Airport lounges can be one of the most complex, mysterious parts of the airport experience. Aside from buying a business or first class ticket, how do you access them? Is it worth buying a day pass? Is it worth it to try at all? In this week’s episode of Unpacked, AFAR points and miles expert Paul Rubio shares the secret to gaining airport access—and the best ones around the world.
I’m Aislyn Greene and this is Unpacked, the podcast that unpacks one tricky topic each week. And this week, we’re exploring the sought after, often confusing, and sometimes totally overwhelming world of airport lounge access.
A couple of years ago, I was traveling home from Southeast Asia. I’d already taken one long flight and was gearing up for another, but I had a long layover and honestly, was feeling strongly in need of a shower. Through my credit card, I was actually able to access a lounge in Kuala Lumpur that had showers, food, quiet spaces . . . it was heaven. And I swear to God, at that moment—even if there had been no other benefit tied to my card—it was worth every last penny I had spent on the annual fee. I’ve also had mediocre lounge experiences, or been turned away, or have been so frustrated and confused by the whole process, I didn’t even try. So to demystify the whole shebang, I spoke with travel writer and photographer Paul Rubio. Paul is AFAR’s points and miles guy, and he writes about lounges as part of that beat. He’s also an avid traveler, and has visited 134 countries (and counting). As you’ll soon hear, airport lounges aren’t just a job for him—he lives and breathes this stuff.
We covered a lot of ground in our chat, so if you’re at all overwhelmed, don’t worry: At the end of the episode, I recap some of the main takeaways, and we’ll link to Paul’s airport lounge stories on afar.com in our show notes. Let’s get the secrets.
Aislyn Greene, host: Paul, welcome to Unpacked. Thanks so much for being here today.
Paul Rubio, travel writer: Thank you for having me.
Aislyn: Yeah, we are here to talk about, I don’t know, everyone’s favorite subject or the, you know, most confusing subject for some people—airport lounges.
Paul: Yes, and there’s a lot of information to cover.
Aislyn: Yes, there certainly is. And you have been covering airport lounges quite a bit for several years, haven’t you?
Paul: Yeah, I mean it started I think as a hobby and then became a career. So now, as the head of points and loyalty for AFAR, I get to kind of look at the lounge world through a different lens, and I am—officially can be a bit more critical and a bit more of a Karen when it comes to my critiquing, my lounge critiquing.
Aislyn: So it started as a hobby. Like what do you mean? You just were trying to get airport lounge access every time you flew, or what was the—
Paul: You know, I, I’ve always been a points and miles nerd. Um, so I just would get like a natural high from getting free airline tickets and having that whole glamorous experience of using it for business and first class, which typically comes with lounge access. So for me, that was something that I enjoyed. And I collected credit cards, as a points and miles nerd does, for a while and figured out every trick in the book, before the blogs made them popular on how to get into the lounges and how to fly for free using miles.
And then, yeah, that transitioned into a part of my career. I mean, I was already doing travel writing, so it kind of went together that I would, um, go places with my points and miles, use the lounges, then write about the travel. But now I write about all of it.
Aislyn: Wow. So you’re the true expert here. In that expert opinion, why do you think it’s worth pursuing lounge access for people who might not be so interested or maybe have never tried it before?
Paul: I mean, first things first, like the airport lounge experience is not necessarily as glamorous as it used to be. That said, it’s still worth pursuing.
Paul: Like we go to the airport and it’s crowded, it’s packed. Like, we have lines for everything these days, right? So whether you’re going to check-in, security, the boarding area. And then you’re also in incredible lines to pay for grossly overpriced snacks and adult beverages to get through the chaos.
So given that, like, it’s gonna be a cluster to go to the airport, why not have the option of maybe finding a bit of a respite from it all where you get free food, free drinks, reliable Wi-Fi, and maybe in some cases, a mini massage or just a chance to unwind. So I still think getting airport lounge access is, is completely worth it. You just have to set your expectations to where the travel world is today. And it’s summer. So, like, you’re not necessarily gonna have the lounge all to yourself when you go. But in the worst case scenario, you go to the lounge and you grab a snack and you leave and you didn’t pay $45 for it at a fast-food counter.
Aislyn: That’s a really good point. Even if you don’t use the lounge, you could still take advantage of one or some of the amenities, right? Even just a bathroom at the lounge.
Paul: Yes. And in the best-case scenario, if the lounge is not crowded, you can drink the house down. You can eat the house down, you can get some work done. And typically some of the newer lounges happen to be in better parts of the airport that have, like, great views. There’s a bit of serenity that comes along with it.
So it’s like it’s a winning situation to actually go to an airport lounge. The other thing that I think is so important for pursuing lounge access is flight delays. Like, I cannot tell you how many times this year I have had a flight delay and a lounge has just saved my life because [I think to myself] “I have three hours, what am I gonna do? Oh, you know what, I’ll just go to the lounge.”
And then it’s just kind of, like, relaxing, having a nice time, and it just takes away, like, that extra stress that my flight was delayed and I come back a better person.
Aislyn: Wow. We went all the way from airport lounges to becoming a better person. I love it.
Paul: That’s what, that’s what a few Old-Fashioneds will do.
Aislyn: Yes, they certainly will. You mentioned that it’s not maybe as glamorous as it once was, and in this recent story about airport lounges that you wrote for afar.com, which we’ll link to in our show notes, you explained that it’s getting harder to access lounges these days. Can you explain why and what that means?
Paul: So it’s, it’s getting harder to access some lounges. For years now, the Centurion lounges by American Express have basically been the gold standard of airport lounges. The Centurion lounges are the AmEx branded lounges, exclusive to AmEx Platinum, Business Platinum, and Centurion cardholders. Until February 1st of this year, AmEx platinum card holders were able to enter the lounge with two guests. And so that guest policy ended a few months ago and so now it’s $50 per guest. So that was a huge perk of the AmEx card cuz it was, like, “Wow those lounges have artisan cocktails.” They—not necessarily like top-shelf wine, but, like, not the kind that you’re gonna get on board that you’re gonna wanna spit out. Um, definitely, definitely decent food presentations by local chefs.
They are the places, like, that you want to linger and enjoy, before your flight. So a lot of cardholders were upset about that. The other big news of it becoming harder to get into lounges or to access lounges was from Delta because they’re also dealing with an overcrowding issue. As everybody is. And so they have made it very complicated. You know, there are a lot of people who have access to Delta lounges cuz you get access to the Sky Club lounges just from being an AmEx Platinum holder. Then you get access to Sky Club lounges for having elite status with Delta. Then sometimes you have SkyTeam partner airlines that allow access.
So what’s happened at the Delta lounges is somewhat similar to the chaotic boarding process that you see from legacy airlines where there’s, like, nine groups and you’re like, “Oh wait, am I that group? Am I that group? Like, why are they boarding first?” Like they have created this tiered structure of who gets in first because there tends to be a waiting list every time you go to Delta Lounge.
So they have created something on their app where it shows how busy the lounge is and, like, the likelihood of whether you’ll get in. I just kind of avoid Delta lounges now, in general, because it’s, it’s a little bit more than I wanna handle or deal with.
Aislyn: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.
Paul: Now on, on the flip side of lounge access, getting harder. Since I, I penned that article, which was at the end of last year, there have been some changes in, um, in the world of airport lounges. So Capital One is expanding its own branded lounges to compete with AmEx, and Chase is doing the same. So we are getting more airport lounges.
Aislyn: OK. That’s great. And when you say Chase, that’s the Chase Sapphire or the Chase Preferred network?
Paul: Yes. So the, the Chase Club lounges are for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders. The first one in the U.S. just opened up in Boston. We have an article about that because we got a first look. That was very—like a month ago. The first international one opened in Hong Kong. And the interesting thing about the Chase airport lounges is that it accepts the Priority Pass card, which I guess we’ll get into later. But there are limitations for regular Priority Pass cardholders that don’t also have the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
But yes, Chase is expanding its lounge network, they have six in the pipeline. And Capital One has a lounge in Dallas and they have several more in the pipeline, one in Denver, one in Dulles, and then they are also doing these smaller concepts called Landings, which are not full scale lounges, but smaller spaces for people who have like tight connections or are just looking for like a grab-and-go type of experience.
Aislyn: OK. And is Centurion, are they also expanding their lounge network?
Paul: So what they have been doing is actually increasing the size of existing lounges. They expanded a lot last year. They opened up a new lounge in London, also JFK, L.A. And what they’ve been doing is—like the Seattle one just reopened this year and it’s three times the size that it used to be.
The Miami one reopened I think like a year and a half, two years ago, and it’s much bigger than it used to be. But as someone who uses Miami as a home base, I will tell you it’s still crowded and—but because of that, I arrive early enough that I can find a seat. And also at some of the Centurion lounges, they offer complimentary 10-minute neck and shoulder massages. So I will arrive an hour extra early so I can put my name down on the list for a massage. And I have successfully received a massage every time I’ve gone this year.
Aislyn: That’s, that is a positive sign. I wanted to get into like your broader suggestions for how to gain airport lounge access. It sounds like credit cards are really the way to go. Would you say that’s the primary way to get into these lounge networks?
Paul: Yes. I mean, in my opinion, like, the only way to access airport lounges is through a credit card, and I’ll tell you why. So most top credit cards come with lounge access to multiple different lounges. So, the American Express Platinum, for example, you will have access to the Centurion lounge.
However, you can also access the Delta Sky lounges if you’d like, if you’re flying on Delta. You can access the Priority Pass lounges, if you’re in an airport that doesn’t have a Centurion lounge or a Delta Sky lounge and not flying Delta. Similarly, as I said, Capital One and Chase, they’re expanding with their own branded lounges, but they also offer Priority Pass access.
Now if you just bought the Priority Pass package that they offer on its own, it would be more money than your annual fee of your credit card. So you’re always saving money by getting a credit card that comes with membership. And then let’s say you happen to be a United loyalist and you wanna be able to access United lounges because you’re always gonna fly them and you always think you’ll be somewhere where there’s a United lounge. The fee is around $700 for the membership to the United Clubs, but you can get their top-tier credit card which has an annual fee that’s lower than that $700, and it comes with the membership to the lounge.
So it’s never a financially wise decision to buy lounge membership. You always wanna get it through a credit card. And in some instances, you’re getting such amazing value. So back to the Capital One example, their top-tier card, which is the Capital One Venture X, it’s, like, one of my favorite, if not my favorite travel credit cards.
The annual fee is $395. You get a $300 travel credit annually when you book anything through Capital One Travel, that’s airfare, hotels, rental cars. So right there, we’re down to $95 annual fee. Then you get 10,000 miles every year on your anniversary, and those 10,000 miles are worth, like, at least a hundred dollars. So you’re basically paying nothing.
But the card also comes with access to their lounges and the Priority Pass network. The Priority Pass network package is worth, let’s say $500. You’re already making $500 by getting that credit card. Just like, those are just some of the perks,
Aislyn: So when you say the Capital One lounges, which ones are those again?
Paul: So right now—
Aislyn: There’s so many.
Paul: —so they are called Capital One lounges. So there’s a Capital One lounge at Dallas–Fort Worth, and then there’s one opening in Denver. There’s one opening in Dulles. And then they have the Landings, which are the smaller versions that are opening one in LaGuardia, and I think the other one in DCA.
Aislyn: OK, great. And so that’s your favorite card and then there’s the—
Paul: That’s my favorite card for value, like, for getting your value out of your lounges. The best credit card for airport lounge access overall is the American Express Platinum, because there you’re getting Centurion, Priority Pass, and you’re getting Delta Sky Club and Plaza Premium lounges. So it’s, it’s a huge network. We have an article about that as well. We have an article about every single thing I’m talking about, like, so you can—
Aislyn: We’re going to link to all of this in our show notes.
Aislyn: So, yes, there will be resources. But first I was wondering if you could explain a little bit more about Priority Pass and what those lounges are like.
Paul: It’s the world’s largest airport lounge network. So it’s, like, about 1,300-plus lounges across the world. And I think 140-ish territories and countries. And so by having the Priority Pass, you definitely have the most widespread access to airport lounges.
And you get the Priority Pass by either signing up for membership outright, which nobody should do, or getting it through a credit card, whether you’re paying for a high-fee credit card or a low-fee credit card So, but because they are independent lounges, not all are created equal. So like the one in Quito is incredible, but I have been to many Priority Pass lounges where I’ve sat on a leather couch with cracks in it that are so old that, like, when I sat on it, like, dust came out of the cracks and I felt like I was in a cloud of smoke.
However, that same lounge had cold beer and, like, there was barely electricity in this particular airport. So it’s like, “OK, a cold beer is such a luxury right now. Like, I mean, there’s no AC in the airport, but I have a cold beer, so I will sit on the couch and I will enjoy this.” And so, you know, I, I kind of, like, saw the positive in it.
And so, yeah, the Priority Pass, like, got me that cold beer. So it’s gonna be a different scenario depending on where you travel from. But you know, you don’t have to go in the lounge. Like the, the, the worst case scenario, you go in, you check it out and you don’t like it and you leave. So, and maybe with the beer.
Aislyn: Yeah, wonderful. OK, what about—so, you know, I have one of the Chase cards and so I have Priority Pass and I have noticed that at a lot of places, I see that some particular Priority Pass cardholders aren’t accepted at that location. Do you know much about the nuances of that?
Paul: Yeah. So, you know, the Priority Pass network is basically just a collection of independent lounges. And so I wouldn’t say there’s no quality control, but it, this—they can kind of make their own rules up. And that comes to design, to food presentations, to policies.
And so sometimes to deal with overcrowding, if these lounges already, let’s say, have a contract with some airlines to let first- and business-class passengers in, those will get priority. So they will say, “Priority Pass members cannot enter during specific times.” So that can be frustrating. So my recommendation for that is download the Priority Pass app and look at the terms and conditions to see if there are certain times that you are allowed or not allowed to enter the lounge.
Now the other thing with the Chase Sapphire Reserve is that it’s the one high, uh, premium travel credit card that allows cardholders to get a credit at Priority Pass alternatives. So this is a network of restaurants and lounges that Priority Pass has worked with to help deal with the overcrowding issue.
There’s a full list of that. We have that in another article. There’s like about 30 of them around the country, but let’s say, uh, in Boston for example, you can’t get into the Priority Pass lounge. Well, there are two restaurants that you can go to if you have the Priority Pass through Chase Sapphire Reserve.
So the Priority Pass through other cardholders does not work. This is specifically for Chase Sapphire Reserve. You can get $28 to $32 per person off the bill for two people. So if you just want to say, like, get two margaritas and chips and guac, it’s gonna be less than 56 bucks and your Priority Pass is gonna take care of it.
Aislyn: Yeah, we’ve used that in—our home airport is SFO and we’ve used that at one of the restaurants there. It’s great cuz there isn’t a lounge that we can access, at least in our terminal that we usually fly from. Well, for those who might not wanna go the credit card route, are there any options for lounge access outside of, you know, buying a first- or business-class ticket?
Paul: There are some lounges that allow day use, like, and you can pay a fee for that. Sometimes that’s controlled by how crowded the lounges are. But you can, for a lot of the airline-branded lounges, let’s say like American Airlines, you can buy a one day pass for $59. Or 5,900 miles to get into the Admirals Club.
So, and that’s just for one person though. Like, if you think about—we were talking initially how the Centurion lounges don’t allow guests anymore. Priority Pass cardholders are allowed to bring two guests. So that’s always really nice because typically, like, if you’re traveling with people, you wanna, you wanna bring them in. And the same thing with the Chase clubs and the Capital One clubs, you can bring guests.
So you can get a day fee at some of the legacy carriers’ branded lounges. Then you can also download Lounge Buddy, which will tell you which airport lounges are available for a fee for the day, and you can just pay directly through the app. Typically though, those are Priority Pass lounges and it sometimes may be, uh, controlled by how busy it is. But typically they, if you’re paying, they’ll let you in. It just, sometimes, I wouldn’t necessarily think it’s maybe worth $50 or $55 to get into some of the Priority Pass lounges.
Some are worth it for sure, but some are not. But, but those options do exist. Uh, another interesting thing, I know we were saying to go the non–credit card route, but if you don’t feel like getting a premium credit card, and you wanna get a low annual fee credit card, the American Express Green Card offers a hundred dollars credit towards Lounge Buddy per year. So you can at least have, like, two lounge hurrahs on your credit card throughout the year. But then again, like, at that point, I think you should just invest in a little bit of a better credit card and have more options for your, for lounge access.
Aislyn: Yeah, yeah. That’s a good point. Are there particular airlines—so for people who might wanna go the day-use fee, maybe they don’t travel as often, are there particular carriers that you think have lounges that are worth that fee? Or is it, does it just depend?
Paul: Honestly, um, no. In general the legacy carrier lounges are gonna, like, the best you’re gonna get is like hummus and a squirt tube and, really bad prosecco and a plastic cup, not even glass. And then like those canisters with the wheels, when you never know how long, like, some of those pretzels have been sitting there. And like that M&M is like actually walking along the walls of the canister.
Aislyn: So that’s a no. [laughs]
Paul: It’s, for me, it’s a firm no.
But if, if your goal is to, let’s say, have three gin and tonics, which will cost you more money outside the airport lounge, then go for it. You know, again, it’s, like, a cost-benefit analysis.
Aislyn: Yeah, exactly. And just to clarify, you can’t buy day-use passes to the credit card lounges for the most part, outside of that Priority Pass.
Paul: So for Capital One, if you have a lower tier card you can buy, but you have to have a Capital One card. But like the, but the Chase Sapphire Reserve—if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you cannot get it. You cannot buy access to the Chase lounge.
Aislyn: OK. I see.
Paul: I know it’s very complicated. There are so many rules and, and restrictions.
Aislyn: I think that’s part of what, you know, can feel intimidating sometimes. Do you have a way that you cope with that or do you just, are you just an encyclopedia at this point? Do you have all those rules and regulations in your brain?
Paul: I’m an encyclopedia and I have every credit card. So, like, there has to be a way for me to get into every single thing. So I think, I, I recently had a situation where I was so confident that I was gonna get into this lounge. I was flying back from Tahiti through L.A. to Miami and I used miles to get a business-class ticket.
And so in, in the terminal there was an American, an Admirals Club lounge. So I went to get in and they were like, “No, you can’t get in.” And I was like, “Of course I can. This is a business-class ticket, which, regardless of what credit cards I have, an international business-class ticket is supposed to get me into the lounge.” And then they went through their list. There are specific routes that they’re no longer allowing entry to the lounge for—including the route from Tahiti to L.A. And I was kind of floored cuz I don’t usually make mistakes like that. But, but sure enough, I was not allowed in.
They have some specific routes that, yes, do not count, just like so, so you know, you get—for “qualifying international business or first class” [tickets], you get lounge access, but “qualifying” has the asterisk next to it. So that doesn’t count for Central America, most of South America, Caribbean, and then somehow some of the Pacific Islands kind of got thrown into that mix of no go.
Aislyn: Wow. Interesting. I had no idea.
Paul: Yes, I was not happy.
Aislyn: So it sounds like the best way to follow some of those changes is basically to follow your byline on afar.com.
Paul: Yes. For sure.
Aislyn: Because you’re tracking this.
Paul: Try to digest as much as possible. Cuz I’m sure most people listening are already overwhelmed by the options out there.
Aislyn: Yes. Well, you’ve hinted at this, so I think we already have a good sense of your answer, but like, what are your favorite lounges? What, what are the ones that you just really try to take advantage of?
Paul: So, the Al Mourjan Business Lounge in Doha is phenomenal. I, I will gladly take a six- to eight-hour layover in Doha just to luxuriate and I mean luxuriate in this lounge. It is stunning. So it is absolutely enormous. Uh, you have gorgeous spiral staircases, water features, different personality driven nooks, tons of food presentations, hot and cold.
You can scan, you can scan the menu and then have food brought to your table. If you’re sitting in a table area as opposed to the coffee area or the quiet lounge, or the relaxation lounge, then they ha—they do serve top shelf. So it’s an endless pour of, let’s say, Laurent-Perrier Rosé, which is like $90 a bottle, and you can just get an endless pour of it.
There’s also showers close by, which is not part of the lounge, but there is a gym and spa. So I will just kind of leave the lounge for a little bit, go have a workout, get a spa treatment, and then come back to the lounge and then relax some more. So that is, I mean, Qatar Airways, like their, their lounge in Doha, they even have a new one, which I haven’t seen yet that, uh, just opened this summer that’s supposed to be even better. I cannot imagine, like, how it could be better. So that, that is like my, that’s my top lounge overall.
Paul: Then for Priority Pass, I love the Sala VIP Internacional Quito. So in Quito, Ecuador, this Priority Pass lounge previously won an award as the best Priority Pass lounge within the network, uh, when they used to hold awards—this was pre-COVID. But I was just there and it’s still incredible. They have really amazing local cuisine, like fresh fish, sushi, ceviches, fried rice with seafood. So many different incredible foods. Then they have a full cocktail bar. You only get two drinks, unfortunately. But they’re well made and it’s like a true bar experience.
Paul: Then they have a rooftop lounge. So, like, you can eat inside where they have gorgeous chandeliers and really cute chairs, but then they have two lounges outside where you can just watch the planes go by and like, it’s like being on a rooftop bar. It’s, it’s amazing. So that is definitely one not to miss, especially if, like, you’re going to the Galapàgos and you have a layover in Quito, just be excited that you’re gonna have a fabulous experience.
Aislyn: Yeah, that’s delightful. I mean, sushi in airports is something I generally avoid, so—
Paul: Yes. No, this, this is fine. I mean, I can’t guarantee it, but it, it was delicious and fresh. I would typically avoid it as well. But, um, this, this one is good.
Aislyn: Are there any domestic lounges that you really love, or North American?
Paul: I know I keep going back to it but the Capital One lounge at Dallas–Fort Worth, it’s—I love it so much because the brand is just really putting so much into making a name for itself in the travel world. So they, they’ve gone all in with the design, with the decor, the cocktails. They have cocktails—amazing cocktails on tap. Like they have like a butterscotch Old-Fashioned on tap, but you can make anything. The bartenders will make anything you want. And they put beautiful garnish and they muddle, like, and mix, and it’s just like it’s a real bar experience.
Then not only do you have the different food that you can go and grab and sit at the table with, but they have an entire grab-and-go deli at the front. So if you’re that traveler that has a tight connection, but, like, you want some good food, they have everything packaged that’s like going to Pret A Manger, little salads, sandwiches, like 20 different kinds to choose from juices, fresh juice, sodas, and you can just go in and grab it. And also hot cookies. Hello, who doesn’t love cookies?
Aislyn: Oh my gosh.
Paul: And if you have a little bit of a longer stay, they also have a wellness room where you can do yoga, you can stretch. They even have exercise bikes and then showers. So I mean, it’s, it’s just kind of so well-rounded and so well thought out, that, you know, that to me is amazing.
Now, I also do love the, the Centurion lounge at Dallas-Fort Worth. Uh, it’s not, I will, I will pick Capital One over Centurion, but they have great food presentations, and they do an excellent job there too. So, yeah, Dallas tends to have the best lounges.
Aislyn: Good to know. You know, and that brings up a question. I was actually stuck overnight in Dallas because of a flight delay, which meant I missed my connection a couple of weeks ago. If I had had either of those cards, could I have stayed in the lounge? Like are they open 24-7? Is that an option?
Paul: So they’re, they’re not open 24-7 and sometimes there are restrictions on, like, how long you can stay. It depends on the lounge. If you are going in with your ticket and you were delayed, as long as they hadn’t reissued another ticket with a different time, they probably would’ve let you in. So it just, it just, it kind of depends. If, let’s say your flight was for, if they had already reissued you a ticket for tomorrow and they scanned it, they probably wouldn’t let you in that previous day.
Aislyn: I see.
Paul: You’d have to, like, go back early, like in the next morning before your flight.
Aislyn: Got it. OK. So it’s not an option for sleeping essentially.
Paul: No. However, like the Al Mourjan Business Lounge, uh, in Doha, they are used to having people with very long layovers. So like they do have beds, and if you have a six-hour layover there, you can, you can crash there. That’s not a problem. So it’s just—every lounge is different.
Aislyn: Sure. I wanted to go back to a couple things that you mentioned. One is just speaking to this whole idea of overcrowding. What do you think kind of led to that? Was it the rise of, like, Priority Pass?
Paul: I think because there’s just been such a big push to get new credit cardholders and the credit cards have just been competing and offering more and more benefits. There are so many people now who do have, already have lounge access—you know, there are plenty of people who don’t—but there are lots of people who do.
It’s even similarly sometimes I go to the airport and I can’t believe the line at TSA PreCheck. And I mean, I’m happy everybody has TSA PreCheck, but it’s like, “Oh my God, OK.” But most people have it now because it was a credit card benefit. You know, you pay for it and you get a statement credit.
I also think that the overcrowding has been an issue because so many people are traveling again. Tons of people accrued miles and got credit cards during the pandemic cuz they were bored and reading about them and spending, and now they want to travel. So like tons of people are traveling and, as we know, like, the airports are insane. So I just think a lot of people are traveling this summer. It should die down hopefully in the fall. It typically does, and when that happens, the lounges should be also less crowded.
Aislyn: And would you say that’s true that summer is just the toughest season in terms of lounge access?
Aislyn: Like that fall, winter are OK?
Paul: Especially this summer.
Paul: This summer is just, I mean, I’ve never seen planes so packed and, like, lines so long for, whether it’s for immigration, for TSA PreCheck, for check in. It’s just doesn’t matter what day of the week I go, it is insane.
Aislyn: Travel has rebounded. I guess it’s good for our industry, but yeah, it’s intense out there.
Paul: Yes, yes. But it’s still, again, going back to our first point because it is so crazy. It’s still worth that while to, like, try to get into a lounge and, like have—treat yourself a little, you know?
Aislyn: Yeah. A little oasis. Is there anything else that you think people should know about, say, Priority Pass in particular?
Paul: I had mentioned all these premium cards like the Capital One Venture X, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the AmEx Platinum all come with Priority Pass membership. So does the Hilton [Honors American Express] Surpass card. So, interestingly enough, like, this is a low-fee Hilton Honors cobranded credit card.
It’s only $95 a year, and it comes with a lower Priority Pass membership, which is not unlimited access with two guests like the other cards, but it is 10 passes to get in. So considering that the one-off passes, which you would pay, like, through Lounge Buddy or directly at a Priority Pass lounge, if they’re offering they use would be 40 or 50 bucks, you’re getting 10 of them for a $95 fee, which to me is incredible.
Plus you’re like, when you sign up for the card, you’re also getting, like, over a hundred thousand Hilton points, which you can use for, like, a night at a Waldorf Astoria or a Conrad Hotel. But yeah, so there—so, like, going back to—not for people who don’t wanna go the credit card route—but for people who cannot handle, like, the idea of having a card with a super annual fee, the AmEx Green has that Lounge Buddy credit and the AmEx Green is $150 a year.
Aislyn: Yeah, that’s a really good perk. I’ve actually never heard of that card. Well, looking to the future. What do you see happening in the world of airport lounges? Or with airport lounge access, where do you think it’s all going to go?
Paul: I do think that more lounges are going to be restricting guest access. I think the problem with a lot of the overcrowding, not only are people traveling, but when you can bring plus two it adds up fast. And so now that the Centurion lounge has gone ahead and, like, people were moaning and groaning, but it’s done that they’re charging for guest access, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the other programs started scaling back their guest access. Or if Priority Pass membership allows just a plus one instead of a plus two. Now, the workaround for this, just like with the AmEx, is make those people that you typically travel with additional cardholders.
So if you have the AmEx Platinum, you can add three cardholders for $175 total, so it’s less than $60 a person. Each additional cardholder will then get their own Priority Pass membership and their own card, so they also have Centurion lounge access. So if there are four of you traveling together, you will still all get into the Centurion lounge without paying a guest fee. Cuz you each have your own AmEx Platinum. And yes, so that’s a great way to work around that.
Uh, with, with my favorite card with Capital One Venture X reward, the additional cardholders are free. So every additional cardholder up to four, for your additional cardholders, they each get their own Priority Pass membership and they also get access to the Capital One loans network, which is growing.
And so that’s like a great situation. And then people think, “Well, do I really wanna have other people on my credit card?” You can add additional cardholders and then set their limit to, like, a hundred dollars. And so that way everyone has a membership.
And, like, I have my dad under me under my AmEx Platinum and then I have my cousin under another card. And so they, everybody’s enjoying lounge access courtesy of me.
Aislyn: But you don’t have to worry about, like, somebody going on a shopping spree.
Paul: I don’t think that they would go on a shopping spree anyway, but now I definitely don’t have to worry about it cuz they can’t.
Aislyn: I love it. That’s a great tip. It’s a really good tip. OK, I mean, we’ve covered a lot today. Is there anything else that you think travelers should know about this very complex topic?
Paul: I think that travelers should definitely do the research on their home airports and where they typically fly to and from to see what lounges they, they would frequent, if they, if they’re looking for lounge access. And then from there, perhaps decide which credit card is best to suit their lounge needs.
Aislyn: I see.
Paul: Like, if your sole goal of a high-fee credit card is to gain Centurion lounge access and you’re based in a city that doesn’t have a Centurion lounge, that doesn’t make sense.
Aislyn: Yeah. Yeah.
Paul: Unless you have a great Priority Pass lounge, which would come with it, but then you have more choice of different credit cards to choose from. So I would say, like, you gotta do a little bit of homework. We’ll have links to so many different topics that we went over today that it’s, you know, you can have a graduate degree in, in airport lounge access after you read them all.
And also just set your expectations accordingly. Like, again, I was so happy to have that cold beer in that dire airport. Like, that to me, that was—made, made the Priority Pass worth it. Lounges are typically gonna be overcrowded, some are gonna be better than others, but there’s always gonna be the opportunity to, like, treat yourself, experience it, and decide if you want to come back. And definitely, there are many that are worth coming back to.
And also, all these new lounges, like the remix version of the Centurion lounges, the newer ones, the new Capital One lounges, the new Chase lounges. There’s a lot of investment going into these lounges. And so they are glamorous, they are bringing back the glamor to the lounge experience.
Aislyn: Thanks so much, Paul. Before we share where you can find Paul when he’s not traveling or watching reruns of Portlandia with his husband and his rescue dog, Camo, let’s talk about some of the key takeaways from today’s episode.
Takeaway #1: Never pay outright for a membership to the lounge, whether that’s through an airline or a company like Priority Pass. The best way to access a wide variety of lounges is through a travel credit card.
And that brings us to takeaway #2: Paul’s favorite card for maximizing lounge access is the Capital One Venture X. For access to AmEx’s Centurion network of lounges, try the AmEx Platinum, the Business Platinum, or the Centurion card. The AmEx Platinum card also comes with access to the Priority Pass network. And finally, the Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with Priority Pass access, as well as other airport perks. And Chase is building out its own network of lounges. Lower-fee cards with good lounge access include Hilton Surpass card and the AmEx Green card.
Takeaway #3: But before you apply for any of those, do your research and figure out which lounges are available at your home, or your most frequented airport. That should guide which card you go with.
Takeaway #4: If you don’t want to go the credit card route, your options are more limited, but it’s not impossible. Of course, you can always book a business- or first-class ticket—though remember that certain business-class routes have limitations on access, so do your research. You can also use apps like Lounge Buddy, which allow you to book one-off visits.
Takeaway #5: If you have Priority Pass through one of your cards, check to see if it offers benefits outside the lounges. For example, Chase Reserve cardholders can get a credit for food and drinks and dozens of restaurants in major airports. Again, do your research!
Takeaway #6: Have fun with it and enjoy the good experiences and try to laugh about the more mediocre ones. We’re so lucky to travel and lounges can just add that little extra magic.
Look for more in our show notes. If you want to hear more from Paul, you can look for his byline on afar.com, visit his website paultheprotraveler.com, or follow him on Instagram, @paultheprotraveler.