Thrifty Traveler's Ultimate Guide to Priority Pass Lounges
Chase Sapphire Reserve

Thrifty Traveler’s Ultimate Guide to Priority Pass Lounges

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There are few things that make the airport more enjoyable (or tolerable) than access to airport lounges during your travels. And when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the terminal, having access to Priority Pass lounges can be a lifesaver.

The best part? Accessing the lounges is complimentary if you hold the right credit card. And it goes beyond lounges, as certain Priority Pass memberships can also get you free meals at airport restaurants, too.

But what exactly is Priority Pass? How do you access these lounges and what are they like? Read on for our full guide to the Priority Pass Lounge experience.


What is Priority Pass?

If you hold a Priority Pass Select membership, odds are there will be an airport lounge or restaurant you can get into during your travels.

Priority Pass is a global network of over 1,300 airport lounges, spa experiences, and even airport restaurants. There are currently Priority Pass experiences available in over 600 cities throughout 148 countries with lounges and restaurants being added all the time.

But lounges are the main event. And just what you’ll get in each lounge can vary widely in terms of size, food, beverages, and amenities. Generally speaking, Priority Pass lounges abroad are much nicer than what you’ll find within the U.S.

Still, even the worst Priority Pass lounge is still better than sitting at the gate before your flight. At a minimum, you can get some free water, drinks, and light snacks.


Priority Pass Lounges
Image courtesy of Priority Pass


How to Get a Priority Pass Membership

On the Priority Pass website, you can buy three different tiers of membership. But we would never recommend it.

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That’s because there is a growing list of travel rewards credit cards that offer a complimentary Priority Pass membership as a benefit. Most of these cards have annual fees ranging from $450 to $595 and provide many other benefits in addition to the Priority Pass membership.

So it’s always a better option to hold one of the cards listed below instead of paying for a membership outright. If you’ve got one of these cards, you’ll get what’s called a Priority Pass Select membership. And in almost every way, these card-based memberships are better than those purchased outright. That’s because you’ll get unlimited visits (from most options) and you won’t need to pay to bring guests with you into the lounge.


Credit CardNumber of Guests With Free AccessNumber of Lounge VisitsCard Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve2Unlimited$550
Platinum Card from American Express2Unlimited$550
The Business Platinum Card from American Express2Unlimited$595
Citi Prestige Credit Card2Unlimited$495
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card2Unlimited$450
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card2 Unlimited$450
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass CardPasses can be used for guests10 per year$95
Hilton Honors American Express Business CardPasses can be used for guests10 per year$95


But while all these credit cards offer Priority Pass membership, they aren’t necessarily the same. That’s because starting Aug. 1, 2019, Priority Pass Select memberships obtained from an American Express credit card stopped offering credits for Priority Pass restaurants.


All About Priority Pass Restaurants

One of the best perks of Priority Pass membership doesn’t involve a lounge at all. Over the past few years, Priority Pass has been hard at work creating partnerships at a growing list of airport restaurants in which members can use credits to dine for free during their travels.


Priority Pass Lounges
Cadillac Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar is an option for members traveling through Houston (IAH)


Generally speaking, you can get a credit of $28 (and another $28 for a guest) to eat at select airport restaurants all over the world. Tips cannot be included with these credits, so make sure to tip your servers based on the full bill..

It’s a great benefit – perhaps too great. American Express stopped including those restaurant credits as of Aug. 1, 2019. That means American Express cards that come with free Priority Pass memberships like the Platinum Card from American Express, the Hilton Aspire cardMarriott Bonvoy Brilliant, and others can no longer get these free meals.

In our opinion, that leaves the Chase Sapphire Reserve as the best way to get an unrestricted Priority Pass membership. These restaurant credits offer insane value if you frequently pass through airports with dining options. And only time will tell if Chase, Citi, and U.S. Bank continue to offer these credit as a part of the membership.

See our guide to all of the Priority Pass Restaurants worldwide.


What are Priority Pass Lounges Like?

Just what you will get with Priority Pass lounges depends highly on where you are. You’ll find that the lounges will be all over the map as far as what they offer and how nice they are.

The best Priority Pass lounges are typically outside the U.S. This was my experience when traveling through Bogotá International Airport (BOG), and visiting the El Dorado Lounge.


Priority Pass Lounges
The El Dorado Lounge at Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport


However, that lounge is a far cry from The Club Lounge in Las Vegas (LAS). This lounge isn’t much more than a large room with leather chairs, a few TVs, and a snack bar with various drinks. And in this example, if your Priority Pass membership comes from the Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll surely want to skip the Priority Pass experience altogether and head to the Las Vegas Centurion Lounge.


Priority Pass Lounges


At the end of the day, the worst Priority Pass lounge is better than the best airport gate area. You will get free water, snacks, light meals, and depending on the lounge, alcoholic beverages.

If you spend enough time in lounges, this can easily help offset the cost of the credit card annual fee you received your Priority Pass membership from. It’s a big reason why we always suggest to do the math, and not rule out cards with high annual fees.

It’s worth noting, however, that many amenities in Priority Pass lounges abroad do cost extra. But at a minimum, food, beverages, and WiFi are going to be free no matter where you are at.

Make sure to download the LoungeBuddy mobile app. This is a great way to navigate the benefits available at each of the individual Priority Pass Lounges. You can also see reviews to make sure you head to the top-rated lounge, wherever you are in the world.

And don’t forget to download the Priority Pass mobile app. It will also show you all lounges you have access to, and provide you with a digital membership card – allowing you to keep your physical Priority Pass card at home or in your wallet.


Activating Your Membership

Just because you hold one of the credit cards listed above doesn’t mean your Priority Pass membership will automatically be activated. In fact, logging into your account and setting up Priority Pass is one of the first things we suggest new cardholders of both the American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards do.

Once activated, you should get your Priority Pass Select membership card within a week or so.


Priority Pass Lounges

Also, be sure to save the materials that come in the mail to register your account online. Once you’re logged into the Priority Pass app, you can simply pull up your digital card on the app at lounge entrances rather than carry the physical card in your wallet. But be warned. Not all Priority Pass lounges can accept the digital card on your phone, so it is always a good idea to carry the physical card when you travel.

And one final warning: Some lounges restrict when Priority Pass members can enter. It varies widely by the lounge and can be unpredictable. But just beware that you may get turned away when trying to enter certain lounges at peak times. A perfect example of this is the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge at San Francisco (SFO). While it is now a part of Priority Pass, you’ll only be able to enter between 6 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. daily with Priority Pass membership.


Bottom Line

Priority Pass is a great lounge network that many travelers can get a lot of value out of. There is simply no better way to improve your travels than having access to Priority Pass and other airport lounges.

Are they the nicest lounges out there? For the most part, no. But Priority Pass has a massive footprint that can help you take advantage of your membership – wherever in the world you might be.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

2 Responses

  • Yea I got the Marriott Bonvoy Amex card right before they decided to kill the restaurant perk. Booo. I hate the inconsistency of benefits on most cards and rewards programs. I am close to highest level of Bonvoy status and don’t really feel like it’s worth much…

    • I agree about the Bonvoy card. I got a Bonvoy Visa, issued by Chase, when there was a very good offer of 40K points after spending a good amount within three months. As we were renovating kitchen a bathroom, it worked out well. But I hadn’t done my research, and when I went to transfer the points to United Miles for a trip to Paris, the transfer was not one for one. I still had enough miles to book the flight, but the loss of about 25% was disappointing. Eventually I closed the Bonvoy account several months after the trip..

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