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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