In Australia, a Business class ticket or airline status will get you into the lounge before your flight. But in the United States, neither airline status nor even a First class ticket will gain you airport lounge entry!
Airport lounge access works a little differently in the United States. Here’s what you need to know…
Who has access to airline lounges in the United States?
In the USA, lounge access is generally available to the following people:
- Passengers with a paid airline club membership (e.g. American Airlines Admirals Club membership)
- Passengers with US airline status travelling on an international flight (except between the USA and Canada, the Caribbean or anywhere in Mexico outside of Mexico City)
- Passengers with US airline status that have a same-day connection to or from an international flight
- Passengers holding airline status with a non-US airline (excluding SkyTeam airlines)
- Business or First class passengers travelling on a “premium” trans-continental route (this includes New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco)
- Passengers that purchase one-time lounge entry at the door
- Certain credit card holders
- US military personnel in uniform
The USA lounge access rules do vary by airline, but most US-based airlines follow the above formula. Basically, a paid Business or First class domestic ticket is not enough.
In practice, many American frequent flyers purchase an airline club membership so they can access the lounges when travelling within the United States. The US airlines do offer a small discount on lounge membership to their own frequent flyers with elite status.
This system is quite different to Australia, where Gold and Platinum frequent flyers with both Qantas and Virgin Australia receive complimentary lounge membership. But the US airlines reward their own frequent flyers in other ways, including with generous complimentary flight upgrades.
USA lounge access is available for overseas frequent flyers
The peculiar thing about USA lounge access is that you are entitled to entry if you have frequent flyer status with a non-US partner airline. For example, you can use American Airlines Admirals Club lounges if you have Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald status with any Oneworld airline other than American Airlines. This includes Qantas Gold, Platinum and Platinum One members flying with American Airlines. (Paid-up Qantas Club members also enjoy reciprocal access to Admirals Club lounges.)
Similarly, anyone holding Star Alliance Gold status with an airline other than United can use the United Club lounges.
Delta Air Lines is an exception. SkyTeam status does not grant entry to Delta SkyClub lounges on domestic Delta flights. But Virgin Australia Velocity Gold and Platinum members do have access to Delta SkyClubs. (Holding an Australian Amex Platinum credit card will also get you into Delta’s airport lounges.)
Single-visit lounge passes
If you’re flying within the United States and find yourself without lounge access, you can purchase entry to most airline lounges at the door. American Airlines, Delta and United all sell single-visit lounge passes for USD59 (~$78).
That said, it’s probably not worth paying this much to use most airport lounges in the United States. The quality of US airport lounges is variable, and many offer only a limited selection of complimentary food and drinks. A Priority Pass membership may be a better option.
Do you have a question about airport lounge access? Ask here: Lounge Access Help Desk