This Credit Card Gets You In

Pop quiz: What was the first airline lounge ever created?

The Admirals Club, which American Airlines opened in 1939 at NYC’s LaGuardia Airport (though it was first called the “Flagship Club” due to some legal issues).

According to Untapped New York, “The club actually rented the space in the airport from an office of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who had been criticized in the press for the large, modern offices.”

Nowadays, American Airlines says it has nearly 50 Admirals Club lounges and more than 60 partner lounges worldwide.

Wondering what all the fuss is about? And how you can get into an Admirals Club on your next layover? Keep reading.

Most Admirals Club lounges closed when COVID-19 hit. Before making plans, check AA’s website for any coronavirus-related updates.

What You’ll Find at the Admirals Club

As with most airline lounges, American Airlines Admirals Clubs offer free food and drinks; complimentary WiFi; personal travel assistance; and, in some cases, showers, business centers, or conference rooms.

Here’s a full list of locations and their amenities.

Admirals Club lounges. Image credit: American Airlines

Though Admirals Clubs have famously light (read: bad) food offerings, American Airlines is apparently upping its game with complimentary mac-and-cheese bars and the ability to pay for items like Impossible Burgers or customized ramen. 

You’ll find an even better selection at the airline’s Flagship Lounges, a collection of elevated Admirals Clubs that feature “chef-inspired” meals, specialty cocktails, and premium wines. AA currently has Flagship Lounges in Chicago (ORD), Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), and New York (JFK), with plans to open one in Philadelphia (PHL) soon. Unfortunately, however, you’ll need to be ticketed in a premium cabin or have elite status to access these lounges; credit cards or paid memberships won’t cut it.

How Do You Get Into Admirals Clubs?

First things first: No matter which route you choose, you’ll need to have a boarding pass for same-day travel on American Airlines or one of its partners.

Got that in hand? Besides having a credit card like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (Review) or paid membership — which we’ll cover in the next section — here’s who else can get into an Admirals Club, according to the airline:

  • First- or business-class passengers on qualifying international or transcontinental flights, such as JFK to LAX or San Francisco (customers in international first class can bring one guest)
  • Flyers with AA elite status (Platinum, Platinum Pro, or Executive Platinum) plus a ticket on a “qualifying long-haul international flight” (can bring one guest)
  • oneworld Emerald or Sapphire members (can bring one guest)
  • Members of ConciergeKey, AA’s invite-only program for high spenders, and select members of AirPass, a prepaid travel program
  • Purchasers of a day pass, which are available for $59 at select locations (can bring three children under 18)
  • U.S. military personnel, traveling in uniform on a same-day AA flight (can bring immediate family members or two guests)
Insider tip

Terminal A or terminal B? Concourse C or concourse D? Whether you’re in CLT, PHX, or SFO, use the LoungeBuddy app to find the closest Admirals Club and learn about its entry options.

Admirals Club Membership vs. the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

If none of the above categories apply to you, you’ll either need to purchase an Admirals Club membership or apply for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (Review).

As you can see below, as of December 2020 one year of Admirals Club membership costs from $550 to $1,250, depending on your AAdvantage status and whether you’re purchasing for an individual or a household.

Admirals Club membership cost

Admirals Club membership cost. Image credit: American Airlines

In comparison, the Citi card costs $450 per year — making it the cheapest option by a long shot. It also allows you to bring two guests or your immediate family (partner and minor children).

So, in general, applying for the Citi card is a much better deal than purchasing Admirals Club membership outright. 

Also great is the fact you can add up to 10 authorized users to the Citi card for free. Each of your authorized users will be able to bring guests into the lounge, but they will not be able to access partner lounges. (Just be sure to read about the financial responsibility of having authorized users before adding your deadbeat roommate or spendy cousin.)

Once you have Admirals Club membership, either through a paid membership or the Citi credit card, here’s what you’ll be able to access:

  • Domestic and international Admirals Club locations
  • Alaska Airlines Lounges (when ticketed on American, Alaska Airlines, or Virgin America flights)
  • Qantas Clubs (when ticketed on same-day Qantas flights, or on AA flights out of Auckland or Sydney)
  • Select third-party partner lounges (when ticketed on same-day AA flights)

Other Perks of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

Besides offering easy Admirals Club access, the Citi AAdvantage Executive card offers several other benefits, too.

First off, you’ll get 50,000 AAdvantage bonus miles for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of account opening.

Since American Airlines has a lot of great redemption options, this could take you quite far — like across oceans far! (Note you’re not eligible for this welcome offer if you’ve “received a new account bonus for a Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive account in the past 48 months.”)

For a card with such a high annual fee, however, the bonus categories leave something to be desired: You’ll earn a paltry 2X miles per dollar on AA purchases, plus 1X on everything else.

As far as additional perks, you’ll get your first checked bag free for you and up to eight companions on AA flights; a “VIP experience” when flying AA, which includes priority check-in, screening (where available), and early boarding; and an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

The Best Way Into the Admirals Club

In our opinion, your best route into the Admirals Club is with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®. You’ll pay less than you would for an Admirals Club membership, and will also get several other perks, including a generous introductory bonus.

If you’re not an American Airlines loyalist, however, and are just looking for airport lounge access, there are more rewarding cards. We’d recommend The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review), which has a comparable annual fee, better bonus categories, and access to several different lounge chains. (Rates & Fees)

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

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