Which credit cards have the best airport lounge option? [July 2017 update]

One of the great trends we’ve seen in recent times is the democratization of lounge access. 10 years ago, airport lounges were the sole domain of the well-heeled premium cabin traveler. Now, even average joes can get lounge access with the right credit cards.

Of course, not all credit cards are made equal. Here is an overview of the lounge benefits offered by different credit cards.

CardIncome ReqLounge NetworkNo of Free VisitsSusbsequent VisitGuest Visits
DBS Altitude (Visa only)30,000Priority Pass2 per 12 month membership periodUS$27US$27
UOB JCB Card30,000JCB-partnered loungesUnlimited access except in SGN/APrevailing rates
Maybank Horizon Plat30,0004 lounges in SIN, KUL and HKG1 visit per S$400 spent on air tickets/travel packages within 3 monthsS$42Prevailing rates
SCB Priority Banking VI30,000 (Min AUM: 200,000)Priority PassUnlimitedN/AUS$27
Diners Club Cards30,000Diners Club Lounges1 free visit between April and MarchS$32.10S$32.10
Citibank PM50,000Priority Pass2 per calendar yrUS$27US$27
Krisflyer Ascend50,000Plaza Premium + SATS lounge in SG4 per calendar yrN/AVouchers can be used for guest as well
Citibank Prestige120,000Priority PassUnlimitedN/A1 free guest, unlimited
CIMB VI120,000Priority Pass (Dragon Pass from 1 Oct 2017)3 per calendar yrUS$27 (US$25 from 1 Oct 2017)US$27 (US$25 from 1 Oct 2017)
HSBC VI120,000Priority PassUnlimitedN/AS$38, but supp cardholder gets a complimentary unlimited Priority Pass as well
OCBC Voyage120,000Plaza PremiumUnlimitedN/A1 free guest, unlimited
BOC Visa Infinite120,000Plaza Premium 2 per 12 month membership periodN/APrevailing rates
SCB VI150,000Priority Pass6 per calendar yrS$38S$38
Maybank VI150,000Priority PassUnlimitedN/AUS$27
AMEX Platinum CardInvitationPriority Pass, AMEX lounges, Delta loungesUnlimitedN/A1 free guest, unlimited

When selecting a credit card for its lounge access privileges, ask yourself

(1) What network of lounges does the credit card give access to?

Priority Pass (PP) is by far the most common (and the largest) lounge access network across credit card providers. With more than 1,000 lounges worldwide, you’re almost certain to find a PP-affiliated facility wherever you’re heading.

As nice as it is to have lounge access in an airport like Singapore, it’s not strictly necessary. Lounge access is more urgent when you’re in a complete dive of an airport with no Wi-Fi, clean toilets, F&B concessions or even a place to sit. And trust me, such places exist. in those cases, it’s great to be able to whip out a PP and get access to a place of relative less misery.

But not all credit cards give Priority Passes. If you sign up for the Krisflyer Ascend, you’ll get 4x lounge vouchers that can be redeemed in Singapore or selected Plaza Premium Lounges worldwide. It’s a decent list, but it’s certainly not the 1000 range that PP is in. Similarly, the OCBC Voyage gives access to 70 Plaza Premium lounges worldwide. The quality of Plaza Premium lounges is more consistent than the Priority Pass network, but you lose out in terms of reach (note that a lot of Plaza Premium lounges can be accessed through the Priority Pass network anyway)

(2) How often can I go?

Unless you’re signing up for a top tier Visa Infinite card (min income ~$120K), you’re probably going to be getting a PP with 2-3 free visits a year. There’s nothing stopping you from signing up for multiple Priority Passes via different credit cards though, and your visits do stack.

Anyway, if you’re a true miles geek, you will before long have multiple Priority Passes. They all look the same, and if you don’t track them you’re going to forget which ones still have free visits on them and which don’t.

The minute you get a Priority Pass, get a sticker and paste it on the card, writing the number of free visits you have on that particular pass. Then cancel them out as you go along. Trust me, I wish I had done this because mine are a complete mess now.

(3) Can I bring a friend?

Of course. The question is whether you can bring one for free. OCBC Voyage and Citibank Prestige let you bring one guest for free, as many times as you want. Citibank PM and DBS Altitude let you split your two free visits between yourself and a guest.

As for the rest, you’re looking at paying US$27/S$38 once you exhaust your free visit quota. Some lounges may close one eye to bringing a small child, but YMMV.

(4) Are the lounges worth it?

The vast majority of Priority Pass lounges will be run by 3rd party contractors like Plaza Premium or the airport authority (although some airlines will also sell lounge access to Priority Pass). Therefore the quality is highly variable.

For example, some of the refurbished Plaza Premium lounges are really nice. Here’s Hong Kong, for example-

photo credit: thedesignair.net
photo credit: thedesignair.net
photo credit: thedesignair.net

Or the Star Alliance lounge in Sao Paulo, also open to Priority Pass cardholders

In the good lounges, you’ll find clean showers, free alcohol, well maintained furniture and possibly other distractions like spa services (although if you access via Priority Pass it’s likely you’ll have to pay).

And on the other extreme you will have some very, very miserable lounges. Lounges so miserable I can’t be bothered to add photos of them (I can think of a couple I’ve visited in China and India though…). These will be nothing more than places to sit and wait to board, with some token soft drinks and a vague sense of exclusivity.

The best precaution against wasting your limited lounge visits on a crappy lounge is to simply ask at the front desk whether you can have a quick look inside before you decide. I’ve never had anyone say no to this before.

Another thing to note are that some lounges may impose time limits in theory, though I’ve never seen these actively enforced (since it’s simply logistically too difficult to track who came in when).

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39 thoughts on “Which credit cards have the best airport lounge option? [July 2017 update]”

  1. Not sure if it is worth adding in, or even relevant to this article, but the SCB Priority Banking Visa Infinite Card gives unlimited PP visits. No annual fee provided you qualify as a PB member. I’ve been maximising use to this to great effect by trying out almost all the PP lounges I come across.

    1. Or you could get a maybank vi which waives the first year annual fee and enjoy unlimited lounge visits for a year…

  2. Hi Aaron, can also add that HSBC VI allows unlimited visits for supplementary cardholder (but no guests).
    And SCB Priority VI allows unlimited visits as well. Obviously that requires a certain minimum AUM.

  3. Good comments made, be sure to distinguish between the 2 SCB Visa Infinite cards: Normal VI and Priority VI.
    Normal VI: 6 passes as aaron mentions, but can be split with guest as well i.e. cardholder + guest = 2 passes used.
    Priority VI: unlimited passes only for cardholder.

  4. It’s quite confusing when credit cards issue separate PP accounts/cards and you have to manage them separately… You can’t register just the one PP for your access.

  5. Couple of comments:

    1. HSBC maintains their own lounges for Premier customers and I think they have it only at 4 places, one of the is IST, and second – HKG. Considering how crappy the place is in IST, I could not imagine anyone in clear mind going at that lounge if they have Star Alliance Gold and can go to the best lounge in the world – TK CIP lounge at IST.

    2. In the list of crappy PP lounges please add one post-security at FRA. I went there for the purpose to take shower and first – it was closed, secondly – even if was open, it is 15 euros to use it. For a shower! To add insult to the injury – I took wrong PP card with me and got charged $27 for the visit. The only thing I got there – ONE hot dog. Most likely the most expensive hot dog in my life. Fortunately due to the business trip I submitted ER and and got it back, but lesson learned.

    3. Regarding card and tracking usage – cards issued by DBS are registrable at PP website and you can track visits there, but the card coming from citi – is not. If you want to track usage of the visits per year, either use stickers or you need to send message to citi via ibanking.

    4. One important distinction about PP is when free visits reset for the card. For Altitude they reset when the card is issued, while for citi they reset at the end of the calendar year.

    1. Good informative article Aaron.
      @invisible: where is the HSBC lounge at HKG? I’ve been to the one in IST but based on a casual search online couldn’t find where the one in HKG is located.
      A great lounge the PP gives access to is the Air China First Class lounge in Beijing. It’s open 24/7, offers tea tasting sessions and has private rooms available to sleep in (free of charge I think). It’s not up to the level of CX’s First Class lounge in HKG or anything but still a very nice lounge to access. Another very nice one you get access to is the Swiss Air Business Class Lounge in Zurich. They have a nice bar with good drinks, which they market as the longest table bar at any airport. These two lounges are worth visiting, if you happen to be at those airports.

      1. Honestly, I do not remember where it was at HKG because last time I was there in 2014. Might have closed since that.

    2. Don’t waste PP visit at Bangalore’s Int’l Airport. The lounge’s only chilled drinks are mineral water and some juices in jug. Nothing else, no canned drinks.

      1. This is incorrect. It offers free booze & food counter that makes eggs & dosas (Indian pancakes, for the uninformed), besides soups, salads, breads, pastries.

        1. Agree. I really liked the live dosa station and thought the lounge was very nice. I visited it last a couple of years ago though.

      1. The SCB VI text was not showing in my Chrome and Firebox browser at all and shows up as a blank cell.

        I looked at the HTML source and I found the problem – the SCB VI text with your affiliate link is an ad.doubleclick.net based link. Browsers like Chrome and Firefox have built-in adblockers that block these links and the text with the link by default these days – that is why it was not showing in my browsers.

  6. I have an Amex Platinum issued by Amex Australia (for those interested, 2x unlimited PP each with 1 guest free – the 2nd PP is for a designated supplementary)

    I have found as well that Amex Platinum guesting is a bit inconsistent:
    – no guests for delta
    – 1 guest for PP
    – typically 2 guests for amex lounge but depends on location

    I have found that lounge benefits for Amex Platinum extend to supplementary cards, except for PP, since entry is granted based on the card itself. Great for me since amex Aus issues free supplementary cards, not sure if Singapore charges a fee.

    And finally about amex platinum, there are sometimes some unpublished lounge benefits. The Aus platinum permits access to plaza premium with 2 guests based on the card itself – so technically me with my 4 supplementary cards can get 15 ppl into a plaza premium lounge, whereas under PP alone I would be limited to 4. Not sure if Singapore platinum extends this benefit but might be worth finding out.

    1. My other follow up comments in relation to non platinum stuff:
      1. You left off diners club – 2 visits per year in Singapore, but overseas is less stingy if you can get a hold (e.g. unlimited for US Diners)
      2. The 3hr limit has been enforced on me in the past by limiting your entry to the 3hrs prior to departure. At the time I had a US issued Diners with unlimited entry, so the agent just swiped me twice for 2 entries

  7. Uh I’ve got a dumb qn. Is there anyway (other than pasting stickers on the card) to track how many times I’ve used a card? Cos I’ve totally lost track and the lounge agent can’t tell.

    1. apologies about that. it’s supposed to clickout to the premiermiles card but for some reason defaults to rewards all the time. let me try to get that fixed

  8. You didn’t bother mention Citi Prestige ($250 travel credit, 4th night free), American Express Platinum ($200 travel and Uber credit, 5x points per dollar on airfare) and Chase Sapphire Reserve ($300 travel credit, 3x points on travel and dining), all of them came with unlimited Priority Pass for all cardholders and $100 Global Entry credit.

    1. That’s because the ariticle is referring to cards issued in Singapore and the benefits offered here. Chase sapphire isn’t available in Singapore and Singapore issued Amex Platinum cards don’t have the travel benefits you mention. This entire blog is almost exclusively written froma Singapore context.

  9. Has anyone successful used 2 of your pp cards for yourself and your travelling companion? The lounges used to allow this but recently can’t do so. Was wondering which lounge gives more leeway.

  10. Hey Aaron.. wanna add one more card to the list if you have some time? BOC VI has 2 free visits for plaza premium lounges.

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