Military Airport LoungesUpdated: October 6, 2022
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Military airport lounges have been a staple of official and leisure travel for servicemembers and their families for a very long time. Anyone who has ever had to make a permanent change of station move from a stateside to an overseas assignment has likely taken advantage of a military airport lounge, and those traveling with families to and from overseas locations find these lounges to be an oasis during the long trip.
Military Airport Lounges: The USO
Since World War Two, some of the most well-known military airport lounges have been operated by the USO. These lounges are open to currently serving military members and their families with unexpired ID cards and feature internet access, sleeping areas, small libraries, mini-theaters, snacks, and other services that vary depending on location. But these lounges aren’t open to all visitors.
The USO official site notes, “Occasionally, veterans or military retirees contact us to tell us they couldn’t get into a USO airport lounge because they didn’t have an active military ID card. As much as we’d like to open our doors to all those who have honorably served, we have limited space and resources.”
At the time of this writing, USO airport lounges are not open to retirees and veterans, preferring to use all available resources for those who are currently serving in uniform and their families.
Find A USO Airport Lounge
USO lounges are normally listed in airport directory maps and official sites. The signage and visibility for these lounges is often minimal so it is always best to ask at an airport information desk if you are not sure if the USO is active at that airport and where the lounge might be. An unexpired military ID is always required for entry into the lounge just like entering a military installation.
You can find a USO lounge by searching the official site: the USO has operations in roughly 200 locations (not all are in airports) so chances are good that you may find USO facilities in an airport you are traveling to or from if you’re traveling to common destinations for official business or leisure trips.
Be Mindful of Peak Travel Times
USO lounges can fill up fast during PCS season, during deployments, and (depending on location) TDYs. For example, if you are traveling from Colorado at the end of the summer just before the start of fall semester classes at the Air Force Academy, the USO lounge at Denver International Airport might be busier than usual. Peak travel times vary depending on location, tourist season, and other factors.
USO Airport Lounges: Not All Destinations Are Equal
Some USO operations are quite small, others, like the one located at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, may have partnerships with major league sports teams; one story that’s made the rounds on certain travel blogs notes the individual who checked into the Lambert Airport USO only to find there were free major league baseball tickets to be had for those arriving in St. Louis.
Some locations may offer free food, coffee, books, and sleep pods, others may also be able to arrange shuttle services from the airport or help travelers find shuttles going their way.
The USO: Not The Only Lounge In The Airport
The USO operates military-specific lounges in major airports all over the world, but these are not the only airport lounges available, and many are open to military members even if those troops are not members of the clubs themselves.
Many airlines have frequent flyer or VIP clubs with lounge facilities that require membership to get in. These airlines often have policies for admitting non-members who serve in uniform and their families. They include, but are not limited to:
- American Airlines Admirals Club
- Delta Sky Club
- Priority Pass Lounges
- Centurion Lounges
Who Can Use An Airline Club Airport Lounge?
Generally, the airport lounges run by American Airlines, Delta, etc. are members-only spaces and those memberships can cost roughly $500 a year. But the rules for these members-only lounges often include exceptions for military members and sometimes their families, too.
The key to getting access to these lounges is to remember that the staff isn’t used to people coming in without a membership, and even though there are special rules in place for qualifying military travelers, lounge staff isn’t always aware of them and may have to be shown-it’s very good to have a copy of the pertinent rules pulled up on your mobile device to show a staff member in case they are unaware.
It’s also good to do this in a nice and unobtrusive way.
General rules for lounge access where military fliers are concerned will vary depending on the lounge, and rules are always subject to change so it’s best to check with the airline prior to your travel day to make sure you are still entitled to use a members-only airport lounge according to the rules of the program.
Airport Lounges That Have Allowed Military Access Without A Membership
American Airlines operates the Admiral’s Club in select airports around the world, in both domestic and international lounges.
The American Airlines official site says military members and family traveling same-day on United are eligible to use these airport lounges with a boarding pass and a military ID. Military members must be in uniform to travel.
Delta Airlines operates Delta Sky Club lounges and have no specific policy listed on the Sky Club official site for military, but some travel blogs claim Delta may allow those traveling in uniform to and from deployments permission to use the lounge with a copy of orders and military ID.
Delta Sky Club membership options are open to those who apply for credit cards (see below), and military members traveling over the holidays may find Delta operating military lounge type operations during peak holiday travel season as a way of showing support for troops and military families.
United Airlines has had a policy in the past that any active duty military member flying United same day may use United Clubs as long as you’re flying on orders AND are traveling in uniform. Some travel blogs report United Clubs staff being uninformed about this feature, needing to be shown the rules pertaining to military access as detailed on United.com.
But has this policy changed in recent days? Likely not, but it’s always better to check.
Some Airlines Don’t Have A Lounge, But…
You may find certain airlines have partnered with other agencies allowing access to airport lounges as a perk of booking, of being a member of frequent flyer programs, etc. It’s always best to ask at the time you book your air travel about the availability of airport lounge perks and how to get them.
Getting Airport Lounge Access With A Credit Card
There are plenty of airport lounges that are members-only and do not necessarily have “open to military” policies. So, what’s the next best option for TDY travel, taking a family vacation to or from an overseas location, or for a permanent change of station move?
Military members enjoy the benefit of having a government travel charge card, but this card is only to be used for official business and mission-related travel expenses.
With that in mind, having that card may not be a way in to airport lounges, but using the card builds up your credit history and responsible use of credit with a government card may make a service member more attractive to credit card companies that offer high-dollar perks such as membership rewards and access to airport lounges.
Airport Lounges And Credit Card Accounts
The Centurion Lounge is found at major airports worldwide. This lounge is operated not by a specific airline, but rather by American Express and it is open to Amex Platinum Card holders only. This is described as a “day of departure” lounge and is not for those on arriving flights that have just landed. Platinum Club credit card holders are not admitted more than three hours prior to the departure time listed on the traveler’s tickets. Standby passengers are not permitted.
At first glance, this sounds like a no-go for enlisted military members who balk at the Platinum Card requirements. But remember that any military member who responsibly uses their credit may find themselves eligible to apply for an American Express card.
Annual Fee Waivers For Active Duty Military
American Express will waive the $695 annual fee for active duty service members and one of the perks includes access to some airport lounges! In the past, AmEx has been quite generous from all accounts in honoring this no-fee-for-active-duty-military policy, so applying for a Platinum Card in order to claim Centurion Lounge privileges is not as far-fetched as it might sound at first.
Remember that credit cards and their perks change frequently, and it is best to get the most up-to-date offers, terms, and conditions before agreeing to use the card.
Applying for a credit card results in a “hard inquiry” on your credit, so beware of applying (especially for a high-value card) too close to a VA home loan application, or any other major line of credit you might need to apply for in the next 12 months.
- Centurion and Priority Pass lounge access
- $200 Uber Cash
- $200 airline fee credit yearly
- $300 Equinox credit (enrollment required)
- $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month at the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times (enrollment required)
Skip the Credit Card, Sign Up For A Lounge Access Program
Not interested in applying for a credit card? You might consider applying for a lounge access pass program instead; one such option is available with the Priority Pass program.
Priority Pass is not a credit card; it is a membership allowing access to more than one thousand airport lounges worldwide. This option is good for frequent travelers and especially those who may need to come and go overseas frequently.
A Priority Pass membership offers “stress-free” accommodations at airport lounges across “500 cities in over 140 countries worldwide” according to the official site, but the program also advertises “exclusive” retail, dining, spa and sleeping options offered “in selected airports.”
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing there does not seem to be a policy for military signups related to discounts, reduced fees, etc. But it never hurts to ask for the latest offers, perks, or preference for those in uniform.
One caveat about using Priority Pass; features and options are not standardized at all lounges. You may, depending on the nature and duration of your travel, be subject to restrictions or limitations of services. This is true at all times, but especially during peak capacity hours where alternative accommodations may be offered instead.
At the time of this writing, the Priority Pass program offers a “standard” package for just under $100 for occasional travelers, and as much as $400 or more for the Prestige level frequent traveler package.
To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured, please visit the following: Rates and Fees.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News