As a frequent traveller, lounge access can help ease a long plane journey, especially if I’m stuck with multiple connections. Last summer, I was travelling to Toronto from Hong Kong, and after a 10-hour flight to Vancouver, it was nice to have access to food and drink, a quiet place to rest, entertainment options, a business centre and—my favourite part—a shower, before continuing my journey.
Generally speaking, you can purchase one-time access to a lounge for a bit less than half the price of a yearly unlimited access subscription through a provider such as Priority Pass. A variety of Canadian credit cards also offer appealing lounge privileges included with the annual fee, but there are differences around how access is granted and which spaces you can enter. Some cards offer unlimited access to select airport lounges, while others offer limited visits per year, so the estimated number of passes you’ll need each year may dictate which card you choose.
In Canada, the three ways you’ll typically access airport lounges through your credit card are Priority Pass, American Express Centurion and traditional airline-specific lounges, such as Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge and the Mastercard Experience Lounges. Browse the picks below to learn about some of your top options as you consider the annual fee alongside the value of lounge benefits.
The best credit cards with airport lounge access
Scotiabank has stepped up its travel offerings with the Passport Visa Infinite. With a $139 annual fee, the card offers no foreign transaction fees and a Priority Pass membership with six free annual visits. Other cards in this tier typically come with fewer complimentary lounge visits, and if you consider the full retail value of these passes they essentially paying off the card’s annual fee. The card provides access to the 1,200 lounges in Priority Pass global network, plus the protection of premium travel insurance and a hefty sign-up bonus.
The unique combination of lounge access, no foreign transaction fees and a comprehensive travel package makes this a great selection in the under-$150 annual fee range, allowing you to travel in style, save on foreign spend and be protected on daily purchases.
Annual fee: $139
Income requirement: $60,000, a minimum household income of $100,000 or a minimum of $250,000 in assets under management
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 Scotia Rewards points ($250 value) on first $1,000 in purchases made on card
Rewards: 2 points per $1 on grocery, entertainment, dining and transit/travel; 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
Other perks: Priority Pass access with 6 free visits a year; no foreign transaction fee; comprehensive travel insurance
The American Express Platinum Card’s unique selling feature is access to a variety of lounges across American Express’ Global Lounge Collection. These include Priority Pass, AMEX’s own Centurion Lounge, Plaza Premium lounges and Delta Sky Clubs (when flying with the carrier). This top-tier card offers unlimited access to the widest range of airport lounges, which are included with your annual fee. As a frequent lounge visitor, I can say American Express’ Centurion Lounge runs circles around its competition with seasonal and locally inspired menus, curated wine pairings and refreshing showers.
The Platinum Card comes at a steep $699-a-year annual fee, but along with it comes a suite of benefits, including hotel status, enhanced lounge options, premium insurance coverage and a $200 annual travel credit—which really brings the annual fee down to $499. If you know you’ll leverage the benefits, this is a worthwhile option.
Annual fee: $699
Income requirement: N/A
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 Membership Rewards Points
Rewards: 3 points per $1 on dining; 2 points per $1 on travel; 1 point per $1 on everything else
Other perks: $200 annual travel credit; Priority Pass and American Express Centurion Lounge access; Toronto Pearson Airport priority lane; hotel status at select brands; premium medical, flight delay/cancellation and baggage insurance
American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum Card
The American Express AeroplanPlus is different from the American Express Platinum Card in that this premium offering includes access to Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge, which can be appealing to those who frequently fly Canada’s largest air carrier. Also, the points you earn are not American Express Membership Rewards, but rather they accrued under Aeroplan, which will transfer 1:1 to Air Canada’s new loyalty program in 2020. Coupled with an annual partner ticket benefit, priority check-in, and comprehensive travel insurance, this is a worthwhile investment for frequent travellers.
Annual fee: $499
Income requirement: N/A
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 Aeroplan Miles
Rewards: 1.25 miles per $1 up to $25,000 annually; 1.5 miles per $1 after first $25,000
Other perks: Receive an annual partner ticket benefit; Air Canada priority check-in; access to Maple Leaf Lounges and Priority Pass membership; Toronto Pearson Airport valet service and priority lane; premium medical, trip cancellation/interruption and baggage insurance
BMO’s World Elite Mastercard is a great credit card that offers a competitive welcome bonus (35,000 BMO Rewards Points, or a $250 value, after you spend a minimum of $3,000 in first three months of membership), no annual fee for the first year and participation in the Mastercard Airport Experiences program. Mastercard’s Airport Experiences program and lounges are run by LoungeKey and offer World Elite users access to 1,000 lounges around the globe.
With the BMO World Elite Mastercard, cardholders receive four passes to use themselves or to share with their travel companions, which is a great option if you’re not a frequent flyer but still want the flexibility of using a lounge a few times a year. The card has a $150 annual fee, and can be a great way to try out LoungeKey, and if you need more access, the cost for additional visits is US$32 per person.
Annual fee: $150 (first year free)
Income requirement: $80,000 individual or $150,000 household annual income required
Sign-up bonus: 35,000 points ($250 value, after minimum $3,000 spend in first three months)
Rewards: 3 points per $1 on travel, dining and entertainment; 2 points per $1 on everything else
Other perks: Participation in Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey; four complimentary lounge access passes per year (use by primary member or with companions); extended warranty, purchase protection and BMO World Elite travel and medical protection
CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite
CIBC’s Aventura Visa Infinite card enhances your entire gate-to-gate experience through a Nexus membership rebate. The annual fee of $120 grants you access to the Priority Pass program with only four free visits a year. While this is less than the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite, the annual fee is $19 cheaper and you get a Nexus membership rebate of $50.
For frequent flyers who might not need more than four lounge visits, Nexus’ value is worth much more than $50. It allows you to use the Trusted Traveller lanes in Canadian and American PreCheck screening lanes, saving you a ton of time and potential headaches.
Annual fee: $120
Income requirement: $60,000 individual or $100,000 household annual income
Sign-up bonus: 20,000 points (15,000 points on first purchase, 5,000 points after spending $1,000 in 4 monthly statement periods)
Rewards: 2 points per $1 in CIBC Rewards Centre; 1.5 points per $1 on gas, grocery and drug stores; 1 point per $1 on everything else
Other perks: Priority Pass membership with 4 free visits a year; Nexus card fee rebate ($50 value, every 4 years); out-of-province emergency travel medical insurance; flight delay and baggage insurance; purchase protection and mobile device insurance
American Express AeroplanPlus Reserve Card
This card from American Express is the one with the steepest annual fee, however is worth a mention by virtue of its benefits. If you often travel in and out of Canada, and fly Air Canada or on non-Star Alliance carriers, this card could be a great option. The $899-a-year card uniquely enables access to both Maple Leaf Lounges as well as Priority Pass lounges, meaning you’re likely guaranteed to have lounge access in most major cities. This means you don’t necessarily need to fly with Air Canada to maintain loyalty access to the Maple Leaf Lounge, and for the airports that don’t have an Air Canada lounge offering, you can visit a Priority Pass location.
Additionally, you receive a $200 annual travel credit (effectively bringing your annual fee to $699), an annual partner ticket benefit when you redeem a minimum of a 25,000 Mile reward through Aeroplan, as well as a generous welcome bonus of 50,000 Aeroplan Miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months of membership. To top it all off, a gift card welcome bonus of $200 is awarded after $6,000 is spent in the first six months.
Extended Air Canada benefits include a complimentary first checked bag, priority check-in and a priority security lane at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. Business travellers with a hefty card spend might consider this almost-all-inclusive option that covers you for flights no matter the airline.
Annual fee: $899
Income requirement: $60,000 annual income
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 Aeroplan Miles (after $3,000 in first 3 months); $200 Air Canada gift card (after $6,000 in first 6 months)
Rewards: 1.25 Aeroplan Miles per $1; 2 Aeroplan Miles per $1 on eligible Air Canada purchases
Other perks: Receive an annual Partner Ticket benefit; $200 annual travel credit; Air Canada priority check-in, first checked bag included; access to Maple Leaf Lounges and Priority Pass membership; Toronto Pearson Airport valet service and priority lane; premium medical, trip cancellation/interruption, baggage insurance
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