Lounge Access With American Express - How It Works feature image

Lounge Access With American Express – How It Works

I love to travel! Planning, anticipating, and participating in travel are some of my favorite pastimes. The world is full of beautiful places and interesting people, and I want to see and meet as many of them as I can in my short time on this planet.

BUT, to get to those places and people, we’ve gotta fly. That means spending hours in airports, which can be hectic, crowded, and frustrating. Airport food is overpriced and often of questionable quality, seating can be uncomfortable (if you can even find a seat), and drinks can cost more than a night in a hostel. 

There is a solution… Airport Lounges! Once reserved for people flying business or first class, they are now available to a much wider selection of customers.

You can gain access to some lounges by purchasing access on-site, by being loyal to an airline, by joining a lounge network like Priority Pass for a fee, or by having certain credit cards.

One family of credit cards that offers lounge access is American Express. But which American Express cards grant lounge access, how does it work, and where are the lounges? Read on to find out as we explore how lounge access with American Express credit cards works…

Snapshot Verdict

The American Express Platinum Card – personal or business – is the best credit card for airport lounge access.

It unlocks the American Express Global Lounge Collection, which is a vast network of lounges numbering over 1,400 in 140 countries across the globe. It includes Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass lounges, Plaza Premium lounges, and numerous others.

Aside from small, regional airports, it is rare to find an airport without at least one lounge that Amex Platinum customers can access. While technically not ‘free’, lounge access goes a long way toward offsetting the hefty annual fees associated with these cards.  

American Express Cards offer countless perks, and lounge access is one of the best. Amex Membership Rewards Points are some of the most valuable points in the game! They transfer directly to 3 major hotel chains and 19 airlines at the time of writing, with workarounds to use them to book flights on countless other carriers.

Amex points are consistently valued at around 2-2.5 cents per point, although the Amex website values them at 0.7-1 cent per point. Why the discrepancy? Well, that is a long story that is beyond the scope of this article.

In short, you can get the best value from credit card points by transferring them to airline partners, NOT by using them on the credit card portals. 

Types of American Express Cards

There are many types of American Express cards. Only a few grant access to lounges, and the higher-tier cards come with more perks and higher fees.

The American Express cards with the most extensive lounge access are the American Express Platinum Card and the American Express Business Platinum Card. The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card does alright.

There is another card, but I am only going to mention it once… The Centurion Card. This card is available by invitation only, has a ludicrous initiation fee of $10,000, a hefty annual fee of $5000, and an annual spend of $500K-$1 million!

Let’s take a look at all the different types of Amex cards available, and what they do and do not offer:

Amex Cards With Cashback

Amex Plum Card

American Express cards that give cashback include:

  • Blue Cash Preferred Card (personal or business)
  • Blue Cash Everyday Card (personal or business)
  • Cash Magnet Card
  • Plum Business Card

Cashback cards have their place, and can nicely round out your credit card portfolio. BUT, they do not earn Membership Rewards Points or grant you lounge access.


Entry-level American Express cards include:

  • American Express Everyday Card
  • American Express Everyday Preferred Card
  • American Express Green Card(personal or business)

‘Entry level’ will mean you’ll have low annual fees with these cards, with low spends for your sign-up bonus (SUB). These do not grant you lounge access.


Gold-level American Express cards include:

  • American Express Gold Card
  • American Express Gold Business Card

Gold cards offer more perks, higher annual fees, and higher spends for your SUBs. These cards do not grant you lounge access, with a caveat – members in the UK and Canada get Priority Pass Membership with a few free visits (see below).


Amex Platinum Credit Card

Platinum-level American Express cards include:

  • American Express Platinum Card
  • American Express Business Platinum Card

Here is where the fun begins! These cards have a higher annual fee ($695at the time of writing), but the perks can far exceed this value if you take full advantage. These cards do offer lounge access.Details to follow…

Hotel Co-Branded

Hotel Co-branded American Express cards include:

  • Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card (personal or business)
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bevy American Express Card
  • Hilton Honors American Express Card (personal or business)
  • Hilton Honors Aspire American Express Card
  • Hilton Honors Surpass American Express Card

Two of these cards offer lounge access via Priority Pass with limitations:the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex Card and the Hilton Honors Business Amex Card.

Airline Co-Branded

Airline Co-branded American Express Cards include:

  • Delta Blue American Express Card 
  • Delta Gold American Express Card (personal or business)
  • Delta Platinum American Express Card (personal or business)
  • Delta Reserve American Express Card (personal or business)

The only Delta co-branded card that still gets you lounge access is the Delta Reserve American Express Card, and there are limitations. 

Other Amex Cards

  • Lowes American Express Business Card
  • Amazon American Express Business Card
  • Amazon Prime American Express Business Card

These cards do not grant lounge access.

Which Of These Offer Lounge Access?

SO… in summary, there are FOUR American Express Cards that grant lounge access, and an additional four that give you limited lounge access:

Full Lounge Access

  • American Express Platinum Card
  • American Express Business Platinum Card
  • Delta Reserve American Express Card
  • Delta Reserve American Express Business Card

Limited Lounge Access

  • American Express Gold Card
  • American Express Business Gold Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card
  • Hilton Hhonors Business American Express Card

The remainder of this article is going to focus on all these.

Categories of Lounges 

American Express Global Lounge Collection

This category includes all lounges to which you have access with the Amex Platinum, and American Express offer a very helpful, searchable database.

While the Amex Global Lounge Collection includes Centurion Lounges and Priority Pass, I am still going to separate those two out below, since some cards only give access to one or both of those lounge types.

Other lounges included in the Amex Global Lounge Collection are Delta Sky Clubs (with restrictions), Lufthansa Lounges, Escape Lounges, Aspire Lounges, Plaza Premium Lounges, and Centurion Clubs.  

The Amex website claims 1,400+ lounges in their Global Lounge Collection, but new lounges are added every day. Priority Pass alone claims 1,500+ lounges, so Amex’s number is actually way higher.

Centurion Lounges

Amex Platinum Cardholders (personal or business) have access to Centurion Lounges. Delta Reserve Amex cardholders have access to Centurion Lounges when flying on a Delta-operated flight the same day if they booked their ticket using their Amex card.

American Express was the first credit card issuer to develop airport lounges. Prior to this, the only options were airline-specific lounges, with privately-owned lounges popping up here and there.

In 2013, Amex introduced the exclusive, swanky Centurion Lounge and raised the bar. Their first location was in Las Vegas’s Harry Reid International Airport (LAS), and the network has since expanded to 25 locations in 14 states and 11 countries:

Lounge Access Airports List


The lounge in Atlanta just opened and I hear it is pretty spectacular!

New locations at Washington Reagan and Newark are coming soon!

Centurion Lounges, especially in the USA, offer a pretty consistent product. The decor is upscale and contemporary, often with local flair.

The menus change with the seasons, and are inspired by collaboration with local chefs. Craft cocktails, top shelf spirits, decent wine and champagne are all included, without the upcharge you find in some lounges.

Most Centurion Lounges offer shower suites, which you can book at the front desk, and some even have spas, where you can choose a complementary 15-minute service.

Amex are working hard to bring their international Centurion Lounges up to the standards they set for themselves here in the US.  

Overcrowding has become a pretty significant issue in the past couple of years. It is common to find a line of people waiting for entry, and to have to add your name to a waiting list. A lot of this is due to the size of the lounge and limited available space in airports. 

This is one of the reasons Amex has started limiting access. In the past, Platinum cardholders could bring two guests at no additional charge; however, last year, that changed.

Now, Platinum cardholders must pay a $50 fee per guest, unless they meet the $75,000 spend. If that spend is met, they can bring two guests for free. Alternatively, anyone you add as an authorized user (for a $195 annual fee) can get in on their own accord. 


You can also get ‘Companion Cards’, which have no annual fee and no perks.

This is different from an ‘Authorized User’, who can access lounges and also gets Gold status with Marriott and Hilton.

Priority Pass Lounges

Priority Pass Select Card

Priority Pass has an amazing network of lounges all over the world, with over 1,500 locations in 6 continents. 

Many Premium credit cards offer Priority Pass Select membership, and the perks may vary slightly depending on the issuing credit card. Check your particular card for details.

Priority Pass Select is the type of membership that comes with credit cards. If you purchase your membership directly through the Priority Pass website, there are three tiers of membership, and the perks vary slightly.

American Express cards that come with access to Priority Pass include the personal and business Platinum Cards, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, and the Hilton Honors Business Card. Non-US North American holders of the International Dollar Card (Gold Amex) also have Priority Pass.

Regardless of which card you have, you must enroll in Priority Pass. If Priority Pass is included with your card, you will see it listed under your membership benefits, where you’ll need to click on the provided link and sign up for it. Whether or not you question is Priority Pass worth it – it definitely is when it’s included as a free perk.

You will receive your Priority Pass card and membership packet in the mail; however, you can now access the lounge as soon as your membership is active

You can access your digital Priority Pass card by downloading the app and looking under ‘Card‘ or ‘My priority pass‘. Either screenshot the QR code or download the card to your Apple or Google Wallet. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can print out a copy of your digital card to use until your physical card arrives.

Ways to Locate Lounges

With all of these lounges, how do you find one? And furthermore, how do you choose the best one when multiple choices are available? Well, you could wander the airport looking for them, or check out airport maps in person.

LoungeBuddy Lounge Details on app screen

Luckily, there are apps and websites to help you find lounges.

The LoungeBuddy app is one of my favorite tools to use while traveling. When you download the app, you can enter your personal information such as frequent flyer status with airlines, credit cards you have, and memberships.

With each trip, you can enter your flight information. Then, when you search the airports you’ll be passing through, LoungeBuddy will give you a list of lounges to which you have access, which ones you can purchase access to, and lounges you cannot visit.

The app tells you what amenities are available, where the lounge is located, and how to access it. I use it every time I travel. Look for it in the app store!

You’ve also got the searchable database I mentioned earlier, or you can text FINDALOUNGE to 86509 to receive a link to download it onto your iPhone or android.

The Priority Pass appalso has a search function and gives all the pertinent info about your selected lounge.

Which Cards Give Which Type of Access?

The American Express Platinum Card

In both its personal and business forms, Amex’s Platinum Card grants unlimited access to all of the above lounges for the cardholder, with one exception: Platinum cardholders can only access Delta Sky Club 10 times per calendar year, and only when flying on Delta or Delta-operated flights.

To bring a guest, unless you meet the $75K spend or have added your travel companion as an Authorized User, you’ll have to pay a fee of $50. Simply show up with your card, your ID, and your boarding pass and, if it is not too crowded, you’ll walk right in!

Better yet, as soon as you land, go to your Amex app. Open your Platinum Card, click on the membership icon, and scroll down to ‘Airport Lounge Access‘. You can get a QR code which slightly expedites the process, although it does not save your place in line. 

If it is crowded, the representative will take your phone number and give you an estimate of the wait time. Then, when space is available for you, you’ll get a text and have 15 minutes to get back to the lounge. 

The Delta Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card

Personal or business, the Delta Reserve will get you 15 visits to the Delta Sky Club. Or, if you spend $75,000 in a calendar year, you will receive unlimited visits.

If you are flying on a Delta or Delta-operated flight, your visit is complimentary, and you can bring up to 2 guests for $50 each. If you are flying on a partner airline, you can access the lounge for $50, and if you surpass your 15 visit limit, you can pay $50 to enter.  

Additionally, this card gives you access to Centurion and Escape lounges IF you purchased the flight with this card and the flight is operated by Delta. In this case, you can bring a guest into Centurion for $50 and Escape for whatever the going rate is for that particular lounge.


Delta has changed how they define a visit. Now, one 24-hour period counts as a visit.

So, if you lounge hop and visit numerous Delta Sky Clubs in the same 24-hour period, it counts as one visit.

Travel with Delta a lot? You can purchase unlimited visits with a Sky Club membership, which will set you back $695.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

This one comes with a Priority Pass Select membership (which you must enroll in) and gives you unlimited access to the Priority Pass network of lounges. Most of these lounges allow two guests for free, but a few charge a fee.

The Hilton Honors Business American Express Card

The Hilton Honors Business comes with a Priority Pass Select membership; however, you are limited to 10 free visits. After that, you will be charged the guest fee to access the lounge.

The American Express Gold Card

The American Express Gold Card, personal or business, does not grant US citizens lounge access; however, Canadian and UK cardholders get a free Priority Pass membership but have to pay for lounge access.

You will receive four free visits to Plaza Premium lounges per year. 


The American Express Platinum Card is the best card for lounge access, in my opinion. The annual fee of $695 is more than offset by all of the perks and benefits you receive. Personally, I think lounge access alone justifies the fee!

The Delta Reserve Amex Card is competitive as well, if you fly Delta often.

In some cases, the $195 Authorized User fee or the $50 guest fee can also be worth it, when you consider the price of airport food and drinks and the intangible cost of languishing on uncomfortable airport furniture, trying to sleep in chairs or on the floor.

Would you rather have a $15 burger and an $8 beer, or a full buffet with a well-rounded meal, salad, dessert, and a nice glass of wine? No brainer…

With all of this said, Capital One and Chase have recently started opening their own airport lounges, and they are giving Amex Centurion a run for its money! Stay tuned for info about these cards and reviews of their lounges!

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