What is Priority Pass and how do I get lounge access?

Businesswomen meeting in a priority pass airport lounge, using a laptop at breakfast tableImage: Businesswomen meeting in a priority pass airport lounge, using a laptop at breakfast table

In a Nutshell

Who hasn’t been intrigued by the mysterious airport lounge? With Priority Pass™ membership, you can check out lounges in hundreds of locations. Here’s how to get it and ways to get a lot out of it.
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Priority Pass™ access is a nice perk offered with a number of elite travel credit cards.

Wouldn’t it be great to find a nice quiet place with free drinks, snacks and an abundance of electrical outlets while flying through crowded airports? That’s exactly what Priority Pass can offer. For a fee (or even free with the right credit card), you can whisk yourself away to a hidden oasis among the noise while traveling through bustling airports.

After all, haven’t you ever wondered what was in those nondescript hole-in-the-wall lounges? But before you go charging in, there are a few things you should know about how to get a Priority Pass membership and ways to help get the most out of it.

Priority Pass lounges can offer relief from stressful travels, but is the cost really worth the price? We’ll help you decide and show you some ways you can gain access with a travel rewards credit card.

What is Priority Pass?

Airport lounges themselves aren’t anything new. Many airlines and credit card issuers operate their own airport lounges, for example the American Express Global Lounge Collection℠.

You can purchase a one-time pass to airport lounges, but here’s what’s special about Priority Pass: With a Priority Pass membership, you can gain access to more than 1,300 lounges in 148 countries in one fell swoop.

“The food and drink at lounges will vary,” says Lee Huffman, a travel expert and blogger at Bald Thoughts. “Some lounges offer the bare minimums of domestic beers, house wine and non-alcoholic beverages to go with some salty snacks and cheese cubes. Other lounges step up their game and offer local craft brews, premium cocktails and gourmet munchies.”

Huffman has visited a number of Priority Pass lounges and said his experiences varied. “The best lounges offer full-course meals, premium drinks, showers and even massages,” he says.

Is there a Priority Pass lounge located near me?

Probably. While there are more locations overseas than in the United States, there are still lounges in 41 airports in the U.S.

How can you get Priority Pass lounge access?

Priority Pass MembershipAnnual feeCost per visitCost per guest visit
Standard Plus$29910 free visits (then $32 per visit)$32
Priority Pass SelectVaries depending on credit cardVaries depending on credit cardVaries depending on credit card

You can sign up for one of three levels of Priority Pass through the lounge network’s website. But unless you purchase the Priority Pass Prestige plan, you’ll pay both an annual membership and an entry fee (after your first 10 visits with Standard Plus) each time you want to use a lounge.

Another way to get Priority Pass access is through a card that offers a Priority Pass Select membership. Some cards that offer membership as a perk include Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Platinum Card® from American Express.

What should I know before using my Priority Pass access?

It can be confusing to know where each Priority Pass lounge is located and what the rules are, especially if you’re traveling on the fly (pun intended). That’s why it can be a good idea to download the Priority Pass app, which should have all the details you need to know, as well as the digital membership card you can use for entry to the lounge.

According to travel expert Gwen Merz of the Fiery Millennials website, the Priority Pass Select membership can occasionally have drawbacks.

“Some [lounges] limit the times you can use the lounge, while others will give priority to their members if it starts to fill up,” says Merz. “Just be flexible when trying to use it, is my main advice.”

Are Priority Pass lounges worth the cost?

You might not need a Priority Pass membership to get into a lounge. You can purchase a day pass at a lounge on your own, but you may have to pay a heftier price for it. A day pass at the Alaska Airlines LAX lounge will set you back $50 per person, for example.

To calculate whether the cost of a paid membership with Priority Pass is worth it, consider how often you fly and how often you’d use the lounges. For example, you’d need to visit the Alaska Airlines LAX lounge mentioned above at least nine times in order to make a Priority Pass Prestige membership with its $429 fee worth it.

Of course, you can always consider applying for a credit card with complimentary Priority Pass Select membership. But these credit cards often come with fees of their own.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with a $550 annual fee (although you will receive up to $300 in statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year). This means you’d need to use the travel credit and make multiple lounge visits to equal the worth of the Priority Pass Prestige.

Bottom line

There’s no doubt about it: Waiting in crowded airports to get on an even more crowded plane with screaming babies and limited bathroom access can take the fun out of traveling. But with Priority Pass lounges, you may be able to get a first-class experience while you’re still in the airport, even if you can’t afford a first-class plane ticket.

Just remember to stay flexible with your Priority Pass plans and your expectations of what you might find in each lounge. Still, it’s more than worth it to many people, including Merz: “I love to use them!”

About the author: Lindsay VanSomeren is a freelance writer living in Kirkland, Washington. She has been a professional dogsled racer, a wildlife researcher, and a participant in the National Spelling Bee. She writes for websites such a… Read more.