What are credit card airport lounge passes?
Many top-tier credit cards come with complimentary airport lounge passes as a cardholder benefit. This grants you access to exclusive airport lounges where you can relax in comfort before your flight.
How do credit cards with free airport lounge passes work?
If you haven't used lounge passes before, there is a very slight learning curve. The brief version is that you will be given a pass that grants you access once scanned at the lounge entrance.
Cardholders typically receive a set number of complimentary passes to use each year after qualifying for a credit card with airport lounge access. Nowadays passes are usually made available digitally, perhaps as in their app or as a QR code.
Getting into a lounge
How you actually get lounge access with a pass varies between issuers.
- Digital passes. Some passes are delivered via email or made available in an app. You can present this at the lounge entrance for access.
- Physical card. If the issuer arranged a physical card, make sure to bring it with you and present it at the lounge entrace where the staff will swipe or scan your card to verify eligibility.
- Dedicated lounge network apps. If you've been issued passed from a specific lounge network, you can configure your membership and manage passes using their app on your phone.
Note that the lounges you can access depend on the network your credit card is affiliated with. Lounge network coverage varies. Check if there is a lounge you can get into at the airports you use or plan to visit frequently.
Lounge passes often have an expiration date. For example, if you're given two passes every year, they might expire at the end of that year if unused. In other words, you probably will not be able to roll them over.
Who are airport lounge access credit cards suitable for?
- Frequent flyers. These credit cards offer access to lounges — with their sleeping areas, showers, complimentary food and drinks, and free Wi-Fi, etc. — and are perfect for those who often travel for business or pleasure.
- Luxury seekers. Lounge access cards provide a taste of the high life as you wait for your flight.
- Busy professionals. Airport lounges are a great place to catch up on work or have business meetings. (Lounge access is offered as a benefit with some business credit cards.)
- Low-cost carrier flyers. If you fly Air Asia over Singapore Airlines, you can still get into a lounge for a touch of luxury with your credit card pass.
Who airport lounge credit cards aren't suitable for
- Families. Due to limitations on the number of guests, families travelling together probably won't be able to access the lounge at the same time.
- Infrequent travellers. If you don't find yourself in an airport often, you might get the benefit of occasional use. Or it might be a waste of money.
- People with existing access. If you already have lounge access thanks to your airline status or you already pay for membership with an airport lounge network, then additional access provided by a credit card may be redundant (unless it provides coverage you don't have).
Types of credit card lounge pass programs
The leading lounge pass programmes are Priority Pass, Plaza Premium, and DragonPass. Priority Pass and DragonPass each have a network of over 1,400 lounges worldwide, while Plaza Premium maintains a global presence with more than 1,000 lounges.
Priority Pass has an impressive global network of over 1,400 lounges. Such is its coverage that if there is an airport lounge, chances are you can get in with Priority Pass.
Credit cards such as the DBS Altitude Card and Citibank PremierMiles Card offer complimentary membership to the Priority Pass programme, along with two free lounge visits per year.
Although the Plaza Premium network is significantly smaller in comparison to what's on offer with Priority Pass, its lounges are generally regarded to be of a high standard. Members have access to the SATS Premier Lounge at Changi airport.
The American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card provides access to the SATS Premier Lounge at Changi Airport via Plaza Premium.
Available exclusively to certain American Express cardholders, typically those who hold a Black, Platinum, or Centurion card issued by Amex. Additional cardholders also have access.
The drawback is that there are very few Centurion lounges outside the USA. However, premium Amex cards often have Priority Pass membership in addition, which takes care of that problem.
DragonPass is notable for its range of services, which extend beyond lounge access to include meet-and-greet and limousine services.
Membership is tiered — Classic, Preferential, and Prestige — with each offering a range of benefits such as free lounge visits, dining discounts up to 25%, and preferential rates on premium airport transfers.
LoungeKey is a more recent arrival and while its network is not as extensive as that of Priority Pass, it offers a streamlined, app-based experience for managing lounge access.
Premium credit cards like the HSBC Visa Infinite often include LoungeKey as a benefit.
What to compare for airport lounge access credit cards
- Lounge network. Are you limited to lounges operated by a certain airline or alliance? Is it part of Priority Pass, DragonPass, Plaza Premium LoungeKey?
- Lounge access benefits. What lounges can you access? Is there a limit on how many times you can get in each year? Can you bring someone with you? If so, how many?
- Complimentary passes. Does the card offer any free or discounted lounge visits?
- Annual fees. What is the cost of enjoying these benefits, and is it worth it if this is the primary benefit you'll use?
- Reward points. Can you earn reward points on your card, and how can they be redeemed?
How to compare airport lounge access credit cards
- Compare credit cards. Research credit card offers with airport lounge access and shortlist those that fit your preferences and travel needs.
- Compare lounge accessibility. Assess the number and quality of lounges you can access with each card and the rules and restrictions for accessing these lounges. Check the small print for this (usually at the bottom of the page).
- Evaluate annual fees against benefits. Determine the card's value proposition by comparing the annual cost to keep the card and evaluate the benefits you receive in return.
- Assess additional benefits. What other perks are there? Does the card have travel insurance, earn reward points, or come with concierge services? Factor these into your decision.
- Eligibility. Compare the minimum income criteria against your earnings.
- Welcome bonus spending target. Check how much you must spend and within what timeframe to get the card's welcome bonus.
Pros and cons
- Less stress at the airport. Access to comfortable airport lounges for relaxation, work, or meetings.
- Convenience. Complimentary refreshments, Wi-Fi, and other amenities.
- Rewards. These cards typically earn rewards and may have travel benefits besides lounge access.
- Expensive. While access to lounges may be free at the point of use, the card's annual fee can be high.
- Restrictions. Lounge access rules and limits on who can get in may apply.
- Not every lounge is awesome. Some lounges might have limited availability or exclusivity.
Are there any restrictions on accessing airport lounges?
Some airport lounges may have specific entry requirements, such as showing a boarding pass for a flight departing that day or limiting the number of guests per cardholder.
Do I need to carry a separate lounge access card?
For some credit cards, airport lounge access is granted directly through your credit card. However, in other cases, you may need to enroll in a lounge membership program, such as Priority Pass, and carry the separate membership card provided.