Priority Pass is the world's leading program for independent airport lounges. Membership in Priority Pass allows passengers to access over 1,000 lounges worldwide.
While Priority Pass isn't a points program in the traditional sense, as one of the best ways to get lounge access on your travels, it's definitely close to the hearts of those who travel on Miles & Points.
Yes, business and first class flights offer the best bang for your buck, but eventually everyone has to catch a flight in economy, whether that's because of travelling on low-cost airlines, inflexible schedules, or plain old limited award availability.
And when that time comes, having access to a lounge to unwind prior to your flight can make the economy experience a lot more bearable. (Even if you have elite status with an airline, Priority Pass can still come in handy if you find yourself travelling on a different airline alliance as a one-time exception.) In this article we'll cover everything there is to know about the Priority Pass program to help you make the most of your membership.
How to Enroll
The first thing to know about Priority Pass is that there are different levels of membership, which grant you varying levels of access to airport lounges:
Standard membership allows you and a guest to visit lounges for US$27 per person per visit. Standard membership can be purchased for US$99 per year.
Standard Plus membership gives you 10 lounge visits for free, with each lounge visit thereafter costing you US$27. Guest visits are US$27 apiece, with no free visits. Standard Plus membership can be purchased for US$249 per year.
Prestige membership gives you unlimited free access to airport lounges. Guest visits are US$27 apiece. Prestige membership can be purchased for US$399 per year.
The above prices would apply if you wanted to purchase a Priority Pass membership outright. But since we're all about getting the best value for the lowest out-of-pocket cost, that doesn't sound like a lot of fun.
Instead, let's have a look at several premium credit cards in Canada which will automatically grant you Priority Pass memberships of varying levels.
In general, these cards will cover the cost of your Priority Pass annual membership, and in addition they'll provide you with a certain limited number of free lounge visits per year (you can think of these as "lounge passes"). There's of course one major exception to the rule...
The American Express Platinum Card and American Express Business Platinum Card are the prime candidates for those looking to enjoy the benefits of Priority Pass. That's because these cards come with a Priority Pass Select Membership, which grants you and a guest unlimited visits to airport lounges worldwide for free.
This is by far the most powerful Priority Pass membership. Bear in mind that you can't even purchase this membership if you wanted to – the only way to get it in Canada is via the Platinum Card or Business Platinum Card. For annual fees of $499 (taking into account the Platinum Card's $200 annual travel credit), this can be an excellent value proposition if you can make use of Priority Pass lounges often enough.
To enroll in Priority Pass once you've gotten your Platinum Card, simply call the number on the back of your phone and ask to be enrolled. Your Priority Pass membership card will then be shipped to you in 7–10 business days. If you were to cancel your Platinum Card, many reports indicate that unfortunately your Priority Pass membership gets cancelled immediately.
The Scotiabank Platinum American Express comes with a 10 free visits to Priority Pass lounges, with each additional visit thereafter costing you US$27. For an annual fee of $399, the card might have some value once you take into account the card's other benefits.
The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege provides six free Priority Pass lounge visits per membership year for you and your travelling companions. Each additional visit costs US$27 per person. The annual fee on the card is $399.
The CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege also provides six free Priority Pass lounge visits per membership year for you and your travelling companions, with each additional visit subject to a fee of US$27 per person. The annual fee on the card is $399.
While the annual fees on these cards are relatively low at $150 and $120 respectively (and both currently have first year fee waivers), these paltry Priority Pass memberships don't do much to help BMO's overall lack of competitiveness when it comes to credit cards, in my opinion.
As you can see, the American Express Platinum Card offers you by far the best deal for getting Priority Pass lounge access, and those who find it worthwhile to pay the Platinum Card's annual fee on an ongoing basis tend to get a lot of usage out of Priority Pass.
Having said that, it might be worthwhile to get your hands on one of the other cards as well, so that you can maintain lounge access if you wanted to, oh I don’t know, close the Platinum Card and reapply for it later to get the signup bonus again and keep your annual fees at an effective $299.
Besides these cards, there’s also several US-issued credit cards that partner with Priority Pass, so if you’re dabbling in that arena then it’s something to look out for.
The Priority Pass program was founded in 1992 and today encompasses over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. No matter where your travels take you, chances are there will be a Priority Pass lounge somewhere along your journey.
Some of these lounges (such as the VIP Lounge Miami) are generic "contract lounges" owned and operated by airport authorities, while others (like the Avianca Lounge Miami) are operated by individual airlines, but have signed a deal with Priority Pass to allow access to its members as well.
The Priority Pass website has an excellent lounge finder feature, which lets you know which lounges are available to you at the airport you're flying out from. The website also contains information on opening hours, amenities, and lounge location. This is incredibly useful as it's often the case that when you're flying out of a particular airport, only a portion of the lounges at that airport are actually available to you, depending on which terminal/concourse/wing your flight is departing from.
One thing that’s worth keeping in mind that not all lounges were created equal. For every gem of a lounge in the Priority Pass network, there’s a dud somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum. You’ll want to use the Lounge Finder to get a preview of which lounges are available to you on your upcoming trip and how they stack up against each other.
By and large, none of the Priority Pass lounges are so good that it’s worth setting aside time just to visit them. After all, the very best airport lounges in the world generally aren’t so eager to allow access to every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a paid membership card!
Some of the best lounges in the Priority Pass network I’ve visited include the Air France/KLM Lounge in Boston, the Aspire Lounge Zurich, and the Plaza Premium lounges in Toronto, Vancouver, and London Heathrow (the arrival lounge especially, which features à la carte dining).
A few other lounges that have caught my eye – and that I’d be glad to try out if I get the chance – include the Almost@Home Lounge in Helsinki and the Star Alliance Lounge Paris (a lounge which I’m frankly quite surprised is signed on to Priority Pass, given that it's one of Star Alliance's flagship lounges).
The last thing to note is that individual lounges reserve the right to turn away Priority Pass members if the lounge is overcrowded. That's one of the drawbacks to lounge memberships like this – if the program gets too popular, certain lounges might not have enough room to accommodate everybody. Things tend to balance out in the long run (either the lounge expands or it drops its Priority Pass partnership), but in the meantime, it's unfortunate that some passengers do get turned away purely due to space constraints.
Restaurants & Bars
Another thing I love about Priority Pass is their recent efforts to partner up with establishments outside of lounges, such as restaurants and bars, at various airports around the world. This opens the door to getting lots of free food and drinks while waiting for your flight – at restaurant quality too, rather than run-of-the-mill lounge snacks and sodas.
At restaurants like the Timberline Steaks & Grille at Denver Airport or the Corona Beach House in Miami Airport, you get up to US$30 taken off your tab, per person. That’s more than enough for a decent meal and really raises the value proposition of having a Priority Pass card.
Some airports have become "hubs" for using Priority Pass to eat and drink on the cheap. Portland Airport has three establishments where you can enjoy a US$28 entitlement, while Sydney Kingsford Smith in Australia has seven (!) restaurants at which each patron is granted AUD$36 off their bill. These numbers can rack up fast, especially if you wanted to visit multiple restaurants in quick succession (the equivalent of "lounge-hopping").
In addition, with a Priority Pass Select membership like you'd get with the Platinum Card, you could potentially ask the restaurant to swipe your card for a guest even if you were travelling alone, doubling your original entitlement. It becomes clear to see how the Platinum Card's annual fee can quickly start paying for itself many times over...
I'm excited to see what new partnerships Priority Pass has in store, and I'm quite eager to reapply for the Platinum Card soon and get myself another membership so I can try out the dining options for myself.
Getting consistent lounge access when you travel is one of the many pieces of the puzzle when it comes to leveraging travel rewards. Priority Pass is one of the key players in that arena, and with the American Express Platinum Card offering one of the most powerful memberships you'll find anywhere, there's no reason not to give it a try. That's especially true now that Priority Pass has started offering generous allowances at airport restaurants and bars, bringing the concept of a little bit of pre-flight indulgence to a whole new level.