What Is Priority Pass?

Priority Pass is an independent subscription-based program connecting you with a network of airport lounges around the world. In conjunction with buying access with hard cash, many of the top reward credit cards offers is as part of the given perks.

Offering much-needed respite for travellers, the Priority Pass scheme has grown since its formation in 1992 and now sports access to 1,300 airport lounges in over 600 cities.

As long as you’re a member, it doesn’t matter which airline you’re flying with and can go into any of its affiliated lounges. All you need is your membership number and a same-day boarding pass.

In the UK, this includes the Heathrow T2 Plaza Premium lounge, voted as the ‘World’s Best Independent Airport Lounge’ by Skytrax in 2019.

In the US, this includes lounges at San Francisco International, John F. Kennedy International and Chicago O’Hare International to name a few.

Priority Pass is owned by a UK-based insurance and loyalty consultancy Collinson Group.  Collinson also owns a number of insurance businesses and a major loyalty consultancy.

Other Products include:

  • LoungeKey – LoungeKey is impossible to buy it with money but it comes always with a credit cards. It has a near identical list with Priority pass with a few fewer lounges on its books.
  • Lounge Pass – For infrequent lounge visitors, lounge pass may be a better option. Lounge Pass, while running a decidedly small operation, allows you to buy single entries into lounges at discounted rates.
  • Lounge Club – like Loungekey, Lounge Club is only available with credit cards. Lounge Club has the least lounge coverage – potentially because the card pays less to the lounges.

The fact they run three different programs in the same space, you wouldn’t be surprised that there is a lot of overlap allowing access to nearly the same lounges.

Priority Pass Membership Types?

Priority Pass has three different levels of membership as you can see on its website here.

Standard

£69/$99

no free visits

you and your guests pay £20/ $32 each time you visit.

Standard+

£189/$299

10 free visits

then £20/$32 for every additional visit or for every guest visit.

Prestige

£339/$429

all visits are free

your guests pays £20/$32 each time.

Additional Payments

When there is an additional charge indicated, you do NOT pay this to the lounge on the day you fly.

What happens is that, when you enter a lounge, your Priority Pass card is swiped, and the number of guests marked down.  If payment is required, your stored credit card is charged by Priority Pass at a later time.  No money changes hands in the airport.

Which Priority Pass tier is the best?

There is no ‘right’ answer here.  It depends on how often you fly and whether you are using airports which have lounges which accept Priority Pass. 

Remember, Priority Pass isn’t for everyone. If you only fly once or twice a year or typically use airports that aren’t covered by the pass, you won’t get enough benefit.

If you can get the benefit, the Standard Plus membership is the most attractive option for most people. As long as you hit 10 visits within your membership year, you will get the best value for money. 

But with most things, it’s very hard to put a true value on membership as it’s subjective to the person as to what they value. My Value benchmark factors include:

  • Length of time at the airport
  • Desire to relax (challenges from getting to the airport, my desire for a comfortable seat, piece and quite)
  • External food and drink costs
  • How hungry am I?
  • Do I need a drink?
  • Do I need a shower? – albeit more for when I do international travel
  • Am I have bad luck with delayed flights?

One factor many people do not think about is if you take flights with layovers. A Priority Pass can come in handy for transit stops, especially on 3-4 hour layovers.

It is possible that the Prestige card could be a better deal, but you need to do the maths.  You would need to do 18 lounge visits per year before the Prestige card became better value than Standard Plus.

Standard membership is not hugely attractive.  If you made six or more lounge visits per year you would be better off with Standard Plus.  If you are doing fewer than six lounge visits, the ‘cost per visit’ of the Standard plan would be so high that there would be little to no value for money.

Its important to remember though that having a paid-for Priority Pass, its assumed that you do not have elite status with any frequent flyer program that allows for lounge access. This is because unless you are a serious frequent traveller, by having access to both an airlines lounge as well as Priority Pass, you will be cannibalising the ROI from both programs.

Furthermore, if you’re in North America – you may want to consider programs like American Airlines’ Admirals club as an alternative to Priority Pass, if say you fly with American Airlines frequently.

Different Ways to sign up

If you are considering joining, there are different ways you can consider:

With a discount

As of Oct 2020 – Priority Pass still had a working live link for a “25 Years” celebratory discount page. To take advantage of this promotion, you must sign up through the dedicated link.

• 25% off Standard membership
• 20% off Standard Plus membership
• 10% off Prestige membership

For those who do not use British Pounds, changing the “residence” field on signup will change the price to your home currency.

Airline E-store

one way to purchase Priority pass with hard cash is to make the redemption a little more palatable and collect miles while you spend your cash.

While generally speaking, it’s good practice to use an affiliate link when trying to collect miles, you can earn miles in programs like the British Airways Avios Estore

Hotel Redemptions


Some Hotels like the Raddison Group or Accor Hotels allow you to redeem hotel miles for Priority Pass.

If you are miles rich (due to say work paying for the hotel) it may be good value to redeem for Priority Pass.

However you will nearly always find it more valuable converting hotel miles into airline miles.

Family Membership cards

One of the abilities, if you can call it that, is the possibility to get an additional family or partner Standard Membership pass at half price. Naturally, Priority Pass doesn’t advertise it boldly, and your mileage may vary as to how useful this is as the standard membership doesn’t get you very far.

Can I get a Priority Pass via credit cards?

There are credit cards which combine Priority Pass into the cards offering to entice people to sign up. If you get your membership this way, you need to remember to enrol into the Priority Pass program. Simply going to a lounge without your membership card will not get you in.

In The UK

There’s only major credit card issuer which offers Priority Pass and it’s (unsurprisingly) American Express.

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with TWO free membership cards.  One’s in your name, and one is in the name of whoever you give your supplementary Platinum card to.

As a unique perk – Each AmEx Platinum issued Priority Pass cards admits two people to a lounge for free.  This is different from the standard Priority Pass issued from the Collinson which only admits one and charges for the second person.

While going off-topic slightly, The Amex Platinum card also has other lounge benefits including access to Delta airport lounges when flying Delta and entry to Eurostar lounges for free.

In the USA

In America, you are issued with Priority Pass Select card, a specially designed for customers who receive their membership through a US Financial Institution.

However not all Priority Pass Select issued cards are created equal. Some cards like the Hilton Hours American Express Surpass Card only allow for 10 free visits and no complimentary guests while others, like the American Express Platinum Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, allow up to two accompanying guests with a single card.

But the fact is, with those odds, if you can get a credit card with unlimited visits and 2 complimentary guests – you would be crazy to purchase a Priority Pass membership directly as there is obviously a better deal.

What Can you expect with Priority Pass

Airport Lounge Access

You can search the Priority Pass website by airport to find participating lounges.

Obviously, the point of having Priority Pass membership is to gain access to airport lounges.

Facilities vary by the lounge, as does the quality and scale of those facilities. Priority Pass lounges are notoriously inconsistent across locations, and it’s often lower than that of airline lounges or luxury options, like Amex Centurion lounges.

As a minimum, you should expect comfortable seating, free wi-fi, free newspapers and magazines, free drinks (usually including alcohol), free snacks and free wi-fi.  In the better lounges, you will find a full buffet with hot and cold food, IT facilities and showers.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal didn’t have such a good time, branding Priority Pass lounges as a “total zoo” of an experience liking it now to a mall food court to their heyday of years past.

However not all lounges are that bad, you could end up at the Punta Cana lounge (in the Dominican Republic) which has an outdoor airside pool built-in.

Remember, Priority Pass just gets you through the gates. Lounges provide the basic food and drink options, but some go above and beyond with an a la carte menu or provide spa treatments – which naturally come with an additional charge.

Additionally, the scope on offer is directly dependant on lounge operator accepting Priority pass. Operators get in the realm of £12 to £15 (US$16 to US$19) which isn’t really a lot but this is for lounges to take the money or leave it. Enter No1 lounges, the UK’s largest lounge operator, who wanted to move to a 100% pre-booking model (during Covid-19 I might add). This would virtually eliminate queues at the busy airport and improve bottom-line – Collinson was not prepared to accept this. Head for Points does a better dive into this, but the point I am trying to make is that lounge will try to upsell where they can.

The Lounges

Priority Pass lounges are generally independently owned.  They tend to be run by brands such as No1 Lounges, Menzies, Plaza Premium and Aspire.  There are also many airport-owned and airline-owned lounges in the programme.

In many airports, Priority Pass customers and airlines’ business class passengers end up to same lounges anyway.  For example, there is the British Airways lounge in Amsterdam Schiphol or Royal Jordanian’s Crown Lounge in Amman both open to Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members as well as Priority Pass.

There are also those which come with exceptions, like when flying Asiana, you can use their flagship lounge in Incheon with Priority Pass; there is the Air France lounge in New York’s JFK which does not allow Priority Pass guests between 5:30pm and 11pm and the same applies for Virgin’s Clubhouse which is off-limits to Priority Pass members from 6am to 11am daily.

How do 3rd Party Lounges compare airline lounges?

Check before you go.

Just because an airport has, say, a Plaza Premium lounge, it doesn’t mean you can access it. Take London Heathrow Airport where Terminals 2, 3 and 5 have Plaza Premium Lounges, although, only 2 and 3 can be accessed with Priority Pass.

Conversely, just because there is a “lounge” to enter doesn’t mean it is an airport lounge. Take Boston Logan International where Terminal B, C and E have priority lounge access. However, terminal B’s option isn’t a lounge at all – it’s a Lounge Alternative.

Priority Pass Lounge Alternatives

Priority Pass at times have been a bit problematic and your best-laid lounge plans may not work out. Some lounges limit the times you can use the lounge, while others will give priority to their members (or contracted airlines) if it starts to fill up.

The Alaska Airlines Lounges in Seattle are now frequently turning away Priority Pass members. I myself have been rejected from the No.1 lounge at London Gatwick South many-a-time.

With many complaints on Trustpilot stemming from not being granted access. While this ultimately falls on the individual lounge operator to control access, it has left a sour taste in peoples mouths nonetheless.

Enter “Lounge Alternatives”. Priority Pass offers special restaurant discounts at specific airport locations. Typically, the value of the discount equates to one visit to a lounge. Ie, you can get a £20/$28 off the final bill at a participating restaurant.

Needless to say, the word “lounge” is now very loosely defined with Priority Pass branching access off into mini-suites, sleep pods, gaming lounges, golf lounges, and even airport restaurants which includes a whiskey tasting room.

US Issued American Express Cards

Priority Pass memberships from U.S.-issued American Express cards no longer include restaurant access (“non-lounge airport experiences”).

But they can dry their tiers with the solace that they can get exclusive access into centurion lounges, The International American Express lounge network.

Discounts with IHG Bookings

One partner where Members have the option to use their card benefits for accommodation is IHG.

Taking advantage of these discounts is easy. Simply go to the IHG website, available from your Priority Pass membership portal, supply your membership number and the discount will be applied to the total in the cart when checking out.

In Conclusion

The Benefit of Priority Pass is that you are not limited by your allegiance to an airline alliance and can be used as you see fit, it’s is the easiest way to access airport lounges across the world.

So If you are fed up of sitting in airport terminals but you do not travel a lot in Business Class, are not a heavy traveller, and do frequent trips on multiple different carries which wouldn’t add up to elite status by itself – then this may be an option to consider.

Should you wish to purchase a Pass membership, you can currently receive a discount ranging from 10-25% depending on the tier of membership selected.

While the paid membership plans can be very beneficial, obtaining your membership through a rewards credit card is even better because you can save money for you and your guests.

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