Air travel can be an inherently stressful experience, and airports themselves are a contributing factor. They're noisy, the food is expensive, the bathrooms are gross, and you'd be lucky just to get a seat at your gate, let alone one with a working power outlet.

But the airport lounges tucked away throughout the world's largest airports can be a remedy for harried travelers. They're quiet, the food and drinks (even alcohol) are usually free, the bathrooms are clean, the chairs are comfortable, and the power outlets are plentiful. Heck, some of them even have private showers.

While these lounges are usually reserved for elite fliers with hard-to-attain airline status, many can be accessed with nothing but the right credit card.

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Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve | Photo: The Points Guy

The Sapphire Reserve is arguably the card that introduced airline lounges to the masses thanks to its built-in Priority Pass Select membership, which currently offers free entry for the cardholder and up to two guests to over 1,300 participating airport lounges worldwide.

In addition, a few dozen airports in the U.S. also feature restaurants that work with Priority Pass. Just present your Priority Pass card to get $28 (usually) off your bill, plus an extra $28 off each for up to two guests.

The Sapphire Reserve carries a hefty $550 annual fee, but that's at least somewhat offset by a $300 annual travel credit, in addition to numerous other benefits.

Lounge Network: Priority Pass offers over 1300 lounges in more than 600 airports, plus dozens of airport restaurants offering $28-$30 off the bill each for the cardholder and up to two guests.

Guest Policy: Two free guests are permitted with the cardholder, and additional guest passes can be purchased for $27 each.

Annual Fee: $550

Welcome Offer: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.

[Full Card Review]

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card | Photo: The Points Guy

For Marriott devotees, the Bonvoy Brilliant offers a Priority Pass benefit nearly identical to the Sapphire Reserve's, with a lower annual fee. The only difference is that additional guests (after your two free guests) will cost $32 each, instead of $27.

Lounge Network: Priority Pass offers over 1300 lounges in more than 600 airports, plus dozens of airport restaurants offering $28-$30 off the bill each for the cardholder and up to two guests.

Guest Policy: Two free guests. Additional guests cost $32 each.

Annual Fee: $450

Welcome Offer: 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card | Photo: The Points Guy

With a $95 annual fee, the Hilton Honors Surpass card is the most cost-effective Priority Pass credit card, but with a catch. Rather than unlimited lounge access, you'll receive 10 free entries per year, which you can use entirely for yourself, or share with guests. It's not as lucrative as an unlimited lounge membership, but if you don't spend a ton of time in airports with Priority Pass lounges, 10 passes might be all you need.

Lounge Network: Priority Pass offers over 1300 lounges in more than 600 airports, though this card does not grant discounts at to Priority Pass restaurants.

Guest Policy: Each guest will use one of your 10 annual entry passes. After you've run out of passes, additional passes can be purchased for $32 each.

Annual Fee: $95

Welcome Offer: 125,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $2,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months.

[Full Card Review]

The Platinum Card® From American Express

The Platinum Card® From American Express | Photo: The Points Guy

American Express is unique in that it actually operates its own (small) network of luxury Centurion lounges, which are open only to holders of the brand's highest end credit cards. The flagship Amex Platinum will get you into any Centurion Lounge, but supplements that network with a Priority Pass membership and the ability to enter a Delta Sky Club with a same-day Delta boarding pass.

Lounge Network: The American Express Lounge Collection comprises Amex Centurion lounges, Priority Pass lounges (but not Priority Pass restaurants), Delta Sky Clubs (with a same-day Delta boarding pass), and a few other lounges around the world.  

Guest Policy: Guest access varies by the lounge type, but most Amex Lounge Collection lounges allow for two free guests, and additional guests with a surcharge. Delta Sky Club access is limited to the cardholder only, though guest passes can be purchased for a reasonable $29 each.

Annual Fee: $550

Welcome Offer: 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points welcome bonus after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months

[Full Card Review]

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card | Photo: The Points Guy

Like the Amex Platinum, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex offers users access to Delta Sky Clubs and Centurion Lounges, though with more restrictions than the Platinum card. The Delta Reserve still has some premier benefits that can make it a great option for frequent Delta fliers, but if you're getting a card specifically for lounge access, the Amex Platinum will be a better option.

Lounge Network: Delta Sky Clubs (with a same-day Delta boarding pass) and Amex Centurion Lounges (with a same-day Delta boarding pass paid for with the SkyMiles Reserve card). Centurion Lounge access is limited to connections and three hours prior to departure.

Guest Policy: Reserve cardholders receive two one-time guest passes for Delta Sky Clubs per year, but otherwise, you'll have to pay a $39 surcharge at Sky Clubs, or a $50 surcharge at Centurion Lounges.

Annual Fee: $550

Welcome Offer: 80,000 Delta SkyMiles + 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in your first three months, plus an additional 20,000 miles on your cardmember anniversary.

[Full Card Review]

Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® | Photo: EQRoy/Shutterstock

The AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard is the only consumer credit card that offers access to American Airlines' Admirals Club lounges. It also, somewhat famously, grants a version of its Admirals Club membership to up to 10 authorized users for free.

Lounge Network: Primary cardholders can access over 50 Admirals Club lounges, plus over 60 partner lounges worldwide. Entry requires a same-day boarding pass from American Airlines, a OneWorld Alliance partner airline, or Alaska Airlines.

Authorized users are only eligible to access Admirals Club lounges, and only with a same-day American Airlines boarding pass.  

Guest Policy: Immediate family members or up to two non-related traveling guests are permitted free of charge with the cardholder or authorized user.

Annual Fee: $450

Welcome Offer: 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in your first three months.

[Full Card Review]

American Express® Green Card

American Express® Green Card | Photo: The Points Guy

The Amex Gren has the lowest annual fee of any Membership Rewards-earning credit card, and offers a lounge benefit that we haven't seen on any other card: an annual up to $100 LoungeBuddy credit. It's hardly the most lucrative lounge perk out there, but if you don't have a ton of opportunities to enjoy airport lounges, it's a good way to save on a variety of lounges around the world.

Lounge Network: LoungeBuddy is an app that lets you purchase day passes for thousands of airport lounges around the world, and generally speaking, you can expect to pay about $40-$50 per pass.

Guest Policy: You can use your $100 credit to purchase lounge access for a traveling companion, but you'll have to purchase it separately from your own.

Annual Fee: $150

Welcome Bonus: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after spending just $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.

[Full Card Review]


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Photo: Catarina Belova/ShutterStock