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Fact: you don’t have to fly business or first class to get into the airport lounge. In this magical place, the drinks and food are completely free. But that’s just the start of it. Some airport lounges tote showers, quiet rooms for reading and even barbers and massage parlours. But how do you get access to them?

As a general rule, airline lounges are generally much more comfortable, luxurious and are better equipped than airport lounges. This means they’re more exclusive and harder to get into. But are they worth paying for? And how do you get into one?

Read on to find out some tips and advice on how to get cheap airport lounge access, without purchasing a really expensive airfare.

Credit cards

This is the most straightforward way to free or cheap airport lounge access. There are plenty of cards that offer a couple of lounge accesses a year, plus the usual sign up bonuses and other perks. There are a few things to consider other than which offers you the best value, such as which airport lounges around the world you’ll realistically be going to. If you’re a frequent flyer to a foreign airport then you may want to look out for a card that offers you lounge-sanctuary on the return leg of your trip. But for most of us, it’s the outward journey, the airport we’ll be using most, you’ll want included. Below are a few examples of cards that offer a range of lounge access worldwide.

The Amex Preferred Rewards Gold* card

This is a good starter pack choice for airport lounge access. The annual fee of £140 is waved in the first year (you receive 20,000 reward points) and you’re granted access to over 700 lounges at major airports worldwide, like the Aspire lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, whether you spend on the card or not. There’s a whole host of other perks from referring friends, to travel insurance and car hire discounts.

The American Express Platinum card

The annual fee is high at £450 but consider the perks. You get a generous 30,000 membership points if you sign up (35,000 if you know someone who can refer you) and you’ll receive two priority pass cards to 700 lounges that also includes the likes of the Aspire Lounge in Heathrow’s terminal as well as Plaza Premium lounges in T2 and T4.Time your acquirement of this card right – by which we mean for an extra special trip – and use the discounts on luxury hotels, travel insurance for medical and car hire.

Day passes via Groupon

It can be all about going through the right channels. Day passes can be purchased for around £20 to some airport lounges. There’s an argument that this is about the same price as eating at the airport. While this might be true if you’re having a proper hot meal, drinks and snacks, it’s not so much true if you’re planning on hitting Pret. Groupon however has been known to have 50% membership discounts for Priority Pass from time to time. It’s a nice one if you know that you’ll be travelling a lot. Otherwise they have discounted day passes regularly if you don’t want to commit to an annual membership.

Ask someone

The kindness of strangers is always an option. First class ticket holders are often allowed to invite a guest into the lounge. Exploiting this free airport lounge access niche is a bit tricky. You’ll need to use your wits and personable skills to convince someone to invite you in without appearing as a pest to airline staff. This involves a certain amount of subtle loitering near the lounge so you know who the marks are. Start a conversation naturally rather than jumping straight in and asking if you can be their plus one.

Looking for more airport tips? Check out which airports have the best food and which cities are the best destinations for a stopover.