For years, Priority Pass has been the go-to airport lounge benefit included with high-end travel credit cards. However, American Express has been shaking up this paradigm, buying competitor LoungeBuddy in early 2019 and offering a $100 credit to the service with its American Express® Green Card.
However, LoungeBuddy and Priority Pass offer very different services and trade-offs. Priority Pass offers its members unlimited access to lounges in its network, but these lounges now routinely deny access to members based on capacity. LoungeBuddy, by contrast, offers an a la carte payment option that effectively lowers your price to enter lounges, and therefore offers more dependable access.
Whether you’re comparing the benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which includes Priority Pass membership, and the American Express® Green Card, which offers the $100 LoungeBuddy credit (Terms apply), or just curious about how these services stack up, here we’ll compare them across several factors.
In the end, the right airport lounge service for you depends on which of these factors matches your travel habits.
Note: This review assumes you are gaining access to these lounge programs through a credit card perk and does not factor in the relative cost of each one. For a comparison that takes cost into account, check out our review of the different ways you can get airport lounge access.
Dependability might represent the most important difference between these two programs. LoungeBuddy’s pay-as-you-go model means you can (almost) always access a lounge within its network. Priority Pass, on the other hand, is more of an “unlimited access as long as the lounge remains nearly empty” model.
As cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and The Platinum Card® from American Express — which include Priority Pass membership — have exploded in popularity, more and more lounges in the network have been denying access to Priority Pass members when nearing capacity.
At some lounges in the U.S., you’re far more likely to be denied than admitted as a Priority Pass member. This creates an uncertain, frustrating experience for members who can no longer count on lounge access to work, eat and drink before a flight.
(Current events caveat: Obviously, these lounges have not been at or near capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic and may be unlikely to reject Priority Pass members for much of 2020.)
If you’re looking for dependable lounge access (and don’t need it too often) the $100 LoungeBuddy statement credit with the American Express® Green Card is a solid alternative to Priority Pass cards.
» Learn more: NerdWallet’s review of the AmEx Green card
For frequent flyers
Winner: Priority Pass
Even with its maddeningly inconsistent availability, Priority Pass is still a solid choice for frequent travelers, especially those who travel internationally.
Although hard data on lounge access is difficult to come by, our experience has shown that Priority Pass lounges outside the U.S. are often much less crowded (and better appointed) than their domestic counterparts.
LoungeBuddy, on the other hand, can get expensive in a hurry for those who fly more than a few times per year (even with a $100 statement credit). We collected a list of cheap(er) LoungeBuddy options, but even these cost around $45-$75 per visit. You have to eat a lot of cheese cubes to get your money’s worth at that price.
Ease of use
Winner: Priority Pass
Both programs are pretty easy to start using, though they each have their own tradeoffs.
The easiest way to use both programs is through their mobile apps. The Priority Pass app includes a digital membership card that can be scanned (along with an ID and boarding pass) to gain admittance. The LoungeBuddy app includes an easy search and payment flow.
However, LoungeBuddy does not currently support an Android app, which is a big ding against any digital-only platform.
This one is close. Like any all-you-can-eat subscription model service, Priority Pass can’t include the most luxurious (and expensive) options in its portfolio. It certainly has some spectacular international lounges, but the choices are generally more pedestrian stateside.
LoungeBuddy, by contrast, can include more high-end lounges because it can charge more for them. Interestingly, many of the most high-end first-class lounges in the world are nevertheless off-limits to LoungeBuddy customers. Yet some luxe options, such as the Lufthansa Business Class lounges, are available on LoungeBuddy (and not on Priority Pass).
Winner: It depends — really
If you’re deciding between a credit card that offers Priority Pass access or one that offers a credit to LoungeBuddy, the “best” choice depends on several factors.
- Frequent international travelers will get tons of value from Priority Pass.
- Infrequent travelers and those who prefer certainty should consider LoungeBuddy.
How to maximize your rewardsYou want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- No annual fee: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
- Premium travel rewards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Business travelers: The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
Credit cards that provide airport lounge access
Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies