Thrifty Traveler’s Ultimate Guide to Priority Pass Lounges
There are few things that make the airport more enjoyable (or tolerable) than access to lounges during your travels. When you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the terminal Priority Pass lounge access can be a lifesaver. The best part? Accessing the lounges is complimentary if you hold the right credit card.
But what exactly is Priority Pass? How do you access the lounges and what are they like? Read on for our full guide to the Priority Pass Lounge experience.
What is Priority Pass?
Priority Pass is a global network of over 1,200 airport lounges, spa experiences, and airport restaurants. There are currently Priority Pass experiences available in over 500 cities throughout 143 countries with lounges and restaurants being added all the time.
What you’ll experience in each of lounge will vary widely in terms of size, food, beverages, and amenities. Generally speaking, Priority Pass lounges abroad are much nicer what you’ll find within the U.S.
But 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.
How to Get Priority Pass Membership
On the Priority Pass website, you can buy three different tiers of membership. But we would never recommend it.
That’s because there is a growing list of travel rewards credit cards that offer Priority Pass membership as a benefit of holding the card. 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. Priority Pass membership obtained through one of the credit cards below is referred to as Priority Pass Select membership. And in almost every way, these card-based memberships are the same as those purchased outright.
|Credit Card||Number of Guests With Free Access||Number of Lounge Visits||Card Annual Fee|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||2||Unlimited||$450|
|Amex Platinum Card||2||Unlimited||$550|
|The Business Platinum Card||2||Unlimited||$595|
|Citi Prestige Credit Card||2||Unlimited||$495|
|Hilton Honors Amex Aspire Card||2||Unlimited||$450|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex Card||2||Unlimited||$450|
|U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Card||4 per year||4 per year||$400|
|Hilton Honors Ascend Card||Passes can be used for guests||10 per year||$95|
|Hilton Honors Business Card||Passes can be used for guests||10 per year||$95|
While all these credit cards offer Priority Pass membership, they aren’t necessarily the same. Starting Aug. 1, 2019, Priority Pass Select memberships obtained from an American Express credit card will no longer offer credits for Priority Pass restaurants.
Citi, Chase & U.S. Bank have not indicated they will the restaurant credits from their Priority Pass memberships.
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.
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.
It’s a great benefit – perhaps too great. American Express recently confirmed that it will stop including those restaurant credits as of Aug. 1, 2019. That means American Express cards that come with free Priority Pass memberships like the American Express Platinum, the Hilton Aspire card, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, and others will no longer be eligible for these free meals.
In my opinion, this leaves the Chase Sapphire Reserve as the best way to get an unrestricted Priority Pass membership … at least for now. These restaurant credits have clearly turned into an expensive problem for credit card issuers.
For example, if I am at an airport with three Priority Pass restaurants, there is nothing stopping me from using a $28 credit at all of them during the same trip. Fixing the loophole rather than removing the benefit seems to be the logical solution, but that is a different conversation.
Thrifty Tip #1: See our guide to all of the Priority Pass Restaurants worldwide.
What are Priority Pass Lounges Like?
It depends on where you are. You’ll find that Priority Pass 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.
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.
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 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.
Thrifty Tip #2: 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.
Thrifty Tip #3: The Priority Pass mobile app will also show you all lounges you have access to.
Activating Your Priority Pass Membership
Just because you hold one of the credit cards listed above doesn’t mean your Priority Pass membership will automatically be active. 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 membership card within a week or so.
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 lounge and can be unpredictable. But just beware that you may get turned away when trying to enter certain lounges at peak times.
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 airport lounges.
Are they the nicest lounges out there? Largely not. But it is hard to argue with the Priority Pass footprint as you shouldn’t have to try too terribly hard to take advantage of your membership.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
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