Everything You Should Know About the Priority Pass Program

If you travel a lot in economy class, Priority Pass – a membership that gives you access to airport lounges regardless of the class you fly in – can be a very valuable resource.

In this article, I will talk about more or less everything you need to know about the program. I’ll talk about the ways in which you can get a membership, how much it will cost you, and what perks you will be able to get out of it.

I’ll also talk about how to use your Priority Pass membership, whether you should be getting it in the first place, and about what your alternatives to getting a membership are.

Priority Pass Guide
Most lounges that accept Priority Pass state so prominently at their entrance.

 

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What Is Priority Pass?

Priority Pass is a program which allows its members to access airport lounges around the world either for free or for a fee. It also offers other perks like dining credit (i.e. a discount) at a number of airport restaurants and cafes.

Members can enter lounges in the Priority Pass network (with some exceptions) regardless of the airline or class they are flying and regardless of whether or not they have an airline status. The lounges – in  most cases – offer not only a space to relax before your flight, but also complimentary drinks and food, as well as showers.

 

How to Get a Membership

Essentially, there are three ways to get hold of a Priority Pass membership: buying it directly, getting it for “free” as a credit card perk, and redeeming your hotel points or airline miles for it.

As you will find out below, while both of the first two methods can be useful depending on the situation you are in, the third one is rarely (read: basically never) worth it.

Buying a Priority Pass Membership Directly

The easiest – and in some instances the best – way to get a Priority Pass membership is by simply buying it directly through the Priority Pass website. Should you decide to do so, you will be able to choose from three different levels of membership.

  • Standard ($99 per year): Grants access to the network, but offers no free lounge visits. Instead, each visit triggers a $32 fee.
  • Standard Plus ($299 per year): Offers ten free lounge visits. Each additional visit triggers a $32 fee.
  • Prestige ($429 per year): Offers unlimited free lounge visits.

With each of the memberships above, you can also invite guests into the lounges with you at a cost of $32 per guest.

There are basically no cases in which it’s worth buying a Standard membership. That’s because you can, as you will learn later in this article, get single-visit passes to many of the Priority Pass lounges through other, non-membership services for about $30.

While a slightly better deal, situations where getting a Standard Plus membership is worthwhile are hard to come by too.

On the other hand, if you tend to depart from airports with decent quality Priority Pass lounges frequently (I’d say more than 15 times a year), then getting the unlimited Prestige membership can be a very good investment.

That is, unless it’s a better deal for you to get a membership as a credit card perk.

Getting a Membership as a Credit Card Perk

Oftentimes the best way to become a Priority Pass member is by applying for a credit card that offers it as a free perk. In that case, you will have to pay the card’s annual fee, but that will either be lower than the $429 that Prestige membership costs or – combined with the credit card’s other perks – will offer more value overall.

Depending on where you are located, you will either be able to get Prestige membership for free or Priority Pass Select membership.

The latter is a special type of membership which is, in many ways, similar to Prestige. In fact, in a way it’s better as it oftentimes allows (sometimes a limited number, sometimes even an unlimited number) of guests. As such, it can be very useful when traveling in groups. The one downside is that if you get it through American Express, you will not be able to enjoy access to Priority Pass restaurants.

Personally, I get my membership through Rakuten Premium card which gives me, besides other perks, a Priority Pass Prestige membership for just 10,800 Japanese yen (about $100) a year. Talk about a good deal!

That card is only available in Japan, though. To find credit cards that will give you membership as a perk in your country, simply search for “credit card with priority pass” or similar in your language and you should be presented with some options.

In the United States, these cards usually come with an annual fee of around $500. While that is more than the cost of a Prestige membership, the credit cards generally offer other valuable perks as well which might – or might not – justify the higher cost for you.

Redeeming Hotel Points or Airline Miles for a Membership

The last way to acquire a membership is by using your hotel points or airline miles. While not all hotel and airline programs allow this, there have been a few here and there over the last few years.

That said, this is rarely (unless you have so many points that you don’t know what to do with them) the best way to spend your hard earned points.

Just to give you an example, below are a couple of programs that allow redeeming miles for Priority Pass:

  • Hilton Honors: 161,500 points for a year of Priority Pass Prestige, less for the lower membership levels.
  • JAL Mileage Bank: 40,000 miles for a year of Priority Pass Prestige.
  • Marriott Bonvoy: Points required not published, but considering that $85 TSA Precheck is 25,000 points, highly unlikely to be a good deal.
  • Radisson Rewards: 125,000 points for a year of Priority Pass Standard Plus.

 

The Priority Pass Network

Now that you know how to get a Priority Pass membership, let’s talk about why it’s worth getting it – i.e. its network of lounges and other facilities.

In total, there is more than 1,200 of them at over 400 airports around the world.

You can find the full list of the participating facilities here. You can also check this page for the latest additions (and removals).

Priority Pass Airport Lounges

Having access to lounges at airports all over the world regardless of what class and airline you are flying is by far the biggest perk of Priority Pass.

While in some cases, they are airline lounges (like the Turkish Airlines Lounge at Bangkok airport or the SkyTeam Lounge at Vancouver airport), in most cases they are third-party lounges. The quality of the lounges also varies greatly.

Regardless, however, pretty much all of the lounges offer complimentary soft drinks and food (ranging from light snacks to full buffets in some of them). Most also offer a decent space with easy access to power outlets to relax or work in and free showers.

Priority Pass Lounge
One of the lounges accessible with a Priority Pass membership.

Priority Pass Restaurants & Cafes

Fairly recently, Priority Pass also started offering restaurant credit (generally $28) that you can apply towards the purchase of drinks and food. This allowed it to expand its footprint to airports where it wasn’t able to secure deals with lounges, as well as to expand offering at some airports where it already offered lounges to begin with.

This perk can be especially valuable if you have membership that allows free guests. In that case, you can get $56 off the bill in case you travel with someone else.

Currently, over 30 airport restaurants and cafes are a part of the program. While most of those are in the United States, there are also some in Australia and Japan.

Other Priority Pass Facilities

Finally, Priority Pass adds other facilities to its network every now and then as well.

The most notable of those are, perhaps, Minute Suites which – as their name suggests – are small private rooms in which you can relax or work before a flight. Unfortunately, Priority Pass members get to stay for free for only one hour.

 

How to Use Priority Pass

Using Priority Pass when entering a lounge is, as you can imagine, very easy.

Simply show your card to the staff at a lounge’s reception desk. After scanning your card, you will be asked to sign a touchscreen, given a receipt confirming your visit, and invited to enter the lounge.

That said, there are a couple of nuances and things to keep in mind as well. I cover those in the sections below.

Your Credit Card Is Not Enough

The first and foremost thing to be aware of is that if you are signing up for a credit card to get the membership as a perk, just presenting that credit card at the lounge’s reception is not going to work.

Instead, once you get your credit card, you will have to separately apply for the complimentary membership. By doing that, you will receive your Priority Pass card which you will then be able to use to enter the lounges and enjoy the other benefits.

The exact way in which to apply for the membership will differ based on the credit card you decided to get.

Get a Digital Card If You Can

Depending on how you get your Priority Pass membership, you might be eligible for a digital card. If you are, make sure to get it.

With that on your smartphone, you will be able to access the lounges in the network without having to carry the physical card around. It will also come in handy when you forget your actual card at home.

Just remember that not all lounges accept the digital card yet.

Whether the one you are about to visit accepts it or not is indicated on the lounge’s page on the program’s website or in the app.

Find Lounges Using the Priority Pass Mobile App

There are a couple of ways in which you can find lounges that you can access with your membership.

You can look through the long PDF directory, or search on Priority Pass website either on your computer or using your smartphone. What I recommend, though, is downloading the Priority Pass mobile app.

That will let you easily access all the latest lounge data no matter where you are, without the need of having to be connected to the Internet.

It will allow you to type in the airport you will be departing from and see what (if any) lounges are offered there. It will also provide you the details about where exactly the lounges are located and what facilities they offer.

Priority Pass Mobile App
The Priority Pass mobile app will let you search for lounges easily.

Be Aware of Restrictions

While in most cases, using your membership is pretty straightforward, sometimes restrictions to which lounges you can enter, what times they are available to Priority Pass members, and how long you can stay apply.

They basically come in five forms:

  • Your departure terminal: If there’s a Priority Pass lounge at the airport but not in the terminal you’re departing from, you might not be able to access it. Whether or not you will be able to will depend on the airport you are departing from.
  • Restricted hours: Most lounges admit Priority Pass members all throughout their opening hours. Some, though, restrict access to members of the program to only certain hours of the day. One such example is the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Newark airport.
  • Restricted capacity: Some lounges reserve the right to turn Priority Pass members away if they are crowded. So far, the only time that has happened to me was at Nagoya airport.
  • Maximum length of stay: While most lounges allow you to stay as long as you wish, some – like the Air France-KLM Lounge in Bangkok – limit your stay to 3 hours. How much the rules are enforced depends on the lounge, though, and so sometimes you might be able to stay longer regardless.
  • Only selected airlines’ passengers admitted: The fact that this was non-existent until quite recently and is still extremely rare is one of Priority Pass’ biggest selling points. However, currently, only Asiana Airlines and Star Alliance passengers can access the Asiana Lounge at Seoul Incheon airport.

Some Services Are Not Free

Generally, the entry into lounges is free with Prestige membership, and so are the food, drinks, showers, and so on. However, depending on the lounge, certain services – like printing documents or taking a shower – might come at an extra fee.

What’s more noteworthy is that recently, lounges that require a “co-pay” even with Prestige membership to enter have been added to the network as well. While it’s good that the network is expanding, it also presents a slippery slope for Priority Pass.

Currently, those lounges include “The House” in Melbourne and Sydney (both requiring an extra charge of A$20), and Plaza Premium First in Hong Kong (requiring an extra charge of HK$250).

Make Sure Your Restaurant Visit Is Worth It

As mentioned earlier, when it comes to Priority Pass restaurants, you will be given a credit – generally $28 but depending on the country, a bit more or less than that. That’s always a “good deal” if you are on your own and have the unlimited Prestige membership. However, if you have to pay for visits (with Standard or Standard Plus membership) or if you are traveling with guests, it might not always be so.

The most obvious example of that is, of course, if you have a Standard membership. In that case, at a Priority Pass restaurant in the US, you would end up paying $32 for $28 worth of drinks and food. That’s certainly not a good deal!

As such, to quote the Priority Pass website:

For Cardholders who pay for individual visits or guest visits, please check this particular offer against your visit fee to ensure it represents value for you.”

You Might Be Able to Use a Lounge After Arrival

While you will mostly be using lounges before departure, there might be some cases when you want to hop into a lounge – whether to grab a quick bite or take a shower – after landing.

Outside of the United States, that is not officially possible. However, there are still some lounges that allow that. In some cases, it also depends on the staff. As such, it’s always worth asking if you find yourself in a situation like that.

In the United States, it’s generally possible.

All that said, whether you will actually be able to visit a lounge or not will also depend on the airline you fly with, the terminal you arrive at, and so on.

 

Is Priority Pass Worth It?

Whether or not getting a Priority Pass membership is worth getting will depend on three things: your travel patterns, as well as the cost at which you can get the membership and how much you value a lounge visit.

Starting with the travel patterns, you will find Priority Pass valuable especially in cases where you wouldn’t have lounge access otherwise. That means you will find it the most valuable if you don’t have an airline status and generally fly in economy class. You will also find it useful if you have a status with one airline alliance but tend to fly with airlines in other (or no) alliances as well.

Drinks
Most lounges offer a decent selection of complimentary soft and alcoholic drinks.

As for the cost and value, it’s simple if you will be getting a membership directly.

In that case, simply take the $429 for a Prestige membership, divided it by the number of times you expect to visit one of the lounges, and you will get a per visit cost. Then, you just have to ask yourself whether the value (drinks, food, showers, comfort, etc.) are worth the extra cost or not.

For example, if you expect to fly only fifteen times out of an airport (terminal) with a Priority Pass lounge, your per visit cost will be about $28. While not bad, you will get much more value out of your membership if you fly more – thirty times, let’s say. In that case, you’d only be paying $14 per visit.

The case will be similar if you are getting it through a credit card. In that case, though, you will have to not only take into account the annual fee of the credit card you’ll be getting the membership through, but also the value of other perks the card will provide you with.

Priority Pass Lounge Food
While the quality of food depends highly on the lounge you visit, it is a nice perk to be able to have a quick snack before or between your flights.

 

 

Priority Pass Alternatives

When it comes to lounge access, there are a couple of alternatives to having a Priority Pass membership. Below are the three main ones.

Waiting in the Terminal’s Public Areas

The easiest and cheapest alternative to getting a Priority Pass membership is, of course, simply not visiting a lounge before your flight.

While in some cases, that might mean waiting in crowded gate areas, in most cases, it will not be anything terrible. It will just mean waiting on a bench in front of your gate, looking around the duty free stores, or having a coffee or a meal at one of the airport’s restaurants or cafes.

At some airports, it might be even better than that. Singapore airport, for example, offers excellent facilities ranging from game rooms all the way to a movie theater for passengers to enjoy for free.

Singapore Airport
Airports like Singapore have very comfortable and pleasant public areas.

Lounge Pass, LoungeBuddy & DragonPass

If you only fly occasionally, yet want to visit a lounge before an economy class flight, you can oftentimes buy one-time passes.

Sometimes, there are lounges that allow you to pay a fee at the reception to enter. Other times, airlines will let you pre-pay for a lounge.

If neither of the above applies to your trip, you can also take a look at Lounge Pass, LoungeBuddy, and DragonPass – services that sell lounge access online.

Regardless of the way you pay for your visit, it will normally be around $30 or $40. As such, you will most likely only find it valuable enough if you have a long transit or want to take a shower before your flight after a long day of sightseeing or similar.

Airport Lounge Shower
One of the instances in which it might be worth buying lounge access is if you need to take a shower before your flight.

Airline Status

The third alternative is getting an airline status. This will only work if you fly a lot and predominantly with airlines from a single alliance. If you already don’t fly a lot, it will also be very costly.

With a status, you will not only be able to access lounges when flying on one of the airlines in the alliance, but also get other perks like priority boarding and increased luggage allowance.

You can learn more about frequent flyer programs and airline statuses in my eBook.

 

Priority Pass Lounge Reviews

Over the last couple of years, I had a chance to visit dozens of Priority Pass lounges all over the world. I reviewed many of those in detail on this blog.

You can find them here.

Keep in mind, though, that occasionally, lounges quit the network. As such, while I try to keep the list updated as much as possible, there might be instances where a lounge listed below does not accept Priority Pass guests anymore.

 

Summary

Depending on your flying patterns and how much it would cost you to get a membership, it can either present an excellent value or be an utter waste of your money.

In general, I would say that getting a Priority Pass membership – especially directly rather than through a credit card that might help you get it at a lower cost or offer other perks as well – is not worth getting unless you fly more than 15 times a year. More specifically, unless you fly more than 15 times a year in economy class out of airports that offer (decent) Priority Pass lounges.

If you do fly a lot, however, then it can save you a lot of money that you would otherwise spend on drinks and food at an airport. And, it can make your journey more comfortable by giving you a (generally) comfortable place to work and access to showers among other things.

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