Your guide to Priority Pass

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If you’re an avid traveler, you’ve undoubtedly heard of or even spent time in an airport lounge. With complimentary food, beverages and other amenities, access to these lounges can enhance almost any airline trip.

You can gain entry into an airport lounge by purchasing a one-time pass or a Priority Pass membership. If you’re interested in getting access to an airport lounge using a Priority Pass, here’s what you need to know.

What is Priority Pass?

The Priority Pass membership grants access to a global network of over 1,300 VIP airport experiences that include airport lounges, restaurants and other exclusive amenities. Select airport locations in the Priority Pass network also include suites for napping, spa services, gaming stations and picturesque views. You’ll even find some next-level luxuries available, like a pool in one of the Punta Cana International Airport lounges and a putting green at the PGA-themed Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.

Averaging anywhere from $30 to $60 a visit, access to airport lounges can be pretty expensive on a one-off basis. It may not be worth paying for individual passes, especially if you’re bringing a guest or traveling with your family. For most travelers, especially those who fly more than a few times a year, it’s more economical to invest in a Priority Pass membership for airport lounge access.

There are two ways to become a Priority Pass member. You can either purchase a membership directly through the company’s website or get a Priority Pass Select membership through a credit card issuer that offers this benefit to its cardholders.

What are the Priority Pass benefits?

If you are a moderate or frequent traveler, a Priority Pass membership could provide a great deal of value in terms of amenities and food. Many airport lounges often have one or more of the following features:

  • WiFi
  • Charging stations
  • Food and drinks
  • TVs
  • Conference rooms
  • Business centers, including computers and printers
  • Sleeping suites or showers

Depending on the Priority Pass membership, you may be able to bring guests into lounges. In some cases, kids under a certain age are free. Guests that aren’t covered need to pay the prevailing rate to enter the lounge.

Another benefit of the Priority Pass includes restaurant vouchers. You can skip the lounge and go to one of 30+ participating restaurants with a voucher for $28-$30. Your guest can also have a voucher if they are included in your membership.

Note: Some card issuers, like American Express, no longer provide restaurant access with their Priority Pass Select membership. Others only offer a limited number of lounge visits. Read the fine print for your card describing exclusions and limitations regarding Priority Pass Select benefits.

The Priority Pass app

The Priority Pass app is an excellent resource for any traveler. It has a directory of all airport lounges and maps for all locations, as well as their offerings and operating schedule. The mobile experience gives users the most up-to-date information regarding airport dining, retail and spa discounts. You can also redeem offers with the Priority Pass app or with your digital account.

Where to find Priority Pass lounges

Most of the 1,300 airport experiences available to Priority Pass members are outside of the United States. As a result, you’ll get the most benefit from the Priority Pass as an international traveler. If you would like to enjoy lounge access stateside, there are currently 40 airport options in the U.S.:

  • Baltimore-Washington International (BWI), Maryland
  • Boston Logan International (BOS), Massachusetts
  • Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF), New York
  • Charleston International Airport (CHS), South Carolina
  • Charlotte Douglas International (CLT), North Carolina
  • Chicago O’Hare International (ORD), Illinois
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (CVG), Ohio
  • Cleveland Hopkins International (CLE), Ohio
  • Colorado Springs Airport (COS), Colorado
  • Dallas-Fort Worth International (DFW), Texas
  • Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International (FLL), Florida
  • George Bush Houston Intercontinental (IAH), Texas
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL), Georgia
  • Honolulu International (HNL), Hawaii
  • Indianapolis International (IND), Indiana
  • Jacksonville International (JAX), Florida
  • John F. Kennedy International (JFK), New York
  • Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS), Nevada
  • Lexington Blue Grass Airport (LEX), Kentucky
  • Los Angeles International (LAX), California
  • Miami International (MIA), Florida
  • Minneapolis−Saint Paul International (MSP), Minnesota
  • Newark Liberty International (EWR), New Jersey
  • New Orleans International Airport (MSY), Louisiana
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International (SJC), California
  • Orlando International (MCO), Florida
  • Orlando-Sanford International (SFB), Florida
  • Philadelphia International (PHL), Pennsylvania
  • Pittsburgh International (PIT), Pennsylvania
  • Portland International (PDX), Oregon
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA), Washington D.C.
  • San Francisco International (SFO), California
  • San Juan International (SJU), Puerto Rico
  • Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA), Washington
  • St. Louis Lambert International (STL), Missouri
  • Syracuse Hancock International (SYR), New York
  • Tampa International (TPA), Florida
  • Tucson International (TUS), Arizona
  • Washington Dulles International (IAD), Washington D.C.

Are Priority Pass lounges usually crowded?

Sometimes, but there are a lot of variables at play. Demand for lounge access varies by country, airport, type of lounge, time of day and whether or not you are traveling during a peak season.

Busy airports at peak travel season could have longer wait times to get into lounges. Popular airport lounges that offer unique experiences, like spa services in sleeping rooms, could have even higher demand and wait times.

There are a few things you can do to get access to an airport lounge even during periods of higher demand. Some airports have more than one Priority Pass option. For example, if a lounge is overcrowded, then you can opt for an eligible restaurant or even another lounge in another terminal. If you have a long layover or wait before your flight, it could be worth it to venture into another terminal to make the most of your Priority Pass access.

The other option you have is to wait until there’s enough space for you and your guests. Again, for very long visits to the airport, this may not be a problem. There are limitations on the time you can spend in these lounges anyway, so waiting before your lounge visit (or having to leave when you still have a wait before your flight) may be inevitable.

What does Priority Pass membership cost?

There are three levels of Priority Pass membership:

Standard

This membership is for the occasional traveler and costs $99 per year. With the standard membership, entry to airport lounges will cost $32 for yourself and the same for additional guests.

Standard plus

This membership is for someone who travels a bit more often, like once or twice per month. The $299 annual membership fee covers ten free visits to Priority pass lounges.  Once you’ve used those, you’ll pay $32 per visit. The same rate applies to any additional guests.

Prestige

This level accommodates the frequent traveler and costs $429 per year and provides unlimited visits at no additional charge. Additional guests will cost $32.

Which credit cards include Priority Pass Select?

Suppose you don’t want to pay for a Priority Pass membership. In that case, there are several credit cards that offer a special Priority Pass membership, called Priority Pass Select, as a card benefit. Here are the credit cards that offer Priority Pass Select memberships:

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for flexible rewards

  • Rewards rate: 3X points on eligible travel and restaurant purchases (after earning your $300 travel credit); 3X points on grocery store purchases up to $1,000 per month, then 1X points (from Nov. 1, 2020, to Apr. 30, 2021); 10X total points on Lyft purchases (through Mar. 31, 2022) and on up to $500 of Chase Dining takeout orders and prepaid reservations via Ultimate Rewards (through Jun. 30, 2021); 1X points on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 within three months of opening your account
  • Annual fee: $550
  • APR: 16.99 percent to 23.99 percent variable

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is one of the most popular travel credit cards around. With bonus points when opening the card, a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck and an annual $300 travel credit, this card still offers more in terms of rewards points. The real appeal for travelers is the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, where cardholders can redeem points at a higher value for travel-related spending with travel partners.

Citi Prestige® Card: Best for premium travel card with a lower annual fee

  • Rewards rate: 5X points on air travel and restaurant purchases; 3X points on hotels and cruise line purchases; 1X point on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: 50,000 bonus ThankYou points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening
  • Annual fee: $495
  • APR: 16.99 percent to 23.99 percent variable APR based on your creditworthiness

The Citi Prestige® Card easily rivals similar high-end cards from card issuers like Chase and American Express. Like many of its competitors, there is an annual travel bonus, Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit option, along with other travel perks and redemption options.

The 5X points for travel and restaurants will appeal to frequent travelers who would like a premium travel card with a slightly lower annual fee. Also, it’s a good pick for those who’ll spend frequently on travel, dining and entertainment.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card: Best for frequent Hilton stays

  • Rewards rate:14X Hilton Honors points on eligible Hilton purchases, 7X on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, 7X at U.S. restaurants, 3X on all other purchases.
  • Welcome offer: 150,000 bonus Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 in your first three months.
  • Annual fee: $450
  • APR: 15.74 percent to 24.74 percent variable

If you are partial to the Hilton brand, this card will be your go-to for travel and dining. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card allows you to convert points to cover nights at Hilton properties, airline miles and car rentals. Cardmembers receive one weekend night reward immediately, plus one every year after card renewal. You’ll also get a number of statement credits for travel-related spending.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card*: Best for moderate travelers

  • Rewards rate: 12X points per dollar on Hilton hotels and resorts; 6X points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; 3X points per dollar on other eligible purchases
  • Welcome offer: 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card in the first 3 months of card membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the card in the first 6 months.
  • Annual fee: $95
  • APR: 15.74 percent to 24.74 percent variable

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is ideal for moderate travelers who prefer Hilton properties. It has a reasonable annual fee and still offers good value for points redeemed through the Hilton Honors portal. The Hilton Surpass card also comes with its own yearly award night benefit. By spending at least $15,000 on eligible purchases in one calendar year, you earn a “Free Weekend Night Reward.”

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Best for start-ups and small businesses that prefer Hilton properties

  • Rewards rate: 12X points on Hilton hotel and resort purchases, 6X points on select business (U.S. gas stations, U.S. cellphone service providers and U.S. shipping purchases) and travel purchases (U.S. restaurants, airfare booked through Amex Travel and select car rentals) with 3X points on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Earn up to 180,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points. Earn 130,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors Business Card in the first 3 months of card membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the card in the first 6 months.
  • Annual fee: $95
  • APR: 15.74 percent to 24.74 percent variable

The affordable annual fee of $95 makes this a good entry-level card for business travelers who prefer Hilton properties and business-oriented benefits. With Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, you’ll get complimentary Hilton Honors Gold Status, bonus reward night offers and other loyalty benefits like free breakfast and room upgrades. You should know that your Priority Pass Select membership with this card covers just 10 complimentary visits each year to participating lounges.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best for brand-loyal Marriott travelers

  • Rewards rate: Earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program; 3X points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines; 2X points on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Limited Time Offer: Earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points and a bonus Free Night Award after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership. Resort fees may apply. Terms apply. Offer expires 11/3/2021.
  • Annual fee: $450
  • APR: 15.74 percent to 24.74 percent variable

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card features many benefits, including annual credits, travel perks and upgrades thanks to complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status granted with this card for 2021. You can also maximize earning points by linking your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card to the Eat Around Town by Marriott Bonvoy program, which allows you to earn up to 9 points per dollar (6 points per dollar on top of the 3 points you’d already earn) on eligible restaurant purchases. Points can be redeemed at over 7,000 Marriott Bonvoy hotels or for other travel options, including flights, car rentals and travel packages.

Mastercard® Black Card™: Best for travel perks and upgrades

  • Rewards rate: 1 point for every $1 spent
  • Welcome offer: N/A
  • Annual fee: $495 ($195 for each authorized user)
  • APR: 14.99 percent variable

The Mastercard® Black Card™ card doesn’t have much in the way of rewards or a compelling welcome bonus, but there are still some card perks and benefits a traveler would enjoy. For example, cardholders can get $500 in upgrades offered at 3,000 featured properties. This card also offers an up to $100 travel credit for Global Entry, along with an up to $100 airline credit and luxury gifts throughout the year.

Mastercard® Gold Card™: Best for VIP experiences and benefits

  • Rewards rate: 1X points on all purchases
  • Welcome offer: N/A
  • Annual fee: $995 ($295 for each authorized user)
  • APR: 14.99 percent variable

The  Mastercard® Gold Card™ is a luxury credit card that specializes in VIP experiences. Redeeming points is not as flexible as similar travel cards, but there are many perks and benefits that make up for this. From access to 24/7 Luxury Card Concierge agents to “once-in-a-lifetime” Mastercard Priceless experiences and TCS World Travel luxury jet expeditions, certain cardholders might find this card worth the hefty annual fee.

The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for maximizing rewards points with travel partners

  • Rewards rate: Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership, 5X points on up to $500,000 spent on directly-booked airfare and flights and hotels booked through American Express Travel (per calendar year), 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel and 1X points on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the card in your first 6 months of card membership
  • Annual fee: $695
  • APR: See Pay Over Time APR*

You’ll get the most value redeeming points for flights, hotels, cruises and other travel options through the American Express travel portal or its travel partners. Currently, the 70,000 point bonus (after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership), worth $700, could be stretched to $1,400 if strategically redeemed with Amex travel partners. You can also earn up to 55,000 points per year with Amex’s referral bonuses program.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for frequent business travelers

  • Rewards rate: Earn 5X Membership Rewards points on flights and prepaid hotels booked with amextravel.com, 2X points on prepaid rental cars booked through amextravel.com, 1.5X points per dollar spent on purchases of $5,000 or more and 1X points on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership
  • Annual fee: $595
  • APR: 14.24 percent to 22.24 percent variable

There are plenty of benefits for business travelers with The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. For starters, cardholders can get complimentary night/$150+ property credit after booking an eligible stay at participating Hotel Collection locations, as well as up to a $200 airline fee credit with a select airline and a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. Cardholders also get a 35 percent points bonus when using Amex points to book qualifying airfare through amextravel.com. The 1.5X points per dollar spent on purchases of $5,000 or more could rack up points quickly for anyone with regular, large business expenses.

U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card: Best for a prestige card with a lower annual fee

  • Rewards rate: 5X points on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked in the Altitude Rewards Center; 3X points on eligible mobile wallet spending and travel purchases; 3X points on takeout, food delivery and dining (valid through 6/30/21)
  • Welcome offer: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,500 on eligible purchases within the first 90 days.
  • Annual fee: $400
  • APR: 16.99 percent to 23.99 percent variable

This card has a lower annual fee, but still offers some value travelers would expect from a premium travel card. There’s a 12-month Priority Pass Select membership covering four free visits per year and four accompanying guest visits to eligible lounges. Other travel benefits include an up to $100 statement credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry and no foreign transaction fees.

How to make the most of a Priority Pass membership

To get the most value out of your Priority Pass membership, you’ll want to use it as much as you can. That might mean showing up for your flight a little earlier or making a stop at a lounge after you land instead of heading straight to your destination.

Another strategy to use your pass more often would be to plan your flights according to lounge access. If you are shopping for flights and can use different airports, choose the one with access to a lounge, especially if there’s a lounge you prefer. It can also be useful to pick an airport with several lounges if you are open to visiting more than one or you just want to make sure you won’t have to wait to get in.

Finally, if you have a Priority Pass Select membership through your credit card issuer, you should activate your Priority Pass as soon as possible. Even though it’s included with your credit card benefits, enrollment in the membership is not automatic.

There are additional steps you’ll have to take to enroll in the program and receive your membership card in the mail. Most card issuers give you the option to activate your enrollment online. You can even download the Priority Pass app and use your digital membership card.

The bottom line

Airport lounge access is an excellent way to make your travels much more pleasant, especially when you might be facing extended layovers or an international trip with multiple legs.

No matter how you come into your Priority Pass membership, the value you’ll get in exchange for the convenience and amenities could be worth the price tag—especially for frequent travelers who’ll spend money on food and other services at the airport anyway.

*The information about U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite®, Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and Citi Prestige® Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Written by
Aja McClanahan
Personal Finance Writer
Aja McClanahan is an author, blogger and speaker on personal finance and entrepreneurship. Aja is the author of "How a Mother Should Talk About Money with Her Daughter."
Edited by
Director of Content
Reviewed by
Senior Editor, Credit Card Product News