Anyone who’s ever had to spend more than half an hour in an airport departure lounge, you know, it can be…uncomfortable.
My earliest memory of an airport layover was going to The Netherlands with my mom and cousin when I was around 7 years old.
We made our home on the floor of London’s Heathrow Airport, waiting overnight for our connecting flight. There was a bookstore nearby where we bought a bunch of crossword puzzles and that was the entertainment for the night.
So since my earliest memory of airports, I’ve associated them with discomfort and “roughing it”.
Because of this sheer unpleasantness, booking flights with connections has always been a delicate art for me – balancing enough time to make my connections in case of any minor delay, but also so I don’t have to suffer for any unnecessary amount of time in an airport.
And obviously I always knew airport lounges existed but I always assumed they required a specific airline membership or a particular credit card (and many of them do) in order to use them.
Then one day I saw a travel blogger post about Priority Pass to her Instagram Story.
What’s this? A way to get access to airport lounges without having to be a business class passenger or sell my soul to an airline alliance?
Interesting…but you know what I really learned that day that changed my entire mind about airport lounges? Most, if not all of them offer you free food and beverages for the duration of your stay! Whaaaat?
Now I normally don’t eat a WHOLE lot in the airport but that’s largely because airport food is expensive and usually gross. So if you’re telling me that there’s a place in an airport I can eat “good” food for “free” (cause really I just paid upfront for it) then I am definitely listening.
If you haven’t figured it out by now – Priority Pass is essentially an airport lounge membership programme.
I checked out the Priority Pass website and it seemed their network of lounges was pretty extensive – over 1200 lounges in 143 countries.
The Standard membership costs $99 USD per year and entitles the member to pay just $32 USD per person per lounge visit for you and your guests.
The Standard Plus membership costs $299 USD per year and entitles the member to 10 free lounge visits and $32 USD per person per visit for your guests.
The Prestige membership costs $429 USD per year and entitles the member to unlimited free lounge visits and $32 USD per person per visit for your guests.
After I dropped some VERY unsubtle hints throughout the year, my boyfriend ended up getting me a Priority Pass Standard Plus membership for Christmas. Wooohooo!
I knew then I would be traversing at least four major airports in April so I was pretty excited to plan my Priority Pass usage during this trip.
Now the trip has come and gone and I used four out of my ten lounge visits for the year. It’s important to note that for this to be worth the dinero you really should be in a position to utilise all your free lounge visits in a year on this tier.
So what did I think of the Priority Pass? Would I recommend anyone put down the money for one?
Here’s why you should definitely get a Priority Pass:
1. You essentially get Lounge access at a discounted rate. The typical lounge experience (I’m using the Plaza Premium Lounge chain as an example) will set you back $42 USD for a 2 hour stay. Some will be even more expensive. Priority Pass Standard Plus Membership typically gets you a maximum of three hours in the Lounge (though I stayed for over three hours in one lounge and nobody checked me, boo) at $30 USD per visit (if you count your 10 visits for the year) and the $32 USD for guests or beyond your ‘free’ visits is still a $10 discount.
2. Unlimited fooooooood. I ate quite a few times in each of the lounges I went to out of pure bad mind. I kept thinking about what $30 USD of food looked like in my head and tried to eat and drink that or more. Of course you’re not just paying for the food but I admit, if I didn’t eat as much as I did I might find it hard to justify the cost. The food was pretty good as well. All the lounges I went to had a buffet style spread, and some also had an a la carte order service. All offered coffee and tea, soft drinks like soda water (yas) and juices. Beer was also included in all the lounges’ complimentary offering and one lounge also had wine and liquor. Different lounges will have different policies regarding alcohol so just check the app to confirm what you’ll get.
3. The lounge WiFi is usually superior to whatever the airport is offering at a public level, and the access doesn’t require your Facebook password or the blood of your firstborn child, so that’s cool too.
4. Comfort and maybe even some privacy. It goes without saying that the seating arrangements in most standard departure lounges are sheer hell, so it’s nice to have a comfortable, soft place to rest your tush, most likely with an electrical outlet within arm’s reach. God knows how my heart drops at the sight of people laying on the ground next to the cluster of electrical outlets in the airport, desperate for a socket to free up. In at least one of the lounges I visited, there were also these more private cubbies where you could probably take a nap if you were so inclined. Actually, people nap everywhere in lounges, you really don’t need any privacy to do that.
5. Even if there’s no participating lounge in your terminal of choice, there may still be a restaurant or two that allows you to apply up to $28 USD credit to the bill, along with a heap of terms and conditions. You can also benefit from offers from vendors in the airport like XpresSpa and those folks who wrap your luggage. More glamorous airports may have better deals but that’s what JFK is giving us to work with.
6. Fantastic app. The Priority Pass app is an actually useful app. It contains a comprehensive list of all the participating lounges – you just need to know 1) the airport you’ll be in 2) the terminal you’ll be in and you can find out if there’s a lounge you can use. It lets you know what you can expect from the various lounges as well as any rules or guidelines you should be aware of. You can also track your lounge visits on the app.
And after all those compelling reasons, here’s why, maybe, you should think twice before you purchase a membership:
1. It’s a luxury, not a necessity. Remember all the crap I just wrote about departure lounges? The basic ones? Yeah, if $299 isn’t something you should be spending on the frivolity of a Priority Pass, forget I said any of it! This is a nice-to-have, it is in no way a need-to-have and honestly, unless you travel a whole lot, it doesn’t make sense to spend that coin.
2. Not every airport or terminal has a participating lounge. It would be wise to check out the airports and terminals within those airports you frequent to see if they contain participating lounges. For example, JetBlue departs from Terminal 5 in JFK and that terminal has no participating lounges in the Priority Pass programme. So if you know you fly JetBlue often to and from New York, Priority Pass may not be worth the money.
3. This is less a con of Priority Pass and more one of Premium Plaza Lounge, which seems to be one of the more popular lounges on the Priority Pass roster – it can get sticky. There was a queue to get into the Premium Plaza Lounge in Hong Kong and once inside, it was tough to get the prime seating options (though there was ample seating otherwise). It should be noted that access to any lounge isn’t a guarantee if they reach their capacity.
4. If you have the Standard Plus membership you can’t roll over any unused visits into the next year. You also cannot transfer lounge visits to anyone else or lend anyone your Pass for them to utilise since they match your boarding pass to your membership card at the entrance to the Lounge.
In summary, I think the Priority Pass is a great buy if you are going to be travelling enough times in the year to max out your included visits. Even if you just take the Standard membership, which doesn’t include any ‘free’ visits, you’d have to ensure you can visit enough lounges for the $99 USD price tag to make sense (what’s that…5 lounge visits maybe to recoup your money?). If you travel a WHOLE lot, the Prestige membership tier absolutely is definitely something to consider.
Honestly, like I said, it’s not at all a necessity but if you travel enough to be disillusioned by the airport experience and are looking for a way to ease the pain just a little bit, Priority Pass may be the answer.
I would also consider flights with a longer layover when booking since I know I have somewhere to pass the time. This might save me some bucks in the long run since the flights with longer layovers can sometimes be cheaper.
I’m not positive yet if I’ll be renewing my membership for next year as I have to plan my travel, but once it looks like I’ll be taking ten or more flights it’s very likely I will be a Priority Pass member again in 2020.
You can check out the Frequently Asked Questions on the Priority Pass website for more information.
Or if you have any questions about my specific Priority Pass or lounge experience, hit me up below.