As we get into the holiday travel season, you may be looking for an escape from the crowded airport terminal. I know that my wife and I often plan our trips with a focus on where we can connect and use our different memberships to access the airport lounge. For example, when traveling to see her family in Texas, we can pass through Denver or Dallas. Although connecting in Dallas requires a longer flight, we have access to the American Express Centurion Lounge there, while we have no lounge memberships in Denver.
Those who have a lounge membership with a specific airline-operated network — like the Admirals Club, United Club, Sky Club, or Alaska Lounge — can often continue to use those lounges even when they’re flying on a different carrier. The reasoning is that your decision to purchase a membership at the start of the year is separate from your decision to buy a ticket from the airline on any particular trip, so I can still use the Alaska Lounge in Seattle if I choose to fly on United Airlines, for example.
How to Find and Access Lounges
If the lounge you want to visit is located in a different terminal from your flight, make sure you leave enough time to make your way over. However, there’s no requirement that you be departing from the same area when you pass through TSA security. Sometimes the agent will comment on my boarding pass and I just say I’m going to the lounge.
Remember to bring your membership card, or if you don’t have that you can ask the lounge attendant to look up your membership with your frequent flyer number. The process is obviously much smoother if you’re on the same airline since the frequent flyer number is coded in your boarding pass, but that doesn’t mean it’s required. Beyond this obvious rule, however, some lounges let you stretch your membership a little further with exceptions.
You may even be able to get access to other airline’s clubs with your membership. For example, Alaska Lounge members can use most Admirals Club locations when traveling with either Alaska Airlines or American Airlines. You can even access some other airlines’ lounges, such as the United Club, in locations where there is no Alaska Lounge.
These exceptions can be hard to remember, and even if you haven’t signed up to be a member with a specific airline lounge, you may have access and not even realize it. Programs like Priority Pass provide access to travelers with a variety of premium credit cards. The Centurion Lounge is exclusive to those with an American Express Platinum or Centurion Card. You might also have a few coupons, like the Alaska Lounge day passes that I received with my Alaska Mileage Plan elite status (and which can only be used at Alaska Lounges). A free app like LoungeBuddy can help you find out which lounges you’re allowed to use in each airport after entering your flight and elite status information.
Lounge Access for First Class Passengers
In general, flying first class on domestic routes does not include free lounge access; you must be on an international flight and be in either business or first class or have a certain elite status. It is often the case that travelers think they should get lounge access because they purchased a more expensive ticket. I’ve even seen professional travel bloggers complain on social media about being denied access. But read the rules before traveling and you should be okay.
The one airline that does allow access on first class domestic flights is Alaska Airlines. If you purchase a first class fare, whether using dollars or as an award ticket, you can use the Alaska Lounge. Upgraded tickets, however, do not qualify.
Changes to Delta Sky Club Access
The second important detail is that Delta will be changing its Sky Club access rules on January 1, 2019. That is over a year away, but still has important consequences for travelers. Delta will begin requiring Sky Club members to fly on Delta or Delta’s partners in order to access the Sky Club. This is different from most airlines that do not care who you’re flying with as long as you have a membership.
I recommend that you consider getting an American Express Platinum Card instead, since the card includes other benefits — and access to other lounges — and still provides access to the Sky Club when you fly Delta. There’s little reason to buy a Sky Club membership with fewer perks. For now, the American Express Platinum Card will grant free access to the cardholder and $29 for each guest when flying on Delta. However, you can also pay an annual fee to Amex to add additional cardholders.