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Although travel has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and many airport lounges remain closed, getting familiarized with the Priority Pass Select program can be worthwhile if you plan to resume flying once travel picks up. Airport layovers can be a nice experience when they're spent in an exclusive club, enjoying tasty snacks, sipping wine and reclining in a comfy armchair — all without paying a dime.
That's why getting a premium credit card with a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership is so valuable for avid travelers. Until lounge membership programs came along, only those who had elite status or had a first or business class ticket were able to access lounges for free. The Priority Pass membership, included on many credit cards with annual fees of $400 or more, can get you through the door at more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide at no additional charge.
Used strategically, the perks can far surpass the cost of a high credit card annual fee. Here’s how you can make the most of it.
» Learn more: How to choose a travel credit card
What is Priority Pass Select?
Priority Pass Select is a type of membership some credit cards offer through the airport lounge network Priority Pass. The network also offers paid memberships, which come with slightly different benefits. In this article, "Priority Pass" refers to the network of airport lounges, while "Priority Pass Select" refers to the airport lounge benefits included with your credit card.
To enter a Priority Pass lounge, you'll need to show your membership card (or digital card) and your boarding pass. The lounges offer a multitude of benefits, such as:
Some lounges even have conference rooms, fax machines and showers.
Here’s a little-known perk of the Priority Pass program: Aside from free access to lounges, members can also score free meals and drinks at select restaurants and bars in airports by receiving a discount off their bill (usually $28 per person).
To take advantage of the credits, visit the restaurant locations and let the server or cashier know that you’ll be paying with your Priority Pass Select membership. Keep in mind that you might not be able to use credits for certain items (like to-go meals) and that you can’t use the credit as a gratuity.
Priority Pass lounge locations
Priority Pass has plenty of lounges — over 1,300 internationally — but as of this time, only 36 in U.S. cities.
That means you might not be able to count on a lounge visit at every airport, so plan ahead. Find out whether the airports you're flying to and from offer Priority Pass lounges. Before arriving, consider these factors:
Cost of bringing kids: Many lounges allow you to bring your kids along for free, if they’re under a certain age.
Hours: Make sure the lounge will be open while you’re at the airport.
Food and drinks: Check the amenities available on the Priority Pass website before visiting, although generally, snacks and alcoholic beverages are usually included for free.
Suites, spa treatments and more
Although the majority of Priority Pass locations include basic lounge comforts, some lounges have completely upped the game and offer a special airport experience. Here are three locations that have reopened as of July 2020:
Minute Suites in Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
There are two Minute Suites at DFW airport, one in Terminal A and the other in Terminal D (both after security). However, only the location in Terminal A has reopened.
Minute Suites include a private room with a daybed that could fit up to two people and the facility is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your Priority Pass membership includes one hour of complimentary access to the private suite and is a great option for anyone who needs a quiet space to lay down, even if it's only for an hour. After that first hour, each hour is $28.
Two locations: The Club (LAS)
If you’ve got some time before your flight departs from Las Vegas, The Club LAS has two locations. Both are located after security with one location in Terminal 1 and the other in Terminal 3. Both lounges include free Wi-Fi, printers, food, alcohol and showers. The location in Terminal 3 offers premium food.
Both of the lounges have reopened, although the location in Terminal 1 is operating at a reduced schedule.
Air France Lounge (JFK)
This lounge offers extended hours, which is especially helpful for passengers traveling on late flights. In addition to hot and cold meal counters that are open at night (during normal non-COVID operating times), the lounge provides showers and a La Prairie Beauty Treatment Center, which offers spa treatments and high-end beauty products. The lounge is located in Terminal 1 by Gate 1.
Different Priority Pass membership levels
You could either purchase Priority Pass membership or get it for free with your premium credit card. If you’re interested in purchasing a membership, these are the current prices for U.S. residents:
10 free, then $32
If you’re an infrequent traveler but would like to have the choice of visiting a Priority Pass lounge, the Standard membership is the cheapest option. However, this plan is a terrible value since (due to the annual fee that comes with no access) you would pay $131 for one lounge visit and $163 for two, $195 for three and so on.
The Standard Plus membership's break-even point (10 visits) equates each lounge visit to $29.90. The Prestige membership offers unlimited visits for an annual cost of $429. However, at this price, you’d be better off considering a premium travel credit card that offers a Priority Pass membership, especially since the cards offer free guest access.
How to get Priority Pass Select from credit cards
Travel rewards credit cards offer a lot of perks and Priority Pass access is a big draw for frequent flyers. Chase, American Express, U.S. Bank, Citi and Barclays are some of the financial institutions issuing these cards. Depending on the card issuer, authorized users may also receive complimentary access to lounges. Here’s the list of cards that offer a Priority Pass membership, which can include unlimited visits for the cardmember and a guest policy that offers a varying number of free guest visits:
Unlimited cardmember visits plus unlimited guests
Mastercard® Gold Card™ and the Mastercard® Black Card™
Issued by Barclays, both of these luxury cards have hefty annual fees ($495 for the Mastercard® Black Card™ and $995 for the Mastercard® Gold Card™).
» Learn more: 5 things to know about "Luxury Card" credit cards
Ritz-Carlton Credit Card
The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card is a solid option for loyalists of the fancy hotel chain but it is not accepting new applications.
Unlimited cardmember visits plus two free guests, thereafter $27 guest fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® has an annual fee of $550, but the $300 in offsetting travel credits effectively reduces the fee to $250. Given the complimentary guest passes, the Priority Pass benefits included with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card are much better than those offered on the Standard, Standard Plus or Prestige memberships.
This solid travel card has the following welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Citi Prestige® Card
Although the annual fee on the Citi Prestige® Card is $495, $250 of travel statement credits effectively reduce the fee to $245, which again makes the card a better option than the paid Priority Pass Standard Plus or Prestige memberships.
The current welcome offer is: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*.
Unlimited cardmember visits plus two free guests, thereafter $32 guest fee
The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
Despite the hefty annual fees on The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, both cards include a number of offsetting credits that effectively reduce the fee. While the Priority Pass Select memberships included on AmEx cards no longer provides access to airport restaurants, the other lounge benefits on both cards significantly outweigh this drawback. The cards include access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection which, in addition to Priority Pass, includes access to AmEx’s Centurion Lounges, International American Express Lounges and Delta Sky Clubs. Terms apply.
The Platinum Card® from American Express has an annual fee of $695 and the current offer is: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express has an annual fee of $595 (10/14-1/12/22) and the current offer is: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Although the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is a hotel credit card, it offers cardholders so many different benefits that even non-Hilton loyalists could extract a lot of value from this card.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has an annual fee of $450 and the current offer is: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card after you use your new Card to make $4,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card is a great choice for Marriott loyalists and includes $300 of Marriott statement credits, which help offset the $450 annual fee down to $150. Again, this is another perfect example that the Priority Pass membership included surpasses the Standard, Standard Plus or Prestige paid plans.
Varying cardmember visit and guest policy
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and the The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card
Unlike all the credit cards mentioned above, the Priority Pass Select membership offered on these two American Express cards includes 10 free visits which can be used for the cardmember or guests. After 10 visits, the cardmember is charged $32 to access the lounges. Terms apply.
The Priority Pass Select membership included with both of the cards corresponds to the Standard Plus membership, which costs $299. Since each card has an annual fee that is significantly lower than the cost of the membership, if you’re only planning on 10 visits, you’re better off applying for either of these credit cards rather than purchasing a Standard Plus membership.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card has an annual fee of $95 and the current offer is: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Terms Apply.
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card has an annual fee of $95 and the current offer is: Earn up to 180,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points. Earn 130,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors Business Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Terms Apply.
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card
The U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card offers an incredibly lackluster Priority Pass select membership. Cardmembers receive four complimentary visits (and four guest visits) per year and thereafter each visit is charged at $32. Although U.S. Bank is a relatively new credit card issuer in the travel rewards space, it's a bit disappointing that for a $400 annual fee, the card has a low cap on cardmember lounge visits.
There are so many different premium travel cards to choose from that offer a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, so if you’re undecided and several of the products look appealing, pick the one with the strongest credit card offer and that has perks that are most relevant to you.
How to activate your Priority Pass Select membership
When you receive complimentary membership through a credit card, you aren’t automatically enrolled as a Priority Pass Select member the moment you’re approved. Instead, you have to activate your benefits separately and wait for your membership card — which is separate from your credit card — to arrive in the mail. Do this as soon as possible, so you can start maximizing those benefits sooner.
Enrolling is generally a simple process. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, for example, just navigate to your "Card Benefits" page and click "Activate" under the section marked "Airport Lounge Access." Or if you have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, log on to your account on AmEx’s Priority Pass page and check the box to confirm your enrollment. Having trouble? Call the number on the back of your card for help.
Get your digital membership card
If you don't feel like carrying your Priority Pass card with you, or you want to protect yourself in case it gets misplaced, a digital membership card — that is, a card with your membership information that's saved to your smartphone — can be a godsend.
Some credit cards give you the option of adding a digital membership card, which you can get by downloading the Priority Pass app through Google Play or the Apple App Store. Today, digital membership cards are accepted by most Priority Pass lounges.
How to get the most out of your Priority Pass Membership
Plan your layovers strategically
For example, suppose you could choose between two equally priced flights, and one had a layover in New York’s JFK Airport (JFK), while the other had a layover in New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA). If you chose the JFK layover, you would have access to six lounges and one place to use food or drink credits. LGA, meanwhile, doesn't have Priority Pass lounges.
Show up early
The key to maximizing any airport lounge experience is simple: Arrive early.
That gives you plenty of time to relax and take advantage of the lounge's amenities, which can go far beyond food and drinks. In one St. Paul, Minn., lounge, you can test out the indoor putting green. In a Dubai lounge, you can nap in a sleep pod while your phone charges. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at LAX offers panoramic views of the iconic Hollywood hills. And in a London lounge, you can get a massage or manicure before your flight at the Bliss Spa — though you’ll have to pay for those services separately.
Just keep in mind that some of these lounges limit how much time visitors can spend there, ranging from one to four hours. If you can spend only two hours at a lounge, don’t show up six hours before your flight.
» Learn more: 5 reasons why you should be using airport lounges
When you have a Priority Pass membership, a walk through the airport concourse to a lounge makes the preflight experience more enjoyable. Whether you’re going for the complimentary food and drinks or just a quieter place to relax or get some work done, an airport lounge can be a great place to unwind. If you don’t already have a card that provides Priority Pass lounge access, consider which one has the highest bonus point offer and evaluate if the other perks (i.e. travel statement credits, Global Entry credits, etc.) are relevant to you before applying.
To view rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, see this page. All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet. To view rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page. To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.
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 2021, 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