If you spend more time in airports than you do at home, you may, or may not, already know about airport lounge clubs. For those who suspect that the tinted glass doors hold something special but aren't exactly sure how to access it, airport lounges offer a calmer, more secure and more relaxing alternative to the barely controlled chaos of packed flight counters, crowded corridors and open seating – for a price.

Airport Lounge Benefits

Almost all lounges supply electrical outlets, free Wi-Fi and spaciously comfortable seating. But on top of those basics, most also supply beverages, snacks and experienced agents and staff who can make your travel problems literally vanish into the mist. For big spenders abroad, many international lounges offer additional luxury services for a little bit more, and even domestic airline clubs are stepping up services.

Traditionally, access to these airport escapes has been limited to international first-class or business passengers. However, airlines and third-party services sell yearly memberships and one-time passes to these exclusive facilities. While yearly memberships for airport lounge clubs can easily cost $550 per person, cost-savvy fliers can gain access for a bit less.

5 ways To Save On Airport Lounge Passes:

  1. Search For Passes – eBay

    Tap "airport lounge pass" into eBay's search field, and you'll find a lineup of bargains: two Admirals Club 1-day passes good until 2016 for $58 on "Buy It Now," a United Airlines Club one-time pass with free Wi-Fi and complimentary snacks for $16.88 on "Buy It Now," and 39 other offers of singles and a surprising number of pairs. In comparison, purchased directly from American or United Airlines, one 1-day pass costs $50. Be careful of expiration dates, and you can cut lounge entry fees by half or more.

  2. Buy In Advance Or In Bulk

    Sometime, you can buy lounge passes from third-party sellers as well as airlines in advance at a slight discount. You need to purchase at least 24 hours ahead of time, but sites are smartphone friendly, and you can perhaps save $10 or so. If you don't want a full membership, some third-party companies offer levels of membership with a set number of free lounge visits and discounted rates on any beyond that limit. Too, some providers offer slight discounts for buying in bulk. Check what your preferred airline offers against what third-party sellers are promoting, and you might find a slightly better deal.

  3. Frequent-Flyer Programs

    Frequent-flyer rewards programs focus on airline brand loyalty. Most let you earn miles for just one seat per trip, but many also include points for stays with affiliated hotels. Fly or stay repeatedly with one select chain, earn an elite status, and you can gain lounge access through free or discounted passes. Perks can be considerable, but read fine print and ensure you understand the conditions. Even umbrella-type programs that promise access to hundreds and hundreds of locations have exclusions. Each program breaks its clients into tiers in accordance with miles flown, and each airline has its own rules.

    For example, you can redeem miles for annual United Club℠ membership starting from 70,000 miles, plus a one-time initiation fee of 7,000 miles if you do not already have club membership. If you're a MileagePlus Premier® member, you may get membership for less miles. American Airlines also charges different amounts of miles depending on your AAdvantage® membership status. As an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member, you can get Admirals Club membership for just 55,000 miles (65,000 for household membership), whereas a basic AAdvantage member will have to redeem 80,000 miles (115,000 miles for household membership).

  4. Credit Card Lounge Perks

    As credit cards compete to acquire and retain customers, the best continue to offer perks and rewards. Some of the more exclusive credit cards actually provide complimentary lounge club membership to you as a cardholder. The Platinum Card® from American Express, a GET.com advertiser, gives you complimentary access to over 1,000 airport lounges (The Centurion® Lounge, Delta Sky Clubs®, Airspace Lounges and you can enroll in Priority Pass™ Select on a complimentary basis as well). Diners Club International is another issuer that offers complimentary lounge access on some of its credit cards. A number of card issuers have agreements with airlines which make it possible for you to transfer you point to frequent travel miles or points which you can then redeem for flights or towards lounge club membership fees. The bonus offers you get when you sign up for some credit cards can be worth tens of thousands of points, which can convert into an annual lounge club pass at no real cost to you. Each card has different dollar reward amounts over set periods of time, such as $3,000 or more in qualifying purchases over 3 months. Some points double for certain merchants or purchases while others might not qualify at all. You won't be able to use your points until you meet threshold requirements and pay the bill in full, but if you regularly pay off monthly balances and have to spend those amounts anyway, you should be able to rack up some lounge perks along the way.

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    Citi Prestige® Card is a prestigious credit card which gives you complimentary access to hundreds of VIP lounges through Priority PassTM Select (a lounge club), as well as American Airlines Admirals Club® lounges. Plus you get $250 air travel credit each year, a complimentary fourth night for any hotel stay, and 3 complimentary rounds of golf each calendar year (over 2,000 private and public golf courses in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. Another travel benefit is the $100 statement credit you receive every 5 years to reimburse the $100 Global Entry fee, if you enroll in Global Entry (this program fast-tracks your immigration upon return to the U.S.). You also get complimentary worldwide travel accident insurance, trip delay protection, trip cancellation and interruption protection, baggage delay protection, lost baggage protection and even medical evacuation (this is one of a handful of U.S. credit cards which offer this important coverage) when you use this card to pay the full cost of your travel bookings. You earn 40,000 bonus points after charging $4,000 in purchases to your card in the first 3 months the account is open, and these can be transferred from this card to a number of frequent travel programs. This card has no foreign transfer fee, which saves you money when you use it outside of the U.S. It has a $450 annual fee. You can read our full review of Citi Prestige® Card here.
  5. Airline Credit Card Programs

    Airlines have their own promotions and discount programs, issue their own credit cards backed by major issuers and offer rewards to customers who use them. Most airlines offer several card choices, with varying annual fees, benefits and rewards thresholds. Many include percentage discounts along with other select services, such as free checking for bags or boarding passes. Some offer either discounted or free lounge visits. Additional perks mount up, with multiplied miles or points earning ratios that users can apply to airline costs, hotel stays or even car rentals. While most of the cards do carry annual fees, some are as low as $75, some waive it the first year and for many, the returns for a frequent traveler quickly exceed the initial investment. Each one is slightly different, but there's one to suit just about every traveler.

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    United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is a good example of an airline credit card that gives you airport lounge perks. You get 2 one-time-use passes to the United Club every year. So if you only travel once or twice per year, on vacation for example, this may be all the lounge access you need. You also get your first bag checked free, which can save you up to $100 on a round trip. Priority boarding privileges, no foreign transaction fees, and the double miles you earn on tickets purchased from United (earn 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases) make this a useful card for United flyers. You earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. If you manage to accumulate 70,000 miles you can redeem them for United ClubSM membership. This card has a $95 annual fee. Read our full review of United MileagePlus® Explorer Card here.

Lounge Access - A Valuable Cost-Saving Investment

Most one-day passes will cover at least one guest as well as the pass holder's underage children. Consider how much just a couple of drinks and a few snacks would cost in an airport sky mall. Add a comfortable, contained place to catch your breath, and you'll quickly realize that even paying full price for a one-time pass is more than worth it. Even if you don't buy in advance, some lounges have pay-at-the-door policies, and you might even discover a few that offer rates based on time increments.

Check out destination airports. Websites list available airport lounges along with hours of operation. You might want to look, too, for public lounges that offer many of the same amenities, usually at a comparable or competitive price. If you've never used a lounge, you might want to try it, especially if you're traveling internationally while trying desperately to meet a professional deadline, or with a small child or two in tow. A lounge stop might not save you only money; it might also save your sanity.

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