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I remember the first time I entered an airport lounge. I was in my typical travel uniform of leggings and a backpack; everyone around me was sporting suits and briefcases. For a few moments, I worried I didn’t belong.
Then I saw a buffet of free food, a bartender ready to serve me a free glass of wine, and a million open electrical outlets — and my concerns soon evaporated. So what if I wasn’t wearing a suit? I was a Priority Pass Select member, and life was good.
In the years since that first visit, I’ve flashed my Priority Pass card at more than a dozen airports around the world. Each time, it feels magical to get so many free perks simply for having a credit card.
If you want in, here’s everything you need to know about Priority Pass Select membership: what it is, what it includes, and how to get it for free through your travel rewards credit card.
Priority Pass bills itself as “the world’s largest independent airport lounge access program.” While it doesn’t operate its own lounges, its members have access to “1,200+ airport experiences in over 500 cities and 143 countries.”
Most people join through “Priority Pass Select,” a membership program that comes as a perk of many high-end travel credit cards.
When you’re a Priority Pass Select member, you’ll gain access to all Priority Pass “experiences” — the vast majority of which are airport lounges and restaurants.
You can treat your friends, too: Most credit card issuers allow you to bring two Priority Pass guests at no extra charge. (Some lounges don’t count young children, typically those under 2, toward the two-guest limit.)
If you don’t want to apply for a credit card, you can purchase membership directly from the Priority Pass website for $99 (Standard), $249 (Standard Plus), or $429 (Prestige) per year. As you can see below, most of these memberships don’t offer unlimited access, and they all charge $32 per guest visit.
We would advise against purchasing your Priority Pass membership directly from the company. Since most credit cards with Priority Pass offer unlimited free visits, as well as two free guests, they’re a much better deal.
You can’t use your credit card to get into lounges — you’ll need a separate Priority Pass membership card (along with a same-day boarding pass). Some credit cards let you download a digital membership card that’s accessible from the Priority Pass app. If you forget your physical card at home, you can use this digital version to enter the vast majority of lounges.
While the quality of Priority Pass lounges varies greatly, at the minimum you’ll usually find free food and alcohol, an espresso machine, a dedicated WiFi network, ample charging outlets, comfy chairs and desks, and newspapers and magazines. Some lounges even have conference rooms, showers, and spas.
Generally speaking, international lounges are fancier than their domestic counterparts, and often offer a wider selection of hot food.
As long as you’re a member of Priority Pass Select, it doesn’t matter which airline you’re flying — you can go into any of its affiliated lounges. All you need is your Priority Pass card and a same-day boarding pass.
The only major restriction you’ll face is if a lounge is too full. Some lounges prohibit Priority Pass members at certain hours, and others simply place a sign at their entrance saying “No Priority Pass” when they’ve reached capacity. Lounges may also cap your stay at, say, three hours (though I’m not sure how those limits are enforced).
If you’re unable to access a particular lounge, take heart: Your Priority Pass Select membership might provide other options, like restaurants or sleep pods — we reveal these additional experiences below.
In the U.S., you can usually even enter Priority Pass lounges after arriving at your final destination. (You might want to do this to grab a snack before hitting the road, or to chill for a while and avoid rush-hour traffic.) Outside the U.S., lounges might not let you in without an onward boarding pass, but there’s no harm in trying. You can also check to see if there are any “arrivals lounges” at your destination, which cater specifically to arriving passengers.
Unfortunately, Priority Pass has a fairly limited footprint in the United States.
You’ll find more lounge locations at international airports, with the heaviest concentrations in Western Europe and North Asia.
As of April 2019, here’s a full list of American airports with Priority Pass lounges and restaurants:
In addition to airport lounges, Priority Pass Select membership includes a slew of highly valuable airport “experiences.”
These mostly come in the form of restaurant credits — usually around $28–$30 of free food and drink at participating restaurants. (All you’ll need to pay is the tip!)
This credit usually applies to one guest, too, meaning you could get $56–$60 of free food just for having Priority Pass Select. At some airports, the credit isn’t for a restaurant, but rather a golf green (MSP) or a nap room (PHL).
While it sounds too good to be true, I promise it’s not. The first time I tried it, at PDX’s Caper’s Cafe, I was nervous to pull out my Priority Pass card. I figured the server would laugh at me, but instead he took my card — and took $28 off my bill.
As always, when you receive a discount on food, you should tip at least 20% on the pre-discounted bill. If your pre-discounted bill is $28, for example, you should tip at least $6 — even if your total reads “$0.” Most restaurants will allow you to charge $.01, plus a tip, on a credit card if you don’t have cash. Remember: Your server has to do just as much work to serve a free customer, so reward him or her with a generous tip. (You have no excuses, since you’re already saving a lot on the meal!)
Take note that Priority Pass Select memberships through American Express cards now exclude non-lounge experiences, like restaurants.
As of April 2019, here’s a full list of U.S. airports with Priority Pass experiences:
|Atlanta (ATL)||Minute Suites||1 hour|
|Boston (BOS)||Stephanie’s // Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grill||$28|
|Charlotte (CLT)||Minute Suites||1 hour|
|Cleveland (CLE)||Bar Symon||$28|
|Dallas (DFW)||Minute Suites // Gameway||1 hour // 2 hours of gaming, plus 1 soda and 2 snacks|
|Fort Lauderdale (FLL)||Kafe Kalik||$28|
|Houston (IAH)||Cadillac Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar // Landry’s Seafood||$28|
|Indianapolis (IND)||The Fan Zone||$28|
|Lexington (LEX)||Kentucky Ale Tap Room||$28|
|Los Angeles (LAX)||P.F. Chang’s // Rock & Brews||$30 // $28|
|Miami (MIA)||Corona Beach House // Air Margaritaville // Viena||$30 // $28 // $28|
|Minneapolis-St.Paul (MSP)||PGA MSP Lounge||$15 (off food or golf bill)|
|New York (JFK)||Bobby Van’s Steakhouse||$28|
|Philadelphia (PHL)||Minute Suites||1 hour|
|Portland (PDX)||Capers Cafe Le Bar // House Spirits Distillery||$28|
|San Francisco (SFO)||San Francisco Giants Clubhouse // Yankee Pier||$28|
|St. Louis (STL)||The Pasta House // The Pasta House & Schlafly Beer||$28|
|Syracuse (SYR)||Johnny Rockets||$28|
|Tampa (TPA)||The Café by Mise en Place||$28|
|Tucson (TUS)||Noble Hops||$28|
|Washington Dulles (IAD)||Chef Geoff’s||$28|
|Washington Reagan (DCA)||American Tap Room // Bracket Room||$28|
Since there are more options abroad — and since participating venues change all the time — we recommend downloading the Priority Pass app and checking it as soon as you arrive at an airport. That way you won’t miss out on any lounges or experiences!
Ready to take advantage of all that Priority Pass Select has to offer? Here are the four best Priority Pass credit cards, plus four other options.
Whichever card you choose, note your Priority Pass membership usually isn’t automatic. You’ll typically need to activate it through your credit card’s online account, after which you should receive your card in the mail in a few weeks.
This is the card that got me hooked on the lounge life. It offers 10X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on Lyft rides, 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel (after the full travel credit is used) and dining, 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit (alongside a huge list of other benefits).
Although this solid Chase Priority Pass option has a $550 annual fee, it’s offset by $300 worth of annual statement credits for travel purchases, which effectively reduces the annual fee to $250.
As for the Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass guest policy? It allows you to bring two people with you. Additional guests will cost $32 each.
Authorized users of this card cost $75 per year, and get their own Priority Pass Select memberships with the same level of access.
This card used to allow unlimited guests to enter for free, but that was a bit too good — possibly leading to overcrowding — and it was knocked down to the standard two free guests.
If you want more extensive lounge access — beyond what Priority Pass offers — the Platinum card’s a great choice. With it, you’ll have access to a range of lounges including those from Delta (when flying Delta), Airspace, and Escape, as well as the Centurion lounge network, which is generally heralded as one of the nicest in the biz.
Just know that the Priority Pass Select membership available through American Express cards excludes non-lounge experiences, which means you won’t get any restaurant, bar, or cafe credits.
This card offers 60,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months, and its annual fee is $550 (Rates & Fees).
Other benefits include 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar on flights booked directly from airlines or through Amex Travel, and on eligible prepaid hotels through Amex Travel; a $200 airline incidental fee credit; up to $200 in Uber credits; up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits; and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit.
Up to two guests can enter for free, and additional guests cost $32 each. Authorized users of this card generally get the same lounge access as primary cardholders. You can designate up to three authorized users for a total cost of $175 per year; after that, each additional authorized user costs $175 each.
This newish card is Citi’s answer to the Reserve and the Platinum. While I don’t think it’s quite as strong a contender (because it has fewer transfer partners), it still has some great perks.
You’ll earn 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, and will get a complimentary fourth night when booking hotels through ThankYou.com, capped at twice per year.
Additionally, this card offers 5X points per dollar at airlines and restaurants, and 3X at hotels and cruise lines. Its annual fee is $495, with a $250 annual travel credit. (Due to the impact of COVID-19, from 5/1/20 through 12/31/20, the $250 travel credit benefit will be expanded to include purchases made at supermarkets and restaurants.)
You and up to two guests can enter lounges for free; after that, each guest costs $27 (a bit less than with the Reserve and Platinum). Authorized users of the Citi Prestige cost $75 each, and they get their own Priority Pass Select memberships.
Compared to other premium travel cards, the Mastercard Black Card doesn’t deliver a ton of value for its $495 annual fee. Still, it’s worth mentioning because it allows you to bring an unlimited number of guests into Priority Pass lounges.
Most other credit cards charge fees after the second guest, so if you regularly travel with a large family or several companions, this perk could save a lot of money. When you’re approved for this card, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Priority Pass Select, and won’t need to take any further steps. Authorized users, who cost $175 each, receive the same level of Priority Pass access.
Other than that, this card’s perks are pretty basic (and don’t really live up to the annual fee): a $100 airline credit, an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and 1X point on all purchases.
Not interested in any of the above options? Here are four other Priority Pass credit cards. (If none of them do the trick, check out a full selection of cards with airport lounge access.)
Like all travel credit card questions, this depends on how much you travel.
Although I wouldn’t recommend purchasing Priority Pass directly from the company, I do think it’s an incredibly valuable perk of the premium travel rewards cards above.
For me, it’s certainly been worth it. Over the past three years, my partner and I have visited an average of four lounges a year, and have used the restaurant benefit about once a year. If we’d paid for those lounge visits ($50 per person without a membership, for a total of $100 per visit) and restaurant tabs ($28 per person, for a total of $56), it would amount to approximately $456 per year.
(Even if we’d skipped the lounges — which we probably would, if we didn’t have Priority Pass Select — we would’ve spent around $20 per trip on airport food, for a total of $100 per year.)
The annual fee on my Chase Sapphire Reserve card is $550, but as mentioned above, the annual travel credit effectively reduces it to $250. So, even if I don’t count the card’s strong earning power and (many!) other perks, I’m getting $456 in benefits for $250.
Besides the monetary calculations, I just love the feeling of freedom that Priority Pass Select gives me. It’s fun to feel special, to graze on free food, to order drinks without thinking about their cost — and to charge your phone without having to sit on the floor.
If you want that feeling, too, I’d say the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) or The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review) are your best bets. (Can’t decide between the two? I compare them head-to-head here.)
You can find a complete listing of credit cards with this great perk, along with cards that provide access to other lounge brands, in Credit Cards That Provide Airport Lounge Access.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
Priority Pass grants members access to airport lounges and restaurant experiences in more than 500 cities worldwide. Several travel credit cards include free Priority Pass Select membership.
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The information related to Citi Prestige® Card, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, Hilton Honors Aspire Card, and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express have been collected by Credit Card Insider and have not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of these products.
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