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Everything You Need To Know About the Priority Pass Program

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There are many credit cards that offer some form of access to the Priority Pass network of airport lounges, but it’s sometimes not clear what that means. Especially with the recent launch of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, many award travelers may be wondering how this perk works. In today’s post, I want to take a closer look at the levels of Priority Pass membership and discuss which credit cards offer this benefit and how to use it.

Priority Pass Basics

Priority Pass is a network of over 900 airport lounges in over 120 countries. The company was created in 1992 and it currently claims to be the largest airport lounge network in the world. Although these numbers sound impressive, the vast majority of lounges are outside of the US, and many are in small airports.

Currently, there are lounges at just 25 US airports, although some have multiple lounges:

  • Anchorage (ANC)
  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Baltimore Washington International (BWI)
  • Boston (BOS)
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Cincinnati (CVG)
  • Colorado Springs (COS)
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW)
  • Honolulu (HNL)
  • Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Minneapolis (MSP)
  • New York-JFK (JFK)
  • New York-LaGuardia (LGA)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • Orlando International (MCO)
  • Orlando-Sanford (SFB)
  • Phoenix (PHX)
  • Portland (PDX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD)

This leaves out some pretty large hub airports like Charlotte, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City. The upside is that many smaller airports in foreign countries have a lounge in the Priority Pass network, so membership can come in handy around the globe.

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The Escape Lounge at Minneapolis-St. Paul. Image courtesy of My MSP Connect.

The lounges in the Priority Pass network also vary by owner. Some lounges are independent facilities like The Club at ATL in Atlanta, while others are affiliated with airlines, such as the Air France Lounge and Korean Airlines-run KAL Business Lounge at New York-JFK, or the British Airways Galleries Lounge at Washington-Dulles. Lounges can also vary quite a bit in terms of quality, with some very spartan facilities like the one in Honolulu, to some pretty nice ones like the new Escape Lounge at Minneapolis-St. Paul. For more information, read Nick Ewen’s post on the Top 8 Priority Pass Lounges that Are Worth a Layover.

Priority Pass vs. Priority Pass Select

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Various credit cards offer Priority Pass Select membership, while you can purchase Priority Pass membership directly.

It’s common to read about the Priority Pass lounge network or Priority Pass Select, and the terms are used in such a way that it can create some confusion. Priority Pass is the name of the company that offers memberships to lounges in its network. You can purchase Priority Pass memberships directly from the site, with annual fees starting at $99. Here’s a breakdown of the membership options:

  • Standard membership: $99 per year; includes visits for $27 each
  • Standard Plus membership: $249 per year; includes 10 free visits, with subsequent visits for $27 each
  • Prestige membership: $399 per year; includes unlimited complimentary visits (guests cost $27 each)

Meanwhile, some US credit cards offer club access benefits called Priority Pass Select. It used to be that Priority Pass memberships included United Club lounges and the Priority Pass Select membership didn’t. But now that the United Clubs aren’t part of either program, there’s little distinction between the benefits of a Priority Pass membership purchased directly and the Priority Pass Select benefit offered by credit cards. However, some credit cards offer Priority Pass Select benefits for just one person, while others include guests. In either case, Priority Pass members can pay for additional guests beyond their benefit’s allowance for $27 per person.

Credit Cards That Offer Priority Pass Select Memberships

Here are the cards that you can currently apply for and get Priority Pass Select membership. Note that this list doesn’t include cards that offer membership but are no longer available to new applicants, or are invitation-only.

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The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers Priority Pass Select membership that includes free guest access.

Chase Sapphire Reserve — This recently introduced card offers a Priority Pass Select membership that includes the primary cardholder and traveling companions. According to Chase representatives, Priority Pass does not limit the number of guests, but individual lounges reserve the right to limit the number of guests per cardmember. New applicants can currently receive a 100,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and each additional authorized user costs $75 per year (authorized users receive a Priority Pass Select membership of their own). For more information about this hot new offer, see our post on Questions and Answers About the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, and Everything You Need to Know About Chase Sapphire Reserve Perks.

Platinum Card from American Express and the Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express — The primary cardholder and authorized users receive a Priority Pass Select membership good for themselves only, so they’ll need to pay $27 per guest on each visit. Platinum cardmembers can also access Delta Sky Club lounges when they’re traveling on a Delta flight the same day, with guest access at a reduced fee ($29 per person for up to two guests). Both cards also offer free access to Airspace lounges (with two guests) at Cleveland (CLE), New York-JFK (T5) and San Diego (SAN). Finally, personal and business Platinum cardmembers can access the seven current American Express Centurion Lounge locations — including the recently opened lounge in Houston — in the US with their immediate family or up to two guests.

There’s a $450 annual fee for both versions of this card, and both versions are currently offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $3,000 (with the personal card) $5,000 (with the business card) in the first three months — though you should check the CardMatch tool to see if you’re eligible for a higher offer. You can add up to three authorized users to the personal card for a flat fee of $175.

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The recently introduced Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card offers Priority Pass Select access among other solid perks.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card — This card offers Priority Pass Select membership as a benefit, and while the terms and conditions don’t specify the guest policy, it appears that the card’s policy matches that of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, so guests should generally be free. Thanks to some updates the card’s now part of the Visa Infinite program, another thing it has in common with the recently launched Reserve Card. New applicants earn three complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card.

Citi Prestige — The Citi Prestige Card offers a Priority Pass Select membership that includes complimentary lounge access for both the cardholder and immediate family members or up to two guests. If you already have the card, you’ll also get access to American Airlines’ Admirals Club lounges when flying American, including two guests or the cardholder’s immediate family. Note that this benefit ends in July 2017, though Priority Pass Select membership will remain. You can currently earn a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and it costs $50 for each authorized user.

Use Citi ThankYou points on BestBuy.com.
The Citi Prestige Card is eliminating Admirals Club access next year, but Priority Pass Select membership will still be available to cardholders.

Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express — This card includes a Priority Pass membership, however visits to the lounges are not complimentary. You and your guests will have to pay a $27 fee per person, per visit. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card, and you can currently earn 75,000 HHonors points when you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months.

How to Utilize Your Priority Pass Select Benefits

Once you have a card that includes a Priority Pass Select membership as a benefit, you can’t simply present your credit card at a participating lounge to receive complimentary access. First, you must enroll in the program through a link that you receive with your card in order to receive a Priority Pass Select membership card. Since it can take a week or two to receive your membership card in the mail, it’s best to enroll as soon as you receive your credit card. Alternatively, you can download the Priority Pass app, which includes a digital membership card that you can use to access most lounges.

Make sure to know if guests are permitted — and how many — ahead of your visit, because the representatives at the lounges will not know. For example, if you have Priority Pass Select access through your Amex Platinum, you don’t receive guest access and will have to pay $27 for each of your guests. Since you’re never asked to present your credit card at the lounge, you might not know that you were charged until you see your statement.

Bottom Line

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The Star Alliance Lounge is one of four Priority Pass options at São Paulo Guarulhos Airport (GRU).

Several cards offer Priority Pass Select membership as a benefit, and this can help improve your travel experience, especially if you don’t have lounge access with another program or airline. Just make sure you know the specific details of your membership, since the guest policies vary quite a bit from card to card.

Featured image shows the No. 1 Lounge at Heathrow Airport, part of the Priority Pass network.

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  • Access to 900+ airport lounges worldwide with complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership
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