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- American Express
- Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Platinum Card® from American Express offer airport lounge access among their many benefits, rewards, and perks.
- However, I find the Platinum card’s lounge access more useful – that’s because it includes the same lounges as the Sapphire Reserve, plus dozens more within the US.
- Priority Pass – the lounge network that both cards offer a membership to – has more than 1,200 locations around the world, although I find the offerings abroad more useful.
- The AmEx Platinum also offers access to its own Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when you’re flying with that airline), and more.
As someone who flies relatively often, whether for work, to see family, or for fun leisure trips, having access to airport lounges is something I find increasingly necessary. While I enjoy flying itself, airports can be pretty unpleasant. Thankfully, airport lounges – even when they’re crowded – offer an escape from the worst of it.
When I’m taking an early-morning flight, the lounge is a place to have breakfast and coffee while relaxing. If it’s a daytime or early evening flight on a workday, it’s somewhere with solid Wi-Fi where I can work and have a snack. If I’m heading on vacation or it’s the end of a week, it’s a great place to enjoy a free cocktail (or two), and in some cases even dinner.
In fact, I’m writing this article in a lounge while I wait out a long flight delay.
The best way to get lounge access – unless you’re flying international first or business class, or you’re a top-level frequent flyer with certain airlines – is to buy a membership from an airline so that you can use its own lounges, or, more effectively, open a credit card that offers lounge access as one of its perks.
In addition to airline-specific premium credit cards – the Delta Reserve credit card from American Express, Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, and United MileagePlus Club card – that offer access to just that airline’s lounges, the two most popular lounge cards are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the AmEx Platinum Card.
While each card offers lounge access as a published benefit, the lounge access that comes with the AmEx Platinum is far more inclusive, especially if you’re flying within the United States.
Both cards come with a membership in Priority Pass, a network of more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world, including 60-70 in the US (lounges occasionally join or leave the program). However, a frequent criticism of Priority Pass-affiliated lounges is that they can get too crowded and end up not allowing guests in. In fact, some Priority Pass-affiliated lounges – particularly those that belong to an airline, but allow third-party access through the network – limit hours that Priority Pass cardholders can use the lounge, in order to save space for their own passengers.
While my experience with Priority Pass has been more positive than negative, I’ve had a couple of experiences where I couldn’t access a lounge due to crowding or capacity controls. Especially as the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s popularity has led there to be more Priority Pass members, network lounges within the United States and the Americas generally – as well as popular international gateways for Americans, such as London’s Gatwick airport – have become more and more packed. In fact, the only way to be sure that you can access one of the lounges in Gatwick is to pay a small fee to reserve a spot beforehand.
- Priority Pass
In my experience, though, Priority Pass is still useful within the Americas.
I’ve used it to access lounges at a number of airports including New York-JFK, Las Vegas, Cancun, Toronto, Santiago, Boston, and others. Additionally, the only time I’ve ever had an issue abroad is at that London Gatwick lounge – I’ve gotten in without issue in Edinburgh, Amsterdam, London Heathrow, Copenhagen, and presumably others that I’m forgetting.
That said, for American travelers who receive a Priority Pass membership as a benefit of their Sapphire Reserve cards, the network does have weaknesses. Accessible lounges tend to be in international terminals at North American airports, or “general” terminals that serve a number of airlines, so domestic flyers usually have to schlep to other terminals to use the lounges before their flights.
However, I ultimately find the AmEx Platinum more useful for getting into airport lounges.
In fact, since opening it last year, I’ve stopped bringing my Priority Pass card on most domestic trips.
That’s because in addition to the Priority Pass membership, the AmEx Platinum card offers access to several other types of lounges.
The first are Delta Sky Clubs. As long as you’re flying Delta, you can access one of the 33 Delta-owned-and-operated lounges around the US. While the value of this obviously varies, depending on what airline you fly, I’ve found this invaluable as a Delta loyalist.
The second type is AmEx’s own Centurion Lounges. There are currently eight locations in the US, one in Hong Kong, and five more set to open between 2019-2020 – with more likely to be announced. While these lounges can sometimes get a bit crowded – AmEx is expanding the Dallas location due to crowding, with the new, expanded location set to open this fall – they offer ample seating, fast Wi-Fi, complimentary meals, cocktails, and coffee, and snacks.
There are also 11 international AmEx-branded lounges that you can access as a Platinum cardholder, including in Mumbai, Delhi, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Sydney, and, most recently announced, Melbourne.
Then, there are a handful of other random lounges, including ones that fall under the Plaza Premium, Air Space, and Escapes brands – these number more than 50.
Although lounge access is a major talking point of the Sapphire Reserve – and its Priority Pass membership is certainly useful – my personal use case sees the card as being more useful for its rewards, which are far more useful, easy to earn, and valuable than the AmEx Platinum’s. The Platinum, meanwhile, gets me into a lounge in just about any airport I happen to find myself in – even though Gatwick remains a problem.
However, if you’re concerned about having consistent lounge access, the AmEx Platinum is likely a better choice to rely on. I personally hold both cards, despite the high annual fees – I find that the rewards and benefits of the Sapphire Reserve, and just the benefits of the Platinum Card, actually get me more value in return than I pay for the fees. You can read more about why I pay for both cards here.