3 Ways To Get Airport Lounge Access Through Credit Card Perks – The Credit Cards

Friday 13th, December 2013 / 08:12 Written by
3 Ways To Get Airport Lounge Access Through Credit Card Perks – The Credit Cards
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This is an article in a series where I answer questions people pose to me about credit cards and travel.

This is part 2 of a 2-part series on lounge access:

The Skinny

In the previous article, I talked about accessing airport lounges through various club memberships. In this article I talk about the Canadian credit cards that will give you lounge access as a perk of owning the card.

There are only a handful of cards that give you lounge access as a benefit. The American Express Platinum cards give the best benefits and give unlimited access. The other few give only a handful of lounge passes. Some others still only give a discount on the club membership fees.

Recap

I was recently in an email conversation with someone who wanted some help getting lounge access.

Barry asks:

Hello Pointster,

I currently travel quite regularly for work. I have accrued status on Air Canada, so I receive airport lounge access when I fly on Air Canada and other Star Alliance carriers. Of late, I have been put on a project that requires me to fly on Delta flights. Unfortunately, I don’t have status on Delta to get me airport lounge access when I fly on Delta. Are there any ways for me to easily get lounge access when I fly on Delta flights even though I don’t have status with Delta?

Thanks.

Thanks, Barry. I’ll try my best to answer your question.

In the previous article I wrote, I mentioned there are a few ways to get lounge access by enrolling in various lounge access programs, or by having status on a specific airline. I also mentioned that some credit cards will provide the membership fee for some of these lounge access programs as one of the travel benefits for its card members.

Summary of Types of Programs

Type Which Lounges? Annual Costs Included Visits (Primary Member) Subsequent / Guest Visits
American Express Platinum Lounge Private Airport Lounges $0(incl. with some Amex cards) Unlimited $0(up to 2 guests)
American Express Airport Club Airline Clubs $0(incl. with some Amex cards) Unlimited $0(up to 2 guests)
Priority Pass Private Airport Lounges $249 10 $27
Airline Specific Programs     Varies by airline  

 

Something that should be noted is that Priority Pass is a benefit that is included with the cards, but must be specifically applied for prior to going the lounges. The American Express programs will allow entry simply by showing your Platinum level American Express card.

 

American Express Platinum Programs

The Platinum Club and Airport Club programs are 2 lounge access programs that American Express offers to its best card members. Basically these allow you access to the partner lounges by simply showing your Platinum American Express card.

These are programs that come included with the following credit cards:

  • American Express Platinum
  • American Expresss Business Platinum

Costs of Access by Card

Here is a summary of the cards and their lounge benefits

Card Program Benefit Cost Annual Fee Sign-Up Bonus
Cards with Unlimited Access          
Amex Platinum Amex Plat
Priority Pass
Unlimited Entry for member & guest Incl in Fee $699 50K Membership Rewards
Amex Business Platinum Amex Plat Unlimited Entry for member & guest Incl in Fee $399 N/A
Cards with Limited Access          
Amex Aeroplan Plus Platinum Priority Pass
Maple Leaf Lounge Acess
$99 Membership Fee
Unlimited Access to Maple Leaf Lounge
Incl in Fee $499 40K Aeroplan Miles
Scotia Amex Platinum Priority Pass $249 Membership Fee
10 Free Passes
Incl in Fee $399 $300
BMO World Elite Priority Pass $99 Membership Fee
4 Free passes
Incl in Fee First Year: $0
Next Years: $150
$300
Amex Air Miles Reserve Priority Pass $99 Membership Fee
4 Free passes
Incl in Fee $299 1450 Air Miles
Cards Which Discount Fee          
Scotia Amex Gold Priority Pass Discounted Membership Fee $65 $99 $300
TD Platinum Priority Pass Discounted Membership Fee $65 $120 $100
TD First Class Infinite Priority Pass Discounted Membership Fee $65 $99 $75

The next gallery of tables show how much it would cost you to get the 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. lounge access via credit card spending. The green ones are the cheapest and the red ones are the most expensive for the nth entry into the lounge.

1. The marginal cost of each lounge access (charged at the lounge)

2. Cumulative cost of each lounge access (the total of how much you would have been charged at the lounge)

3. Cumulative cost of lounge access in the first year

This is basically the entire cost you would bear for lounge access should you apply for a card solely for the lounge access benefit. This factors in the benefits assuming you only keep the card for the first year.

4. Cumulative cost of lounge access in the first year

This is basically the entire cost you would bear for lounge access should you apply for a card solely for the lounge access benefit in year 2 and onward.

 

Example 1: The Scotiabank Platinum card comes with 10 lounge passes, so the first 10 lounge entries would have no cost. The 11th would cost $27.

Example 2: The Scotiabank Amex card comes with no lounge passes and only the ability to purchase a Priority Pass membership at a discount. The first lounge entry would cost the $65 Priority Pass membership fee, and another $27 for the first lounge pass, for a total of $92. The second lounge access would cost only $27 , making the cumulative cost $119 since the Priority Pass membership fee would already have been paid.

Example 3: The BMO World Elite has a first year free and $300 upfront bonus, for a total cost of $-300 in year 1. Factoring this in with the $0 for the first 4 lounge entries included with this card, the cumulative cost for each of the first 4 entries is still $-300. The cumulative cost of the 5th entry would be -$273. If you were to sign up for this card, just for lounge benefits, and you accessed the lounge 5 times, in the first year you would be ahead by $273 with the BMO World Elite card.

Card Overviews

The following cards offer unlimited access to lounges and are not tied to a specific airline


American Express Platinum

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: Priority Pass Membership ($399 level)American Express Platinum Lounge ProgramAmerican Express Airport Club Program
Annual Fee: $699
Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 Membership Rewards = at least $650
Rewards: 1.25 Membership Rewards / Dollar spent
Ideal For: Frequent travelersTravelers who are not loyal to a single airline enough to achieve status

The American Express Platinum is a great card for those who are interested in elite benefits, including unlimited lounge access pretty much anywhere in the world. In the first year, a sign-up bonus of 50k Membership Rewards is offered, which nicely offsets a good chunk of that annual fee. The 50K Membership Rewards are worth at least $500 towards travel and if use properly (transferred to Aeroplan or Delta and used for the right flights) can be worth almost enough to offset that annual fee.

There are lots of other benefits with this card including a $200 annual travel benefit and lots of travel insurance benefits to make it a slam dunk in the first year. In subsequent years, it may be more questionable.

American Express Business Platinum

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: American Express Platinum Lounge ProgramAmerican Express Airport Club Program
Annual Fee: $399
Sign-Up Bonus: None
Rewards: 1.25 Membership Rewards / Dollar spent
Ideal For: Frequent travelersTravelers who are not loyal to a single airline enough to achieve status

The American Express Business Platinum card is a great card with some great benefits if you value the platinum level benefits. From a lounge access perspective, this card gives unlimited access to lounges only through the American Express Platinum Lounge Program and the American Express Airport Club Program. This specific card does not give access to lounges through the Priority Pass program. With the American Express programs, though, you should have access to a lounge in pretty much every airport you want to go to so not having Priority Pass is not really a major loss.

This card comes with the higher level insurance benefits, and rewards you with 1.25 Membership Rewards which at a minimum is worth 1.25% cashback, and more realistically should be worth closer to between 1.5% – 2.0% return when used properly.


The following cards offer limitations on lounge access, either by airline or the number of passes

 

American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: Priority Pass Membership ($99 level)Unlimited Maple Leaf LoungeAccess
Annual Fee: $499
Sign-Up Bonus: 40,000 Aeroplan MIles = at least $500
  1.25 Aeroplan Miles / Dollar (First $25,000 spent annually)1.5 Aeroplan Miles / Dollar (Subsequent spending)
Ideal For: People who fly Air Canada often, but not enough to get status(Not really the ideal card for anyone)

The American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum card is a Platinum level card so comes with some high level insurances. Unfortunately, on the front of lounge access, it doesn’t really solve anyone’s problem. It offers included membership in Priority Pass ($99) which means there is a co-pay of $27 for each visit. It also includes unlimited access to the Maple Leaf lounges in Canada. The problem here is that if you are traveling enough that you really value unlimited lounge access, you probably already have status on Air Canada, which would give you Maple Leaf lounge access anyways.

The earnings on this card also come in the form of Aeroplan miles, which can be good if used properly. The problem here is that Aeroplan miles are awful for flights operated by Air Canada and end up having a value in the range of 1.25 cents each. This is especially true since United miles can be often bought for 2.5 cents each and are worth so much more than Aeroplan miles, after accounting for routing rules and the higher taxes Aeroplan charges on the same flights.

Scotiabank Platinum American Express Card

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: Priority Pass Membership ($249 Level)10 Free Passes
Annual Fee: $399
Sign-Up Bonus: 30K Scotia Rewards = $300
Rewards: 4 Pts / Dollar Spent (Restaurants, Gas, Grocery)1 Pts / Dollar Spent (Everywhere Else)
Ideal For: Relatively frequent travelers who need less than 5-20 passes per yearGreat as a regular card

The Scotiabank Platinum American Express card is the Platinum version of my favorite card in the Canadian market. This card has great rewards, offering an unparalleled 4% return on restaurants, gas and grocery, and 1% on everything else. The insurance benefits are great. From the lounge access perspective, this card gives you enrollment in the higher tier of Priority Pass, which comes with 10 lounge passes every year. This card is great if you need a substantial number of lounge passes but not one every week.

BMO World Elite

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: Priority Pass Membership ($99 Level)4 Lounge Passes
Annual Fee: $150(First Year Free)
Sign-Up Bonus: $300
Rewards: 2 Pts / Dollar spent put towards travel (2% return)
Ideal For: Relative infrequent travelSupplement lounge access from preferred carrier

This card gives the card member 4 lounge passes every year, all for a fee of $150. The first year is fee free and they give you $300 upfront as a sign up bonus. It is also a great card for earning rewards as it gives a full 2% return towards travel. This is great if you only need a few passes each year. Maybe you have access to the lounges when you fly your preferred carrier or maybe you don’t travel too often, but like the lounge access when you do travel.

American Express Air Miles Reserve

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: Priority Pass Membership ($99 level)4 Lounge Passes
Annual Fee: $299
Sign-Up Bonus: 1450 Air Miles = ~$145 – $290
Rewards: 1 Air Miles / $10 Spent (Gas, grocery, drugs)1 Air Miles / $15 Spent (Everywhere else)
Ideal For: People who can achieve 30 cents / Air Miles when redeeming(very small group of people)

The American Express Air Miles Reserve card is a higher level card with a lot of insurances. Unfortunately, from an earnings / rewards perspective, it rewards you with Air Miles. Air Miles are great for certain people, but in general, they are relatively overvalued by American Express. Most people should get return of about 12 cents / mile when redeemed for travel or gift certificates. There are some cases, such a short haul or last minute flights when the value can really jump, but in general, most people (from the most populous regions) are going to have a tough time getting better than 15 cents for each mile when they trade them back to Air Miles.

Flightfox does a great job of outlining the best ways to use Air Miles here.

The rewards on this card are 1 Air Mile for each $15 spent. Assuming the 15 cents / Air Mile, that works out to 15 cents of rewards for each dollar spent, or 1% return. The minimum anyone with anything but awful credit should be getting is 1% from MBNA Platinum Plus.

From a lounge pass perspective, this card only comes with 4 passes, which is the same as the BMO World Elite card. The BMO World Elite card is a much better card than this one and comes with a much lower fee. I would suggest that unless you really can get great value from Air Miles, you should pass on this card.


The following cards offer only a discount on the Priority Pass membership

 

Scotiabank Gold American Express

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: Ability to buy Priority Pass for an additional $65
Annual Fee: $99
Sign-Up Bonus: 30K Scotia Rewards = $300
Rewards: 4 Pts / Dollar Spent (Restaurants, Gas, Grocery)1 Pts / Dollar Spent (Everywhere Else)
Ideal For: Most professionals in CanadaPeople who don’t value lounge accessGreat as a regular card

The Scotiabank Gold American Express card is my favorite card in the Canadian market. The rewards are great, giving you 4% on restaurants, gas and grocery, and 1% on everything else. Anyone with a substantial amount of restaurant spend should be using this card or the Platinum version of it.

From a lounge access perspective, this specific card is awful. The benefit that is offered is a measly $35 discount on the Priority Pass Membership fee. That means that your first lounge entry is going to cost you $65 for the Priority Pass annual fee, and another $27 for a total of $92! You might as well stay in an airport hotel room if you are only using this once / year.

TD First Class Travel Infinite

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: Ability to buy Priority Pass for an additional $65
Annual Fee: $120$0 if you have TD All-Inclusive Chequing
Sign-Up Bonus: 20K TD Rewards = $100
Rewards: 3 Pts / Dollar Spent (1.5% return towards travel)Bonus 1.5% or 3% return on purchases made through TD Travel
Ideal For: People who want simplicityPeople who already bank at TD

The TD First Class Travel Infinite Visa is a middle of the road offering. For people who have a relationship with TD, then the reduction in the annual fee moves this up to a much more attractive card. The return of 1.5% on all purchases is quite good and the insurances offered are great. I do not like the unnecessary complications of the rewards program. They seem to do everything such that 1 pt is ½ of a cent. This is fine except is causes some complicated mental math when comparing things. The 20K welcome bonus sounds great when 20K of most points represents $200. But it is a bit frustrating when you realize that it is only $100.

From a lounge access perspective, this card only offers a discount on the base Priority Pass membership. If you value that feature, this is not a card that will help you with that.

TD Platinum Travel VISA

Benefit

Lounge Access Included: Ability to buy Priority Pass for an additional $65
Annual Fee: $99$0 if you have TD All-Inclusive Chequing
Sign-Up Bonus: 15K TD Rewards = $75
Rewards: 3 Pts / Dollar Spent (1.5% return towards travel)Bonus .5% or 1.5% return on purchases made through TD Travel
Ideal For: People who want simplicityPeople who already bank at TDPeople who can’t get the First Class Infinite

The TD Platinum Travel VISA is the weaker brother of the TD First Class Travel Infinite. Pretty much the same thing in every way, except a smaller sign up bonus and the bonus from spending through TD travel is slightly smaller. Even though TD gives you a discount on your Priority Pass membership, this is not the card you should be carrying if you value lounge access.

Summary

Lounge access can be granted as a perk of some credit cards. The costs will vary significantly depending on which card you have.

In the first year, the BMO World Elite and the American Express Platinum are essentially free (the BMO World Elite is much better than free).

If you are going to be doing this on an annual basis, it would be a good idea to enroll in the American Express Platinum card for a year, when the signup bonus offsets the annual fee significantly, then cancel after a year. In the second year, you can get the American Express Platinum Business card and alternate between the 2 so you get every other year essentially free. This would end up costing only $200 / year on average.

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