If you are jetting off on holiday or a business trip anytime soon, then you might want to check your credit card to see if it will allow you into an airport lounge. After all, who wouldn’t want access to the travel industry’s best-kept secret – a quiet place to relax with free food and drink before you board a flight.

While we generally assume lounge access is only for those flying business or first class, many credit card providers partner up with airlines or operators to offer customers exclusive access to their lounge. You will also find that most of the premium cards by MasterCard, Visa and AMEX will offer you lounge access no matter what bank you are with.   Which means we can all get into a lounge if we want to.

Nothing beats knowing that once you are through customs and the baggage check, you can relax on a comfy sofa and enjoy free wi-fi access, glossy magazines and an endless supply of food and drink. It’s an oasis of calm away from the chaos in the airport.

But before you march up to the first lounge you find in an airport, it might be worth checking which credit card will get you into which lounge.  If lounge access is important to you then you may want to have this as a criteria when you next decide to swap your credit card.  However, you don’t want to take on a card with hefty annual fees if you only plan to use it to get a free coffee and croissant at the airport.

So what are my options?

Options include

  • Premium cards with no annual fee that offer access to several lounges worldwide or have their own lounges in certain airports. Generally, they are cards that come with premium account such as the HSBC premier, the Barclays Premier, the ADCB Privilege account amongst others. However, a high level benefits can demand a high minimum salary of up to AED 50,000 or more.
  • Annual fee cards where the payment network (VISA, MasterCard or AMEX) provides airport lounge access as part of the benefits.  They are typically premium cards, therefore not the lowest annual fees in the market.  However, the annual fee might still work out cheaper than membership of an executive club – favoured by regular travellers who want lounge access – that typically costs $500 a year for a single adult membership.
  • Annual fee cards where the bank gives you a Priority Pass card with a number of visits for free (typically first 4 but may differ by card), post which you are to pay USD27 (~AED 100) per visit or if you want to bring a guest.  However the annual fee to own a Priority Pass card is taken care of by the bank.

Remember that lounge services and amenities can vary widely depending on the location you are in and the operator managing the lounge. While some offer spa treatments, kids areas, showers and free refreshments – others offer less perks, acting more as somewhere quiet to go and relax before you board the plane.

So be strategic when you pick a lounge and its corresponding credit card. If it’s ultimate luxury you want, then find the most luxurious lounge and then sign up for the appropriate card to get you in. If you are a frequent business traveller, then find the lounge that sits nearest to the departure gate you leave from most often and ask them which credit cards they partner up with.  After all you don’t want to trudge half way round an airport to sit in a lounge for five minutes before trudging even further to your departure gate.

The other thing to bear in mind is that while the card will grant you access, it might not allow your family or friends in or there may be an additional charge to every guest you bring in. Also while your card might get you into a lounge, a supplementary card for your spouse may not. So read the small print on any card you sign up for to make sure it works for you. Just remember whichever card you do get, ensure your spending and travelling habits make having it worthwhile.