The Priority Pass program is a network of airport lounges (and, more recently, restaurants, bars, and even day suites) that allow access to the program members. They can be airline lounges or locations with no airline affiliation.
The Priority Pass program has been around for about 25 years. We visited a lounge in Japan with a friend who had a membership when we visited in 2005. Lounges generally didn’t sell day passes back then, as access to these rooms was seen as an exclusive perk for frequent flyers. Today, the airlines see membership to the lounges and access to them as another way to generate extra revenue.
Here’s a description of Priority Pass from their website:
Since 1992, Priority Pass has been providing frequent Travellers with independent airport lounge access worldwide. Our network of lounges continues to grow from strength to strength today.
Over 25 years ago our founder watched premium-class airline ticket holders enjoying the exclusivity and tranquillity of their airport lounges, as he endured the chaos of the departure hall.
His answer was to create Priority Pass – a club that is simultaneously inclusive (affordable to all) and exclusively for those who value a little piece of civilization on their journey. In short, a place where you are always treated like No. 1, rather than part of the herd.
Since 1992, several have tried to follow our lead. But our determination to remain the No.1 choice has driven unrivaled investment in lounges, resources, processes, technology, and partnerships.
The result is that today Priority Pass still offers more lounges, in more cities, in more countries than any other programme. And it’s why every visit is defined by faster, easier access.
The program fizzled out for a while during the great recession at the end of the 2000s as the major U.S. airlines closed lounges at less busy airports and stopped allowing access to Priority Pass Members. Our friend summed it up best when saying why he stopped paying for a membership:
As my travel declined I reduced my membership, and as their lounges reduced in number at each airport, I finally dropped them. For instance, when I first joined, both Delta and United had lounges in the program at MCO, but then only the United lounge was allowed for a time. Philadelphia used to have lounges at every terminal etc. Then there was only 1 in Phila. It came in very handy over the years but without lounges [for me to visit], it was an expense I couldn’t justify.
How To Get a Membership With Priority Pass
You can purchase a Priority Pass membership from their website. They have three levels of membership:
Standard – Membership fee $99/year. Member visit fee $32. Guest fee $32.
Standard Plus – Membership fee $299/year. Member gets 10 free visits per year and then each visit is $32. Guest fee $32.
Prestige – Membership fee $429/year. Member visits are free. Guest fee $32.
Priority Pass enrollment has seen a resurgence, mainly due to the increase in popularity of premium travel credit cards. All of the major card issuers’ “luxury card” products offer a Priority Pass Select membership as a perk.
Club Aspire Lounge at LHR T5 – a Priority Pass Select location
The main difference between the membership you purchase and a select membership you get from a credit card is that some lounges, mainly United Club locations, are not available to Priority Pass Select members.
Credit Cards that offer Priority Pass Select membership
American Express Platinum (Personal & Business)
City National Bank Visa Infinite
Hilton Honors Surpass AMEX Card (10 free visits)
Hilton Honors Business AMEX Card (10 free visits)
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve
Mastercard Gold Card
As of August 1, 2019, the most significant difference between cards is that the American Express (AMEX) cards on this list no longer provide a $28 credit when visiting airport restaurant locations like Bobby Van’s at JFK. They still do include other airport experiences like the Minute Suites at Charlotte Airport.
All of these cards give you access to the lounges at no visit fee for the cardholder but the number of guests you can bring with you for free depends on which card provides your membership.
A membership from American Express Platinum cards and the Chase Sapphire Reserve allows you to bring in two guests. In comparison, the Citi Prestige allows two guests or immediate family members (spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18 years of age.) This can be a huge difference if you’re traveling as a family with multiple children.
The best card to have Priority Pass Select membership through is the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card because you can bring an unlimited number of guests into the lounge. I’m not sure what amount would be too many as the lounge will get paid for each person you bring with you.
Priority Pass Lounges
The Club at MCO – a Priority Pass Select location
Priority Pass has been growing recently, adding many new sites to its network. You can search their lounge locations on their website or with the Priority Pass App.
Some of these new partners are non-traditional for what was considered a “lounge” network. You can now use your card at Westward Whiskey at Portland Airport. “Cardholders and accompanying guests will receive US$28 off the final bill per person per visit, valid on any type of drink/tasting, excluding bottle sales and merchandise in a single transaction upon presentation of a valid card.” Before the COVID shutdown, you could dine at the Grain Store Cafe & Bar at London Gatwick Airport and “receive £15 off the final bill per person per visit valid on any type of meal and/or drinks in a single transaction upon presentation of a valid card.”
These restaurant locations are no longer part of your Priority Pass benefits through American Express.
In Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, New York (LGA) and Dallas (DFW) airports, Priority Pass Select members now have access to the Minute Suites. “Cardholders receive 1-hour access to a suite per visit, each subsequent hour can be paid directly to Minute Suites at the discounted rate of US$34.00 (subject to availability). Suites are suitable for up to 4 persons.”
Minute Suites at Philadelphia Airport – a Priority Pass Select location
These rooms are suitable for a nap (they have a day-bed that sleeps two), relaxing (the TV in the room includes Netflix and DIRECTV access), or work (you have access to the airport Wi-Fi with your laptop or the computer in the room). As these rooms usually start at $48 an hour, getting 1 hour free and extra hours at $34 is a great deal.
As with any program experiencing a massive increase in membership, problems cropped up. The main issue was the overcrowding of lounges that welcomed Priority Pass members. Lounges can limit the number of Priority Pass members allowed access and due to capacity limits, Alaska lounges totally dropped out of the program.
We were able to get into the Wingtips Lounge at JFK with our Priority Pass card but by the time we left, this notice was by the entrance.
At one time, I didn’t give a whole bunch of value to lounge access. It’s nice to have but not a necessity. With us writing for the website, lounge access has become more important when we want to work at the airport (these posts don’t write themselves, you know). We appreciate a desk with some plugs and reliable internet to take up the time during a two-hour flight delay. I don’t think I’d pay for Priority Pass membership, but I view it as an enjoyable perk of having certain credit cards.
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