Access to thousands of airport lounges is on the table for 2021. Getting the right card in your wallet is the secret to getting your body in a plush, comfortable seat inside an airport with great runway views, hot meals, work stations, private bathrooms and much more. Which cards pull out all the stops when it comes to lounging in style for free during stopovers? As airlines vie to recapture post-pandemic travelers, the cards have definitely been shuffled around a bit since 2019. The most exciting aspect is that airlines are expanding both their lounge offerings and their lounge access. Let’s cover the best credit cards for complimentary airport lounge access in 2021!
Here’s a look at the credit cards offering the best lounge access in 2021:
- 1. The Platinum Card® from American Express: Access to the most lounges of any card! Choose from 1,200 airport lounges in 130 countries.
- 2. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Access to 1,200 VIP airport lounges around the world via free Priority Pass Select access.
- 3. Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Delta SkyClub access with potential for a big status boost on your Medallion status with every purchase!
- 4. HSBC Elite Credit Card: Free and unlimited LoungeKey access with an annual fee that’s lower than other elite cards.
- 5. Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: Free American Airlines Admirals Club® membership with opportunities to jump to a higher status through card purchases.
- 6. Mastercard® Black Card: Automatic enrollment in Priority Pass Select for access to more than 1,300 lounges around the world.
- 7. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Complimentary Priority Pass™ Select access for entry to more than 1,200 lounges around the world when flying on any airline.
- 8. American Express Green Card: $100 LoungeBuddy Credit.
- 9. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Complimentary Priority Pass access with the bonus of complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status.
- 10. United℠ Explorer Card: Two United Club passes per year with a card that offers opportunities to earn PQPs.
- 11. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Complimentary access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection with big potential to earn extra points and status upgrades.
The Platinum Card® From American Express
If it’s sheer volume you’re looking for, this personal credit card offers access to the largest number of airport lounges. Platinum Members enjoy totally unlimited complimentary access to Centurion Lounges with Priority Pass Lounges access. That’s a lot of luxury to be rolling your luggage into between flights! In fact, it adds up to access to 1,200 airport lounges spread across 130 countries. What’s more, AMEX is adding new lounges every year. All of that choice won’t seem overwhelming because cardholders can use the American Express app to swiftly find lounges on the go!
There’s also a really big cherry on top with this card. It is one of the rare cards to provide lounge access for a cardholder while also giving the green light for two additional guests. While most cards and lounges have been on a streak of restricting or phasing out guest perks, Platinum still rolls out a red carpet that’s big enough for two to three people every single time!
Let’s quickly cover some specifics of this card.
Yes, the limitless lounge access that goes along with this card comes with a price. The annual fee on the Platinum Card® from American Express is $695. However, a little perspective helps when justifying the decision to jump for this card. An annual Priority Pass membership costs $429. However, the AMEX Platinum is just a little more with actual AMEX-branded lounge access paired with Priority Pass membership. You’re also getting the prestige and credit boost of having this elite card.
The free lounge access is just skimming the surface of the perks offered by the AMEX Platinum. Let’s not forget that this card comes with 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels with a threshold of $500,000!
You can also make back half of your annual fee just by taking advantage of the card’s $240 digital entertainment credit that rewards you with $20 each month when you pay for select digital subscriptions using your card.
There’s also a $200 annual hotel credit, $200 annual airline fee credit, $200 Uber cash credit, $179 CLEAR credit and $300 Equinox Credit.
Lastly, AMEX will give you an annual Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® credit. While there are simply too many perks to get into with this card, the AMEX Platinum offers dozens of “extras” that include things like upgrades to Marriott Bonvoy™ Gold Elite status or Hilton Honors Gold status without qualifying stays, free flight upgrades, car rental protection, special cruise privileges and more!
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The caveat with Chase Sapphire Reserve is that you have to be looking specifically for robust Priority Pass access for this card to be worth it in terms of airport lounge access.
The Sapphire Reserve card actually mirrors many of the perks of the slightly more elite Platinum Card® from American Express for a lower annual fee of $550.
In addition, Sapphire Reserve is only slightly behind the elite AMEX card with its offering of access to 1,200 VIP airport lounges around the world via free Priority Pass Select membership. Lounge guests flashing their Sapphire membership enjoy perks like free snacks, drinks and Wi-Fi whenever they touch down! You can also bring along two guests per visit!
Some of the other perks that pad this card include 3x points on worldwide dining and travel, 1:1 points transfers, a $300 travel credit and credits for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®. There’s also a bump of 50 percent more points when redeeming airfare, car rentals, cruise reservations and hotels.
Some of the auxiliary perks of this card include $60 in DoorDash credits, a free DashPass subscription, a free year of Lyft Pink ($199 value), trip cancellation insurance, a rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, travel insurance and emergency medical and dental benefits.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
This card is perfect for a self-selecting group that prefers to fly with Delta. In addition to giving you free Delta SkyClub access, this card is going to catapult you to Medallion Status much faster! It’s a win-win deal.
With an annual fee of $550, this card will be a better bet for most than simply paying the $545 annual fee for Delta Sky Club membership because of all the perks and potential for earning back baked into it! In addition to complimentary Delta SkyClub access for you, this card throws in two one-time guest passes per year. While that’s not as generous as the two-guests-per-visit perk offered by both the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and AMEX Platinum, it’s still something. There’s also access to the Centurion® Lounge whenever you book flights with your card. Members with this card also get upgrade priority over other Medallion members within the same level and fare class.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card has a nice roster of Delta-oriented perks. The big one is that you can earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 in purchases up to four times per year through the Status Boost perk. In addition, the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) Waiver waives all other requirements for Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion Status if you make at least $25,000 in purchases per year with your card.
Purchases made on Delta flights and Delta Vacations will earn you 3x miles. Everyday purchases made with your card will earn you 1 miler per dollar with zero limits on how much you can earn.
That challenges you to reach that $30,000 annual spending threshold for your Status Boost by using your card to pay for everything from gas to groceries. Some of the additional perks built into this card include a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® credit, a baggage insurance plan, trip delay insurance, trip cancellation insurance, car rental insurance and access to the Premium Global Assist Hotline when you find yourself in a logistical or legal pinch while traveling.
HSBC Elite Credit Card
The big draw of the HSBC Elite Credit Card is free and unlimited access to LoungeKey lounges. Of course, you might not be very familiar with LoungeKey. One of the newer players in the lounge industry, LoungeKey provides lounge access at more than 1,000 locations around the world for cardholders aligned with various credit cards. Coming in with a lower-than-average annual fee of $395, the HSBC Elite Credit Card offers decent perks. The bonus breakdown for purchases made with your card breaks down to 3x travel purchase points for airfare, hotels and car rental. While you’re getting 2x dining points, it’s 1x points for all other purchases. There’s also $400 in travel credits on the table.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
A favorite among people who fly with American Airlines, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® comes with a free Admirals Club® membership that’s valued at $650. That’s not bad when you consider that the annual fee for this card is $450.
This next point is why this card is worth considering even if you’ve already shelled out the fee to get Admirals Club® membership. The card will actually give you a prorated refund on membership if you’re an existing Admirals Club® member. Upgrading can be a great way to maintain the membership you already love while gaining some extra perks every time you spend.
This card provides 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases. You’ll earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. You can also jet your way to elite status with American Airlines faster once you have this card in your wallet. That’s because the card gives you 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 annually. You’re getting handed an opportunity to cultivate 50,000 bonus miles. The longer list of perks offered with this card includes priority boarding, one free checked bag on domestic flights, 25 percent off airline food and beverage purchases and Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® credits.
The perks on this card are neat and easy. While Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® won’t have much value for you if you’re already invested in another airline due to years and years of loyalty, it is probably the best card for getting free lounge access every time you fly if you’re an American Airlines devotee.
Mastercard® Black Card
Offering automatic enrollment in Priority Pass Select, the Mastercard® Black Card provides access to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide. If you want to bring a guest along, the fee is $32 per person.
While the Mastercard® Black Card isn’t the only card to offer free Priority Pass Select membership, it does stand out for being a card that’s geared for luxury-oriented leisure travelers while having a $495 annual fee that’s lower than many other cards.
Cardholders receive $200 in annual air travel credit that can be used for airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and other flight-based purchases. All of your credits will automatically land in your account without any maneuvers on your end.
Members also receive a $1,000 gift card for TCS World Travel jet expeditions if they spend $35,000. The other perks to go along with this card include a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ credit, baggage delay insurance, travel accident insurance, auto rental collision waiver, 24/7 Mastercard Global Service, trip cancellation/interruption insurance and travel assistance.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
A no-brainer decision if you book stays at Marriott when flying, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card provides complimentary Priority Pass™ Select access for entry to more than 1,200 lounges around the world when you fly with any airline.
Also baked into this card is $300 in annual statement credits for purchases made at hotels in the Marriott Bonvoy program.
This card shines for frequent travelers by offering 6x points on hotels, 3x points on dining and 3x points on flights. There’s also a $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit. You also get one free night as a reward each year for your card anniversary.
American Express Green Card
If you spend part of the year in Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain or Switzerland, this card is designed specifically for you.
While this card does come with lounge perks, it is not a heavy hitter in terms of lounge access by any means. The American Express Green Card only offers a single $100 Lounge Buddy Credit per year. However, that could be all you need if you’re just looking for lounge access one to two times per year when you’re making a trek home.
This card also comes with 3x membership rewards at restaurants, transit and travel. There’s 1x membership reward points on all other purchases. In addition, this card comes with great classic AMEX perks like a $100 CLEAR credit, trip delay insurance, upgrades via points, car rental loss/damage insurance, baggage insurance, purchase protection and more. The annual fee on this card is just $150.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
A great card if you’ve been coveting Hilton Honors Diamond status, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card grants your wish when you sign up! Yes, this card comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status.
This card also comes with Priority Pass access that opens up entry to 1,200 lounges around the globe. In addition to free entry for you, you’re getting free entry for up to two guests per lounge visit. The perks for hotel lovers keep coming with an astounding 14x points on hotels and resorts. You’re also getting 7x points on select travel and dining.
In addition, this card comes packed with credits like a $20 airline fee credit and $100 Hilton on-property credit. You’re also covered with extra cardholder perks like car rental loss and damage insurance, access to the Premium Global Assist® Hotline and a baggage insurance plan. The annual fee on this card is $250.
United℠ Explorer Card
If you fly with United a couple times per year, this card might hit the spot. First, the disclaimer on this card is that it is not a lounge superstar by any stretch of the imagination. You’re not getting the highly generous and unlimited lounge access that’s offered by many of the elite cards on this list when you go with this card.
However, United customers who fly once or twice a year might like the added perk of getting some free lounge access on top of enjoying what is a really solid credit card. The United℠ Explorer Card comes with two one-time United Club passes per year.
While visiting a United airport lounge, you can enjoy drinks, snacks and Wi-Fi in a very posh setting. However, this card probably isn’t worth signing up for just for that perk. That’s why knowing about some of the other nice features of this card helps with making your decision.
First, you’re getting 2x points on dining, hotel stays and United purchases. All other purchases get 1x points. There’s also the perk of getting one free checked bag per trip. That adds up to about $150 saved per flight!
If you’re climbing the points ladder with United, this card offers the chance to earn up to 1,000 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) per year. Each $12,000 spent equals 500 PQPs. What makes this card really stand out is that it’s the first on the list to offer perks for no annual fee! While there’s a $0 intro annual fee for your first year of owning the card, the fee does rise to $95 per year after that.
This card also includes Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ credit.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
While personal credit cards are famed for offering better lounge access than business cards, the Business Platinum Card® from American Express is one card to have your eye on if you often mix business with travel. This card offers big bonuses and big rewards! Of course, the big question has to do with what it offers in terms of lounge access. This card comes with complimentary access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection. That means access to more than 1,300 beautiful lounges across more than 140 countries.
In addition to pampering you with Centurion® Lounge and International American Express Lounge access, you can also visit partner lounges operated by big names like Delta Sky Club®.
This card comes with 5X Membership Rewards points for your flights and prepaid hotels booked through Amex’s travel portal. There’s also an airline bonus of 35 percent with the potential to get up to 500,000 points back per calendar year.
Some of the other perks included with this card are a $200 airline credit fee, $179 CLEAR Credit, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔, trip delay insurance, trip cancellation insurance, car rental loss insurance, a baggage insurance plan, premium car rental privileges and Premium Global Assist® Hotline access. You’re also invited to skip to Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status without the need to book the number of qualifying stays needed!
Next, it’s time to get to what makes this a “business” card. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express actually rewards you for making a larger purchase by offering more points! You’re getting 1.5x points on purchases of $5,000 or more. It adds up for the potential of 1 million extra Membership Rewards® points each year! One of the priciest cards to own, the Business Platinum Card® from American Express comes with an annual fee of $595.