Everything you need to know about the Priority Pass program

Nov 21, 2019

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Lounge access: It’s not just for the rich and famous. It’s for everyone who wants to make their airport travel experience better. Many of the top rewards credit cards offer some form of access to the Priority Pass network of airport lounges. In fact, you may already have a card in your wallet that can make your next trip to the airport more comfortable. But since it’s sometimes unclear what that means and what’s included in your membership, let’s take a closer look at the different levels of Priority Pass membership, which credit cards offer this benefit and how to make the most of your access.

Priority Pass basics

Priority Pass is a network of airport lounges, mini-suites and even airport restaurants. As of this writing, it boasts 1,300 eligible locations in more than 600 airports in 148 countries. The company was created in 1992 and it claims to be the largest airport lounge network in the world. Although those numbers are impressive, temper expectations a bit as many of the lounges are outside of the U.S. So, while the lounge network is large, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a lounge convenient to you on every trip.

Bar at The Club at MCO (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Bar at The Club at MCO (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

But, there’s a good chance it can help you on many trips. Priority Pass is accepted at more than 40 U.S. airports, and some have multiple lounges:

  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Baltimore Washington International (BWI)
  • Boston (BOS)
  • Buffalo (BUF)
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Charlotte (CLT)
  • Charleston (CHS)
  • Cincinnati (CVG)
  • Cleveland (CLE)
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW)
  • Detroit (DET)
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  • Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP)
  • Honolulu (HNL)
  • Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
  • Indianapolis (IND)
  • Jacksonville (JAX)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Lexington (LEX)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Minneapolis (MSP)
  • New York-JFK (JFK)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • Orlando International (MCO)
  • Orlando-Sanford (SFB)
  • Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Pittsburgh (PIT)
  • Portland (PDX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • San Juan (SJU)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • St. Louis (STL)
  • Syracuse (SYR)
  • Tampa (TPA)
  • Tucson (TUS)
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD)
  • Washington National (DCA)

Related: How to choose the best Priority Pass lounge in Miami

This domestic coverage is solid, but still leaves out some pretty large hub airports including LaGuardia, Denver and Salt Lake City, not to mention busy secondary airports like Chicago Midway, Dallas Love and Houston Hobby. That said, when you head international, you may find lounges in smaller to mid-sized airports such as Liberia, Costa Rica or Entebbe, Uganda — there’s even a lounge with a pool in Punta Cana!

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)
This lounge even has a pool! (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

The facilities in the Priority Pass network vary by owner and location. Some lounges, like The Club at ATL in Atlanta, are independent facilities 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 more spartan facilities like the one in Honolulu, to some nicer ones, such as The Club at MCO in Orlando.

Related: Best Priority Pass lounges in the U.S.

Guests and children are often allowed, but check the rules of your desired lounge location and your Priority Pass membership to be sure of your inclusions.

Restaurants and Mini-Suites

A few years ago, Priority Pass expanded its offerings by partnering with airport restaurants, mini-suites and more. This opens up the door to enjoying perks at restaurants and locations that either don’t have a traditional lounge or for when you’d just rather something different. However, as of mid-2019, American Express-issued Priority Pass memberships no longer include the restaurant benefit. Thankfully, Chase, Citi and U.S. Bank have confirmed with TPG that they currently have no plans to change any of the benefits on their cards that come with Priority Pass membership.

(Photo courtesy of The Grain Store Cafe & Bar)
(Photo courtesy of The Grain Store Cafe & Bar)

There are currently close to 30 Priority Pass participating airport restaurants within the U.S. and more available internationally. You can view the full restaurant list here, but some examples include:

Breakfast tacos from Landry’s thanks to Priority Pass. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The amount of restaurant credit you get per Priority Pass member or guest varies, but it is often around $28 per person. The number of guests can be capped at locations, too, but if you have one member and one included guest on your membership, then you may be able to enjoy $56 worth of food and drinks for your table by swiping your Priority Pass card from a credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

At the bars and restaurants, just be sure and tip, as appropriate, since gratuity is not included. Also, note that many locations do not permit you to take the items to-go, so verify those rules in advance if you are in a rush.

The Priority Pass restaurant perk can work great for families and groups, such as when Richard Kerr enjoyed $53 worth of food and booze at SYD thanks to Priority Pass.

Priority Pass also has some less-conventional airport options in some locations. For example, the PGA MSP Lounge at Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport (MSP) offers free access to a putting green, along with golf lessons and a golf simulator available for a fee. This lounge also offers a $15 credit that can be applied toward food or drink, or toward a golf experience (for non-Amex Priority Pass members).

Minute Suites at ATL.
Minute Suites at ATL. (Photo by The Points Guy)

Finally, Priority Pass comes with access to Minute Suites at locations including Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth Philadelphia and Charlotte. The first hour is included with your Priority Pass and additional hours can be rented at a discounted rate of $28. A shower can be had for an extra $20 for 30 minutes. There’s also access to sleep pods at Dubai International Airport (two to three hours included) and pre-flight spa treatments at Aspire, the Lounge and Spa at LHR T5 in Heathrow.

Photo of the Atlanta Concourse B Minute Suites location. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)
Photo of the Atlanta Concourse B Minute Suites location. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Related: Best Priority Pass lounges in the world

Priority Pass vs. Priority Pass Select membership levels

The terms Priority Pass and Priority Pass Select 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 $32 each
  • Standard Plus membership: $249 per year; includes 10 free visits, with subsequent visits for $32 each

Meanwhile, many U.S. credit cards offer club access benefits called Priority Pass Select. But, even that can be a little confusing because some credit cards offer Priority Pass Select benefits for just one person, while others include guests. In either case, Priority Pass and Priority Pass Select members can pay for additional guests beyond their benefit’s allowance.

Credit cards that offer Priority Pass Select memberships

Here are some cards that include Priority Pass Select membership.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers included Priority Pass Select membership with access for up to two free guests. Additional guests are $27 each. New applicants can currently receive a 50,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. There’s a $550 annual fee for this card, and each additional authorized user costs $75 per year. Authorized users are eligible for a Priority Pass Select membership of their own.

Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders are eligible to enjoy the Priority Pass restaurant benefits.

Amex Platinum

Both The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express award Priority Pass Select memberships good for the cardholder and two guests. Additional guests are $32 each. Amex memberships sadly do not include the Priority Pass restaurant benefits but do include Minute Suites.

While included restaurants are off the menu, Platinum cardmembers can also access Delta Sky Club lounges when they’re traveling on a Delta flight the same day and can also enjoy the networks of American Express Centurion Lounge locations, with up to two guests. (If you travel with kids, note that some Amex Centurion Lounges have family rooms!)

Authorized users with Amex Platinum cards can also enjoy their own Priority Pass Select memberships. It costs $175 per year to add up to three authorized users.

Hilton Aspire Amex

The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express includes a Priority Pass Select membership for the cardholder and up to two guests. The card is currently offering new applicants 150,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. There’s a $450 annual fee (see rates & feesfor this card. If you like lounges, also know that the card grants automatic Hilton Diamond status with this card, which can translate to lounge access at Hilton properties. 

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card offers a Priority Pass Select membership for the cardholder and two guests. Additional guests are $32 each. The card has a $450 annual fee (see rates & fees), and you can currently earn a 75,000-point welcome bonus after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

Hilton Surpass

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card has a Priority Pass membership, but it works differently than the ones previously mentioned. This one only includes 10 free visits with no free guests. You can visit lounges by yourself 10 times, or visit once with nine guests. Your call.

After that, you’ll have to pay a $32 fee per person, per visit. There’s a $95 annual fee (see rates & fees) for this card, and you can currently earn 125,000 bonus points after after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

U.S. Bank Reserve Visa Infinite

The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card comes with a limited Priority Pass Select membership for one cardmember per account, including authorized users. The member will receive complimentary access to participating lounges for the first four visits, as well as four individual guest visits. After the free visits are used, the $27 entry fee will apply to cardholders and guests. There’s a $400 annual fee for this card.

Citi Prestige® Card

If you have a larger family and want to bring everyone into the lounge, Citi Prestige is a card to know about. This card allows the cardholder to bring two guests — or, their immediate family into the lounge at no extra fee. Have five kids? They can all come into the lounge with you without an added guest fee with this card. Immediate family is defined as spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18. Otherwise, additional guests are $27 each. This card has a $495 annual fee.

The information for the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite and the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

How to use Priority Pass benefits

Once you have a card that includes a Priority Pass Select membership, you’ve made great progress toward your next lounge visit, but you can’t just present your credit card at a participating lounge, restaurant or Minute Suite and receive complimentary access. (Though, that would be nice.) First, you must enroll in the program through a link that you receive with your credit card in order to receive a Priority Pass Select membership card. You can often find that under benefits when you log into your credit card account.

Since it can take a week or two to receive your physical 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, but not all, facilities.

Make sure to know if guests are permitted — and how many — ahead of your visit, because the representatives accepting your card won’t know. For example, if you have Priority Pass Select access through your Amex Platinum, you receive guest access for up two guests, so your card will be automatically charged $32 for each additional guest. 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.

Priority Pass lounge in Punta Cana (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The lounge might be full

Last, and also least, know that your best-laid lounging plans may not always work out. These days, there are lots of travelers with lounge access and the lounges can sometimes reach capacity. Other lounges are sometimes only available to Priority Pass members during select hours. So, check the Priority Pass website before your next trip for not only available locations, but available hours, and don’t be shocked if some lounges are temporarily at capacity during peak times.

Bottom line

Several cards offer Priority Pass Select membership as a benefit, which can help improve your travel experience with goodies like free food and drinks, not to mention a comfortable place to relax or get some work done. Just make sure you know the specific details of your membership since the guest policies vary quite a bit from card to card.

Related guides

Additional reporting by Jason Steele

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, please click here.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.