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Hanging out in an airport lounge instead of a busy gate area can make traveling less stressful, but depending on where you’re traveling and the airline you’re ticketed with, accessing a lounge isn’t always possible. Priority Pass membership is one way to get into a lounge and relax before your flight.
But are Priority Pass lounges usually crowded, and will you get value from this membership? Find out what you need to know about Priority Pass to determine if this airport lounge membership is right for you.
How crowded are Priority Pass lounges?
While Priority Pass lounges aren't always crowded, they can be. If you visit a popular airport on a busy travel day and during a time when many other travelers are making their way through the airport, you may encounter a busy lounge.
In these cases, you may be denied entry. Some airport lounges, including those in the Priority Pass network, state that access can be denied and is based on capacity limits. One NerdWallet Nerd was even put on a waitlist for 2+ hours in two separate instances when recently attempting to get into Priority Pass lounges.
If you’re flying during a busy travel time, don’t expect that you’ll be guaranteed lounge access simply because of your membership.
What is a Priority Pass airport lounge?
Priority Pass is a membership program that provides members with access to a network of airport lounges around the world. Visitors can hold any level of airfare — from economy class to first.
Individual lounges partner with Priority Pass, then members can access lounges depending on their level of membership. There are over 1,300 participating lounges worldwide.
There are three levels of membership:
These membership tiers vary in price and what's included (which we'll discuss more later).
If you’re a member, you can enter any participating lounge and enjoy a more comfortable seating area, along with complimentary snacks and drinks. Most lounges even offer free alcoholic beverages and Wi-Fi access.
The quality of lounges and amenities offered can vary significantly from one airport to another. If you're seeking a relatively quiet place to rest, get a drink or bite to eat, and charge devices, a Priority Pass lounge can fit the bill.
Priority Pass also partners with select airport restaurants. If your Priority Pass membership includes access to restaurant benefits, you can dine at a participating eatery and receive a credit toward your bill. The amount of credit varies by location, and tips aren't included.
» Learn more: Reasons you should be using airport lounges
How does a Priority Pass membership work?
To use your lounge benefits, you’ll need to prove that you're an active member. You can do this by showing your physical card, or if the lounge accepts digital cards, you can use the Priority Pass mobile app to display your digital membership card.
You’ll also be asked to present a valid boarding pass for that day.
Can you use Priority Pass lounge on arrival, too? In most cases, no. Since a boarding pass is required for entry, don't expect to be able to head into a lounge after a long flight.
Priority Pass cost
How much is Priority Pass? Membership ranges from $99-$429, depending on your level. Priority Pass sells three different membership types, and each membership tier comes with varying benefits.
Here's the Priority Pass membership cost you can expect if you join directly with the program, rather than through a credit card or other means.
Member visit fee
$35 per visit.
$35 per guest, per visit.
Ten free visits per year, then $35 per visit.
$35 per guest, per visit.
All visits are free.
$35 per guest, per visit.
The higher-tier plan offers more perks but comes with a higher cost. If you’re a frequent traveler, the price may be offset by the amount of time you spend in Priority Pass lounges.
For those interested in the Standard and Standard Plus plans, keep in mind that the annual membership fee isn’t your only cost. Standard plan members pay $35 for each lounge visit, and Standard Plus members pay the same after using their 10 free visits per year.
If you’d like to bring someone into the lounge with you, there is a $35 fee per additional guest no matter which membership you hold.
Other ways to obtain Priority Pass lounge access
Credit cards with Priority Pass
Buying a membership directly from Priority Pass isn’t always necessary, as some travel credit cards come with benefits like Priority Pass Select.
Priority Pass Select is a lounge membership offered specifically through financial institutions, like credit card issuers, which provides unlimited entry to participating lounges at no cost, as long as you remain a cardholder.
Here are some credit cards that include Priority Pass Select membership:
Many credit cards that offer Priority Pass Select membership, like Chase Sapphire Reserve®, also let you bring up to two guests every time you visit a lounge, as long as the lounge isn't at capacity. Any additional guests will be charged $27 per guest, per visit.
However, not all Priority Pass Select memberships are the same. Some, like those provided by American Express, don’t include Priority Pass dining benefits and allow one guest only to join you in the lounge.
Others provide a limited number of lounge visits per year. Be sure to check with your card issuer to ensure you understand your specific benefits.
» Learn more: The best credit cards with Priority Pass
One day pass
There are other ways to gain access to airport lounges if you don’t travel as frequently. Some airline loyalty programs offer access to their airline’s lounges once you reach a certain membership level — for example, Delta SkyTeam Elite Plus members receive free access to Delta lounges when traveling internationally.
Some lounges also offer day passes for a single visit. For example, the Star Alliance lounge at Los Angeles airport allows visitors three hours of access for $70. However, not all lounges provide this option, so it’s a good idea to verify this before heading to the airport.
» Learn more: When is an airport lounge day pass worth the splurge?
Alternatives to Priority Pass
If overcrowding or underwhelming lounge quality has you concerned, consider these Priority Pass alternatives to improve your next airport experience. Given their large footprint abroad, these make particularly compelling options for frequent international flyers.
Airlines sometimes have their own lounge networks as well. Examples include:
Premium airline credit cardholders, elite members and premium cabin flyers on international flights can typically access these less-crowded lounges.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards
If you’re worried about overcrowding in Priority Pass lounges
Priority Pass can be a valuable membership to have, especially if you're a frequent flyer who has long layovers or travels through busy airports.
However, lounges may be crowded at peak travel times or have limited entry periods for Priority Pass members, meaning your membership doesn’t necessarily guarantee you access to a lounge.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card