One of the worst things about travelling is the airport experience before a flight or during a layover. Think about the uncomfortable seating (when available), crowded bathrooms, overprice food and noisy/busy areas.
To escape this chaotic environment, you can head into airport lounges which are private, offer food, and comfortable seating. Each lounge is different and offers different amenities, but there’s no denying how comfortable they are. The problem is, normally you need to pay a yearly membership fee of $99 USD and then $32 USD for each visit which is not exactly cheap.
However, if you have credit cards with lounge access, then you could end up paying nothing at all which is the ideal scenario. Before you get to my full list of free airport lounge access credit cards, it’s important to know the different lounge programs that you’ll typically encounter.
|Card||Lounge visits||Annual Fee|
|American Express Platinum Card||Unlimited||$699|
|American Express Business Platinum||Unlimited||$499|
|Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite||6||$139|
|American Express Gold Rewards Card||4 Plaza Premium||$250|
|BMO World Elite™* Mastercard®*||4||$150 - FYF|
|CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card||4||$120|
Airport lounge programs
Plaza Premium – Think of Plaza Premium as a brand of airport lounges. They have a ton of lounges around the world and operate most of the lounges found in Canadian Airports. It’s important to note that Plaza Premium lounges are no longer part of the Priority Pass or Mastercard Airport Experience by LoungeKey programs. That means if your lounge access is provided by one of those networks, you won’t be able to access Plaza Premium lounges. If you have an American Express Credit Card that gives you lounge access, you can still get into Plaza Premium lounges.
Priority Pass – Priority Pass is a club that gives its members access to airport lounges all over the world. Members pay an annual fee for membership and depending on membership level, they get a number of free entrances or pay a reduced fee for each entrance. Priority Pass gives access to over 1,200 lounges and even restaurants at airports. Note that American Express Priority Pass members do not get the restaurant discount. Read my Priority Pass review now for the full details
Mastercard Airport Experience by LoungeKey – Very similar to Priority Pass, the Master Card Airport Experience grants access to about 1,000 airport lounges. Honestly, there isn’t much difference compared to Priority Pass, the only real difference is that your credit cards with lounge access must be a World Elite Mastercard to get access to Airport Experience by LoungeKey. You also don’t get access to Plaza Premium lounges.
Maple Leaf lounges and airlines specific lounges – Most major international airlines have their own lounges in their hubs and most frequented destinations. Air Canada owns the Maple Leaf lounges that you can visit in 11 Canadian cities as well as New York, Paris, London, Frankfurt and Los Angeles.
American Express Centurion Lounges – Exclusive to American Express Platinum cardholders and Centurion members, the Centurion Lounges are among the best in the world with upscale cuisine and family rooms. Generally speaking, if you have access to an American Express airport lounge, you should choose it as it’s almost guaranteed to be better than the Priority Pass lounge.
The best credit cards with lounge access
While there are more than 20 airport lounge access credit cards, I’ve selected the best and most popular ones in the list below. Keep in mind that each card has its own individual benefits, so I’ve also provided a link to my reviews if you’re looking for more details. Also, note that you can always apply for multiple credit cards with lounge access which essentially gives you more free passes and can be ideal for those travelling as a family. Best of all, the credit cards I’ve featured below also make my list of the best travel credit cards in Canada so you know you’ll have a winner with any of these cards.
American Express Platinum Card
If you’re a frequent traveller then the American Express Platinum Card is the best credit card with lounge access for you since it gives unlimited free visits for you and one guest. Yes, the fee is steep at $699 per year, but keep in mind that you also get an annual travel credit of $200 so it brings down the fee to $499 which is pretty reasonable when you factor in the unlimited airport lounge visits, travel insurance, and the upgraded loyalty tier you get at many hotels.
Don’t forget about the massive sign up bonus which can easily be worth more than the annual fee. Since you earn Membership Rewards points with this card, your points are incredibly valuable. Note that this card also ranks as one of the best American Express credit cards in Canada.
American Express Business Platinum Card
- $499 annual fee
- 80,000 Membership Rewards points welcome bonus when using a referral link
- Additional 25,000 points when you make any purchase after your 14-month card anniversary date
- Earn 1.25 points per $1 spent on all purchases
- Unlimited airport lounge access
- Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status
As the name implies, the American Express Business Platinum is the business card version of the Platinum card. The differences are minor, but they can make a huge difference. With the business card, the annual fee is just $499 but you don’t get the annual $200 travel credit as the personal Platinum card has. You also won’t get hotel status upgrades with the business card, but you do get an earn rate of 1.25 points per $1 spent on all purchases.
What will likely interest people is the crazy sign up bonus which is the largest welcome bonus in Canada. That said, you need to charge $7,000 to your card in the first three months of cardmembership. to get your bonus.
Using those points will be easy since you have multiple ways to redeem your points including transferring them to Marriott Bonvoy or booking a flight via the American Express Fixed Travel Program. if you want to know the differences between the Amex Platinum and the Business Platinum Cards, I wrote a detailed post.
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
- $139 annual fee – first year free
- 20,000 Scene+ points welcome bonus
- 5X Scene+ points on travel for the first 3 months
- Earn 2 Scene+ points per $1 spent on grocery, dining, entertainment, and transit
- Earn 1 Scene+ point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Priority Pass Membership + 6 passes per year
- No foreign transaction fees
Despite the fact that there are tons of free lounge access credit cards, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card is the only credit card that also comes with no foreign exchange fees which can help you save if you make a lot of purchases in a foreign currency. Right now, new applicants who apply for this card get 25,000 Scotia Rewards points as a signup bonus which has a value of $250. You also get 6 free annual airport lounge passes which is the most from any credit card with an annual fee of $150 or less. To find out the full details of the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card, you can read my full review here.
American Express Gold Rewards Card
- $250 annual fee
- Up to 65,000 Membership Rewards points welcome bonus when using a referral link
- Earn 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on grocery, gas, pharmacy, and travel purchases
- Earn 1 Membership Rewards point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- $100 Annual travel credit
- Priority Pass Membership + 4 annual Plaza Premium passes
I recently added the American Express Gold Rewards Card to my list of the best credit cards with lounge access in Canada. What sets them apart from some of the other cards on the list is the four lounge passes provided are specifically for Plaza Premium lounges. American Express was smart to make this change as Plaza Premium lounges are no longer included with Priority Pass or Mastercard Airport Experience by LoungeKey. Essentially, American Express is giving people a good reason to switch their credit cards if they want to use their lounge passes in Canada.
BMO World Elite™* Mastercard®*
- $150 Annual fee – First year free*
- Get 30,000 BMO Rewards points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, and 2,500 points for each subsequent month in which you make at least $2,000 in purchases on your card, for 12 months
- Earn 3 BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on dining, entertainment, and travel purchases
- Earn 2 BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Mastercard Airport Experiences membership provided by LoungeKey, plus 4 annual passes
The BMO World Elite™* Mastercard®* comes with 4 free airport lounge passes and the annual fee is waived for the first year so you check out some lounges for free. Your earn rate is 3 BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on dining, entertainment, and travel purchases. That works out to a 2.1% return in those categories which the highest you’ll get of the cards on this list. One little known fact about this card is that the car rental insurance includes a personal effects benefit which means if you’re personal property is stolen from your rental car, you’re insured up to $1,000 per person with a maximum of $2,000 per vehicle. In addition, for the travel insurance to apply, you only need to charge any amount of your travel purchases to your card which is fantastic since other cards require you to charge 75-100% of your travel purchases. Check out my full thoughts of the BMO World Elite™* Mastercard®* and find out why it’s one of the best BMO credit cards.
CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card
- $139 annual fee – First year free
- 20,000 Aventura points when you make your first purchase
- 15,000 Aventura points when you spend $1,000 in your first year
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on CIBC travel
- Earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on gas, grocery, and drug store purchases
- Priority Pass Membership and 4 complimentary visits per year
Of the best credit cards with lounge access, the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite is the only card to give you mobile device insurance and a rebate on your NEXUS membership. Those are some incredibly unique benefits that will appeal to travellers. Your card gives you 4 annual airport lounge passes, but it also comes with a generous sign up bonus of 20,000 CIBC Rewards points and comprehensive travel insurance. You can read my CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite review to find out how CIBC travel rewards work.
Is an airport lounge access credit card worth it?
If you’re wondering if an airport lounge access credit card is worth it, the simple answer is yes. The credit cards on this list give you access to Priority Pass or Mastercard Airport Experiences Provided by LoungeKey. If you were to buy an annual membership with Priority Pass, it would cost you US $99 and you would still have to pay a fee of US $32 every time you visit. You could get the Standard Plus membership that costs $299 but gives you 10 free annual passes. There’s also the Prestige membership that comes with unlimited free visits for US $429. When you do the simple math, comparing the annual fee that comes with an airport lounge access credit card to the actual cost of a lounge visit is of good value.
Price aside, the next question is if airport lounge access is worth it? As in, is it worth paying a fee to get access to better seating, drinks and food? Admittedly, some airport lounges are of poor quality, but I think it beats sitting in the common areas of airports. There are some airports that have great public areas, but those same airports typically have exceptional lounges. The value of airport lounge access may be relative, but you definitely get value out of it when using an airport lounge access credit card.
If you like to travel, getting one of the best credit cards with lounge access can make your airport experience a lot better. You may not think it’s that much of an improvement, but once you’ve been in a good lounge, you won’t want to go back. Your vacation starts at the airport and credit cards with lounge access will make you enjoy your trip more.
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