How does Priority Pass airline lounge access work?

With it, 1,000 airport lounges in 130 countries open their doors to you

Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I just got a new rewards card and got notified that it comes with Priority Pass. What is that? How does that work? Is it worth it? – Jim

Answer Dear Jim,
Some credit cards are so loaded with perks and features that it is tough for card companies to highlight them all. Often, people sign up for rewards cards because of sign-up bonuses or some other big feature, and they lose track of minor features in the flood of information that comes with a new card.

That’s the way it is with Priority Pass. I wouldn’t call it a major feature of any rewards card, but it is definitely a good perk to have if you travel, particularly if you travel internationally.

Most of us are aware that major card companies and major airlines team up to offer cards that include access to airport lounges. These cards from Delta (American Express), United (Chase) and American (Citi) tend to have annual fees of around $450.

But other premium reward cards offer membership in Priority Pass, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which attracted a lot of attention when it launched in 2016 because of a 100,000-point sign-up bonus (which has since expired). Other cards that include Priority Pass include American Express Platinum, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Citi Prestige and Hilton HHonors Surpass.*

When you sign up for one of these cards, you have to sign up separately for Priority Pass. The instructions typically come with your card. You receive a membership card in the mail.

That card will get you into more than 1,000 lounges in 130 countries. These aren’t lounges affiliated with the big U.S. airlines, but rather tend to be independent lounges or lounges of smaller international airlines. Most major airports in the United States have at least one Priority Pass lounge. 

I actually had the chance to use my Priority Pass membership recently during a trip to Los Angeles. I had a few hours to kill before my flight and some work to do, so I showed up to LAX a little early. Using an app called LoungeBuddy, I saw there were two lounges at the airport that offered access to Priority Pass members. The closest to my terminal was the Korean Air Lounge. The other option at the Los Angeles airport was the Alaskan Airlines lounge. When you use LoungeBuddy, you can see the amenities each lounge offers, read reviews and get details on location and access. 

I showed up, presented my card and was pointed into the lounge. It had ample seating, showers, free Wi-Fi, and a self-serve bar with beer, wine and spirits. It also had a buffet line with sushi, noodle bowls, sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, chips and other snacks. It was a pleasant place to spend a few extra hours. It works best for solo travelers, because you usually have to pay a fee to bring guests. Be advised that people who work at the lounge won’t know the details of how much guests cost – you have to read the terms of your Priority Pass membership closely.

If you have a card that comes with Priority Pass, it is worth signing up for – there is no downside. It is one of many credit card perks that can make your traveling easier.

*The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

See related: Can I get better rewards without opening a new card?, Use your airline rewards for more than seats

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Updated: 11-24-2017