In yet another installment of the long-running airport lounge drama, Mastercard Canada will be moving away from LoungeKey and will link up with DragonPass.
This means that Canadian Mastercard holders will regain access to Plaza Premium lounges, which is the predominant lounge operator at many Canadian airports.
Background: Plaza Premium, Priority Pass, and LoungeKey
Until 2021, Priority Pass was the undisputed leading network for independent airport lounges with several Visa and American Express credit card partnerships in Canada, with LoungeKey taking on a secondary role and partnering with Canadian-issued Mastercards.
Plaza Premium lounges, with a significant presence in Canada, were a part of both airport lounge networks. However, in July 2021, Plaza Premium cut ties with Priority Pass and LoungeKey, forming their own independent lounge network known as DragonPass instead.
Canada’s Visa cards soon linked up with DragonPass to offer continued Plaza Premium lounge access through at least June 2022. Canada’s American Express cards were largely unaffected, since they already had existing partnerships with the Plaza Premium group.
However, most Canadian Mastercard holders no longer had access to the Plaza Premium lounges across Canada via Mastercard’s LoungeKey offering. Certainly, some cardholders might’ve been tempted into switching to a Visa or Amex as a result.
Mastercard has finally taken action to address this shortcoming, announcing that the transition from LoungeKey to DragonPass for all Canadian-issued Mastercards with lounge access benefits will take place by the summer of 2022.
Register Your Mastercard for DragonPass
DragonPass is the third major global airport lounge network and an emerging competitor to PriorityPass and LoungeKey. The platform offers lounge access to over 1,000 airport lounges and other member benefits such as discounts on dining, limousines, and meet & greets.
By the summer of 2022, Canadians with an eligible World or World Elite Mastercard will have free access to the latest Mastercard Travel Pass program via DragonPass.
Indeed, it’s already possible to register for DragonPass using certain Canadian-issued Mastercards. On the top-right corner of the Mastercard Travel Pass website, you’ll find an orange button labelled “Register.” From there, you’ll be able to input your Mastercard details to set up your new DragonPass membership.
Using my HSBC World Elite Mastercard, I was able to successfully set up a DragonPass account.
Note that most Canadian Mastercards currently only offer a complimentary LoungeKey membership, rather than complimentary lounge visits (i.e., cardholders still have to pay the standard fee of US$32 per visit). The only exception is the BMO World Elite Mastercard, which offers four free LoungeKey visits.
(Generally speaking, the best way to access Plaza Premium lounges is still with an American Express Platinum Card or Business Platinum Card, which provides unlimited lounge visits for yourself and one guest.)
It remains to be seen whether the various Mastercards’ agreements with DragonPass will be more generous to cardholders with some free lounge visits thrown in, now that a broader range of Plaza Premium lounges are accessible.
We’ll also have to wait until the summer to see how DragonPass and Visa Canada’s current partnership plays out – in particular, whether it continues alongside, or perhaps even replaces, Visa Canada’s Priority Pass benefits given Plaza Premium’s much stronger domestic footprint.
Indeed, with DragonPass now well-positioned to dominate the Canadian credit card lounge access market (rather than the splintered pre-2021 arrangement between Priority Pass and LoungeKey), I’d expect that the eligible Visa cards would eventually transition to using a dedicated DragonPass account as a more permanent benefit, just like the Mastercard side.
I’m also hopeful that some of our Mastercard products might receive elevated lounge access benefits as a result.
Lounge access has certainly been a weak point of Mastercard’s credit card portfolio, and in my view, the network and its issuers would do well to compete on a more level footing with Visa’s offerings now that they may be brought under the same DragonPass umbrella.
A new partnership with DragonPass will replace the current LoungeKey benefit on Canadian-issued World and World Elite Mastercards, allowing cardholders to regain access to over a dozen Plaza Premium lounges throughout Canada.
However, as things currently stand, Mastercard’s complimentary DragonPass membership still requires most cardholders to pay a US$32 entrance fee per visit, which isn’t as attractive as competing Visa products with complimentary lounge visits.
Expect the airport lounge drama to continue in 2022, as Plaza Premium and DragonPass look to build on their dominance in Canada and the networks and issuers jockey for a slice of the pie.