With nearly three million people flying in and out of US airports every day, a few perks-like being able to escape the crowds and enjoy free Wi-Fi, snacks, and cocktails for a couple of hours-can be the difference between a satisfying flight and a stressful experience.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to airport lounges; some are tougher to gain access to than others, and their perks vary greatly by brand. Every traveler has different needs and expectations, so determining which lounge is worth the money can be very subjective. If a status climber or frequent flier is loyal to a certain airline or credit card, for instance, they’ll likely choose those lounges over the others. If, however, you simply want to spend a few hours away from the masses, a day pass might make more sense.
Here’s a look at how airport lounges work, what it takes to get in, and whether or not they’re worth the splurge on your next trip.
Since most airlines have airport lounges, we’re going to focus on the three US legacy carriers: American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.
There’s a lot to unpack here, as membership can be offered to travelers who have high-level status with the airline or its alliance partners, those traveling with a business- or first-class ticket, and holders of the airline’s credit card. Day passes are limited by club capacity, and since lounges tend to be overcrowded, that’s not the most reliable way to go if you want to get in. Either way, you must be able to present a same-day boarding pass for a flight being operated by that particular airline or one of its alliance partners.
The American Airlines lounge network is made up of more than 30 Admirals Club sites and over 50 partner lounges worldwide through the Oneworld airline alliance. Members can also access three joint premium lounges, co-hosted with British Airways, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), as well as the Arrivals Lounge at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) when flying in business or first class on American Airlines or British Airways (or if you have high-level airline or Oneworld alliance status).
There are a few ways to get in: By purchasing an annual membership (rates range from $750 to $850-or 75,000 to 85,000 miles-per person, depending on your airline status); scoring free access through the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard; flying on qualifying business- and first-class tickets; having AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum Pro, or Platinum status; or by being a Oneworld Emerald or Sapphire member (or an Alaska Airline Mileage Plan MVP Gold 100K, 75K, or MVP Gold) and flying certain transcontinental and international routes.
For those without status or a premium-class ticket, day passes can be purchased for $79 (or 7,900 miles) per person. Military personnel flying in uniform on an AA-operated flight may also enter Admirals Club lounges (with ID) and bring up to two immediate family members.
Once inside, you can enjoy a selection of snacks, drinks, craft beer and cocktails, made-to-order meals, customized customer service, and in some locations, a business center, conference rooms, and shower suites.
If you’re traveling in Flagship First or Flagship Business First on certain international and transcontinental flights and are passing through Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), or Miami (MIA), definitely pay a visit to the Flagship Lounge for an upscale food, wine, and cocktail program provided by the James Beard Foundation. One-time passes can be purchased for $150 per person if you want to check it out but lack the qualifying status or premium-class ticket to get in.
With so many lounges and so many ways to qualify for entry, it could be worth booking the right ticket, earning status with AA or one of its Oneworld partners, or paying for a day pass or annual membership if you travel often.
The United Airlines lounge network consists of more than 45 United Club lounges, one lite lounge (with limited to-go amenities) in Denver (DEN), and six premium United Polaris lounges. Thanks to its Star Alliance connection, members can also access over 1,000 partner lounges around the world, plus six exclusive Star Alliance lounges in Los Angeles (LAX), Amsterdam (AMS), Paris (CDG), Buenos Aires (EZE), Rome (FCO), and Rio de Janeiro (GIG).
United Club locations offer the usual perks-complimentary snacks, drinks, and cocktails, high-speed Wi-Fi- as well as customized customer service, and 24-hour access to newspapers and magazines via Readly.
There are several ways to get in, including purchasing an annual membership (rates range from $550 to $650 or 75,000 to 85,000 miles per person, depending on your status), scoring a complimentary membership through the United Club Infinite Card or the United Club Business Card (the United Explorer Card also provides two one-time entry passes per year), or purchasing a day pass for $59 per person. Those traveling in business or first class on certain United or Star Alliance partner international and transcontinental flights, passengers with Star Alliance Gold status, and those with high-level Air Canada Maple Leaf or Virgin Australia Velocity status may enter, as well as active duty US military members traveling in uniform and their families.
United Polaris lounges kick it up a notch by offering international business- and first-class passengers upscale amenities such as spa-like showers and day beds-complete with white noise and soft lighting-to help you relax pre-flight, and plenty of premium food and beverage options. You’ll find six of these lounges in Chicago (ORD), Newark (EWR), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), and Washington, DC (IAD).
To enter United Polaris lounges, you’ll need to be flying in United Polaris business class on an international flight, or in international business or first class with one of United’s Star Alliance partners. Polaris customers also have access to an Arrivals Lounge at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR), where you can shower and fuel up on breakfast upon landing. Unfortunately, day passes to these exclusive lounges are not available, and there’s no way to enter them by having certain credit cards or airline status.
If you’re a frequent United Airlines flier with status or a co-branded credit card, or if the $59 day pass to the United Club sounds reasonable, go for it-especially if you meet the qualifications to enter United Polaris lounges.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Sky Clubs are located in more than 50 airports globally, and offer amenities such as signature cocktails, craft beers, freshly brewed Starbucks coffee, a seasonal menu focusing on regional specialties, customized flight assistance services, free Wi-Fi, and shower facilities (in select locations).
The carrier is known for limiting the number of passengers in its lounges through strict membership policies as a way to combat overcrowding. To purchase or renew an annual membership (rates range from $695 to $1,495 or 69,500 to 149,500 miles per person), you must be a Delta SkyMiles Medallion member-even Gold, Diamond, and Platinum Medallion members flying in coach and premium economy must have another way in, while basic economy passengers can only gain access by having an eligible credit card (for now-more on that later).
Otherwise, your only real chance of getting in involves having the right credit card, level of airline status, or a premium-class ticket with Delta or one of its partners, as day passes are no longer available for purchase. Those traveling in Delta One or a business- or first-class product by a SkyTeam partner (or with elite status on a partner airline), as well as Delta Gold, Platinum, and Diamond members traveling in first class to Canada, Mexico, and Central America with a partner carrier, may enter. Delta Medallion loyalty program members may also opt to select Delta Sky Club membership as a choice benefit.Delta made news in September 2023 when it announced upcoming changes to its loyalty program starting in 2024 and 2025. For this article, we’re focusing on how access to Delta Sky Club lounges will be affected.
Currently, passengers carrying the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card or the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Card receive free Delta Sky Club access, however this will be limited to 10 visits per year starting on February 1, 2025. Similarly, cardholders of the American Express Platinum Card and Business Platinum Card will be limited to six visits per year. That said, cardholders of all four can earn unlimited access for the rest of the year as well as the following year after spending $75,000 with their respective card.
Starting January 1, 2024, Delta Sky Club access will no longer be provided as a perk for those with the Delta SkyMiles Platinum or Platinum Business cards (until then, you can still get in by paying a $50 per entry fee). Anyone traveling with basic economy level tickets-even those carrying the aforementioned American Express cards-will also lose access.
Some SkyTeam partners offer Delta Sky Club access for their high-level customers, so you may also be able to get in by accumulating status or flying in premium-level classes with LATAM, Virgin Atlantic, or WestJet.
If you meet the qualifications, spending time in a Delta Sky Club is definitely worth it, even if you’re only limited to a certain number of visits per year-the amenities really are that good.
Credit Card Lounges
In recent years, credit card providers have created their own luxury lounges, meant exclusively for their premium-level cardholders to enjoy pre-flight.
American Express Centurion Lounge
With more than 40 locations around the world, you’ll find 13 Centurion Lounges in the US in Charlotte (CLT), Dallas (DFW), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York (LGA and JFK), Philadelphia (PHL), Phoenix (PHX), San Francisco (SFO), and Seattle (SEA). Three more will open in Washington, DC (DCA), Atlanta (ATL), and Newark (EWR) in 2023, 2024, and beyond. Eligible cardholders can also enter Escape Lounges and the rest of the Global Lounge Collection, extending access to more than 1,400 sites worldwide.
Centurion Lounges are reserved for those with certain American Express credit cards: the Platinum Card, Business Platinum Card, Centurion Card, Corporate Platinum Card, Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card, or Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Card. If you have the Platinum Card or the Business Platinum Card, you can earn complimentary access for up to two guests per visit after spending at least $75,000 with your card within a year. Otherwise, it costs $50 per guest ($30 for children ages 2–17; kids under two get in free). It is not possible to purchase a day pass for these lounges.
Centurion Lounges offer a ton of fancy perks, including signature cocktails, curated wine lists, meals created by award-winning chefs, and amenities such as spa treatments and high-speed Wi-Fi. For eligible cardholders, complimentary entry to this oasis of an airport lounge is definitely worth it.
Capital One Lounge
With two locations in Dallas (DFW) and Washington, DC (IAD), and a third opening in Denver (DEN) in late 2023, Capital One Lounges offer amenities such as a coffee and espresso bar, handcrafted cocktails, chef-curated meals and to-go options made with local ingredients, not to mention artfully designed family-friendly spaces. Some locations even have yoga or cycling facilities and shower suites in case you need to work off some pre-flight anxiety.
All travelers are welcome to pay the $65 entry fee, though those with Capital One’s Venture X and Venture X Business cards get in free with up to two guests (extra guests cost $45 each). If you have the Capital One Venture or Spark Miles cards, you’ll score two free visits per year-to Capital One Lounges and partner Plaza Premium Lounges-and can pay $45 for additional entries. Note that Capital One Venture X and Venture X Business cardholders also get complimentary access to Priority Pass and Plaza Premium Lounge locations.
If you have one of the qualifying credit cards and are passing through one of those airports, it’s worth checking out this lounge. Otherwise, unless you have a particularly long layover, it’s largely skippable, especially for a $65 day pass.
Chase Sapphire Lounge by The Club
The latest credit card lounge network to come onto the scene, Chase Sapphire Lounge by The Club locations are currently in Boston (BOS) and Hong Kong (HKG), while additional outposts are coming soon to Las Vegas (LAS), New York (LGA), Philadelphia (PHL), Phoenix (PHX), and San Diego (SAN). You’ll also find a Sapphire Terrace lounge experience in Austin (AUS).
To get in, you’ll need to have either the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card, J.P. Morgan Reserve Credit Card, or the Ritz-Carlton Credit Card, and be registered with Priority Pass, which comes as a perk of each of those cards. Depending on which card you have, you’ll be able to bring up to two guests in for free (extras cost $27 each), or for those with the Ritz-Carlton card, bring in an unlimited number of guests. If you have a Priority Pass account through another credit card, you’ll be limited to one visit to one lounge per year, with additional entries and guest access available for $75 per visit. Otherwise, day passes are based on availability and cost $100 per person.
If you have one of the eligible credit cards and are flying out of Boston or Hong Kong, definitely take a peek, as the amenities are quite posh-think bar and dining service, wellness areas, family rooms, showers, and a large outdoor terrace, depending on the location. If not, it isn’t worth spending $100 for a day pass unless you’ve got a ton of time to kill before your flight.
Other Paid Lounge Memberships
Instead of honing in on certain brands, paid lounge passes offer access to a smattering of lounges around the world. Several credit cards offer free membership to Priority Pass, LoungeKey (an exclusive perk from select premium providers), or other similar products, so it’s worth it to check your preferred card’s included benefits first. If you don’t travel often and have no loyalty toward a certain airline or credit card but still want to enjoy the perks of being in a lounge, any of the following could be a worthy investment.
If your preferred credit card doesn’t already offer a complimentary Priority Pass membership, you’ll need to pay an annual fee. The $99 rate means you’ll pay $35 each time you enter a lounge, while the $329 rate throws in 10 free visits for members, and the $469 rate covers all member entries (at each level, guests must still pay $35 to enter). Either way, you’ll score access to more than 1,400 airport lounges in over 148 countries, plus the ability to book your spot ahead of time via the app.
Operating in a similar way, Dragon Pass offers access to lounges in over 1,300 airports worldwide, plus discounts at more than 1,000 airport restaurants. Annual fees range from $99 (with one free visit), $259 (with eight free visits), and $429 (with unlimited visits for members). All guests must pay $35 to enter.
Plaza Premium Lounge
While membership may be included with certain credit cards, you could opt to pay for access to Plaza Premium Lounges, where all travelers are welcome no matter which class or airline they’re flying. Rates vary by location; these lounges are also partners with Dragon Pass and accessible to those with certain Capital One credit cards.
Third-Party Reservation Services
Alternatively, it may be worth purchasing lounge access through third-party lounge reservation services like LoungeBuddy or Lounge Pass if you’re usually an economy passenger or don’t fly too often. Simply choose your departure airport, view the available lounges and their day pass rates (or any relevant status or ticket requirements), and make your purchase online.
If you travel a lot for work, are a digital nomad who constantly requires Wi-Fi, or just want a relaxing spot to chill, imbibe, or load up on some snacks before a flight, securing airport lounge access is a no-brainer.
Depending on your preferred credit card, airline, or other factors like the level of status you carry with a certain carrier, you may prefer to stick with a particular brand. Or, if you’re simply seeking time away from the crowds, you might rather pay for a one-time day pass. It really comes down to how much the perks of being in the lounge mean to you, or if you’d rather kill a few hours in an airport waiting in line for food, drinks, the restroom, and even the chance to sit down. Sometimes, even spending just a little time away from the masses can be worth it for some peace of mind.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.
The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’. Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health.
Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid.
Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor.
To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power.
Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.
You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks.
It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties!
An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:
‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.”