How much money is Priority Pass access really worth? If you asked me this question even a year ago, my answer would be $0. That’s because Covid-19 pandemic brought our travel plans (the flying kind) to a screeching halt. Fortunately, I’m very stingy when it comes to renewing premium credit cards that offer Priority Pass as one of the perks. And that’s during good, aka non-pandemic period.
But times have changed, and after our youngest got vaccinated, my family started to fly again. I was shocked when this January my husband got approved for Capital One Venture X card. Until then, we had denial after denial. I didn’t actually apply for the card because of Priority Pass benefit, but it was a nice side benefit. What sets this card apart is the fact that up to four authorized users can get it as well, for no extra cost. And those four people can bring two guests with them on top of it. Talk about an insane value proposition!
So, since we’ve had this card almost a year now, I wanted to share my thoughts on whether Priority Pass benefit actually saved us real money. And if so, how much.
Overcrowded and out-of-the-way lounges
In my introductory post about our epic adventures and misadventures in Europe this year, I mentioned that I foolishly decided to go to another terminal just to enter Swissport lounge in Chicago airport. We had five hours to kill due to delayed flight, so I figured why not. Don’t. Do it.
We had to go through security and the whole nine yards. It was ridiculous. And what did we get for all of this effort? Nada. The lounge had a sign that it was completely full and would not be accepting new guests. So, we had to go through security …again just to get back to where we started.
A quick search online would tell me that this particular lounge is very busy and our experience was a typical one, not an exception. So, my new rule of thumb is that if to enter a lounge we have to go through security, we will be skipping it. It doesn’t matter how long our layover is. It was an annoying and rather frustrating experience that I’m not eager to repeat.
Some lounges get busy, but you can access them if you are willing to wait 20-30 minutes. This will only work if you have some extra time to kill before your flight. Usually, I try to arrive to our gate well ahead of the boarding time. But sometimes things happen. A few months ago, my husband and I flew to Costa Rica and the parking garage for our terminal in MCO was completely full. So, we had to park in a different terminal and take a bus back. We still had a little bit of extra time and I figured we would drop by Club MCO since we needed to get lunch anyway.
But, as you may have guessed, the lounge was full. The attendant told us we could wait, but wouldn’t give us a time estimate. So, since we didn’t have a lot of time before boarding, we’ve decided to cut our losses and just buy food.
Decent food and atmosphere, but a weird lounge attendant
We had kind of a bizarre experience in Icare lounge in Paris CDG airport. I had a bad feeling when a lady in front of us was told that her card wasn’t working. She kept protesting saying she just used it the previous day, but to no avail. Reluctantly, I handed our two cards, but they went through. Or so I thought. After we helped ourselves to snacks and alcohol, the same lady came to where we were sitting and told me there was an issue with our cards. So, I handed them off to her and tried to enjoy what I previously assumed was free food+wine.
She did come back and said everything was OK, but the moment was ruined. My husband turned to me and said: This is why I hate lounges.
The lounge itself was pretty nice and the food was edible. So, I’m filing this one under a win, since we saved at least $50 by not having to buy lunch.
Comfortable seating, but not much else
I was surprised to find out that even a tiny Tivat airport in Montenegro has a lounge. I didn’t take any photos, but you can view them here. Basically, it’s a large room with a view of the runway. The biggest benefit to me is the fact that it’s air-conditioned, unlike the general seating area. No food when we visited, but we were entitled to two free drinks per person. Overall, it was a pleasant experience, but I probably would not pay much more than $5 per person, the cost of drinks. Keep in mind that you have to check in for this lounge in a separate area before going through security.
Recently, my husband and I had a chance to hang out at VIP Santamaria lounge in San Jose airport in Costa Rica. In general, I have low expectations when it comes to lounge food, but even I was unpleasantly surprised.
The food didn’t look fresh, and the bread tasted a bit stale. Don’t get me wrong, I still ate it, I’m a pretty cheap gal. My husband, on the other hand, refused to touch any of it, and ended up buying sushi. But at least the seats were pretty comfortable. I would not pay more than $10 per person to enter this lounge, maybe less if we traveled with kids.
My relatives made out like bandits in Minsk and Istanbul lounges
Since I added my sister and mom as authorized users to my husband’s Capital One card, they each had Priority Pass access. On top of it, they could bring my dad and two nephews with them to airport lounges at no cost. I forgot to ask them to take photos, though I doubt any of our readers are planning to fly from Minsk airport in Belarus. Surprisingly, despite all the recent sanctions, there are still two Priority Pass lounges operating there. And that’s how my relatives got free breakfast before their early flight to Montenegro.
They also had a four-hour layover in Istanbul in each direction, and obviously needed to get food. That’s where IGA lounge came in. My family said it was magnificent, though they mainly went there for free food. Since they would otherwise use my credit card to purchase breakfast and lunch, I’ve saved at least $150 by signing them up for Priority Pass benefit.
Capital One Venture X is the best premium card for families who fly
And generous Priority Pass benefit has a lot to do with it. Obviously, this is my opinion and you may disagree. I’ll also add that I don’t consider Capital One points to be as valuable as Chase UR points. But the closest product they offer that even begins to compete with Capital One Venture X is Chase Sapphire Reserve. However, it has an annual $550 fee, and charges an additional $75 for each authorized user.
Capital One Venture X has a $395 annual fee, which is nothing to sneeze at. However, it also offers a $300 annual credit for travel booked through its portal, plus 10k points that are worth at least $100 (to me). So, that makes Priority Pass benefit essentially free or at least deeply discounted, depending on how you value that $300 credit. This year I was able to use it towards low-cost carrier flights in Europe, which we would have to purchase regardless.
Don’t get me wrong, Chase Sapphire Reserve (our affiliate link) is worth it in the first year due to current 80k points bonus (see Nancy’s recent post for more details). However, after that Capital One Venture X wins, hands down. As you can see, I have very reasonable (maybe even low) expectations when it comes to Priority Pass. But even I will admit that the value is real even if you fly only a few times per year.
Obviously, you won’t hit a jackpot each and every time, but it’s not hard to save $40 to $50 if you have to feed a family and utilize a lounge or a participating airport restaurant. Add some relatives as authorized users, and you can help them save some money too. In my case, since I cover my Belarusian family’s travel expenses, this is savings in my pocket.
Capital One Venture X (our affiliate link) did have a higher sign-up bonus in the past, but I’m not sure if it will ever return. Right now it offers 75k points after meeting minimum spending requirements, which is a respectable offer, though not as good as one on Chase Sapphire Reserve.
But unlike CSR, Venture X is one premium card I intend to renew for the foreseeable future. In all likelihood, the benefits will get diluted and the fee will go up eventually. But for now, let the good times roll.
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.