Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Jul 14

Priority Pass: A Must for International Travelers

While I often write about lounges, it’s usually domestic ones that I address. Today, I’m going to talk about international lounges and how to access them (for free).

What Are Airline Lounges?

It even looks like an oasis. Well, without the water, anyway.

It even looks like an oasis. Well, without the water, anyway.

Airport lounges are areas sponsored by (usually) individual airlines for their best passengers. They are a quiet place to relax, get food or drink and wait in more comfort than you would get in a hard plastic chair. They range from small rooms with a few snacks to massive accommodations with showers, spas and sit-down restaurant-style meal service (The meals and occasionally drinks are free, of course.).

Airlines give lounge access to their best customers, including those with high-level elite status and/or passengers flying business or first class. In the United States, you can also buy access to domestic lounges, although you often won’t have access to the most premium lounges without status or an expensive ticket.

When traveling internationally, lounges take on an even greater importance. Passengers often have layovers that are several hours and there is only so much time that you can spend at duty-free. The lounge gives you (and your electronics) a place to recharge. In addition, food and drink at the lounge means that you don’t have to change money to make purchases in the airport.

What Is Priority Pass?

priority pass

Priority Pass is a private lounge service that sells memberships (You may not have to pay for it; more on this point later). They have over 900 lounges, the vast majority of which are international (although most major US city airports have at least one). If you purchase a membership, there are several options that range from paid access to free entry everywhere. The sweet spot for all but the most frequent international travelers is the $249 membership that gets you ten free entries and lets you purchase additional ones at $27.

Lounge Quality

A view of the Priority Pass lounge at Gatwick. Lots of seating available.

A view of the Priority Pass lounge at Gatwick. Lots of seating available.

The lounges range from “high quality” to “extremely high quality,” but even the worst of the Priority Pass lounges that I have seen are better than the best. They all have food, internet service and plenty of room to stretch out (although they do get busy at times). Service has always been excellent. As a couple of examples, on our recent trip, we visited lounges in both London Gatwick and Dublin.

The bar at the London Gatwick Priority pass lounge

The bar at the London Gatwick Priority pass lounge

The Gatwick lounge was one of the best (non-Asian) that I’ve been in anywhere, regardless of whether it was a Priority Pass or airline lounge. There was meal service delivered to your seat, good internet access, free drinks (except for the highest-end stuff) and overall customer service was excellent. Since they know that people are catching flights, they get food delivered quickly.

They won't win any Michelin stars, but it gets the job done.

They won’t win any Michelin stars, but it gets the job done.

The Dublin lounge was comfortable but not as extravagant as London’s, which makes sense, given London’s status as a major international hub. There were light snacks (including sandwiches and soup at mealtime), drinks and a shower. It was more than enough for the three hours that we spent there.

Crowded, but the couches were comfortable

Crowded, but the couches were comfortable

Get Priority Pass for Free

You may already have Priority Pass and not know it, particularly if you have a high-end credit card. A number of American Express cards, such as Platinum or Hilton Surpass get you a membership. The Platinum card allows you in for free and charges for guests. The Surpass card is membership only; you have to pay for each visit.

The card you really want for this benefit is the Citibank Prestige Card, a card that I’ve discussed several times before. With a $250 annual travel credit, free TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry, fourth night free at almost any hotel and lounge access at both American Airlines lounges and Priority Pass, the benefits each year significantly exceed the cost. What’s nice about this card is that it gets you and either two guests or your immediate family unlimited, complimentary access to Priority Pass clubs. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in an airport for hours at a time. This benefit helps you avoid that issue.

Getting The Card

You can get the Prestige card (or any of these cards) through the Credit Cards for Charity banner below (You may need to scroll a bit when you reach the landing page.). The card comes with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus, although I’m told that might be changing next week.

Since all credit cards commissions go to a children’s charity, you’ll be benefiting not only yourself but a needy child. Here’s that banner:


The Bottom Line

Priority Pass is an easy way for frequent travelers to access high-quality lounges, regardless of where they are sitting on the airplane. If you find yourself on the road constantly, particularly internationally, it’s a must-have product.

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