In this post I wanted to share my take on the current value proposition of a Priority Pass membership, including discussing the basics of what this airport lounge network is, how you can get a membership, and how much value I view there as being.
What is Priority Pass?
Priority Pass is the world’s largest independent network of airport lounges, with over 1,300 lounges around the world.
Think of Priority Pass as almost being like a lounge access broker. Priority Pass doesn’t operate lounges itself, but rather the business model is to sell lounge memberships to travelers (either directly or through credit cards), and then in turn pay lounges for admitting members.
It goes without saying that not all airport lounges participate in Priority Pass. For example, in the United States, no American Admirals Clubs, Delta Sky Clubs, or United Clubs, participate in Priority Pass. That’s because they’d view joining Priority Pass as cannibalizing their own business of selling lounge memberships.
For the lounges that do participate in Priority Pass, the individual lounges are being paid by Priority Pass every time a member visits one of their partner lounges. The business model is similar for Priority Pass restaurants, where members are given a certain dollar amount credit to use toward food & drinks at participating locations.
How do you get a Priority Pass membership?
You can either purchase a Priority Pass membership directly, or get one through a premium credit card (with the latter being a much better value). Let’s take a look at the details of those two options.
Buy a Priority Pass membership directly
Priority Pass has three types of memberships you can purchase. Which membership makes most sense for you depends on how often you plan on visiting lounges. The Priority Pass membership options include the following:
- A Standard membership costs $99 per year; this doesn’t include any lounge visits, but rather you have to pay $32 per visit
- A Standard Plus membership costs $299 per year; this includes 10 lounge visits per year, and then you have to pay $27 per subsequent visit
- A Prestige membership costs $429 per year; this includes unlimited lounge visits
In all cases, taking a guest into a lounge will cost an extra $32 per person per visit.
As you can see, you’ll be paying around $400 per year for a membership that gets you unlimited lounge visits. This is a bit cheaper than the lounge memberships that most of the major US airlines sell directly, for example. However, airline lounge memberships don’t get you access to Priority Pass lounges, and a Priority Pass membership doesn’t get you access to most airline membership lounges.
Get Priority Pass with a credit card
The much more economical way to get a Priority Pass membership is to pick up a premium credit card that offers this as a perk. There are plenty of popular cards that offer Priority Pass memberships, ranging from the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (review), to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review), to The Platinum Card® from American Express (review).
All of these memberships allow unlimited visits, and best of all, you can even bring up to two guests with you for free (while buying a membership directly still comes with a $32 guest fee). It’s kind of astonishing how much more lucrative the credit card route is.
As an example of why this is a better value (if you’re eligible for such a card), let’s take a look at the Capital One Venture X. The card has a $395 annual fee (less than the Prestige Priority Pass membership cost) and offers:
- A Priority Pass membership for the primary cardmember, plus for up to four authorized users at no extra cost (yes, each of them gets a full membership, including guesting privileges)
- All kinds of additional benefits, including a $300 annual travel credit and 10,000 anniversary bonus miles
Personally I value the $300 travel credit and 10,000 anniversary bonus miles at more than the $395 annual fee, and view it as Capital One just throwing in five Priority Pass memberships for free. 😉
How much is a Priority Pass membership worth?
There’s no good way to develop an objective valuation of a Priority Pass membership, given that it’s entirely dependent on how often you use it. To state the obvious, a Priority Pass membership is worth how many times you use participating lounges, multiplied by how much you value each visit.
What complicates things further is that it’s not just a question of how often you’d use airport lounges, but rather how often you’d specifically use Priority Pass lounges:
- If you’re traveling in international first & business class, or have airline elite status, you may get lounge access anyway
- Some of us find it worthwhile to get a lounge membership with a specific airline we frequently travel with; for example, I have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (review), which offers an Admirals Club membership for the primary cardmember
Even beyond that, there’s so much variability in terms of the value of a particular lounge visit:
- If you have a three hour connection and you can spend that time in a Priority Pass lounge, that provides real value; meanwhile if you show up at the airport five minutes before boarding starts, there might not even be a point in visiting a lounge
- There’s the question of how much value you get from lounge visits for those situations where you actually use Priority Pass locations; there’s huge variance in terms of the quality of airport lounges — some are hardly worth visiting, some are awesome, and most are somewhere in between
- Especially in the United States, Priority Pass lounge crowding can be a huge issue, with some being frustratingly full to the point that I’d rather sit in the terminal; all the credit cards that give us access to easy Priority Pass memberships are a double-edged sword, I suppose
I will say that for a frequent traveler who doesn’t otherwise have lounge access, even outright paying for a membership with unlimited visits could make sense (assuming you don’t have access to credit cards that offer a membership).
As someone with oneworld Emerald status, Star Alliance Gold status, and an American Admirals Club membership, who typically in flies first & business class, here’s where I see value with Priority Pass:
- I get a fair bit of value from Priority Pass restaurants, where you get a certain dollar credit with each visit; sometimes I prefer sitting in an airport restaurant rather than an airport lounge
- I like some of the non-traditional lounges beyond the restaurants, like Sleep ‘N Fly Doha, where you can get a nap pod for two to three hours, as it’s a nice alternative to a crowded lounge
- Priority Pass comes in handy a fair bit in Canada and Mexico when flying a US airline, since US airlines often don’t have lounges at airports there, and don’t otherwise provide contract lounge access to premium passengers
- Sometimes I just appreciate the alternative lounges that Priority Pass gives me access to; for example, when flying SAS business class from Copenhagen to Miami, I far preferred the Eventyr Lounge (through Priority Pass) compared to the SAS Lounge (which my ticket got me access to)
If I had to put a number to it, I’d say that for my personal usage patterns, I value a Priority Pass membership at around $200 per year. At least that’s what I’d probably pay in cash for a membership. Fortunately I don’t actually have to put much thought into that, since I have multiple Priority Pass memberships through several credit cards, so it costs me nothing extra.
The value of a Priority Pass membership will vary significantly depending on the type of traveler you are. If you do want a Priority Pass membership, however, you’re almost always going to be better off getting one through a credit card. There are some premium cards that are so valuable that you might not even have to account for the cost of the Priority Pass membership with your card annual fee.
Personally I value a Priority Pass membership at ~$200 per year, though everyone will no doubt have a different valuation based on their usage patterns.
What’s your take on the value of Priority Pass, and how much would you pay for a membership?