Credit card lounge benefits compared

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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