With travel picking up again and airports getting busier, it’s time to take an updated look at which credit cards offer the best lounge access perks.
Once the exclusive domain of First and Business Class passengers, airport lounges can now be accessed through lounge club memberships available on even the most basic of credit cards. Passengers flying out of Changi Airport, for example, can visit a total of six lounges across Terminals 1 and 3.
|🛫 Contract Lounges in T1 & T3|
|Lounge||Priority Pass||Lounge Key||Dragon Pass|
|Plaza Premium Lounge||✔|
|SATS Premier Lounge||✔||✔||✔|
|T3||Ambassador Transit Lounge||✔||✔||✔|
|Marhaba Lounge |
|SATS Premier Lounge||✔||✔||✔|
Which credit cards grant airport lounge access?
Here’s a summary of which credit cards grant airport lounge access, the network they use, and how many free visits you’re entitled to.
|Card||Lounge Network||Free Visits|
|Income Requirement S$30K|
|Maybank Horizon Platinum||Selected lounges in SIN, KUL, HKG||Spend S$1K in single trxn within 3 months prior to travel|
|Diners Club Cards||Diners Network||1*||N/A|
|Citi PremierMiles||Priority Pass||2*||N/A|
|DBS Altitude Visa||Priority Pass||2||N/A|
|Income Requirement S$50-80K|
|SCB X Card||Priority Pass||2||N/A|
|AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend||Plaza Premium||4||N/A|
|Income Requirement ≥S$120K|
|CIMB Visa Infinite||DragonPass||3||N/A|
|UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card||DragonPass||4||N/A|
|SCB Visa Infinite||Priority Pass||6||N/A|
|UOB Lady’s Solitaire Metal Card||LoungeKey||6*||6*|
|OCBC VOYAGE||Plaza Premium||∞||∞|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||LoungeKey||∞||∞|
|Maybank Visa Infinite||Priority Pass||∞||N/A|
|Citi Prestige||Priority Pass||∞ + 1 guest||N/A|
|AMEX Platinum Charge||Priority Pass, Plaza Premium, AMEX & Centurion Lounges, Delta SkyClubs||∞ + 1-2 guests||∞ + 1-2 guests|
|Priority Banking Customers|
|OCBC Premier Visa Infinite||Plaza Premium||2||2|
|SCB Priority Banking VI||Priority Pass||24^||N/A|
|All caps refer to membership year, with the exception of those marked with *, which follow calendar year|
^With min. AUM S$200K. If AUM falls under S$200K, then 4 visits
Here’s the main changes since last year’s article:
- The Bank of China Visa Infinite no longer offers lounge access
- It’s unclear at the moment whether ICBC has extended their impressive DragonPass offer, which gives ICBC Horoscope, Chinese Zodiac, Global Travel Mastercard, and UnionPay Dual Currency cardholders six complimentary visits per calendar year. At the moment, the landing page shows the offer has expired, but it could simply be that they haven’t got around to updating it.
2021 was a bad year for Priority Pass and LoungeKey members, as Plaza Premium announced its divorce from the two networks (and cozied up with DragonPass). This leaves them facing gaps in airports where Plaza Premium was the only lounge operator.
Thanks to the breakup, Priority Pass members no longer have lounge access in airports like:
- Brisbane (restaurant amenity available)
- Hong Kong (restaurant amenity available)
- London Heathrow Terminal 2 (where SIA operates out of; restaurant amenity available)
- Phnom Penh (restaurant amenity available)
- Siem Reap
However, DragonPass members are unaffected, which arguably makes DragonPass the membership of choice at the moment (since they have access to most of the lounges that Priority Pass/LoungeKey members have, plus Plaza Premium).
Here’s a few things to consider when choosing a credit card for lounge access.
(1) Not all lounge networks are made equal
The main lounge networks used by credit cards are Priority Pass, DragonPass, LoungeKey and Plaza Premium.
Priority Pass has historically been the largest network, but that title may be under threat with the loss of Plaza Premium (the website still claims to have 1,300+ lounges, same as before).
To bolster their value proposition in airports where they have no lounge agreements, Priority Pass has added alternative amenities like F&B credit (usually US$28 in the US and A$36 in Australia), or access to sleep pods in Dubai or nap rooms in selected US airports.
Do note that Priority Pass memberships issued by American Express no longer cover non-lounge experiences, so you’ll be billed separately if you use your Priority Pass for these.
DragonPass is a China-based lounge network that has more than 1,200 lounges, including some at railway stations in China. Members can also redeem free meals at certain airport restaurants (e.g. The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck at Changi Terminal 3), or even things like complimentary massages.
Lounge Key (owned by Collinson Group, which also owns Priority Pass) has 1,150 lounges worldwide, and partners with Mastercard to offer eligible cardholders lounge access during flight delays. Members will also have access to special dining offers at selected airport restaurants.
Plaza Premium has a much smaller network of 180+ own-branded and third-party managed lounges worldwide. While its footprint is small, Plaza Premium lounges tend to be much higher quality than the average contract lounge, and in some airports (e.g. Penang and Langkawi), Plaza Premium is the only lounge operator.
Plaza Premium has announced a strategic tie-up with DragonPass, which means that cardholders with Plaza Premium lounge entitlements will be able to access the DragonPass global network “in the near future”.
Plaza Premium also has a chain of Plaza Premium First lounges, which offer an experience that could rival that of some First Class airline lounges. These require an upcharge, but you might find the experience very much worth it.
(2) Lounge visit entitlements stack across cards
Lounge allowances are tied to each card, so you can stack free visits across multiple cards.
(3) If you want unlimited visits, be prepared to pay an annual fee
Cards which offer annual fee waivers (e.g DBS Altitude Visa) also offer limited lounge visits. If you want a card with unlimited lounge access, you need to look at those in the $120K segment, where annual fees are mandatory (with some very limited exceptions).
An exception is the Maybank Visa Infinite, which comes with an unlimited visit Priority Pass and waives the first year’s S$600 annual fee. Subsequently, you can enjoy a fee waiver when you spend at least S$60,000 in a membership year.
(4) Visit entitlements follow membership year (with some exceptions)
Free visit entitlements are typically refreshed based on membership year (i.e. the date when you got your lounge membership). For example, if your Priority Pass was approved on 1 April, your free visits will be tracked from 1 April to 31 March of the following year.
However, there are a handful of cards which track entitlements by the calendar year (i.e. 1 January to 31 December). Be sure to check the wording, or you might get charged unwittingly.
(5) Guest fees and supplementary card entitlements
On most other cards, you’ll either have to pay out of pocket or use one of your free visit entitlements. For example bringing three guests with you on your UOB Visa Infinite Metal’s DragonPass would exhaust your four visit allowance.
The policy on children is more nebulous and varies by lounge. Some will turn a blind eye, others will insist on charging you. In general, infants under the age of 2 will be admitted for free.
Supplementary cardholders are generally not entitled to any free lounge visits. The exceptions:
- AMEX Platinum Charge: All supplementary cardholders enjoy the same visit and guest entitlements as the principal cardholder (only the first supplementary cardholder gets a Priority Pass)
- HSBC Visa Infinite: Up to five supplementary cardholders also get an unlimited visit LoungeKey
- OCBC Premier Banking Visa Infinite: Supplementary cardholders enjoy the same lounge entitlements as principal cardholder
- OCBC VOYAGE: Supplementary cardholders enjoy the same lounge entitlements as principal cardholder
- UOB Lady’s Solitaire Metal Card: Supplementary cardholders enjoy the same lounge entitlements as principal cardholder
The quality of airport lounges can be extremely variable, especially in the post-COVID era where amenities may be scaled back significantly. The best precaution against wasting your free visit on a crappy lounge is to simply ask whether you can have a quick look inside before deciding.
Here’s some things to look out for when surveying a lounge:
- How plentiful are power outlets and USB charging ports?
- What’s the quality of the F&B selection (especially alcohol!) like?
- Are there shower rooms, and do they look decent?
- Does the lounge have productivity pods or workstations?
- Is there a napping area, or better yet, nap rooms?
In theory, some lounges do impose time limits on visits, but I’ve never seen this actively enforced because of the difficulty tracking who came in when. If lounges do enforce time limits, they usually base it on time of departure (e.g. if your flight departs at 9 p.m and the restriction is 3 hours per visit, they won’t let you in before 6 p.m).
Hopefully 2022 will offer many more opportunities to go lounge hopping!