Understanding Amex Platinum Lounge & Priority Pass Select Benefits

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Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.

Update: The offer mentioned below for the Business Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.

Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership. Cardmembers will continue to receive access to participating Delta Sky Club lounges, Priority Pass Select (enrollment is required), and Airspace lounges in JFK, CLE and BWI airports.

One of the best among the Platinum Card from American Express’s many benefits is the airport lounge access cardholders get. When you have a valid ticket for same-day travel, the Platinum card will also gain you access to Delta, American and US Airways lounges – potentially saving you membership fees of up to around $500 each per year if you were to join each separately – and you can bring two guests or your spouse and any children under 21. US Airways even allows entry if you are flying on a different carrier.  The personal Platinum card, the Business Platinum card and the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card all carry this benefit.

Priority Pass
One of the Platinum card’s valuable benefits is Priority Pass membership.

In addition to the airline-specific lounges, the card also confers Priority Pass Select access to over 600 airport lounges in 100 countries no matter which airline you are flying at the time (guests can also enter for a $27 per person fee).

However, this benefit also ends up being a bit of a sticking point for some cardholders – as one TPG reader emailed me earlier this week, and I experienced last week during my trip to Europe.

In order to attain Priority Pass Select access, you have to call the Platinum card customer service line and actually ask for it, which many cardholders forget about and are in for a rude awakening when they try to access a Priority Pass lounge by just presenting their Platinum card. Instead, you need to have your Priority Pass card with you and be able to present it.

You actually have to call Amex to enroll in Priority Pass.
You actually have to call Amex to enroll in Priority Pass.

While the upside is, it doesn’t matter what airline you’re flying for you to get in, one of the big downsides is that your card only covers you – so if you are traveling with anyone else, they’ll have to pay the $27 fee…or it will be charged to the Platinum card you have linked to your Priority Pass Select membership.

That’s what happened to the reader who wrote to me. He used his Priority Pass card to gain entrance to a lounge in London Heathrow during a layover and he brought a guest with him. While he thought the guest would get in for free, he was mistaken – though it doesn’t sound like the desk agent pointed that out to him at the time – and when he got home, he found a $27 charge on his Amex statement.

His situation is a good reminder that you can’t count on desk agents to be as informative and upfront as possible, so you should always ask if there will be any fees, and then be sure to look your statement over carefully to make sure you have not been incorrectly charged.

Anecdotally, I’ve also heard of Platinum cardholders finding lounge charges on their Amex statements even though they had shown their card at check-in and should have had free access to the lounge. That hasn’t happened to me, but again, read your statement over carefully each month to make sure the charges are correct.

What did happen to me this summer, though, was another interesting pitfall. As you might know, during my last round of applications, I replaced my personal Platinum card with the Mercedes-Benz version (and scored 50,000 bonus Membership Rewards points in the bargain).

New Delta SkyDeck.
Your Platinum card gets you access to Delta’s new SkyDeck at JFK.

I still had my Priority Pass Select membership card from my old Platinum card and I simply forgot to get a new one with my new Mercedes-Benz Platinum. Well, I should have, because when I tried using it to enter a Priority Pass lounge in London, the card was denied. Luckily I was with a friend who had his own Platinum card and Priority Pass membership and he guested me in for the $27 fee.

One way to avoid the fee if you travel with a pretty set list of companions like your own family or a group of friends is to make them additional cardholders on your Platinum card account. Amex will charge you $175 to get up to three additional cards, and each of those additional cardholders will get the lounge access benefit in their own right – so you’re potentially quadrupling the value of your lounge benefit by adding another 3 people to your account like I did with my father this past Father’s Day. Each of those cardholders also gets their own Global Entry application fee refund, worth $100 each. The $200 yearly airline reimbursement is shared between all cards on an account, so additional cardholders simply apply towards the $200- they don’t get their own $200 reimbursement unfortunately.

Delta Sky Club bar area.
If you have a long layover, it’s nice to have a place to sit, get a drink and get some work done.

When the lounge access benefit works, it’s definitely a great cardholder asset, but when it doesn’t work, or you find yourself disputing a charge, you can’t help but ask yourself, “is it really worth the $27 to go hang out in a nondescript airport lounge and get free crackers and soda?”

A lot of airports are upgrading their facilities, both here in the US and abroad, with better dining choices, more and more free WiFi, and just nicer places to sit, so paying $27 to get into a lounge where the amenities might not all be up to snuff becomes less of a worthwhile proposition. Personally, I’d rather spend $27 on a decent meal at an airport than to get into most lounges.

That said, if I have a long layover and need a quiet, more private place to work where I’m guaranteed decent WiFi, some snacks and drinks, and maybe even a light meal, having access to an airline lounge is a nice perk.

While airline lounges tend to be pretty standardized across the board, remember that in addition to participating airline lounges like Alaska MVP Boardrooms, many Priority Pass lounges are run by independent companies, so amenities can vary widely, as can floorspace and services. Whereas airline lounge reps can move heaven and earth to help you with your reservations (not that they always do), staffers at non-airline lounges can’t do a thing for you, so that’s something to keep in mind.

While airline lounge reps can help you with your reservation, those in independent lounges like many Priority Pass ones cannot.

I think the airline lounge access is one of the strong points in the Platinum card’s suite of benefits…when it works. There are member lounges in most major airports around the world, and it’s nice to know you can visit them when you’re traveling. The downside, however, is that sometimes cardholders can still get charged for access by accident, and that any travel companions must pay for their access, both of which must factor into your decision whether or not to visit a Priority Pass lounge on your travels.

It won’t stop me from accessing them as I fly around the world – only I’ll be sure from now on that my membership is up to date so I don’t have any further issues!

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