Benefits of Credit Card Churning: Airport Lounge Access

That long awaited vacation is finally here. You made it to the airport on time, despite the fact that your toddler insisted that she needed to poop after you had strapped her into her seat (no, it turns out that she did not). You’re feeling the burn from dragging that stroller and car seat that together weigh about eighteen tons to the counter and you’ve checked them in. You’ve stood in a snaking line for an eternity attempting to persuade your whiny toddler that no, she cannot drink water right this minute. You’ve removed your shoes, been poked at and swabbed because you’re carrying milk for the flight. Frazzled and more than a little sweaty you emerge from security, and take a deep breath. There is a little window of time here, a brief period before boarding and scrambling for overhead bin space and then flying with your knees altogether too close to your nose to be truly comfortable. What I am used to doing is spending this time refilling water bottles, lining up for loo access, hoping for a seat at the gate, and maybe, depending on the time of day, going unwillingly to the overpriced airport restaurants for a bite to eat.

There is a different way. There is an oasis where you can spend the precious interlude before boarding. It is called an airport lounge. Until recently I assumed that airport lounges were the domain of the rich. They were an alternate universe into which business and first class travelers disappeared to get away from the teeming, sweating, smelling masses. Then I discovered the wonderful world of churning and, as I wrote about in a previous post, I got my grubby paws on not one, but two Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards. Amongst the many, many benefits of this wonderful card, nestles this one particular gem:

Complimentary Airport Lounge Access

You and your authorized users can access 900+ VIP airport lounges worldwide with Priority Pass Select and enjoy lounge amenities such as WIFI, free snacks, beverages and more when you activate your membership.”

You activate your membership by logging into your account, and clicking on a button. A short while later this card will make an appearance in your mailbox:

Priority Pass membership card for airport lounge access

The type of membership that the Chase Sapphire Reserve card bestows upon you allows you and all your travel companions to access the lounge free of cost. I’m going to describe for you our first airport lounge experience, a side effect of churning credit cards for points and miles.

We recently holidayed in New Orleans, and we flew out of SJC (San Jose, CA). SJC is home to a Priority Pass lounge called, quite simply, The Club. Our flight was delayed by nearly two hours, a fact that they notified us of only after we were enroute to the airport, and so, post security checks we decided to saunter down to The Club and invite some swankiness into our lives.

The Club is located between Terminals A and B of SJC, and on the second floor. It was a short walk from our gate. At the check in desk our priority pass card was swiped and our boarding passes checked by a very friendly receptionist and then we (three adults, my mother was traveling with us, and one toddler) were let loose into the lounge.

The lounge lived up to my lofty expectations. There were two large seating areas, filled with comfy seats and sofas. One seating area overlooked the tarmac (and thus afforded Toddler BITA much entertainment as she watched the planes take off and land), and the other afforded a view of the city in the distance.

Seating area at The Club airport lounge

As you can see the lounge was sparsely populated. It is a good thing that Toddler BITA knows about using her ‘quiet voice’, otherwise I might have been too embarrassed to hang around here for long.

A buffet lunch was laid out. It wasn’t the most impressive lunch spread, but it was adequate. Raw vegetables and a dip, pita bread with hummus, two kinds of pasta, chips, a variety of yoghurt and bars, three varieties of popcorn and instant noodles. There were four varieties of fresh squeezed juice and a coffee bar.

Lunch at The Club priority pass airport lounge

Lunch time at the airport lounge

The lounge has a full service bar. I had a couple of glasses of wine, Mr. BITA had a Manhattan followed by a beer, and my mum had a gin and tonic. I would estimate that everything we ate and drank (5 drinks!) at the lounge would have cost us about $100 at normal airport prices.

The bar at the Club airport lounge Toddler BITA relaxing at the airport lounge

The bathrooms were clean and large, and there were no lines. We could have had showers if we had been so inclined. The reading material, oddly enough, was mostly in Japanese.

Japanese reading material at the priority pass airport lounge

I mentioned in this post that the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) has a hefty $450 annual fee. $300 of this is offset by a an annual travel credit. How much is the Priority Pass membership worth? A standard membership costs $99/year and you have to pay an additional $27/person every time you visit a lounge. A standard plus membership costs $249/year and affords you 10 free visits a year (but you need to pay for guests). The Prestige membership costs $399/year for unlimited free visits, but guests still cost extra. So, depending on how often you fly, this CSR perk could be worth a lot, allowing you free lounge access for your entire posse.  

And I’ve never in my life before boarded a plane in such a good mood!


21 thoughts on “Benefits of Credit Card Churning: Airport Lounge Access”

  1. I just used the Priority Pass lounge at SFO a few weeks ago on our way to Mexico — my very first time in an airport lounge, in spite of having flown for work almost every week for several years. I also got the perk via the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. The food and drink were nice, but my favorite part was the environment. No endless overhead announcements about flights boarding to places we weren’t going, no “TSA has limited the items that may be carried through the screening checkpoint” recordings (when you’ve already gone through security! Why??), just mellow. It would be easy to miss your flight by accident. I wouldn’t pay full price for it, but it’s a really nice benefit of the CSR.

    Did Mr. BITA get in free, also?

    1. Oh I agree completely. I never quite realized just how noisy airports tend to be until I wormed my way into my first lounge. My parents have used the Emirates lounge in Dubai and they claim that it gets even better – that lounge even allows you to board directly from the lounge (even if you are flying coach).

      And yes, Mr. BITA and my mum were allowed in with me (they both have their own cards, but we didn’t need to use them).

    1. For what it is worth, our credit scores both went up since we started churning. This is because not all factors are equally weighted when it comes to computing your credit score. Two of the bigger factors are credit card utilization (30% of your score) and this improves as you get more cards, and payment history (35%) which is not affected by more cards as long as you plan to pay off each in full every month.

  2. We have priority pass and the reserve card as well. My biggest complaint is not all non hub airports have either a convenient ly located lounge or one that is open all day. For example at BWI the lounge is only open after four pm during the week. I’d check your local airport before getting too excited.

    1. SJC is my local airport, and my excitement _and_ this article was based on my experience there. The other airport I use for international travel is SFO and that one has a priority pass lounge too, with decent hours to boot. I’m sorry to hear that your local airport lounge has sucky timings. Maybe you can take advantage of your card and your perk on return journeys!

  3. We haven’t tried the reserve card – we used the preferred card a couple of years ago to get free flights to FL. But, after reading this, I think the reserve might just be our next card. Thanks for sharing your experience at the lounge! It looks fantastic – you just can’t beat the food/drinks!

    1. If you want the CSR get it before the bonus drops in March. Now I need to figure out what our next set of cards are going to be. Need to build that stash back up.

    1. Given the sheer number of us who seem to be newly minted priority pass holders I have to wonder how long that peace and quiet is going to last : )

  4. It looks like the Need2Save family will be enjoying the Turkish Airlines lounge at Dulles this June. The timing on the other two lounges doesn’t work out.

    Thanks Chase Sapphire Reserve!

    1. I have heard good things about Turkish Airlines, so I suspect their lounge will be pretty good too. Hope you have an enjoyable experience.

    1. I am now loathe to go back to the lounge-less life. I am already plotting the most cost effective ways to keep lounge access as a benefit in the future.

  5. Nice! We just got our priority passes too. The lounge out of LAX was decent, but didn’t have cup of noodles, like yours! 😉 But it was really nice to relax before the flight. It’s the first time we’ve ever experienced a lounge. Hopefully I don’t get too used to this, I don’t plan on keeping that $450 annual fee.

    1. How can they claim to be a classy joint without the cup-o-noodles?

      I’m working on figuring out how to hang on to this benefit at the lowest possible cost. There are other cards out there that offer lounge benefits too.

  6. I’m very excited to use this benefit during our big summer trip. Hoping to get some free meals out of it plus a bunch of free drinks. I figure we’ll save a couple hundred bucks vs. airport food and beverage prices. And it’s a very relaxing, nice luxurious place in those lounges, so it’ll take the sting out of lining up like cattle and crushing our souls into those tiny airplane seats.

    1. A couple of free drinks and you don’t even notice the fact that you’re kissing your knees for ten hours over the Atlantic. Almost.

      It is nice though. If I can’t fly business, I’ll settle for a business class experience before I set foot on the plane.

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