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Reader Daniel asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum regarding Priority Pass memberships:
do you have a member card?
did you pay for this? did you get it by any other way?
what is your opinion about it?
is it worth it?
I figured I’d provide an explanation of what Priority Pass is, how much it costs, and whether I think it’s worth it or not.
What is Priority Pass?
Priority Pass is the world’s largest independent network of airport lounges. Priority Pass doesn’t operate any lounges themselves, but rather gives you easy access to 850+ airline lounges around the world.
Not all lounges participate in Priority Pass, in particular those of some major airlines. For example, in the US, no American Admirals Clubs, Delta SkyClubs, or United Clubs participate in Priority Pass. That’s because they’d view joining Priority Pass as cannibalizing their own business, since they want to be able to sell memberships directly.
For the lounges which do participate in Priority Pass, the individual lounges are being paid by Priority Pass every time you visit one of their partner lounges.
Plaza Premium Lounge London Heathrow, a member of Priority Pass
How do you get a Priority Pass membership?
Priority Pass has several types of memberships you can purchase. Which membership makes most sense for you depends on how often you plan on visiting their lounges. The Priority Pass membership options include:
- Standard for $99 per year: this doesn’t get you any free lounge visits, but rather you have to pay $27 per visit
- Standard Plus for $249 per year: this gets you 10 free visits per year, and then each subseuqent visit is $27
- Prestige for $399: this gets you unlimited free visits to Priority Pass lounges
But generally buying a Priority Pass membership directly isn’t the best value, as there are some premium credit cards which come with Priority Pass memberships, including the following:
- The Citi Prestige® Card comes with a Priority Pass membership, and you can take two guests or immediate family members for free
- The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN also come with a Priority Pass membership, and you can take two guests for free
All of these cards give you unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges, so basically give you the same perks as the $399 membership level.
The Citi Prestige® Card has a $450 annual fee, though comes with a $250 annual airline credit, which you can use for any airline purchase. That means the real annual “out of pocket” on this card for me is $200. So that’s at most what a Priority Pass membership is “costing” you through this card, and that’s not accounting for all the other benefits offered by the card.
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Los Angeles, a member of Priority Pass
How much is a Priority Pass membership worth?
There’s no good way to develop an objective valuation of a Priority Pass membership, given that it’s entirely dependent on how often you use it. To state the obvious, a Priority Pass membership is worth how many times you use their lounges, multiplied by how much you value each visit.
I struggle with crunching the numbers, since it’s tough to parse the various ways I get lounge access:
- When I’m traveling international first & business class I get lounge access anyway
- When I’m traveling internationally on oneworld (even in economy) I get lounge access for being an Executive Platinum member
- I get access to Amex Centurion Lounges thanks to the The Platinum Card® from American Express
So do I value a Priority Pass membership based on the assumption that the above cards wouldn’t come with a Priority Pass membership anymore, or based on not having the above cards (in which case I wouldn’t have Admirals Club or Centurion Lounge access)?
I don’t have a good answer, so let me share where I get value out of my Priority Pass membership:
- It gets me access to Alaska Board Rooms, which are great when flying out of Seattle and Los Angeles
- Internationally there are some instances where the only way I get lounge access is through Priority Pass, as they have a ton of contract lounges
- More often that not, the benefit to me of a Priority Pass membership is that it lets me visit more lounges than I’d otherwise have access to, rather than getting me lounge access when I wouldn’t otherwise get it
Alaska Board Room Los Angeles, a member of Priority Pass
So if I had to put a number to it, I’d say I probably value my Priority Pass membership through the Citi Prestige® Card at ~$200. I just did the math, and I’ve used Priority Pass lounges ~20 times over the past year, and on five occasions guested people into the lounge. These often aren’t “high value” lounges, since I’m often only dropping in for a few minutes. But they’re certainly better than nothing.
Almost@Home Lounge Helsinki Airport, a member of Priority Pass
Priority Pass membership bottom line
The value of a Priority Pass membership will vary significantly depending on the time of traveler you are. If you do want a Priority Pass membership, however, you’re almost always going to be better off getting one through a credit card. It’s pretty amazing that cards like the Citi Prestige offer a better membership than anything Priority Pass even offers directly.
I do get a lot of value out of my Priority Pass membership, and I’d say it’s probably worth ~$200 per year to me.