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All About Priority Pass Lounge Access [2020]

I first wrote this guide back in 2017, so it’s high time to give it a makeover for 2020 with all the changes to Priority Pass that we’ve seen over the past few years.

Priority Pass is the world’s leading program for independent airport lounges. Membership in Priority Pass allows passengers to access over 1,000 lounges worldwide, making it one of the best ways to ensure uninterrupted lounge access on all your travels.

Yes, business class and First Class flights offer the best bang for your buck, but eventually everyone has to catch a flight in economy, whether that’s because of travelling on low-cost airlines, inflexible schedules, or simply limited award availability. 

And when that time comes, having access to a lounge to unwind prior to your flight can make the economy experience a lot more bearable. (Even if you have elite status with an airline such as Star Alliance Gold, Priority Pass can still come in handy if you find yourself travelling on a different airline alliance as a one-time exception.)

In this article, we’ll cover everything there is to know about the Priority Pass program – how you can enroll, how many guests you may bring, which lounges you have access to, etc. – to help you make the most of your membership.

In This Post

Priority Pass via the Amex Platinum Cards

The Priority Pass website lists a handful of membership packages, which would apply if you were looking to purchase an annual membership outright.

Priority Pass Prices | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points

However, there’s almost no reason to purchase one of these memberships directly. Instead, the most common way of obtaining a Priority Pass membership among savvy Miles & Points users is to get a premium travel credit card that automatically grants you Priority Pass memberships of varying levels. 

The American Express Platinum Card and American Express Business Platinum Card are the prime Canadian-issued candidates for those looking to enjoy the benefits of Priority Pass. That’s because these cards come with a Priority Pass Select Membership, which grants free unlimited visits to airport lounges worldwide for yourself and one guest.

(You’ll notice that you aren’t able to purchase a Select membership outright, even if you wanted to. It only comes as a side benefit on high-end travel credit cards.)

American Express Platinum Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points
American Express Business Platinum Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points

This is by far the most powerful Priority Pass membership. For net annual fees of $499 (taking into account the Platinum Card’s $200 annual travel credit), this can be an excellent value proposition if you can make use of Priority Pass lounges often enough.

You’ll want to keep in mind that the Platinum Card and Business Platinum Card also have additional lounge benefits in addition to Priority Pass, such as providing access to Plaza Premium Lounges and Centurion Lounges worldwide, and it can be confusing to keep track of them all. You’ll want to check out this post to understand all of the separate lounge benefits on the Platinum series of cards.

Another benefit of these cards is that supplementary Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders are also entitled to their own Priority Pass Select memberships. This can be extremely useful if you’re travelling as a family or larger group: having two Priority Pass memberships will let you bring four people into the lounge in total, and the $175 fee on a supplementary card is much more affordable than the $499 net cost of getting another Platinum or Business Platinum (although it doesn’t come with the signup bonus, of course).

Unfortunately, upon cancelling your card, many data points indicate that your Priority Pass membership gets cancelled immediately as well.

Before we move on to talk about other Canadian cards that come with Priority Pass perks, I should also mention that several US credit cards come with Select memberships as well, including the following products:

Most of the US premium products allow you to bring in two guests for free, unlike the Canadian cards that only allow one guest. If you dabble with credit cards on both sides of the border, you may find yourself with access to far more Priority Pass memberships than you’ll ever need, and you should be prioritizing the US-issued membership over the Canadian ones because of the more generous guest policy.

Turkish Airlines Lounge Bangkok

Turkish Airlines Lounge Bangkok

Priority Pass via Other Canadian Credit Cards

There are a handful of other Canadian credit cards that include an annual Priority Pass membership as part of their ancillary benefits, although the number of lounge visits they offer is typically limited (which can be used for either yourself or your guests). After you’ve used up all the lounge visits, you’ll get charged US$32 per visit.

In recent years, several credit cards in the mid-range segment of the market have started offering Priority Pass memberships. These products include:

  • CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite ($120 annual fee waived for the first year, four lounge visits per calendar year, signup bonus of up to 35,000 Aventura points)

  • Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite ($138 annual fee, six lounge visits per calendar year, signup bonus of up to 30,000 Scotia Rewards points, No FX Fees)

Both of these products can be excellent choices for their Priority Pass perks if you just want to enjoy lounge access on a few trips per year, and don’t find it worthwhile to shell out the money for the higher-end Amex cards. If you’re taking one overseas trip as a family of three, for example, then the six lounge visits on the Scotia Passport would be enough to get all of you into the lounge before both the outbound and return flights.

(Unlike the Amex Platinum series of cards, the Priority Pass perks on the CIBC Aventura and Scotia Passport are valid for the primary cardholder only.)

A number of higher-end products also offer Priority Pass benefits, although these tend to be less popular due to their higher annual fees. These include the Scotiabank Platinum American Express, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, the CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege, and the RBC Avion Visa Infinite Privilege.

The Scotia Platinum Amex provides 10 complimentary lounge visits, while the remaining products provide six free visits. At their price points of $399–499 in annual fees, though, you’d generally be much better off getting an Amex Platinum or Business Platinum for their far superior Priority Pass memberships.

Jewel Changi Lounge Singapore

Jewel Changi Lounge Singapore

How to Enroll

After applying for any of the above credit cards, you can simply call the number on the back of your card (or in the case of Amex, submit a request through Live Chat) and ask to be enrolled in your Priority Pass benefit.

The card issuer will generate a new Priority Pass membership for you, and the membership card will then be shipped to you in 7–10 business days.

Moreover, for your convenience and in the event that you have immediate travel plans, you can also ask the agents for your enrollment code, which you can use to set up your online Priority Pass account and get access to the vast majority of lounges using the digital card on the Priority Pass app (although a handful of lounges don’t accept the digital card, and their page on the Priority Pass website will say “Digital Card Not Accepted”).

Once you receive the Priority Pass card in the mail, I find it helpful to add a sticker or something to indicate which credit card it’s associated with – as you obtain more and more credit cards with Priority Pass, it can be easy to mix up all of the membership cards since they all look the same.

What Lounges Do You Have Access To?

The Priority Pass program was founded in 1992 and today encompasses over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. No matter where your travels take you, chances are there will be a Priority Pass lounge somewhere along your journey.

Some of these lounges are generic “contract lounges” by independent lounge operators, while others are operated by individual airlines, but have signed a deal with Priority Pass to allow access to its members as well.

The Priority Pass website has an excellent Lounge Finder feature, which lets you know which lounges are available to you at the airport you’re flying out from. The website also contains information on opening hours, amenities, lounge location, and any access restrictions in place (for example, only being able to access during certain times of day, or within a certain number of hours before your flight).

Pay close attention to this information, since it’s often the case that when you’re flying out of a particular airport, only a portion of the lounges at that airport are actually available to you, depending on which terminal/concourse/wing your flight is departing from. If you do happen to find yourself with multiple lounge options, perhaps a bit of lounge-hopping might be fun!

One thing that’s worth keeping in mind that not all lounges were created equal. For every gem of a lounge in the Priority Pass network, there’s a dud somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum. You’ll want to use the Lounge Finder to get a preview of which lounges are available to you on your upcoming trip and how they stack up against each other.

Some of the best lounges in the Priority Pass network I’ve visited include the Jewel Changi Lounge in Singapore, the Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow, and the Fiji Airways Premier Lounge at Nadi.

A few other lounges that have caught my eye – and that I’d be glad to try out if I get the chance – include the Almost@Home Lounge in Helsinki and the Star Alliance Lounge Paris (a lounge which I’m frankly quite surprised is signed on to Priority Pass, given that it’s one of Star Alliance’s flagship lounges).

I was also surprised to discover that Priority Pass’s network is not confined to airports only – indeed, when I was travelling along the Trans-Siberian Railway, I made use of Priority Pass lounges at train stations in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Novosibirsk!

Almost@Home Lounge Helsinki

Almost@Home Lounge Helsinki

From a Canadian perspective, you’ll enjoy regular Priority Pass lounge access if your home airport is one of the below:

  • Toronto Pearson (YYZ): Plaza Premium Lounges (Terminals 1 & 3 / Domestic, Transborder, International); Air France/KLM Lounge

  • Vancouver (YVR): Plaza Premium Lounges (Domestic, Transborder, International); SkyTeam Lounge

  • Montreal (YUL): National Bank Lounge (International only)

  • Calgary (YYC): Chinook Lounge, Aspire Lounges (Concourses D & E)

  • Edmonton (YEG): Plaza Premium Lounges (Domestic, Transborder)

  • Winnipeg (YWG): Plaza Premium Lounge

Notably, passengers travelling on domestic or transborder flights out of Montreal have no Priority Pass lounge access, a fact that I was quite annoyed to discover having recently moved there. In addition, Ottawa has no Priority Pass lounges at all, which must be incredibly disappointing for those living in the national capital.

The last thing to note is that individual lounges reserve the right to turn away Priority Pass members if the lounge is overcrowded. That’s one of the drawbacks to lounge memberships like this – if the program gets too popular, certain lounges might not have enough room to accommodate everybody.

Things tend to balance out in the long run (for example, the lounge might expand its capacity or drop out of Priority Pass entirely), but in the meantime, it’s unfortunate that some passengers do get turned away purely due to space constraints.

Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver

Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver

What About Priority Pass Restaurants & Bars?

A few years ago, Priority Pass began partnering up with establishments outside of lounges, such as restaurants and bars, at various airports around the world, offering guests a US$28 credit to spend in lieu of lounge access. This opened the door to getting lots of free food and drinks while waiting for your flight – and at restaurant quality too, rather than run-of-the-mill lounge snacks and sodas.

When I visited Portland a few years ago, I was able to take advantage of a US$28 allowance to spend on food and drinks at several different locations at Portland International Airport; since my girlfriend Jessy was travelling with me and had a Priority Pass membership of her own, and we could each register each other as guests, this meant that we were leaving the airport with hundreds of dollars’ worth of free food, drinks, and souvenirs.

Free stuff to take home from Capers Market PDX

Free stuff to take home from Capers Market PDX

This generous practice was clearly quite unsustainable, and as of August 2019, all American Express-issued Priority Pass memberships no longer provide the US$28 credit on restaurants, bars, and other “non-lounge airport experiences”.

If you have a Priority Pass membership issued by a bank that isn’t American Express, such as CIBC, Scotiabank, Chase, or Citi, you’ll continue to enjoy access to these facilities with a US$28 credit. However, since the number of lounge visits are limited on the CIBC and Scotiabank cards, you’ll probably need one of the higher-end Chase or Citi products if you want to continue hopping around airports and racking up hundreds of dollars’ worth of free stuff.

Conclusion

Getting consistent lounge access when you travel is one of the many pieces of the puzzle when it comes to leveraging travel rewards, and a Priority Pass membership is something that I never travel without.

With the American Express Platinum Card and Business Platinum Card offering one of the most powerful memberships you’ll find anywhere, there’s no reason not to give it a try and treat yourself to a more comfortable airport experience the next time you fly.

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