Does Flying in First Class Get You Lounge Access?

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I remember when I first started getting into travel I was so excited to earn my first elite status and eventually my first upgrade because I thought flying in First Class would get me entré into one of those mysterious fancy airport lounges. I was more excited for that to be sitting up front!

SDulles Lufthansa Senator Loungeo it was really disappointing to discover neither elite status nor First class qualified me for lounge access when flying domestically! (And it must run in the family because when I have been able to upgrade family members the first or second question is whether they’ll be able to go into a lounge 🙂 ).

If you’re flying domestically on a First Class ticket, you will not automatically have lounge access.

If you’re flying internationally on a Business class or First Class ticket, you will.

United first ice cream sundae JeanneWhat qualifies as “international” varies by airline and it’s hard to find out specifics online. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Delta, United, American and US Airways all exclude Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.  Jeanne found out the hard way that US Airways considers the Caribbean domestic. The United website only states travel in the US (including Hawaii) is excluded, but my guess is they’d deny admittance when traveling to any of our neighbors.

Update: Readers report United offers lounge access for First/Business traveling to Canada and Mexico, and Delta does for Canada.

If lounge access is important to you though, there’s many more affordable options than buying a First Class ticket or upgrade.

  • Purchasing a day pass. Usually runs $50 when bought at the club, often discounted up to half price if you buy online before your trip or when checking in. Not a bad option for the infrequent traveler who wants to upgrade their overall travel experience (and score some free snacks and drinks).
  • Gold Elite Status on an international carrier. If you’re Star Alliance, go for gold on Turkish orAegean although any Star Alliance airline based outside the US will count. If you’re One World, try to British Airways Gold.
  • Purchasing a membership. You can always take the easy, though expensive, way and purchase a membership to the club which typically run $350-$500 annually depending on your status.
  • With the right credit card. Some credit cards come with lounge access, such as the Citi AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard, United MileagePlus Club Card, and the American Express Platinum Business card. But do your homework to make sure whatever card you get or keep gets you into the lounges you want.


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  1. Joey

    July 7, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    I think we’re roughly around the same age and just like you, my first question when getting an upgrade is “OOohh do I get lounge access?” I don’t know specifics but I think back in the 90s or back in the time before US airlines gave upgrades to elites to fill up the First class cabin, lounge access was included with the First Class ticket (domestic and international.)
    One of my friends told me lounge access for US-based airlines simply gives more space. That’s it. Sad to say I agree with him.

  2. ptahcha

    July 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    United will allow lounge access when you fly first/business class to Canada and Mexico. Please fact-check.

  3. Points with a Crew

    July 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I think the Chase Ink also gives 2 lounge visits?

  4. Patrick

    July 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    If you fly BIZ to/from Canada, Delta will give you lounge access.
    The only major US carrier that will not give you access to lounges when traveling to/from Canada is American.

  5. Cj

    October 6, 2015 at 10:09 am

    American allows lounge access for flights to the Caribbean

  6. NCT

    February 6, 2016 at 1:26 am

    Last year we flew Delta first class from DTW to LHR. The folks at DTW would not permit us in the lounge and said that we had to have a ridiculous number of Sky Miles.
    Virgin Atlantic DID permit us to use their lounges both in London and NYC when we flew with them and there was a lot of free grub and drink.
    That said, I would prefer VA but if the schedule is better, I will take DELTA and scrounge around the airport’s Burger King. I think that DELTA is in error in this case.

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