While some airlines making it increasingly more difficult to obtain elite status many customers ask themselves if there are more practical options to access airport lounges other than frequent flyer status.
Being able to relax in the lounge before your flight and especially during long layovers takes plenty of stress out of an otherwise exhausting journey, especially when flying Economy Class. For airport lounge access, usually a Business Class ticket or Star Alliance Gold, oneWorld Sapphire/Emerald or SkyTeam Elite Plus membership is the requirement (apart from individual airlines own top tiers).
While these memberships come with additional perks beyond lounge such as priority check in and fast lanes, the lounge access itself can be obtained through another avenue which is significantly easier than waiting to collect enough miles for frequent flier elite status: Priority Pass!
Priority Pass describes their services and benefits on their website (access here) as follows:
With Priority Pass you have access to over 900 airport lounges worldwide and a choice of three membership plans to suit your particular traveling needs.
With a true global spread of lounges, we really do help you make the most of your membership. With 900+ lounges in over 400 cities and more lounges being added every month, we look forward to helping you get even more out of your membership.
Sit down, stretch out, enjoy a pre-flight bite and a drink from the selection available, including free alcohol at most lounges.
Traveling with family and friends or for work, Priority Pass promises you space to relax and refresh before a flight. Priority Pass provides access to lounges however you fly. For short haul economy flights or when you can’t fly your preferred airline, our Members can rely on Lounge Class.
There are several options how to obtain a membership. One of it is of course to purchase the membership outright through their website which might be a bit pricey and you really have to do the math what type of membership would be suitable for you.
There are three types of memberships offered of which to a paying customer only two make sense. Either the Standard Plus Membership that offers 10 visits for 249 USD (24,90$ per visit) or the Prestige Membership with unlimited visits for 399 USD per year. It makes absolutely no sense to pay 99 USD for the Standard membership alone and not have any visits included, though this option is often offered as a free membership with many mid tier credit cards. You would then just pay the 27$ per visit.
Again, you have to do the math here how often you are likely to visit a lounge. In 2010 I purchased one of the unlimited memberships and got a great promotion of 270$ for 15 months of membership and used it a lot. At the end of the period I estimated having used the card about 95 times. This included frequent visits to landside lounges such as the Luxx Lounge (formerly American Airlines Admirals Club) in Frankfurt and the ReLAX Lounge at Los Angeles TBIT while having meetings at the airport. What I like about the unlimited membership is you don’t think twice about using the lounge because you will have to pay for it. Nobody would pay a 27$ admission just to stay 10 mins for a coffee and a small snack, you can get that cheaper at any Starbucks or other vendor inside the terminal.
There are many promotions around at various times of the year ranging from 30% discount to an additional 3 months of membership or in some cases both combined. You might want to do a google search for ‘Priority Pass Promotion / Offer Code’ to find something current depending on when you are reading this.
How to get the Priority pass for free? Well, I tend to say nothing in life is for free and that obviously includes this membership as well but if you have a premium credit card such as American Express Platinum the unlimited version of Priority Pass is included in your annual membership fee:
The Amex Platinum in the U.S. costs 450$ annually so it provides a decent value considering the included Priority Pass membership and access to Amex own (very good) Centurion lounges. I used this benefit for 3 years through Amex Australia and was very satisfied with it.
Other credit cards may provide a cheaper option such as my Commerzbank Premium Visa Card issued in Germany. It’s basically just a Visa Card included in my checking account and it provides the very basic Priority Pass (which comes with a 24 EUR fee per visit) free of charge.
The reason why this is a useful perk is simple. Even if you use the card 10x you essentially pay the same as the second tier membership of 249 EUR for 10 visits but without having any upfront costs. Meaning if you use the card less than 10 times you are still ahead financially since you didn’t pay the base fee of 99 EUR in this case (the Priority Pass will be issued in Europe, that’s why the difference in rates/currency).
As with all credit products though this whole deal is subject to eligibility so it’s not only the choice of the customer to use this offer or not. Check with your bank or credit card provider if such a membership is included with your card. It’s often buried deep in the membership materials.
I found this membership very useful over the years when finding myself flying Economy Class on airlines where I don’t have any Elite membership. Especially in Asia that happens often but also when flying Emirates where Priority Pass helped me out during a 5 hour layover in Dubai.
Some of the lounges are not just third party operated ones but also regular airline lounges such as in Los Angeles (Air Canada MLL, Virgin America Loft, Alaska Airlines Board Room & Korean Air KAL Lounge) or in Seoul (Asiana Lounge, Korean Air KAL Lounge). These are very nice and you can access them irrespective of which airline you fly just by presenting the Priority Pass.