Should you get a Priority Pass?

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?

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Half of the drinks set up at Blossom Lounge, Terminal 4, Changi Airport, Singapore. The other half was a fridge of canned soft drinks. Most lounges I visited had at least a coffee machine offering a variety of hot beverages, tea and a fridge with canned drinks.

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.

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This Premium Plaza Lounge at klia2, Malaysia, was actually landside (meaning before you go through security). Make sure you check the app to see where lounges are located in your respective terminal.

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.

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The spread at Premium Plaza Lounge in klia2, Malaysia – a selection of salad, pastries, desserts, soup, rice, noodles, vegetables and chicken.

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.

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My little cubby in Blossom Lounge, Terminal 4, Changi Airport, Singapore. Not clearly pictured is a footrest and an electrical outlet.

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.

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The first course of my breakfast at Blossom Lounge, Terminal 4, Changi Airport Singapore.

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.

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More swanky seating options at Blossom Lounge, Terminal 4, Changi Airport, Singapore.

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.

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Opted for a lighter second course for breakfast at Blossom Lounge, Terminal 4, Changi Airport, Singapore.

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.

Thoughts in transit: Did I come to Malaysia for the wrong reason?

I’ve made a New Year’s resolution (not really) to try to be a better blogger. And in my head, being a better blogger means writing while I am on a trip, and not attempting to do it three years later when I can barely remember anything.

Anyway, I’m three days into my trip to Malaysia and up until yesterday I was in a bit of a quandary – I wasn’t…really…loving…this.

“But how Ceola?! How?!” you might ask.

The truth is, I don’t really know.

I should preface this by saying Malaysia was not one of my must-visit countries.

I’ve gotten to a point in travelling where I realise I’m feeling torn between going to a new country or returning to ones I’ve already been to when I’m picking a destination.

I don’t want to think of me going somewhere new as ‘ticking a box’, every country I’ve been to so far was somewhere I really wanted to see and experience.

Malaysia was less that and more…well…it’s a country in South East Asia I haven’t visited yet so I should go…right?

I think that lack of zeal from the decision-making phase of this trip has, to an extent, coloured my experience so far.

Before I go any further though, I want to emphatically say to Malaysia – it’s not you, it is definitely me. Everything I’ve seen of the country so far (which, in all fairness, is not very much at all) has been fascinating – it’s this incredible amalgamation of cultures and ethnicities that I, as a Trinidadian, can appreciate, and yet it doesn’t feel entirely familiar to me.

I think part of the issue is I didn’t come here with any real plan – not even a plan not to have a plan. It took me ages to even finish booking all my hotels and flights. I still haven’t booked tours, but it was not my intention to take it easy in Malaysia (like it was last year in Bali). I have not been very purposeful in my coming here and I think that is my problem.

I know there’s a lot to learn from Malaysia, and I know this is a unique and exciting place that I can feel myself warming to even now as I type. I feel pretty confident that by the end of this I will fall in love with the country.

But for the first two days of my trip…I wondered…what if I don’t? What if I came all the way here, spent all this money, and then didn’t enjoy myself at all?

That’s never happened to me before, not really. There have been cities I visited that I didn’t care for, but those were usually on the way to somewhere else I really wanted to be.

So this now brings me to a bigger philosophical position on travel – can you travel without a purpose and have the experience still be a rewarding one? I’m beginning to suspect I cannot. And when I say purpose I don’t necessarily mean plan…I mean…just something that is driving you in your journey – an objective or a goal.

When I went to Bali I went with the explicit intention of relaxing. I ‘wasted’ a lot of time there – lazing about in bed, aimlessly wandering the streets of Ubud, getting far more massages than any one person should get, and yet, that’s why I went, to do exactly that.

But if you asked me now why I came to Malaysia, I cannot say much more than ‘because I hadn’t been yet’.

I don’t think this works for me, not just in travel, but in life in general. I am goal-oriented to the point of it being a flaw, evidently.

Anyway, my attitude is improving. My last day in Penang for some reason was a kick in the butt – I started to feel more energised and excited about being here and the fact that my next destination is Malaysia Borneo helps tremendously.

If there’s one thing I wanted to do above all else in Malaysia it was to visit the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, and in two days I’ll be doing just that. Before I see the ‘tans though, I’ll be diving in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Borneo.

After that I head on to Kuala Lumpur where I’ll be in a feeding frenzy and perhaps get a bit of shopping in as well. I promised my co-workers Malaysian treats so I need to go on a hunt for travel-friendly snacks to take back to the office.

I really just wanted to get my thoughts about this down on paper…or screen. I’ve never felt that overwhelming feeling of dread about a destination before – what if I don’t love this? What if I don’t enjoy myself here? It was alarming, and yet I feel like it might be a common thing in this age of doing shit specifically for the ‘gram.

What’s the point of all this travel if you don’t know why you’re doing it?
Is anything fundamentally wrong with scratching things off a list or ticking a box?
Can you enjoy travel without a purpose?

I don’t know that I have the explicit answers to all those questions.

Here’s what I know right now – travel is a privilege and should be entered into with reverence and respect for the destination. If you arrive without that, you might be in for a hard time.

I’m not sure I came to Malaysia for the right reasons but I think there is still time to fix that.

I really want to come away from each of my travels with a better and more sincere appreciation for the place I’ve been to. For me that means trying to engage with more locals and learn more about a country.

It’s about learning the history so I can understand the present better. What are the challenges? Where are the opportunities?

Hopefully by the end of this journey most of those initial reservations would be a distant memory.

So tell me, have you ever travelled for what you now believe to be the wrong reasons? What would you do if you got to a country and decided you could not enjoy your time there? And how do you decide which country to visit when planning travel?