Airport Lounges :How Credit Cards Opened — Then Clogged
Airport Lounges :How Credit Cards Opened — Then Clogged

Years ago, there were business travelers and leisure travelers, and the benefits of the high-flying former did not benefit the business-minded latter. An airport lounge with comfy chairs, a free buffet and an open bar while you wait to board your flight? These are reserved for business travelers in tailored suits.

In recent years, the lines have blurred. Airport VIP lounges are slowly becoming a haven for business travelers and a luxury for more and more travelers of all types of services. That’s because those with certain credit cards can unlock access to airport lounges.

Here’s how credit cards are driving a surge in airport lounge visitors, and how it can affect your chances of using your card on your next trip — even if you have the right card.

How credit cards make airport lounges accessible

American Express introduced the original luxury travel credit card in 1984. But the options market has exploded in recent years. A new generation of premium travel credit cards from issuers such as Chase and Capital One are already standing out from the competition. Often, in exchange for a hefty annual fee, new cardholders get a juicy six-figure bonus of points when they sign up, along with all the perks that come with it.


Access to airline lounges is one of the most popular perks for these cardholders. Many cards can use the lounge network, such as Priority Pass, which operates more than 1,300 lounges in 600 cities around the world. But the issuer has also created its own branded lounge. American Express, Chase and Capital One are all beefing up their airport lounges and expanding their services across the country.

It’s not just a premium credit card. Some co-branded credit cards with lower annual fees also offer VIP room tours. Select airline credit cards offer limited day passes each year; others offer discounts for cardholders who pay at the gate.

The reality of the lounge may not deliver on their promises

But sometimes, when everyone comes in, no one can come in. Overcrowding in airline lounges is an increasingly frustrating problem as pandemic fears ease and many travelers return with revenge. Lounge network Priority Pass reported a 46% increase in lounge traffic in the first half of 2021 compared to the previous six months.


Sue Meyer from Ashland, Kentucky, was looking forward to a comfy seat and a light meal in the lounge on a recent trip with her sister. But they failed to get in due to some fine print. Although Meyer is an authorized user of a card that grants lounge access, it is only permitted to the primary cardholder.

Her sister had a credit card that she could use to buy discounted lounge day tickets, but they found it was not working at some airports before it was too late. “I think a lot of this stems from the overuse of lounges so they get crowded,” Meyer says. “They use it as a control issue.”

Even cardholders who spend nearly $700 a year in annual fees aren’t immune to overage issues. P. Katta, a long Beach, Calif.-based traveler, saw long lines in the hallways and meandered around the corner to enter the American Express Centurion lounge in Denver. “I’ve never seen a snake this big,” he said. “It’s outrageous when you’re paying that much for a card [and] getting no benefits.”


These days, it’s not uncommon to walk through an airport lounge and see a “full” sign blocking the door. This usually means that you will be refused entry unless you are travelling in business or first class, regardless of which credit card, lounge card or day ticket you have.

What you need to know before using a credit card to enter the lounge

Credit card issuers have established some guidelines for obtaining lounge benefits. American Express, for example, will start charging cardholders $50 for every guest they bring into the lounge starting in 2023. (Currently, up to two guests are free.)

While these restrictions help reduce overcrowding, they can also make it harder for you to access the lounge while traveling. Here’s what you should know before hanging out at the airport before your next flight.

Bring your lounge card: While a credit card provides lounge access privileges, in many cases you will receive a lounge access card separate from your credit card. Sometimes you have to register to get a pass. Most of the time you can’t show up at the lounge counter and drop your credit card. You will need a physical or digital lounge pass to enter.

Check Before You Go: Real-time knowledge is power. The American Express app, for example, will tell you how full the lounge is and give you a QR code to enter if there’s still room. Before you trek all the way through the airport to the Priority Pass lounge you see on the list, call them to make sure there are no restrictions. If you can pre-book, you’ll probably be glad you did. Some lounges haven’t even reopened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch out for time constraints: Facing a major flight delay unexpectedly and finding solace in the lounge to kill time? Not so fast. Many lounges now have strict time limits. For example, Delta Sky Lounge now only allows access within three hours of your flight. If you have a five-hour layover, you need something else to kill the first two hours.

So learn more: