airport lounges priority credit cards switzerland

Airport Lounge Access with Credit Cards: A Cheap Alternative?

A number of Swiss credit cards offer airport lounge access as an exclusive benefit. But does this benefit justify the high cost of these credit cards? This report looks at the numbers behind the marketing.

Airport lounges may be popular among business travelers, but even budget flyers looking for refreshments, internet access and a comfortable place to rest find airport lounges a welcome retreat. Knowing the value of a relaxing break before or in between flights, payment card issuers have long used airport lounge access as a calling card for their higher-end credit cards and charge cards.

But can you actually save money by getting a credit card which offers this benefit? Does it make more financial sense to get a card with no annual fee and pay for lounge access separately?

What do airport lounges cost?

For a start, let’s take a look at what airport lounge visits actually cost. Membership in Priority Pass, a network of around 900 airport lounges, is the benefit most commonly offered by credit cards which provide lounge access. The “Standard” membership fee is 99 euros per year, but you still have to pay 24 euros for each lounge visit. A “Standard Plus” membership costs 249 euros and entitles you to 10 complimentary lounge visits every year. Priority Pass “Prestige” membership gives you unlimited, complimentary access to lounges and costs 399 euros per year.

A one-time visit to an airport lounge typically costs between 25 and 50 francs, depending on the location and services offered. Most lounges offer complimentary drinks, snacks, cable TV, internet access. Some offer business facilities like conference rooms, photocopy and fax machines, while a number also provide children’s play areas. At some lounges, buffet meals are included. All things considered, you get pretty good value for money.

Important note: Airport lounges have fixed capacities. You may be denied entry to a lounge if it is full, even if you have Priority Pass membership.

Lounge access benefits on Swiss credit cards

Now let’s go over the lounge access offered by Swiss credit cards, and what these cards cost. A surprising number of issuers offer lounge access as a benefit on their gold and platinum cards, but there are major differences in the lounge access benefits you get with different cards.

Platinum Card from American Express

The Platinum card from American Express gives you complimentary Priority Pass membership and free entry to Priority Pass lounges, which is equivalent to “Prestige” membership (399 euros) from Priority Pass. You pay an 850-franc annual fee for the American Express card and you can only apply if you earn 120,000 francs per annum. If all you want is airport lounge access, you can save around 400 francs by getting a Prestige membership directly from Priority Pass.

However, this card also provides fairly comprehensive travel insurance benefits when you use the card to pay, including trip cancellation insurance, luggage insurance, fully comprehensive insurance for rental cars, travel health insurance, trip delay coverage and travel accident insurance. If you travel often (if you want unlimited complimentary lounge access you probably do) that complimentary travel insurance can save you money. Here to, however, you can get better value for money by taking out an annual travel insurance policy. A quick travel insurance comparison will give you a good idea of annual premiums.

Platinum and gold cards from UBS

UBS offers “Standard” Priority Pass membership as a benefit to its Gold credit card holders. That may sound like a good deal, but you still have to pay 24 euros for each lounge visit, which is not much less than non-members pay at participating lounges. UBS’ Gold credit cards have an annual fee of 200 francs (100 the first year).

UBS Platinum card holders enjoy 4 free lounge visits annually in addition to basic membership, but the annual fee of a UBS Platinum credit card will set you back 500 francs per year. It’s fair to say that the 99-euro Priority Pass membership savings alone are not a good enough reason to apply for one of these cards. The ACS gold credit card gives you the same basic Priority Pass membership which you get with the UBS gold card and only costs 100 francs per year (no annual fee the first year), but is only available to ACS members.

Diners Club cards

Diners Club cards (issued by Cornèrcard) give you access to around 700 lounges which participate in the Diners Club airport lounge program, many of which also participate in Priority Pass. However, the Swiss Diners Club cards no longer give you unlimited complimentary access. If you charge at least 6000 francs to your Diners Club card every year, you benefit from 5 complimentary lounge visits annually. If you do not meet that minimum spending or visit lounges in excess of your 5 complimentary visits, you will pay 25 francs per visit, which is less than non-members pay but still not a huge saver. The annual fee for the classic Diners Club card is 150 francs per year, which means that if you do charge at least 6000 francs per year to your card, the 5 complimentary lounge visits you get will more than compensate for the annual fee.

Some other credit cards, like many of those issued by Cornèrcard, let you add standard Priority Pass membership as an optional extra, but at an additional fee. In the case of Cornèrcard, you benefit from a discounted annual fee for basic priority pass membership and also receive a one-time welcome gift of two free lounge entries.

Platinum card from PostFinance

PostFinance issues a Platinum Visa card with a 250-franc annual fee which gives you standard Priority Pass membership and throws in 2 free lounge visits every year (over 150 francs in combined value). The Viseca Platinum card has a 500-franc annual fee and gives you “Standard” Priority Pass access, plus 4 complimentary lounge visits annually. Together, those benefits can add up to 200 francs of value every year, but as far as lounge access goes, you will get a much better deal by getting a 399-euro “Prestige” membership from Priority Pass.

Bank packages: better value for money

An attractive alternative is to get a credit card with airport lounge benefits as part of a banking package deal.

For example, Credit Suisse provides the equivalent of a “Prestige” Priority Pass membership to Bonviva Platinum customers. The Bonviva American Express Platinum card which you get with this bundle gives you the exact same unlimited, complimentary lounge access as the expensive American Express Platinum card. If you need the other banking services provided by the package, then a package like this delivers good value.

In fact, the entire Bonviva Platinum package which includes 4 private accounts, 5 current accounts, a savings account, two debit cards, a rewards program, an American Express Platinum and a Visa Gold credit card costs 480 francs during the first year – just slightly more than a Priority Pass “Prestige” membership – as the comprehensive bank package deal comparison shows. In subsequent years the annual fee goes up to 960 francs per year, which is 110 francs more than the 850 francs you pay for a regular Platinum card from American Express, but more than double what you pay for unlimited Priority Pass membership. So after the first year the lounge savings benefit diminishes and becomes more of a fringe perk.

Viseca Platinum credit cards

A number of banks include the Viseca platinum credit card in their premium banking service packages, and getting a complete package deal can work out cheaper than getting the credit card on its own. The “Platinum” package offered by the Zürcher Kantonalbank, for example, has monthly fees totaling 504 francs per year – just 4 francs more than you would pay for the platinum card alone. If you have 80,000 francs in deposits or if you get financing from the bank, the annual costs go down to just 384 francs. With a savings account, a private account and a debit card, that can work out to be a good deal if you use the Priority Pass membership and 4 complimentary lounge visits.

The verdict

Credit cards may be an easy way to score airport lounge bargains in other countries, but Switzerland is an entirely different animal. Unless you have other reasons for getting a specific credit card, you will usually get better value by joining an airport lounge program directly (if you travel a lot) or paying for lounge stays individually (if you do not travel often). That said, a banking package deal which includes a credit card with airport lounge access benefits can provide good value for money.

More on this topic:
Credit card comparison
Bank package comparison
Travel insurance comparison
Swiss credit card concierge services compared

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