airport lounge access for families

Guide to Airport Lounge Access for Families

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    Before starting our credit card churning habit, we thought the world of fancy airport lounges would never be our world.

    But we’ve crossed over and now it is one of the things we look forward to on travel days!

    For families doing a few trips a year (or more!), I highly recommend looking into getting lounge access.

    What is an airport lounge & how can I get in?

    Airport lounges are an oasis of calm in a busy airport terminal. They typically have free wifi, free drinks (many include alcoholic options) and some food. Free food and drinks in the airport was a revelation for us. As budget travelers, we were always those people packing our carry-ons full of food for the airport and airplane. Prior to living the lounge life we have actually been known to refuse to buy water even if we were quite thirsty, because we wanted to wait to get on the plane where water was free. Such was the case in the Cancun airport where there aren’t drinking fountains and bottled water is highly overpriced. We suffer of thirst no more!

    To get in you usually need to fall into one of these categories:

    • Have airline status (not us)
    • Fly business or first class (not us, have never done it)
    • Pay a one-time fee (not us, again with being cheapskates)
    • Have a lounge pass for a lounge network (Ding, ding, ding! That’s the one for us!)

    Where are these lounges?

    The most common lounge network that premium credit cards give you access to is Priority Pass. There are also lounge networks operated by American Express (for their premium card members), by Capital One (for card members) by individual airlines, and other lounge networks.

    Priority Pass has a growing number of lounges in the US, but has a much larger presence in international airports. They also have a number of relationships with airport restaurants or even spas where you can get a free massage.

    At the Denver Airport you can eat at the Sweetwater Mountain Taphouse with your Priority Pass membership and each member and included guest got $28 to spend. So on a trip to Denver, our family of 4 got $112 to spend on food and rinks! The kids just got a few things which means dad and mom got some nice meals and a beer!

    It gets a bit confusing, though, as American Express has cards that provide Priority Pass memberships but they will no longer offer access to those restaurant “lounges”–just true lounges.

    It would be too lengthy to list all the airports Priority Pass serves (over 1200 lounges), so hop on their website and see what’s available at your home airport or airports you often layover in.

    For many US airports, lounges might only be in the international terminal. That is the case for us in Chicago. And some international flights don’t even fly out of the international terminal, so sometimes we miss out. We were rarely able to use a lounge in Chicago until recently when Southwest started operating some some flights of out O’Hare’s Terminal 5.

    On the day of your flight, be sure to check open/close times when you are looking at lounges. Many lounges participate with other clubs and offer entrance to other loyalty programs. Because of this, note that some lounges say they are full and don’t accept Priority Pass members at certain times.

    Since we frequently fly Southwest, I often reference this Flyertalk thread when trying to figure out if I can get into an airport’s Priority Pass lounge from the terminal Southwest operates out of.

    We’ve enjoyed some great food and drinks (and sometimes massage chairs and showers) at lounges in South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, the Philippines, Jamaica, Cancun, and more. We’ve also been known to walk to another terminal (if airports allow) to track down lounges on layovers or upon arrival, such as in Seattle, Honolulu, and LAX.

    Credit Cards That Give You Access:

    Many premium credit cards out there give you lounge access as an included benefit! It is part of a package of premium benefits they offer. Here are your options as a family and my take on them:

    Capital One Venture X:

    Lounge Network: Priority Pass + Capital One Lounges + Plaza Premium Lounges

    Guests allowed: 2 guests – but authorized users are free to add and get their own lounge access for themselves + 2 guests

    Annual Fee: $395

    Annual Travel Credit: $300 for bookings made through Capital One Travel (flights, hotels, car rentals), per cardmember year

    Authorized User Fee: $0 for up to 4. No minimum age for authorized users means you can add your kids as authorized users as well. 

    Other card benefits we love:

    • 10,000 bonus Venture miles on the account anniversary every year; there’s no spending requirement to unlock this (worth at least $100 in travel credit)
    • Global Entry fee credit
    • Hertz President’s Circle status for the primary cardmember and authorized users: perks include being able to skip the counter, guaranteed upgrades, and free additional drivers
    • Cell phone protection, concierge service, trip delay and cancelation coverage
    • 10x Venture miles on hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One Travel
    • 5x Venture miles on flights booked via Capital One Travel
    • 2x Venture miles on all other purchases

    Our take: This is the current best option for families to get lounge access for the lowest price and least hassle — unless you are very loyal to one airline like Delta, American, or United. It is even better if your airport has a great Priority Pass option or one of the new Capital One Lounges (currently in DFW, but expanding to Denver and Dulles in late 2022). It matches most of the current policies by allowing only 2 guests – but the ability to add authorized users for $0 means even large families can get in lounges for free. The annual fee is low for a premium card and very easy to off-set with the $300 annual travel credit. Capital One used to be notoriously hard to get approved for (specifically for people with many cards, if you are newer to miles and points it should be easier), but if we were approved and this card will definitely be a keeper. See more on the Venture X here.

    Chase Sapphire Reserve:

    Lounge Network: Priority Pass

    Guests allowed: 2 guests

    Annual Fee: $550

    Annual Travel Credit: $300, per cardmember year

    Authorized User Fee: $75

    Other card benefits we love:

    • Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth more with this card (1.5x vs. 1.25x with their other products). So this means a flight that costs $600 will only use 40,000 points.
    • 3x points for travel and dining
    • Global Entry fee credit
    • Trip Delay Insurance if your trip is delayed 6+ hours (and a host of other travel insurances)
    • Roadside assistance ($50 per incident)
    • Primary car rental insurance

    Our take: We had this card for 4 years and got some great value from our travel benefits and using Ultimate Rewards points with a great redemption rate. Unfortunately, the lounge access benefit isn’t enough for our family of 4 to get into lounges. So we had to pair this with another option in order to get lounge access. In 2020, Chase also raised the annual fee from $450 to $550, which puts it a bit out of our mental limits since we would have to pay another $75 to have another authorized user and each have our own access to Priority Pass through this card. We downgraded this card and got the Venture X instead.

    Ritz Carlton Credit Card:

    Lounge Network: Priority Pass

    Guests allowed: All accompanying guests. 

    Annual Fee: $450

    Annual Travel Credit: $300 per calendar year. See what qualifies

    Authorized User Fee: $0, Authorized Users get their own Priority Pass membership

    Other card benefits we love:

    • Global Entry fee credit
    • Roadside assistance
    • Trip Insurance
    • Free annual night certificate at Marriott property up to 50,000 points

    Our take: This card is no longer available directly, you can only get it if you have a Chase Marriott credit card and call to upgrade to this card. You will need to hold the Marriott card for a year before being eligible for upgrade. So obviously that is a big hoop to jump through for most people. 

    This card has the most generous Priority Pass membership out there. You could even add a trusted extended family member or friend as an authorized user and they would get their own Priority Pass.  

    The annual travel credit is based on a calendar year, so you can very easily upgrade to this card in August, for instance, and use the $300 Travel Credit. Then in January, the travel credit will reset and you can get use it again. The Travel Credit is not automatic and has to be requested manually, it is also somewhat restrictive. 

    American Express Platinum:

    Lounge Network: Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass (except restaurants), Delta Lounges (if you’re flying Delta)

    Guests allowed: 2 guests (until Feb 1, 2023 – after that point you will have no free guests unless you spend $75,000 a year on your card)

    Annual Fee: $695

    Annual Travel Credit: $200 for a specific airline you select in advance, per calendar year

    Authorized User Fee: $175 for up to 3 authorized users. You can add kids as authorized users when they reach 13 if you want to get access to Centurion lounges for your whole family.

    Other card benefits we love:

    • $15/month in Uber credits (and $35 in December)
    • $100 Saks Fifth Avenue Credit per calendar year
    • $200 annual hotel credit at Fine Hotels & Resorts 
    • $20/month digital entertainment credit
    • Gold Status at Hilton, Gold Elite Status at Marriott, Elite status with Hertz, Avis, National
    • Global Entry fee credit
    • Trip Delay Insurance if your trip is delayed 4+ hours (and a host of other travel insurances)
    • Roadside assistance
    • Purchase protection (insures new purchase for 120 days for loss, theft, or damage)

    Our take: The annual fee is the highest of this group, with the lowest and most restrictive travel credit. Unfortunately, the lounge access benefit still isn’t enough for our family of 4 to get into Centurion lounges. So we would have to pair this with another option in order to get lounge access or pay the authorized user fee — potentially worth it if we were adding other friends/family as authorized users as every authorized user lounge access for themselves and 2 guests.

    The trip delay insurance is the best on this card and Amex does have great purchase protection, which I have utilized twice when I’ve had newer cell phones break. Also the Hilton Gold status that comes with this card gets you free breakfast for 2 at every Hilton hotel. 

    United Mileage Plus Club Card:

    Lounge Network: United Clubs (and select Star Alliance Clubs) when flying on United or another Star Alliance Partner

    Guests allowed: 2 adults or 1 adult + dependent children under 21

    Annual Fee: $450

    Annual Travel Credit: None

    Authorized Users Do Not Get Lounge Access

    Other card benefits:

    • 1st and 2nd bags checked free
    • Premier upgrades on award tickets when available
    • Trip Delay Insurance if your trip is delayed 12+ hours (and a host of other travel insurances)
    • Purchase protection (insures new purchase for 120 days for loss, theft, or damage)

    Our take: If you are very committed to flying United/Star Alliance partners and have a large family, this card could definitely make sense. If you fly a variety of airlines, it would be hard to get the value of the annual fee out of this card.

    Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard:

    Lounge Network: American Airlines Admirals Club (when flying on American Airlines)

    Guests allowed: 2 guests OR immediate family members

    Annual Fee: $450

    Annual Travel Credit: None

    Authorized User Fee:$0 — Authorized users get access to Admirals Club lounges but not other lounges including oneworld lounges with reciprocal agreements

    Other card benefits:

    • Free checked bag
    • Global Entry fee credit

    Our take:If you are very committed to flying American and have a large family, this card could definitely make sense. If you fly a variety of airlines, it would be hard to get the value of the annual fee out of this card unless you have a lot of friends who also fly American and you add a bunch of authorized users.

    Hilton Honors Aspire Card:

    Lounge Network:Priority Pass (except restaurants)

    Guests allowed: 2 guests

    Annual Fee: $450

    Annual Travel Credit: $250 statement credit for use at Hilton Resorts, $250 airline incidental credit at 1 airline of your choice

    Authorized User Fee: $0, no Priority Pass membership for authorized users

    Other card benefits:

    • Hilton Diamond status: includes free breakfast, room upgrades (including suites if available), and executive lounge access
    • Free weekend night on account anniversary
    • Purchase protection (insures new purchase for 120 days for loss, theft, or damage)

    Our take: If Hilton is your brand of choice, this card definitely could make sense. Unfortunately, the lounge access benefit still isn’t enough for our family of 4 to get into lounges. So we would have to pair this with another option in order to get lounge access.

    Amex does have great purchase protection, which I have utilized twice when I’ve had newer cell phones break.

    Hilton Honors Surpass Card or Hilton Honors Business Card:

    Lounge Network: Priority Pass (except restaurants) – 10 visits per cardmember year

    Guests allowed: Guests count towards your 10 visits per year

    Annual Fee: $95

    Annual Travel Credit: None

    Authorized User Fee: $0, no Priority Pass membership for authorized users

    Other card benefits:

    • Hilton Gold status: includes free breakfast for 2 and room upgrades
    • Extended warranty and purchase protection (insures new purchase for 120 days for loss, theft, or damage)

    Our take: Great starter option for a family who wants to try out lounges. You will also get bonus points when you sign up for the card and meet the minimum spending, which will easily offset the $95 annual fee. This excludes restaurant options, which are mainly in the US. So for a family with 1 international trip planned, this could be a great card. Also well worth it if you have stays at Hiltons coming up, as we place a high value on free breakfast!

    Delta Reserve Card:

    Lounge Network: Delta Sky Club Access when flying Delta

    Guests allowed: 2, but you need to pay $29 each for them (ouch!)

    Annual Fee: $450

    Annual Travel Credit: None

    Authorized User Fee: $175

    Other card benefits:

    • First checked bag free
    • Free companion certificate

    Our take: Not of any great value to families because you still have to pay for guests to enter the lounge. The American Express Platinum is a better option if you are a family who loves to fly Delta because you will get into Delta lounges as long as you are flying Delta. 

    Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

    Lounge Network: Priority Pass (Lounges only, not restaurants)

    Guests allowed: 2

    Annual Fee: $450

    Annual Travel Credit:$300 to use at Marriott properties

    Authorized User Fee: Authorized users do not appear to get their own Priority pass access

    Other card benefits:

    • Global Entry Fee Credit
    • Free night award on account anniversary
    • Marriott Gold Elite status

    Our take: If you have a small family and are loyal to Marriott, this card might make sense as a way to also enjoy lounge access. For bigger families, it won’t cut it!

    Citi Prestige: (not currently open for new applicants)

    Lounge Network: Priority Pass

    Guests allowed: 2 guests OR immediate family members (spouse and all children under 18)

    Annual Fee: $495

    Annual Travel Credit: $250 per calendar year

    Authorized User Fee: $75

    Other card benefits we love:

    • 4th night stay free on hotels booked through their service (can be used 2x per year)
    • Global Entry fee credit
    • Roadside assistance
    • Cell phone insurance ($50 deductible, some exclusions)

    Our take: No longer available to new applicants but it used to be the best option for families — until the Venture X replaced it!

    The annual travel credit is based on a calendar year, so you can very easily apply for this card in August, for instance, and use the $250 Travel Credit. Then in January, the travel credit will reset and you can get use it again! Absolutely worth it if you have a year of travel coming up where you want lounge access, as with the 2 travel credits, your Annual Fee essentially gets cancelled out.

    We held this card for 4 years but were grandfathered in at a lower annual fee. Our annual fee increased in April 2020, though, and I downgraded this card to the no-annual fee Citi Rewards+ card. 

    The 4th night stay free can be a strong offering for some families but it hasn’t been worth much to us because we don’t often pay for 4 night stays with anything but points. We also found that the rates for the hotels we looked at were inflated so it wasn’t quite like a full night free. We did use it to book 4 nights at a Residence Inn in London where we found a great rate.

    A great value for the points you will earn from the sign up bonus is to transfer them to Turkish Airways and use them to book on Turkish’s partner United for domestic flights. All Saver Award flights cost 20,000 points round trip within the US (including Hawaii and Alaska!) 

    Best Options for Families:

    If you’re very loyal to either American Airlines or United Airlines, their premium cards may make the most sense for your family. Both provide access to their respective lounges for all immediate family members when flying on that airline.

    If you want to try out lounges with a low annual fee commitment: Hilton Honors Surpass or Business card has a $95 annual fee and gives you 10 Priority Pass visits per year that can be shared with guests. Note that these do not give you access to the restaurants in the Priority Pass network.

    For everyone else: Capital One Venture X! It is easy to make up your annual fee and you can add authorized users until you have enough guest access for your whole family. This can also be used at Priority Pass restaurants where each person gets $28 to spend!

    Do you have more questions about lounge access? Leave a comment below so I can help answer!

    Editorial Disclosure – The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

    2 thoughts on “Guide to Airport Lounge Access for Families”

    1. I made my 12 y/o child an AU for C1 and would like to access the PP for him. When I went to the PP application through C1 the age under birthday only dates up to 2004. How can I apply a PP for him?

      1. You’ll need to use his Priority Pass number to create an account for an adult. OR Capital One seems to have a new relationship with Priority Pass where you only need your Venture X card to access lounges. So he may be able to just use that.

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