As reported by Executive Traveller, Priority Pass and Plaza Premium – two major players in the airport lounge space that are often confused with each other thanks to their perplexingly parallel initials – will be cutting ties as of July 1, 2021.
This is a decidedly negative development for many Canadian travellers, as it means that a wide range of our credit card options will lose the ability to access the Plaza Premium lounges at Canadian and international airports.
What Is Priority Pass?
Priority Pass is a global airport lounge network that spans over 1,300 airport lounges, airport restaurants, and other types of access-only experiences at airports and other transportation venues.
As a lounge network, Priority Pass doesn’t operate any lounges themselves; instead, they negotiate individual contracts with airport lounge operators to provide access for Priority Pass members.
While you can purchase Priority Pass memberships individually, that’s almost never a good deal, because Priority Pass memberships often come as a complimentary perk on many Canadian- and US-issued credit cards:
- The American Express Platinum Card and American Express Business Platinum Card gives you a Priority Pass membership with unlimited visits for yourself and one guest
- The Scotiabank Platinum American Express Card gives you a Priority Pass membership with 10 lounge visits per year
- Any Visa Infinite Privilege card gives you a Priority Pass membership with six lounge visits per year
- The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card gives you a Priority Pass membership with six lounge visits per year
- The CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card gives you a Priority Pass membership with four lounge visits per year
- In the US, the Amex US Platinum Card, Amex US Business Platinum Card, Amex US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, and Amex US Hilton Honors Aspire Card give you Priority Pass memberships with unlimited visits for yourself and two guests
What Is LoungeKey?
In addition to Priority Pass, Plaza Premium will also be cutting ties with LoungeKey as of July 1.
LoungeKey is a competitor to Priority Pass with a smaller global network, and it’s typically associated with World Elite Mastercards as a credit card benefit.
For example, here in Canada, most World Elite Mastercards offer you at least a LoungeKey membership (although you have to pay extra per lounge visit), while the BMO World Elite Mastercard gives you four lounge visits per year on top.
What Is Plaza Premium?
Plaza Premium is a Hong Kong-based airport lounge operator that runs one of the world’s largest chains of independent non-airline-branded airport lounges around the world.
Here in Canada, they have a total of 13 lounge locations at four different airports:
- Plaza Premium Lounge Toronto (domestic, transborder, and international, across Terminals 1 and 3)
- Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver (domestic, domestic cafe, transborder, and international)
- Plaza Premium Lounge Edmonton (domestic/international and transborder)
- Plaza Premium Lounge Winnipeg (domestic)
I’ve probably lounge-hopped through most, if not all, of these locations over the years. While Plaza Premium lounges aren’t necessarily the pinnacle of luxury, they do provide a welcome alternative option to Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges in terms of airport lounge access before your flight.
For example, I’ve found that the Plaza Premium Lounge in Toronto Terminal 1’s transborder departures area is often a superior experience to the transborder Maple Leaf Lounge, as they’d usually have a few hot food options compared to the Maple Leaf Lounge’s chips and cookies.
Indeed, the prevailing lounge-hopping strategy for any US departure out of YYZ was to hit up the Plaza Premium Lounge for food and then the Maple Leaf Lounge for drinks.
Globally, Plaza Premium Lounges are also nice places to relax before a flight, often providing guests with à la carte dining or bar service. If they’re open 24 hours, you can even use them as a place to crash on an overnight layover. I have fond memories of the Plaza Premium locations at London Heathrow, Singapore Changi, and Hong Kong International Airport over the years.
Priority Pass Will No Longer Provide Access Plaza Premium Lounges
Sadly, as of July 1, 2021, Plaza Premium will no longer be renewing their contracts with Priority Pass and LoungeKey.
This means that you won’t be able to use your Priority Pass or LoungeKey membership to access a Plaza Premium lounge; instead, you’d either have to access the lounge through another method, or you’d have to pay the $50+ access fee.
Now, what other methods are there for accessing Plaza Premium lounges?
Well, thankfully, the American Express Platinum Card and American Express Business Platinum Card (as well as their US counterparts) also include Plaza Premium lounges as part of their Global Lounge Collection, so these cardholders will still be able to access Plaza Premium lounges (with one guest in tow) simply by showing their cards.
(Previously, this benefit was somewhat moot: you could’ve shown either your personal or business Platinum card, or the Priority Pass card associated with it, to gain access to a Plaza Premium lounge. From July onwards, you must flash your personal or business Platinum card, as the Priority Pass card won’t suffice anymore.)
However, if you have a Priority Pass membership from any other credit card, then you’ll no longer be able to visit Plaza Premium lounges for free.
That’s a big loss for many Canadian flyers, especially those based in Toronto and Vancouver who might’ve previously relied on Plaza Premium’s ubiquitous presence across all departure areas via a non-Platinum Priority Pass membership.
Personally, in recent years I’ve taken comfort in relying on my US-issued Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Aspire Cards as a way to access Priority Pass airport lounges while bringing in two guests.
I plan on keeping both cards around in the long run, so it’s quite straightforward for me to use them for lounge access compared to the personal and business Platinum cards on both sides of the border, which I may not decide to keep forever.
I’ll certainly be reevaluating my strategy going forward, as the loss of Plaza Premium lounges both domestically and abroad is a fairly significant hit to the value of a Priority Pass membership. I might place a greater weight on keeping at least one of the four Platinum Cards in Canada or the US, keeping in mind that they now offer exclusive access to Plaza Premium lounges as well as Centurion Lounges.
I’ll also be curious to see whether Plaza Premium strikes up any new partnerships of their own, or perhaps introduces their own membership model to make a play for the major North American credit card issuers as a card benefit. That would certainly be a welcome development, and more competition among airport lounge providers can only be a good thing.
Until then, though, the value proposition of a Priority Pass membership has certainly tumbled a few notches, while the Platinum series of cards and their Global Lounge Collection look a little bit more attractive thanks to their soon-to-be-exclusive Plaza Premium benefits.
Plaza Premium will be cutting ties with Priority Pass and LoungeKey as of July 1, 2021. Since it’s quite unlikely that most of Plaza Premium’s lounges around the world will reopen by then, this is effectively an immediate change in the context of airport lounge access once we’re able to travel again.
This is certainly unwelcome news for Canadian travellers who might’ve frequented Plaza Premium’s 13 domestic lounge locations over the years, although I’d expect that the lounge chain has plans in the pipeline to fill up their lounges through new access avenues.
Until then, it’s only the Platinum Card and Business Platinum Card that will retain access to Plaza Premium lounges through their Global Lounge Collection benefits. At a time when many of our Platinum Cards might be coming up for renewal, this change might move the needle in your decision in whether or not to keep the card around.