What is Priority Pass And How Can You Get A Membership (Updated August 2019)

The Priority Pass program is a network of airport lounges (and, more recently, restaurants, bars, and even day suites) that allow access to members of the program. 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 our friend Steve, who had a membership, when we visited there in 2005. At the time, lounges didn’t sell day passes, as access to these rooms were 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 travelers with independent airport lounge access worldwide. Our network of lounges continues to grow from strength to strength today.

24 years ago our founder watched premium-class airline ticket holders enjoying the exclusivity and tranquility 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.

The program seemed to fizzle out for a while during the recession as the major U.S. airlines closed their lounges at less busy airports and stopped allowing access to Priority Pass Members. Our friend Steve 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.”

Fortunately, the program has been growing again in recent years.

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 it $32. Guest fee $32.
  • Prestige – Membership fee $429/year. Member visits are free. Guest fee $32.

Priority Pass enrollment has seen a resurgence of late, mainly as a result of 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.

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Aspire, The Lounge and Spa 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)
  • Citi Prestige
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • City National Bank Visa Infinite
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Hilton Honors Aspire AMEX Card
  • Hilton Honors Ascend AMEX Card (10 free visits)
  • Hilton Honors Business AMEX Card (10 free visits)
  • U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant AMEX Card

Starting on 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 still 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 provided your membership.

A membership from American Express Platinum cards and the Chase Sapphire Reserve allows you to bring in two guests while the Citi Prestige allows two guests or immediate family members. This can be a huge difference if you’re traveling as a family with multiple children.

However, if you have your Priority Pass Select membership through Ritz-Carlton Rewards card, you can bring an unlimited number of guests with you 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

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The Club at MCO – a Priority Pass Select location

Priority Pass has been growing recently, adding many new sites to their network. You can search their lounge locations at 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 the House Spirits Distillery 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.”  You can also 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 the ones who are no longer part of your Priority Pass benefits through American Express.

In Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte 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$28.00 (subject to availability). Suites are suitable for up to 4 persons.”

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Minute Suites at Philadelphia Airport – a Priority Pass Select location

These rooms are suitable for a nap as they have a day-bed that sleeps 2, for relaxing as the TV in the room includes Netflix and DIRECTV access, or for work, as you have access to the airport WiFi with your laptop or the computer in the room. As these rooms usually start at $42 an hour, getting 1 hour free and extra hours at $28 is a great deal.

Growing Pains

As with any program that is having a massive increase in membership, some problems are cropping up. The main problem is crowding of lounges who welcome Priority Pass members. If you’re an airline lounge, you don’t want to have your frequent flyers crowded out by a bunch of Priority Pass members. Some lounges have limited the number of guests Priority Pass members can bring, like the Alaska Board Room lounges in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles who have stopped allowing members to bring in any guests.

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.

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Final Thoughts

I didn’t give a whole bunch of value to lounge access before. It’s nice to have but not a necessity. As I’m starting to do more work when at the airport (these posts don’t write themselves, you know), I’m beginning to 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 do view it as an enjoyable perk of having certain credit cards.

Do you have Priority Pass Membership (either regular or select) and at which lounges have you used it? Did you think it was worth it? Let us know.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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