For many of you, this is going to seem like an absolute no-brainer post, but I get questions and emails every day from people asking how to get airport lounge access.
This is actually quite complicated if you don’t have experience with the various alliances and rules, which is probably why people are often confused about the access rules. For that matter, a good portion of the time the lounge agents don’t seem to know the entrance policies, which certainly doesn’t make things any easier.
For the most part, lounge access is determined based on the class of service you’re flying, and the various airline alliances have some common rules that apply for travel on any of their member airlines.
If you are traveling internationally in a premium cabin, you will almost always have airport lounge access of some kind, though the quality can vary greatly.
Star Alliance Airport Lounge Access
The first thing to note about Star Alliance airport lounge access policies is everything is based on your departing flight. So if you fly international first class from Bangkok to Los Angeles, and then economy from Los Angeles to Houston, you wouldn’t technically have lounge access in Los Angeles based on your ticket.
As a refresher, Star Alliance carriers include:
LOT Polish Airlines
TAP Air Portugal
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
Air New Zealand
All Nippon Airways
South African Airways
The Star Alliance lounge access policy for international first class is as follows:
- You have access to international first class and/or any Star Alliance member carriers’ own lounges
- You must present a boarding pass for travel in international first class on a Star Alliance flight
- You must be departing from the local airport in international first class
- You must be a revenue customer — this includes award tickets, and excludes employee tickets
- You are entitled to one guest, though in practice they must also be flying on a same-day Star Alliance ticket
There are a few exceptions to how “first class” is defined. The Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt and the Lufthansa First Class Lounge in Munich are considered “HON Circle Lounges,” and as a courtesy Lufthansa first class passengers are also welcome to use the facilities. The Swiss First Class Lounge in Zurich is similarly excluded. The Thai Airways Spa in Bangkok is also limited to passengers traveling on Thai, and not any of their Star Alliance partner airlines.
Swiss First Class Lounge Zurich
For Star Alliance international business class passengers, the rules are as follows:
- You must present a boarding pass for travel in international business class on a Star Alliance flight
- You must be departing from the local airport in international business class
- You must be a revenue customer — again, this includes award tickets
- You are not entitled to any guests
Where I think this gets confusing is if you also have top-tier elite status with a Star Alliance carrier. Star Golds, regardless of airline affiliation, have the following additional access benefits:
- You have access to any Star Alliance member carriers’ owned lounges with the Star Alliance Gold logo at the entrance
- You must present proof of Star Alliance Gold level status via a valid frequent flyer program Star Alliance Gold level card or other valid indication of Star Alliance Gold level status
- You must also present a boarding pass for travel on a Star Alliance flight departing from the local airport
- You are entitled to one guest
- United Star Alliance Gold customers may only access the United Clubs within the US when traveling in conjunction with a Star Alliance international flight
If you want to look up the locations of specific lounges, you can use the Star Alliance Lounge Finder, which will show you all your options based on the class of service and your itinerary.
SkyTeam Airport Lounge Access
Unlike Star Alliance, SkyTeam carriers offer lounge access based on the “highest” cabin of your itinerary that day. As long as your connection is the same-day, you can arrive in business class and depart in economy, and still use the business class airport lounges.
SkyTeam carriers are:
Delta Air Lines
China Eastern Airlines
Middle East Airlines
All international first and business class passengers traveling on or connecting to/from a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member airline have access to lounges. Simply present your same-day (first or business class) ticket for an international SkyTeam airline flight, so if your departing ticket is in economy, show them your inbound premium cabin ticket as well.
If you have SkyTeam Elite Plus status you have access to the lounges regardless of the class of service you’re traveling in:
- You do have to present your elite card, along with your boarding pass
- You must be on an international itinerary
- You may also invite a guest, provided they are also traveling on a SkyTeam carrier that same day
If you want to look up the locations of specific lounges, you can use the SkyTeam Lounge Finder, which is not as comprehensive in terms of sharing access rules, but does detail all the amenities.
Oneworld Airport Lounge Access
The oneworld alliance offers lounge access based on the international long haul ticketed flight. In practice this means you have access based on your highest cabin of service, as I can’t imagine many people are flying economy for the long segment and then intra-European business class or something.
Oneworld carriers consist of:
Royal Air Maroc
So as long as you’re making a same-day connection, you’d have access based on the following:
- Customers flying first or business class have access to the equivalent class of lounge regardless of their frequent flyer status. First class passengers may use a business class or frequent flyer lounge if a first class lounge is not available.
- First class passengers may invite one guest to join them in the lounge. The guest must also be traveling on a flight operated and marketed by a oneworld airline.
- First and business class customers connecting on the same day of travel, or before 6am the following day, can access the lounge when traveling between an international long haul (a oneworld international long haul flight is defined as an international flight marketed and operated by any oneworld carrier with a scheduled flight time longer than five hours) and an international short haul or domestic flight (and vice-versa).
- Lounge access will be determined on the international long haul ticketed flight (either first of business class) regardless of the ticketed class of travel on the international short haul or domestic flight.
- You must be prepared to show your boarding pass or itinerary showing travel in first or business class on the international long haul flight, in order to access the lounge before your international short haul or domestic flight.
Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge Hong Kong
However, like with Star Alliance, there are a few exceptions as to what is considered a first or business class lounge:
- First and Business Class customers who do not hold Emerald or Sapphire tier status are not eligible to access American Airlines or US Airways lounges when traveling on solely domestic flights within the US or between the US and Canada, Mexico [except Mexico City], the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Caribbean; customers traveling in first or business class on US transcontinental flights between JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO and MIA-LAX (and vice-versa) are eligible for lounge access.
- Guests are not permitted at Qatar Airways Al Safwa and Al Mourjan lounges at Hamad International Airport in Doha or Qatar Airways Premium Lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 4.
- TAM First Class Lounge in Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport is excluded, other than for customers traveling in first class on TAM and oneworld member operated flights.
TAM First Class Lounge Sao Paulo
If you are an elite member with any of the oneworld carriers, you have additional access when departing on any flight marketed and operated by any oneworld member airline, regardless of cabin class being flown, as follows:
- Emerald tier frequent flyers can use first class, business class or frequent flyer lounges.
- Sapphire tier frequent flyers are welcome in business class (except Qantas domestic business lounges) or frequent flyer lounges.
- Emerald and Sapphire members may invite one guest to join them in the lounge. The guest must also be traveling on a flight operated and marketed by a oneworld carrier.
- You must be prepared to show your boarding pass and frequent flyer membership card, with oneworld Emerald or Sapphire tier status, to access a lounge.
There are, of course, a few exceptions here as well (these are in addition to the Qatar and TAM restrictions):
- Arrivals lounges are excluded
- Spa and pre-flight dining facilities are excluded
- British Airways Concorde Rooms in London and New York JFK are excluded
- American Airlines AAdvantage® members and US Airways Dividend Miles members, regardless of their tier status or class of travel, are not eligible for lounge access when traveling solely on North American flights within or between the US, Canada, Mexico (except Mexico City), the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Caribbean
- Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold members, regardless of their oneworld tier status, cannot access Qantas Domestic Business Lounges
- Qatar Airways Al Safwa and Al Mourjan lounges at Hamad International Airport in Doha and Qatar Airways Premium Lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 4 are excluded.
- TAM First Class Lounge in Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport is excluded.
British Airways Elemis Spa London
The oneworld lounge finder also notes which carriers are contracted with which lounges, which is helpful given the number of exceptions.
Credit Card And Paid Memberships
As a side note, having a paid lounge membership (say, to the United Club, Delta SkyClubs, or American Admirals’ Clubs) doesn’t afford you access to alliance partner lounges, unless specifically noted otherwise. Some alliances are more generous with this than others — for example, Star Alliance is much more generous than oneworld in terms of which lounges you’ll get access to as a member.
Other Ways To Access International Airport Lounges
In addition to gaining access through flying on an international premium cabin ticket, there are other memberships that can give you access to airport lounges.
This is probably the most popular way to access lounges outside of having a premium cabin ticket. Priority Pass Select membership is a complimentary benefit of The Platinum Card® from American Express, so this is a great way to get into a club lounge if your ticket doesn’t otherwise give you access.
Keep in mind Priority Pass Select offers admission to the primary member and two additional guests.
To find a Priority Pass lounge, you can use their website, but note not all lounges are available to “Select” members.
Activating Your Membership
With either Priority Pass or Lounge Club it’s important to know that you can’t just show your credit card at the lounge to gain admittance to international lounges.
You’ll need to call the number on the back of your card to enroll in the lounge program. Your issuing bank will process the membership, and your card and materials will be mailed to you.
Having access to international airport lounges makes travel less stressful, and in my opinion makes “crazy” routings more manageable. Knowing the location of lounges in various airports, and being certain of which you have access to goes a long way towards making the travel experience less stressful.
Finally, if you are wondering which lounge to choose in a particular airport, or wondering about the amenities of a certain lounge, you can check out my reviews of individual airline lounges.