren’t as nice as the Centurion lounges, and can vary widely in quality. The Priority Pass lounge at the Seymour Airport in the Galapagos consists of just a couch with free chips, coffee, and juice (though the fact that this airport even had a lounge was shocking to me). On the other hand, the Airport Wellness Oasis Lounge at Singapore’s Changi Airport offers complimentary fish spa massages (definitely try it if you haven’t) in addition to a wide range of food and drink. But for the most part, a Priority Pass Lounge will usually give you complimentary soft drinks, juices and certain alcoholic drinks, hot and cold food that doesn’t require much preparation, and free wi-fi (like the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at LAX pictured below). And even the most limited lounges are still often better than the noise of the airport terminal where nothing is free.
All Delta Sky Clubs, if you’re flying Delta. Out of the three major US carriers (United, American, and Delta), I find that Delta generally has the best lounges. Again, they’re no Centurion Lounge, but they’re generally very modern, clean, and offer a decent selection of food and drink. (I’m quite excited to try the one at JFK next week which has a roof deck).
All Airspace lounges, a weird network of four fairly subpar lounges at SAN (San Diego), JFK (New York), BWI (Baltimore-Washington), and CLE (Cleveland). When you enter, they give you a $10 credit that you can use, as nothing is free. The one at the San Diego Airport is nice enough, especially as you can watch planes taking off, but I’d avoid the one at JFK in favor of the much nicer Priority Pass lounges there in other terminals.
Now as you may have noticed in the title, I said “at least a year” of free access. Yes, if you hold on to the card for more than a year, you will be billed a $450 annual fee. However, one of the other benefits of the Platinum card is that you get $200 in airline credit per calendar year (i.e. if you get it now, you would get $200 now, then be eligible for $200 again on January 1). So if you spend at least $400 on airfare per year, the annual fee almost pays for itself the next year (though actually getting the credit can be a complicated process with very specific requirements, well-detailed on FlyerTalk). On top of that, you get a $100 one-time Global Entry credit, which is also good for TSA PreCheck. Essentially, you have no annual fee the first year and $500 of benefits, which will more than cancel out the annual fee the next year. Not a bad deal. And once you start regularly flying with TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and frequent lounge, you’ll realize you don’t dread airports as much as you used to, and it might be hard to go back to old ways.
One important caveat though is that other than the Centurion and Airspace lounges, you will have to pay for any guests you bring with you to the Priority Pass lounges. If you regularly travel with guests (like a family) and want to make sure they can also get in for free, you might want to consider the Citi Prestige card, which allows you up to two guests for free (or more if family) at all Priority Pass lounges and American Airlines Admirals Clubs if you and the guests are flying American. Of course, it is good for many other reasons too.
Have a question about something? Feel free to email me or post in the comments.
Pictured above: The Virgin America Loft at LAX, a lounge which looks very nice, but overall lacks substance.