Perks Guide: Credit cards with airport lounge access

Jordann Brown
by Jordann Brown November 8, 2019 / No Comments

Travel rewards credit cards typically include perks and benefits beyond just miles or points. Insurance coverage, reduced rates for car rentals, and 24-hour concierge service are all common benefits for rewards credit cards.

One of the most exclusive and sought after card perks is access to airport lounges. Below, we cover the benefits of lounge access, how it works, and which credit cards offer it as a complimentary benefit.

Why airport lounges?

It’s simple: airline traffic is at an all-time high.

The hustle and bustle of the airport is not the quaint atmosphere that it was when the McCallister family went rushing through O’Hare in Home Alone almost 30 years ago, with some of the world’s busiest airports now serving well over 100,000 passengers every day.

In a nutshell, airports are busy, they are noisy, and downright stressful, especially if you’re stuck facing long wait times or a flight delay. Airport lounges are an oasis of calm in the chaos and offer: 

  • A private place of peace and quiet that’s secluded from the rest of the airport.
  • An abundance of plush leather or fabric chairs so you’ll never have to hunt for a comfortable place to sit. Even better, some lounges also include reclining seats for added relaxation and designated quiet areas with day beds.
  • The majority of airport lounges are equipped with free Wi-fi, phone charging stations, and complimentary refreshments including coffee, tea, light appetizers — even alcohol. Some lounges even serve hot meals and full-fledged buffets.
  • Feel refreshed while in between flights by taking advantage of shower facilities, which can be found in most lounges.
  • Stay up to date on your departure times with flight monitors or catch up on the news with daily newspapers and magazines, along with televisions tuned to news stations.
  • Need to catch up on work? Along with free Wi-fi, several lounges provide their own computers linked up to the internet, access to printers and fax machines, telephones for making international calls, and semi-private conference room facilities (in some cases, you may have to pay an additional fee to use these perks).
  • They also have operating hours that are convenient for travellers, opening as early as 5 a.m. and staying open late.

To see which lounge amenities are available at which airport lounges, the website LoungeBuddy (there’s also an app for iOs devices only) offers a convenient list including opening hours, amenities, and reviews.

Airport lounge programs

There are four popular lounge programs, offering lounge access at dozens or even hundreds of airports around the world.

  • Priority Pass and Mastercard Experiences by LoungeKey both operate very similarly and offer access to many of the same lounges. The biggest advantage of these two programs is the sheer size of their lounge networks – Priority Pass grants access to 1,200 lounges worldwide while Mastercard Experiences offers access to 1,000. Most of these lounges are associated with airlines, and while amenities can vary from one lounge to the next, they all offer a comfy place to relax. And with so many options, you’ll always find a lounge no matter which airport you’re at.
  • Maple Leaf Lounges are operated by Air Canada. There are 17 Maple Leaf Lounges in Canada, the United States and Europe, and access is reserved to paying Maple Leaf lounge members, Air Canada or Star Alliance flyers with elite airline status, and people with the right credit card.
  • Centurion Lounges are run by American Express. These lounges are typically on the higher end of the spectrum and are often less crowded due to the fact they’re exclusive to AMEX cardholders. Eight lounges can be found south of the border and one is located in Hong Kong.

How to access airport lounges?

These lounges aren’t free, but you have a few options to get your foot in the door. First, you could pay as you go. But paying per pass is an expensive route, especially if you travel often. The second option is to enroll in the lounge program directly. For example, you could become a Priority Pass member through their website at a cost of around USD$99 per year. This membership cuts down your visit fee to USD$27 per visit, per visitor.

The third option is to choose one of the best travel credit cards in Canada that includes lounge access as a perk. Below are eleven credit cards that offer lounge access perks. It’s important to note that the lounge access offered by these credit cards aren’t equal, they all have specific limitations, so if this is an important perk to you, make sure to choose the credit card that suits your needs.

For example, the Scotiabank Platinum American Express Card has a steeper annual fee of $399, but offers cardholders a complimentary Priority Pass membership and a whopping 10 free visits per year for the primary cardholder, plus an additional four free visits per year for a supplementary cardholder. Alternatively, the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite has an annual fee of $139 and includes a free Priority Pass membership and four free lounge visits per year.

Best airport lounge access credit cards

Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite

  • Annual fee: $139
  • Earn 2 Scotia Rewards points on every $1 spent on eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment purchases, and transit purchases
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Get 30,000 bonus points ($300 value) with your first $1,000 in everyday purchases in the first 3 months
  • Includes Priority Pass airport lounge membership with 6 free visits per year
  • No foreign transaction fees

The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite has carved itself a niche. It’s the only card from one of Canada’s big banks to offer a complimentary membership to Priority Pass with six free lounge visits per year (the most visits for a card with an annual fee below $150) as well as no foreign transaction fees. 

The higher number of lounge visits is great for regular flyers. Plus, the lack of foreign transaction fees means you’ll save when using the card abroad since you won’t get hit with an additional 2.5% charge when making purchases in an international currency. That’s all backed by a strong travel insurance package and a 30,000 welcome bonus (exclusive to new Scotiabank cardholders) valued at up to $300 provided you spend $1,000 on the card in your first three months. In terms of everyday rewards, this card will earn you 2 Scotia points per dollar on dining, groceries, public transit, taxis and Ubers, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. 1 Scotia point equals 1% when redeemed for travel and can be redeemed for flights on any airline.

BMO World Elite Mastercard

  • Annual fee: $150 (waived for the first year)
  • Earn 3 BMO Rewards points for every $1 spent on travel, dining and entertainment purchases. 2 points for all other purchases
  • Earn 30,000 bonus points (value: $210) when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months plus another 10,000 points ($70) after your first year
  • VIP lounge access with the included Mastercard Airport Experiences membership, plus 4 complimentary passes per year
  • No blackout dates; points can be used to cover taxes/fees

As a Mastercard, the BMO World Elite comes with a complimentary membership to Mastercard Airport Experiences by LoungeKey (which offers access to most of the same lounges as Priority Pass) and four free lounge passes renewed every year. 

Along with its lounge perks, this card stands out for its welcome bonus (which includes an annual fee waiver and up to $250 in bonus points), travel insurance, and great everyday rewards. You’ll earn 3 BMO points per dollar on travel, dining, and entertainment and 2 points on everything else – which comes out to a strong 2.1% and 1.4% return respectively. The fact it’s a Mastercard also means it’s widely accepted and can be used everywhere from Costco to No Frills.

American Express Platinum

  • Annual fee: $699
  • Welcome Offer: 50,000 bonus points if $3,000 is spent on the card in the first 3 months. Plus, get an additional 10,000 bonus points after your first six months of card membership
  • Get $200 travel credit every year
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on restaurants
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on travel
  • Get 1 points per dollar for all other purchases
  • Unlimited passes to Priority Pass airport lounges

As far as credit cards with lounge access go, the American Express Platinum is on another level. It comes with unlimited passes to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, which encompasses: Priority Pass lounges, Centurion Lounges, International American Express Lounges, Delta Sky Club Lounges (when you’ve also booked a Delta flight), Swissport Executive Lounges, and more.

AMEX’s nine Centurion lounges, almost all of which are dotted across the US, represent the creme de la creme of the airport lounge experience and include top-notch amenities and well-stocked bars and buffets with menus curated by top chefs and sommeliers.

Lounge access aside, the American Express Platinum comes with a huge 60,000 point bonus, a $200 annual travel credit, access to hotel upgrades, and a super flexible rewards program that lets you redeem points for flights on any airline and even transfer points to miles in other airline loyalty programs.

CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite

  • Annual fee: $139
  • Welcome offer: Get 20,000 Aventura bonus points after your first purchase*
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on travel, 1.5 points on gas, groceries and pharmacies, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Free Priority Pass membership with 4 passess and full rebate on NEXUS
  • Emergency travel and mobile device insurance

The CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite comes with a complimentary Priority Pass membership with four free annual passes as well as a number of other noteworthy side perks. For one, it offers a rebate on a Nexus Membership for faster cross border travel between Canada and the US. Second, it comes with mobile phone device insurance that’ll help you save in the event your smartphone is lost or stolen. 

Credit cards with lounge access in Canada

Credit card Annual fee Airport lounge access
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite $139 Complimentary membership to Priority Pass + 6 free lounge visits a year
BMO World Elite Mastercard  $150 (waived for the 1st year) Complimentary membership to LoungeKey + 4 free passes a year
 CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite  $139 Complimentary membership to Priority Pass + 4 visits per year
CIBC Aventura Gold Visa  $139 Complimentary membership to Priority Pass + 4 free visits per year
 BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard  $120 (waived for the 1st year) Complimentary membership to LoungeKey + 2 free passes a year
American Express Platinum Card  $699 Unlimited passes to the AMEX Global Lounge Collection, which includes Priority Pass, Delta Sky Club, Plaza Premium, The Centurion Lounge, and Executive Lounges by Swissport
 Scotiabank Platinum American Express Card $399 Complimentary membership to Priority Pass + 10 free lounge visits a year for primary cardholder; 4 free visits for supplementary cardholder
RBC Avion Visa Infinite Privilege  $399 Complimentary membership to Priority Pass + 6 free visits per year
CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite privilege $599 Access select Maple Leaf Lounges™ and Air Canada Cafés™. Plus, get 6 complimentary Priority Pass™ lounge visits per year

If you already have a credit card that offers lounge access, or you’re considering one of the credit cards above, the bottom line is that lounge access is one of life’s little pleasures, and if you have the option, make the most of it.

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