Introduction: PDX Priority Pass Awesomeness

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It’s not often I make a trip around reviewing domestic airline lounges, though this trip was an exception, given the interesting things that are happening at Portland Airport. Portland Airport is already one of the best airports in the country, though recently got even better for many of us thanks to Priority Pass. There are quite a few credit cards with lounge access, so Portland is quickly becoming quite a popular airport to transit!

Priority Pass is the world’s largest network of independent airline lounges, with over 1,000 partner lounges around the world. They don’t operate their own lounges, but rather have partner lounges around the world. Nowadays several premium credit cards come with Priority Pass memberships, with the following guesting privileges:

Card# of Complimentary GuestsAuthorized User AccessCost To Add Authorized User
Chase Sapphire Reserve®2Yes$75 Per Person
Citi Prestige® Credit Card2Yes$75 Per Person
The Platinum Card® from American Express

No access to Priority Pass restaurants as of August, 2019.
2Yes$175 For Up To 3 People, $175 For Each Additional Person Beyond That (Rates & Fees)
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

No access to Priority Pass restaurants as of August, 2019.
2Yes$300 Per Person (Rates & Fees)
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

No access to Priority Pass restaurants as of August, 2019.
2No$0 (Rates & Fees)
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

No access to Priority Pass restaurants as of August, 2019.
2No$0 (Rates & Fees)

My assumption is that the Priority Pass business model works as follows:

  • The credit card companies pay Priority Pass some fixed amount per card they issue, and I imagine the number of cards has skyrocketed lately, given the new premium card offerings we’ve seen introduced, which offer a Priority Pass membership as a benefit
  • Priority Pass pays partner lounges a fixed amount for each visit

In other words, I suspect the risk here lies with Priority Pass. A vast majority of people that get Priority Pass memberships through their credit card presumably never use the benefit (and Priority Pass makes a ton on that), while Priority Pass loses money on those that use lounges all the time.

With that in mind, the biggest issue with Priority Pass in the US has been that many people have been denied access to Priority Pass lounges due to crowding. With the number of people having Priority Pass memberships having increased significantly the past couple of years, and with members allowed to bring in more guests for free than before, there simply isn’t the capacity available to let more people in.

This has been a common problem with Alaska Lounges, where they’ve frequently been turning away Priority Pass members (though the issue seems to be a bit better lately). So Priority Pass has been getting creative in some markets, and that’s awesome. There’s no airport where that’s more obvious than Portland Airport. The airport now has four Priority Pass “lounges,” though in reality only one is an airline lounge.

Alaska Lounge PDX

Specifically, the following PDX establishments are accessible to Priority Pass members:

  • The Alaska Lounge in Concourse C can be accessed by Priority Pass members, though at times they have to turn away guests due to crowding issues
  • In June, Priority Pass added House Spirits Distillery in Concourse C to Priority Pass, which is the world’s first airport tasting room; members can get $28 off their bill per person
  • In August, Priority Pass added both Capers Cafe Le Bar in Concourse C, and Capers Market in Concourse D, to Priority Pass; members can get $28 off their bill per person, and you can visit both locations on the same day

House Spirits Distillery PDX

There are a few further things to note:

  • You can use any of these lounges on arrival or on departure, though they’re all past security, so you need to be flying same day
  • You can use all four lounges the same day if you’d like, including both Capers locations
  • Gratuity is not included, so if you’re at a sit-down restaurant, I’d recommend tipping

Capers Cafe Le Bar PDX

Just to give an example, when Ford and I landed in Portland we visited the Alaska Lounge, House Spirits Distillery ($56 credit), and Capers Cafe Le Bar ($56 credit), and then when Tiffany, Ford and I left Portland, we all visited Capers Cafe Le Bar ($84 credit), Capers Market ($84 credit), and the House Spirits Distillery ($84 credit).

Capers Market PDX

With that in mind, in this series I wanted to look at each of these individual locations and share what I learned.

While Portland Airport isn’t the only airport with this restaurant concept, they do have the most options. Recently Timberline Steaks & Grill at Denver Airport was also added to Priority Pass, which is the only other Priority Pass restaurant concept in the US at the moment. Outside the US, Priority Pass has restaurants in London Gatwick, Sydney, etc.

A lot of people say “is it sustainable for Priority Pass to give members access to restaurants?” Absolutely, because as far as I know, it’s no different than accessing any other lounge.

I’m guessing that the establishment gets reimbursed very close to $28, and I’m guessing that’s also what Priority Pass would pay if you just visited a regular lounge. So visiting a Priority Pass restaurant is no different than visiting any other Priority Pass lounge. In this case one could argue the issue is that you can use multiple Priority Pass locations, so maybe one day they’ll put a limit to that. But even so, it’s no different than visiting multiple Priority Pass lounges at another airport.

As far as Priority Pass goes, keep in mind they’re doing insanely well at the moment. I imagine their revenue through credit card companies has increased exponentially the past few years, and their biggest priority is keeping members happy, so that they continue to get the business from credit card companies. This is small change compared to the revenue they’re getting from hundreds of thousands of new cardmembers.

The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Rates & Fees), The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees), Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (Rates & Fees), and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (Rates & Fees).

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  1. I think there is a huge difference between a blog thats your priMary job and a blog where its a secondary side hustle. You stick to flying. The other keeps on dabbling into politics to get blood into the groins of old men.

  2. Priority Pass has absolutely little to any sway over airlines in terms of competition, though. I mean, it’s why AMEX started opening up Centurion Lounges in the first place. Why pay United and American a ton of money per passenger accessing their Admirals and United Clubs if it’s just pure crap anyways?

    Take the money otherwise going to poor airline lounges and deliver a better experience: that’s what PP is doing. Maybe airlines will notice, but PP users are a drop in the bucket compared to all the income from airline alliance partners, non-alliance contract partners. But here’s to hoping it forces airlines to improve their product. At least Delta did.

  3. I forget where and why I got this idea from but I was under the impression that potentially the credit card-issued PP memberships involve the credit card companies actually taking the risk — so potentially they pay PP little or nothing to issue the PP card, but then the credit card company pays PP a fixed amount per time the PP card is used. (The fact that different credit card companies have different guesting privileges suggests this might be the case, and PP has some individual memberships that work like that, at least.) It is also possible that both models may be possible and different credit card companies may have chosen different strategies.

  4. Wondering where you get the impression that PP pays $28 per visit to lounges/restaurants. Seems Iike the cost to lounges isn’t that much — their incremental cost is amortized somewhat over increased numbers? Restaurants might be another equation, since these are goods with fixed prices.

    Still, you make it sound like it’s too good to last…know what that means. :/

  5. “I’m guessing that the establishment gets reimbursed very close to $28, and I’m guessing that’s also what Priority Pass would pay if you just visited a regular lounge. ”

    No way. Restaurants have a high markup, and airport ones much more so.

    Airport sandwich cost to make: $2
    Airport Sandwich cost to buy: $12

    If PP gives them $8, everybody wins.

    Restaurant makes profit, lower than a cash sales, but added volume.

    PP is giving you $28 worth of value, most likely incurring a cost around $20

  6. Wait, you can use PP for arrivals? Is this at any PP lounge? I guess they don’t care because they get the incremental revenue anyway and people aren’t really going to lounge around for more than a few minutes after arrival but I never knew this.

  7. Doubt the restaurants get the full $28/visitor. PP likely negotiated a sort of volume discount- my guess would be something like $22-23/visitor, which works for the restaurants because it drives so much incremental traffic. As Lucky said, the restaurants he visited seemed swamped by customers. They may have to add some staffing because of that, and obviously pay for more food, but the extra revenue is huge at helping to cover fixed costs like the high rent at airports.

    Also wanted to say that the ability to bring in your whole family with the unlimited guest policy on the Sapphire Reserve is really beneficial. I am sure Travis can probably cover this, but having a place to sit and get kids some food before a flight without a lot of distractions is very helpful for getting them ready to get on the plane in a good manner. Used the Executive Lounge at Dublin Terminal 2 in July before our flight back to the US, and it was just what we needed after having to run out the door without breakfast to get to the airport on time. With Precheck it made the extra time needed for preclearance no problem at all, so we were able to stay until about 70 minutes before our flight, even though the lounge employees said to leave at least 90 minutes before the flight.

  8. @Lucky, I was told at House Spirits Distillery that they receive $26 per $28, which seems pretty good. Of course, as you mentioned in another post, the servers seem to hate Priority Pass as the users usually don’t tip. In fact, at one point, my husband and I heard the bartender at Capers Market loudly proclaim to a coworker that he hated Priority Pass while about six other Priority Pass users were near. A previous time we were there, the same bartender was talking about how he’s taking his money out of Chase because this model was unsustainable; he had no idea other banks also hand out Priority Pass. Either case, this guy is such a downer that we no longer visit this one location at PDX. He was rude and a downer each of the two times…even though we tipped him $10 each after using $22 of our credit.

  9. Have you heard anything about a yearly total you’re allowed to spend? A server told me at Capers a few weeks ago that each card is good for a set dollar amount per year at restaurants. No idea if that’s true…

  10. If you have multiple Priority Pass Memberships through multiple Premium Cards (e.g. Amex Plat, Amex Plat Biz, Ritz), can you use all of those for the same lounge (restaurant), in the same visit? If that’s the case, you could get a multiple of $28 credit each time.

  11. Complete fabrication. Very few people have been denied PP access except at a few AS lounges (mainly SEA & LAX) during peak periods. I’ve never been turned away at any PP lounge worldwide nor had any problems bringing in guests. One can even argue whether you have cause->effect correct as AS lounges have been inundated with thousands of new VX elites. Try to remember that your few anecdotal experiences don’t necessarily represent the universe.

  12. Ben,

    I’ve mentioned this a few time, but US Bank Altitude Reserve card gives you and a guest 4 free visits a year. It is worth mentioning that. Please add that. That, combined with 3x nearly everywhere with a samsung phone and the travel reimbursement, makes it a top tier card IMHO.

  13. @ Ash — I believe the intention is that you only can use one at a time, though I suspect it comes down to each individual location to decide how they want to implement that.

  14. So reading this in the lounge conditions for Capers Cafe Le Bar in the PP app and on the website….

    1. Cardholders can use their lounge visit entitlement to receive US$28 off the bill. Each US$28 deduction represents a single lounge visit within the Cardholder’s existing lounge visit allocation for which the Cardholder will, where applicable, be charged. E.g. if a Cardholder registers 1 Guest they will receive US$56 off their bill which will be charged as 1 Cardholder visit + 1 Guest visit on their account. Only 1 card per visit per Cardholder will be accepted and at point of registration.”

    How does one go about…. “E.g. if a Cardholder registers 1 Guest” Is there some where / how you have to register your guest somewhere or is just whom ever is with you ?

  15. Awesome post! Can’t wait to check out these lounges tomorrow on our flight out of PDX! Especially the distillery, of course! Btw, I’ve heard a few people say on forums recently that you can no longer use PP for arrivals, at least for the market and cafe. We didn’t try it when we flew in as we had to get to an event, but worth noting!

  16. Alaska Airlines Lounge has stopped service for Priority Pass members at Portland International Airport (PDX) as of the first of November, 2019.

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