How to Avoid the Crowds at Priority Pass Airport Lounges

Part of overcoming the masses at these airport lounges is understanding the reasons why they often reach capacity.

Silhouettes of people waiting in line at an airport beside wall of windows

Don’t get stuck in a line waiting to access an airport lounge.

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With a presence of 1,300-plus airport lounges across 600 cities in 148 countries, the Priority Pass network is the largest independent program of its kind worldwide. While one can pay for a Priority Pass membership outright, most existing memberships are obtained for free through select credit cards. These lounges run the gamut from singular, airport-managed lounges to some owned and operated by major airlines. However, Priority Pass lounges all seem to have one thing in common: They’re usually crowded.

Here’s why Priority Pass lounges often reach capacity—plus, tips on how to avoid the crowds.

Why are Priority Pass lounges so crowded?

While it’s not guaranteed that a Priority Pass lounge will be filled to the max, it’s often the case. There are several reasons behind the overcrowding.

1. Many lounges are used by airlines, too

Numerous lounges in the Priority Pass network are not exclusively for Priority Pass members. This is easy to see with airline-branded lounges that are part of Priority Pass like the Turkish Airlines lounges in Miami (there are two) and the Air France lounge in Boston. These airline-branded lounges typically grant access to their passengers flying business or first class, as well as those who have obtained elite status with the airline. In addition, access often applies for those holding status or premium tickets within the brand’s airline alliance, which is Star Alliance in the case of Turkish and SkyTeam in the case of Air France.

However, many third-party Priority Pass lounges are also contracted to host first- and business-class passengers of airlines that don’t have a presence in a specific airport. For example, the non-airline-affiliated Shongololo Lounge is the main business- and first-class lounge for dozens of airlines flying in and out of Johannesburg, South Africa, including Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Swiss, and Etihad—and you betcha, it’s always packed!

2. There are more premium credit cardholders than ever

Popularity of premium credit cards is at an all-time high. And with this comes the masses of credit card holders who have gained Priority Pass membership as a complimentary benefit through their card issues. Popular travel credit cards like Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card ($395 annual fee), Chase Sapphire Reserve® ($550 annual fee), Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card ($650 annual fee—see rates and fees) and The Platinum Card® from American Express ($695 annual fee—see rates and fees) grant cardholders Priority Pass membership. With Priority Pass membership, travelers can enter lounges in the portfolio on their flight date, regardless of airline or class flown. Plus, members through these credit cards are entitled to bring two complimentary guests per visit.

3. Additional cardholders

It may seem generous for Priority Pass members to allow two guests per visit, but the invitations don’t end there. Authorized users or additional cardholders of Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card, and the Platinum Card from American Express are each entitled to their own Priority Pass Select Membership with the same access and two-guest policy.

4. Peak season and rush hours

Like everything in travel, airport lounges have peak seasons. When travelers show up to airports in hordes, lounges naturally tend to be more crowded. Likewise, there tend to be specific hours when way too many flights leave at once, coinciding with all those travelers making a mad dash for the lounge prior to their flights.

Tips for avoiding the crowds at Priority Pass lounges

You can’t always escape the mobs, but you can try. Do your best to ensure complimentary access to snacks and meals, alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi, power outlets, and comfy seating before flights at Priority Pass lounges with these tips.

1. Arrive to the airport early and be patient

This may sound obvious, but time cushions and a little patience can pay off. Priority Pass lounges tend to have peak and super-peak times of entry (timed with flight departures) but there are also times when they clear out as travelers down a final sip and rush to their flights. Usually if you are willing to wait 10–15 minutes, you’ll be able to enter, find a seat, and settle. Come prepared to wait but be pleasantly surprised if you do not. To have time to enjoy the amenities, arrive at the airport 30–60 minutes earlier than you would without lounge access.

2. Head to credit card–branded lounges instead of Priority Pass ones

Most travelers have their Priority Pass membership through top credit cards, but these cards also have their own branded lounges. American Express has Centurion lounges across the world. Chase recently opened the Chase Sapphire Lounge by the Club in Boston and another in Hong Kong (with more on the way). Capital One is getting ready to debut several new airport lounges and landings (smaller lounges) after the success of its freshman endeavor in Dallas. In general, credit card–branded lounges are superior to Priority Pass lounges. If your airport has both, always go to the credit card lounge for far better frills (and drinks) and fewer crowds.

3. Look for Plaza Premium lounges

In June 2023, Plaza Premium lounges joined Priority Pass. Plaza Premium lounges are found in 70 airports across 30 countries and 6 continents. Since its branded lounges are fully owned and operated by Plaza Premium Group (PPG), quality standards are high. The news has yet to reach most so, at press time, the Plaza Premium lounges tend to be quieter than their Priority Pass counterparts.

While not every major airport has a Plaza Premium lounge, some have multiple, including Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), and London Heathrow Airport (LHR). One of PPG’s newest—and best—lounges is in the new Terminal C at Orlando International Airport (MCO). It doesn’t have an app, but the PPG website makes it easy to search for lounges. (You can also search for them now on the Priority Pass app).

4. Chase Sapphire Reserve members can try nonlounge airport alternatives

In addition to its lounges, Priority Pass has numerous airport restaurants, cafés, and bars in its network. There are almost 30 of these so-called lounge alternatives where Priority Pass members receive a food and beverage credit of $28 to $32 per guest. This Priority Pass benefit extends exclusively to Chase Sapphire Reserve members. At press time, the Reserve honors this Priority Pass credit for the cardholder plus one guest when using their Priority Pass card. At Boston Logan, for example, there are three nonlounge alternatives. Opposite Gate B24 or opposite E7, get up to $56 off the bill at either outpost of New American restaurant Stephanie’s. Near Gate C25, get up to $56 off the bill at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, which carries many of the same hearty cuts as the Back Bay original, plus a selection of pizzas, salads, and even breakfast items.

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.

Paul Rubio is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer. His byline appears in AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, LUXURY, MSN, NerdWallet, Palm Beach Illustrated, Yahoo Lifestyle and more. He has visited 133 countries (and counting) over the past 20 years and won 27 national awards for his writing and photography. When he’s not plotting out his next trip, Paul loves to spend time at home watching reruns of Portlandia and Parks and Recreation with his husband and rescue dog, Camo.
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