Lounge Access on the Amex Platinum Cards

Update (February 2018): American Express has improved the lounge benefits on the Business Platinum Card, rendering much of this article outdated. Going forward, the Platinum Card and the Business Platinum Card have essentially the same lounge access benefits.


The American Express Platinum Card and the Business Platinum Card are marketed as premium travel rewards cards, and one of the benefits that make them worth their salt is in terms of the airport lounge access that cardholders can enjoy.

However, I've seen that the lounge access rules on these cards can get quite confusing to people trying to make use of these benefits, so I thought it'd be helpful to run through the eligibility rules, access fees, and guesting privileges. It's definitely more complicated than it needs to be, so hopefully you'll be able to use this article as your one-stop shop on making the most of your lounge access benefits on the Canadian-issued Amex Platinum cards.

The complicating factor is that the benefit isn't simply "lounge access", full stop. In reality, these two cards bestow lounge access via three main channels:

  • Priority Pass
  • Plaza Premium lounges
  • American Express Centurion Lounges


Priority Pass

I wrote an in-depth guide to Priority Pass a few weeks ago, so read up on that if you want more details about the program itself. But the big idea is that both the Platinum Card and the Business Platinum Card provide you with a complimentary Priority Pass membership.

Now here's the first nuance: the Platinum Card gives you a Priority Pass Select Membership, which grants free unlimited access to worldwide Priority Pass lounges, along with free guesting privileges for one guest per lounge visit. Meanwhile, the Business Platinum only comes with a Priority Pass Basic Membership, meaning that while your membership fee is covered, you do need to pay US$27 per person per lounge visit, for both yourself and one guest.

Also, as a Platinum member you can receive complimentary membership in Priority Pass – one of the world’s largest independent airport lounge programs.

For complimentary entry, simply present your valid Priority Pass membership card (which you will receive after you enroll) and a ticket valid for travel on that day on any airline, regardless of fare. If you’re travelling with a guest, he or she may accompany you free of charge.
— American Express Platinum Card
Comfort and convenience served just about anywhere you travel, compliments of Priority Pass.

The $99 USD annual fee is on us and each lounge visit costs just $27 USD per person. Priority Pass membership enrollment is required.
— American Express Business Platinum Card

There's over 1,000 Priority Pass lounges worldwide, so the Platinum Card definitely outshines the Business Platinum in this regard, especially if you're a frequent traveller and you don't always fly business class (which comes with lounge access automatically). If you're a Platinum cardholder (or a Business Platinum cardholder who's willing to stump up the US$27 per person fee), be sure to get in the habit of looking up which Priority Pass lounges you'll be able to visit prior to your trip!

 VIP Lounge Miami, a Priority Pass lounge

VIP Lounge Miami, a Priority Pass lounge


Plaza Premium Lounges

But the Business Platinum Card isn't entirely useless if you're looking for free airport lounge access. That's because both the personal and business cards come with the following terms:

Canadian Platinum Lounge Benefit

Holders of eligible American Express Cards (“Eligible Cardmembers”) may access participating Canadian and International airport lounges (“Participating Lounges”) on a complimentary basis. Participating Lounges may change from time to time.

To access a Participating Lounge, Eligible Cardmember must show a valid, unexpired eligible American Express Card, airline ticket for travel on the same day and government-issued photo identification in the name of the Eligible Cardmember. Eligible Cardmember’s spouse and 2 children under the age of 21, or one travel companion, may enter a participating lounge as complimentary guests.
— American Express Platinum / Business Platinum Cards

Yes, if you hold either the Platinum Card or the Business Platinum Card, you have unlimited access to Plaza Premium lounges within Canada and internationally, for yourself and either one guest or up to three family members.

What are Plaza Premium lounges? While Priority Pass is a global lounge network, Plaza Premium is more like a "franchise" or a "brand" or airport lounges, which started in Hong Kong back in the 1990s. You can think of it like the Maple Leaf Lounges, if the Maple Leaf Lounge "brand" didn't have an affiliation with Air Canada and instead just set up its own lounges in various airports.

Confusingly, most Plaza Premium lounges are part of the Priority Pass network. (I swear, half the confusion surrounding this topic could easily be avoided if these two names didn't both abbreviate to "PP".)

The Business Platinum Card gives you free access to the over 150+ Plaza Premium lounges around the world. So if you mainly travel amongst cities where Plaza Premium has a presence, the Business Platinum Card is pretty much on par with the Platinum Card in terms of lounge access benefits! It's only if you venture beyond these lounges that the Platinum's Priority Pass advantage kicks in.

How good are the Canadian Plaza Premium lounges? Well, they're certainly not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but they're solid enough lounges and usually stack up against Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounges quite well. For example, while neither lounge in Toronto Pearson's transborder departure hall can be considered world-class, the Plaza Premium lounge at least serves hot food for dinner, whereas the Maple Leaf Lounge sneaks by on chips and salsa. 

Internationally, Plaza Premium lounges can be quite competitive indeed. I once visited the Plaza Premium Arrivals Lounge in London Heathrow Airport, where there was even an à la carte lunch menu!

 Plaza Premium Lounge, Vancouver Domestic

Plaza Premium Lounge, Vancouver Domestic


The Centurion Lounge

American Express is a global company, and in order to reinforce the premium image of their Platinum line of credit cards, they've opened special lounges in airports worldwide specifically for Platinum cardholders, known as Centurion Lounges.

Holders of Platinum or Business Platinum products, issued in any country, can access these lounges. Most of the Centurion Lounges are located in the US, although Amex has just recently opened one in Hong Kong, and have plans to launch many more Centurion Lounges globally over the coming years.

Alongside some of the top-tier Priority Pass locations, the Centurion Lounges are probably some of the best lounges that your Platinum credit card can unlock.   In general, you can expect top-quality food and drink inspired by regional tastes and stylish interiors drawn from local design principles. Centurion Lounges are typically very pleasant places to spend time and relax prior to your flight.

The best part about the Centurion Lounge benefit is the generous guest policy: each Platinum or Business Platinum cardholder is allowed to bring in two guests for free! 

Platinum® Card members who receive complimentary access may enter with up to two guests at no additional charge.
— The Centurion Lounge

This is fantastic for families travelling together, although the downside is that the Centurion Lounges can get rather crowded during the peak hours of the day. 

Read my review of the Centurion Lounge Seattle to get a taste of what Amex's proprietary chain of lounges has to offer. While the Seattle location is definitely the "baby" of the Centurion network – it doesn't have a full kitchen and therefore isn't able to serve hot food – you can get a taste of the lounge's satisfying decor and ambiance.

 Centurion Lounge Seattle

Centurion Lounge Seattle


Hotel Lounges

You thought the lounge benefits end at the airport? Nah, I don't think the Platinum and Business Platinum cards have quite justified their hefty annual fees yet (an effective $499/year and $399/year, respectively – oomph!)

Another benefit of these cards is that they offer elite status in various major hotel rewards programs, and one of the major players in this regard is Starwood Preferred Guest. As a Platinum or Business Platinum cardholder, you can call Amex and ask for Gold Elite status within the SPG program.

While SPG Gold status doesn't come with lounge access at Starwood hotels, the quirk that exists right now is that SPG Gold translates into Marriott Rewards Gold Elite status due to the impending merger, and Marriott Gold does grant you executive lounge access. For example, I recently made full use of the wonderful executive lounge at the JW Marriott Hong Kong, just from having signed up for the Platinum Card earlier in the year. 

All of this is to say that if you're a cardholder of one of American Express's premium lounges, you should be clear on the wide range of benefits that come with your card. Don't let these perks go to waste!

 JW Marriott Hong Kong executive lounge

JW Marriott Hong Kong executive lounge


Conclusion

In summary...

Lounge type American Express Platinum Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points
Platinum Card
American Express Business Platinum Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points
Business Platinum Card
Priority Pass lounges Unlimited access; one guest US$27 per person per visit, one guest
Plaza Premium lounges Unlimited access; one guest, or spouse and two children Unlimited access; one guest, or spouse and two children
The Centurion Lounge Unlimited access; two guests Unlimited access; two guests
Marriott Hotels executive lounges Unlimited access; one guest Unlimited access; one guest

The whole topic of which holders of American Express Platinum-branded cards get access to which lounges is definitely more opaque than it needs to be. When you boil it down, everyone gets access to Canadian Plaza Premium lounges (with one guest) and Amex Centurion Lounges (with two guests).

The only area in which the Platinum Card outshines the Business Platinum is that the former grants free unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges worldwide, while the latter requires a further access fee of US$27 per person per visit – both with one guest allowed.