Is the Priority Pass card a good deal?

Would you like to enjoy a pleasant lounge while waiting for your flight at the airport, but you don’t travel in business or have a high enough status in your frequent flyer program to have access to your airline’s lounges? If so, the Priority Pass card is for you. But is it worth it?

We try to answer this question in this article.

What is Priority Pass?

The Priority Pass card gives you access to over 1,300 airport lounges worldwide, as well as discounts and vouchers at a number of airport restaurants, spas and shops.

And this, of course, regardless of your airline, frequent flyer program or class of travel.

Which lounges are accessible with Priority Pass?

As you may have noticed, there are two types of airport lounge: those operated by airlines and those operated by independent service providers.

Airline lounges are open to customers according to their class of travel, and to members of their frequent flyer programs according to their status, with reciprocal access to customers of partner airlines and members of their frequent flyer programs.

Independent lounges, on the other hand, welcome customers based on a variety of criteria:

  • Paying customers: simply pay to enter the lounge
  • In partnership with card issuers such as Priority Pass or credit cards such as Diners Club or American Express
  • In partnership with airlines when they don’t have enough traffic (or means…) to justify an airport lounge and send their customers either to another airline or to an independent. Or when the airport doesn’t have enough traffic to justify multiple lounges, leading all those operating there to opt for a common solution. Or when an airline needs a very premium lounge next to its usual one, which is generally the case for 1st class passengers outside the airline’s main airport…
  • In most cases, these three options are combined.

The business model is simple: when a customer shows up, they either pay the entrance fee or American Express, Priority Pass or the airline pays for them…

We should add that some credit card issuers operate their own lounges on the same model: you’ll find American Express, Diners Club etc. lounges that operate on the same model.

What’s special about Priority Pass is that, unlike Amex, Diners, Plaza Premium, Dnata and others, it doesn’t operate a lounge, but simply negotiates access to other operators’ lounges for its members.

With Priority Pass, you’ll have access to independent lounges, and sometimes to lounges belonging to airlines that accept the Priority Pass card (Air France in Frankfurt, Lufthansa at JFK).

We won’t dwell on the restaurants where Priority Pass members benefit from freebies, as they are mainly in North America, Australia and China…and there aren’t that many of them.

What are Priority Pass lounges worth?

It’s often said that independent lounges are generally not as good as airline lounges, but this has to be put into perspective.

Airline lounges are generally best where they have a large base. Away from their bases and hubs, this can become so uncertain that they sometimes prefer to outsource all or their most premium passengers to an independent.

So Priority Pass lounges aren’t just better or worse, they’re also “random”. You’ll find lounges with no charm and limited service, as well as superb lounges with spas. But in general, they’re a long way below the flagship lounges of the airlines…but you’re not always lucky enough to be in an airport where the airline you’re flying with has deployed its finest lounge.

Let’s just say that at a given airport, they will often be worse than those of the “local” airline, but sometimes no worse than those of the “visiting” airlines, or even better.

Who is Priority Pass designed for?

The Priority Pass card is obviously aimed at frequent travelers, even if its fare structure (see below) may be of interest to occasional travelers who need a certain level of comfort or simply space to work.

It will be of interest to :

  • People who travel often, but not in business class and not enough to have access to the airline lounges.
  • People who rarely travel with the same airline, or within the same alliance, are therefore unlikely to achieve status on a given loyalty program.
  • People who travel a lot and want an alternative to the lounges of the airlines, simply to see something else from time to time, or to have a plan B in case the airline’s lounge is overcrowded.

How do I become a Priority Pass member?

All you have to do is sign up and pay an annual membership fee. At the time of writing, there are three options:

As you can see, there’s something for everyone: you don’t have to be a frequent flyer to get the most out of your card, and even the occasional traveler can find something to his liking.

  • For 89€, you and your guests have access to the lounge for 28€ per person.
  • For €259 you get 10 free accesses and pay €28 for the rest. Guests are charged €28 per person in all cases.
  • For 399€ you have unlimited access to the lounges. Guests are charged €28 per person in all cases.

But there’s another way, and it’s “free” (or almost): the Priority Pass card is offered to all American Express Platinum cardholders. The American Express Platinum is anything but cheap (€660 annual fee), but it offers many more advantages than the Priority Pass card alone, making it more attractive for frequent travelers than the €399 fee for the Priority Pass prestige package.

Please note: this is the “real” American Express Platinum, not a co-branded card like the Amex Air France, for example.

The limits of the Priority Pass card

There are, however, certain limitations to the Priority Pass card.

First of all, access to certain lounges may be time-restricted: you may only be able to get there a certain amount of time before your flight, or you may have to stay in the lounge for a limited time (which amounts to the same thing).

Secondly, as already mentioned, lounges can be of variable quality, although paradoxically we had fewer unpleasant surprises than with some airline lounges. But it’s not so much about Priority Pass as it is about independent lounges.

You should also pay attention to Priority Pass coverage at your preferred airport, in the terminal of your usual airline.

For example, if you travel mainly on Air France from Roissy, you won’t find any lounge other than the Air France lounge on 2F, and only a Yotel Air lounge with limited access (3h max.) in the bonded zone on 2E. So don’t count on Priority Pass to make up for the fact that you can’t reach Gold status with Air France. On the other hand, the map can be useful at your destination airport for your return flight.

At T1 Roissy, on the other hand, it gives you access to the excellent Star Alliance lounge (at least…when the terminal reopens).

At Orly you only have the Premium Traveller lounge at T1.

Finally, if you have a Priority Pass card as part of your American Express Platinum membership, please note that your benefits are limited to the lounges, not to free dining in restaurants outside the lounges. But that’s not a real problem, because not only is their number limited, but if you don’t spend most of your time in the USA, you won’t miss a thing.

Our opinion on Priority Pass

For a long time we only traveled on one alliance and with high status on the frequent flyer programs, so the question of lounge access never arose.

When we diversified in terms of choice of airline and alliance, we were led to travel exclusively in business and quickly acquired the necessary level of experience in the relevant frequent flyer programs, so lounge access was not an issue either.

On the other hand, the Priority Pass was useful when we (rarely) used “exotic” airlines, outside our usual alliances and in economy.

It was also a great help during the COVID period, and still is today: due to the closure of many airline lounges we were happy to fall back on those that were open thanks to Priority Pass, as airlines generally don’t offer their passengers an alternative when they close their lounges at a destination.

But let’s be honest: we’re not really in Priority Pass’s target market: as we’ve said, it’s aimed at passengers who travel enough to want lounge access, but not enough or not in the right classes to be given it. To those who are “in between”, which is no longer the case for us.

For us, the Priority Pass card is more of a fallback solution and security than our first choice when it comes to finding an airport lounge. Is it worth paying 399€ per year? Aucunement.

That’s why we never signed up for Priority Pass and waited until we were eligible for American Express Platinum to benefit from it for free. An appreciable benefit of Amex membership, but just one of many.

So yes, the Priority Pass card is interesting, but in our opinion only for “in-between” passengers.

Bottom line

The Priority Pass is attractive to all passengers who travel enough to enjoy a lounge, but not enough to be offered one.

For those who don’t travel as much, it’s only of interest to those who value the statutory aspect of the lounge for the 2 or 3 times a year they travel.

For those who travel more, it’s just a back-up service that’s not worth investing so much in. For the latter, we recommend the American Express Platinum (they generally meet the eligibility criteria), which costs more but offers many more advantages…and lounges. But more on that in a future article.

Image : Priority Pass by PhotographerIncognito via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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