How Does Priority Pass Lounge Access Work?

Side view of businessman holding credit card while using laptop at airport.
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Escaping work and responsibilities for a much-needed vacation should be nothing but fun, but there’s one major hurdle before you can kick back, relax, and enjoy yourself—the perils of air travel. Your flight itself may not be that bad, but you have to endure airport security checkpoints, crowded terminals, and overpriced food and drink for hours on end. 

Same goes if you’re flying on business. Before you can pitch the winning deal, you have to juggle connections, layovers, or boarding delays, all while checking in regularly with the office. 

That’s where airport lounges come into play. Exclusive airport lounges offer a quiet place to relax or work away from your busy airport gate, and Priority Pass is one way to gain access to over 1,300 of them.

Priority Pass is a membership program that gets you into a network of independently owned lounges in more than 600 cities. All offer refreshments, and most have free alcohol, Wi-Fi, and places to charge mobile devices. Some even have conference rooms, shower facilities, private TV areas, and game rooms, among other features.

There are many networks of airport lounges, each with its own access structure and list of amenities. Some are affiliated with a specific airline or set of airlines, and some are independent, like Priority Pass.

How to Get Priority Pass Lounge Membership

You can pay $99 to $429 a year for varying levels of Priority Pass membership, but it also comes as a complimentary perk of many premium travel credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige and the Platinum Card from American Express.

If you get a membership through your credit card, it’s called Priority Pass Select, and it may be better than even the highest level of paid membership. Several premium cards offer unlimited visits for you and two guests, while all of the paid memberships charge $32 per visit for each guest.

Most credit cards that offer a Priority Pass Select membership charge a steep annual fee. If you’re considering applying for one, make sure to weigh how often you’ll use the lounges as well as the card’s other perks to determine if the costs are worth it for you.

Here are some of the top travel credit cards that offer Priority Pass Select memberships:

Card Number of visits Guest policy Authorized user access Annual fee for credit card
Chase Sapphire Reserve Unlimited 2 guests free, then $27 per guest per visit Yes $550
Citi Prestige Unlimited 2 guests free, then $27 per guest per visit Yes $495
Platinum Card from American Express Unlimited 2 guests free, then $32 per guest per visit Yes $550
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Unlimited 2 guests free, then $32 per guest per visit No $450
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass 10 visits per membership year $32 per guest per visit No $95
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card Unlimited 2 guests free, then $32 per guest per visit No $450

If you’re a frequent traveler, you’re probably better off getting a premium card like one of the above rather than paying for the membership separately. That said, here's what you need to know about membership levels if you decide to get one directly from Priority Pass:

  Standard  Standard Plus  Prestige
Annual Fee $99 $299 $429
Member Visit Fee $32 10 free visits, then $32 Unlimited free visits
Guest Visit Fee $32 $32 $32

Among the paid memberships, the Standard Plus is the best value if you think you’ll use the lounges seven to 14 times each year. If you’re estimating at least 15 visits, the Prestige makes the most financial sense.

How to Find Priority Pass Lounges

Priority Pass, operated by the London-based company Collinson Group, may be in 600 cities in 148 countries, but the lounges aren’t ubiquitous. Some airports have Priority Pass lounges across several different terminals, while others—even larger airports—don’t offer much, if anything.

For example, London’s Heathrow Airport has eight lounges in four different terminals, but Chicago O’Hare International Airport only has two lounges, and they’re both in the international terminal.  New York’s LaGuardia Airport doesn’t have any.

Keep in mind, too, that the lounges don’t use the Priority Pass brand and have all sorts of names.

The best way to find out if you’ll be able to rely on these lounges at your regular airports is to use the search function on the Priority Pass website or app. Enter an airport or city and it will tell you exactly which lounges are accessible and where they are within the airport. You can also use the app to see maps for select airports, check lounge entry requirements, and access a digital membership card.

If you are weighing whether to get a Priority Pass membership or invest in a credit card that comes with one, first make sure you actually need one. If you have elite status in a frequent flyer program or fly in premium cabins, that will often be enough to access an airline’s network of airport lounges.

Benefits Besides Lounge Access 

In some airports, Priority Pass members can use their benefits toward the cost of a meal or privacy suite. Priority Pass uses a credit system where these non-lounge benefits are counted as a visit against your lounge allocation. (This is a particularly valuable perk if your membership has unlimited visits.)

With partner restaurants, for example, you can use one lounge visit as a $28 credit toward your meal. (Guests dining with you would get the same credit, deducted from your allocation of guest visits.)

Or, if you’re in airports in places like Atlanta, Dallas Fort-Worth or Philadelphia, you may use your lounge allocation for a one-hour stay with Minute Suites. These soundproof privacy suites include a daybed and workstation.

In 2019, American Express removed restaurant access from the Priority Pass Select memberships it offers on its credit cards. 

Other Details You Should Know

Before you pay for a membership or sign up for a credit card that offers Priority Pass, keep a few things in mind:

  • Some credit cards require you to enroll in the program to use it, so check your credit card agreement. Enrollment is usually quite simple.
  • You’ll need to present a membership card that can be scanned before you enter a lounge. This can be a digital membership card that’s stored on your mobile app or a physical card. (Some lounges don’t accept the digital membership, so it’s best to carry a physical card too.) 
  • You may be turned away if the lounge is at or near full capacity, and this may come into play more when Priority Pass lounges are run by an airline. 
  • There may be other restrictions on access. For example, you may have to wait until three hours before your scheduled departure time to get in, or be limited to a maximum stay of four hours.
  • The lounges are run by third parties including airlines, ground agents and airport authorities, so the rules and amenities won’t be consistent.

Article Sources

  1. Priority Pass. "Priority Pass Member Benefits." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  2. Priority Pass. "FAQ," See 'What are the main benefits of being a Priority Pass member?' Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  3. Priority Pass. "Membership Plans." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  4. Priority Pass. "London Heathrow." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  5. Priority Pass. "Chicago IL O Hare Intl." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  6. Priority Pass. "Priority Pass App." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  7. Priority Pass. "Priority Pass Benefits You Didn't Know You Had." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  8. Priority Pass. "FAQ," See 'Are the lounges actually run by Priority Pass?'