With so many benefits being aimed at the Business Class traveller, can you still live the high life and enjoy lounge access alongside your frequent economy class travels?
Don't waste your hard earned frequent flyer points on once-off lounge access. You can purchase a Priority Pass membership outright or get a complimentary Priority Pass membership through certain credit cards.
What is Priority Pass and how does it work?
Priority Pass is a lounge access membership that gives you entry into over 1200 lounges in over 500 cities around the world. The reason you may have heard of Priority Pass is that rather than giving you access to just one airline's lounges, Priority Pass lets you in no matter which airline you are flying with. This is in contrast to Qantas Club Lounges, which only allow access when your onward flight is with Qantas or Jetstar.
This is a paid membership with different levels and fees depending on what you anticipate your year of travel will look like. At their entry-level access, you can pay US$99 for the Standard Pass, which then allows lounge entry for only US$32 per visit. This is quite a discount on the average lounge entry cost, which is around US$50 if you don't have a pass.
There are two further annual membership levels available, with the Standard Plus Pass giving you 10 free visits a year and the Prestige Pass giving you unlimited visits.
Why would I want to pay for lounge access?
Personally, I would say lounge access is a luxury item. It is for those looking for a moment to escape from the hustle and noise of an airport terminal.
It suited us because we were on an extended trip, and we wanted a touch of luxury without breaking the bank during our multiple flights and layovers as we country-hopped around Europe.
A lounge will give you access to comfortable seating, a quiet area where you can rest, plus complimentary Wi-Fi as well as complimentary beverages and food.
What are the benefits of Priority Pass?
There are three membership levels, each with its own entry fee and tiered bonuses. This is where we recommend you have a look at your travel plans for the year and anticipate how many times you think you will use a lounge.
Also, don’t worry about getting out the calculator and working out which is the best value for your money, because later on in the post I will whip out the spreadsheets and let you know.
- Upfront Fee: US$99
- Member Visit Fee: US$32
- Guest Visit Fee: US$32
Standard Plus Pass
- Upfront Fee: US$299
- Member Visit Fee: 10 free visits, then US$32 for your 11th visit and onwards
- Guest Visit Fee: US$32 each visit
- Upfront Fee: US$429
- Member Visit Fee: Unlimited visits
- Guest Visit Fee: US$32 each visit
When do you get charged? Just like Uber, no cash or card payments are taken at the lounge.
They are charged directly to the credit card on your file.
Which lounge did we use with our Priority Pass?
While on a recent layover at London Heathrow airport we decided to use our Priority Pass membership for the first time. We hit the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 2 (also worth noting this was the only Priority Pass lounge available in this area).
About the Plaza Premium Lounge at Terminal 2 in London Heathrow:
- Cost: US$99 for the Standard Pass membership plus US$32 for my entry and US$32 for my guest's entry.
- Opening Hours: 5 am till 11 pm every day.
- Location: After customs on level 4 of Terminal 2A.
- Internet: Wi-Fi speeds were excellent: an internet speed test yielded results of over 8 Mbps download and over 28 Mbps upload. In other words, you can easily download some Netflix shows for your flight ahead.
- Refreshments: Both hot and cold with a fully-serviced bar.
- Food: Both hot and cold with five dishes to choose from.
- Amenities: Showers and bathrooms available.
What did we eat and drink?
Checking in at around 6:30 pm we were ready to grab a nice hot meal as our onward flight on Iceland Air didn’t include any meal service.
So I chose some ravioli as a side dish to complement my vegetarian curry and rice, and yes, I had two mains, don’t judge. To drink, I grabbed some water and a hot chocolate as an attempt to try and make me sleepy for the flight.
I was surprised to find a fully-serviced bar upon entry and there were enough seats for us to easily find a comfortable lounge chair tucked away in the corner.
This was only our second-ever airport lounge visit, and even though Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world, we still found peace and quiet at the Plaza Premium lounge.
The food selection contained five different dishes with plenty of beverage options to keep anyone satisfied.
I would give this lounge a two thumbs up or an 8 out of 10 if we are being extra specific.
Which is the best value for money Priority Pass Membership?
So I have gone ahead and done all the maths for you to work out which is the best option to go for. Be impressed, because maths is not my strong suit.
Everyone has different needs and wants, so make sure you sit down and estimate just how many flights you anticipate you will take in a year, alongside how many opportunities you will have to visit a lounge.
There is not one pass that will suit everyone’s needs, so let's break it down for you by looking at how many visits you would need to do for the membership to be of value to you.
- 1-5 Visits: Personally, I say skip Priority Pass if you know you won’t be going into a lounge for more than five visits. With lounge access costing around US$50 per visit to get in without a membership, you don’t start seeing real value from a Priority Pass membership until your 6th visit.
- 6 Visits: Without being too generalised, it’s actually quite doable for the average traveller to have the opportunity to visit six lounges in one year. This can be done on a return flight from Sydney to the UK or Perth to Los Angeles with a few hours stopover in Dubai or Singapore, and one domestic flight. In this case, the Standard Pass wins as best value coming it at US$291 for the six visits, with the Standard Plus Pass coming in a close second at US$299 for the six visits. Just ignore the Prestige Pass at this stage.
- 7-10 Visits: This falls into the average business traveller or gap year traveller realm, and if you anticipate at least seven lounge visits we suggest you sign up for the Standard Plus Pass as it becomes better value for money than the Standard Pass. By the 7th visit, you have more than paid for the Standard Plus pass at US$299.
- 11-14 visits: After 10 visits you will start paying to enter lounges on the Standard Plus, but it is still slightly better value (costing you US$427 for 14 visits) than the Prestige Pass which will set you back $429 for all your visits to date.
- 15+ Visits: I think if you know that you plan to visit more than 15 lounges in one year, you have already clicked to purchase the Prestige Pass. This becomes the best value pass from the 15th visit and beyond.
Overall thoughts on the value of the Priority Pass? Just glancing over my colour-coded spreadsheet below, it looks like overall the Standard Plus will be the best value for most long-term travellers who anticipate at least 7-14 visits a year.
Domestic Australian Travel
You are a business or leisure traveller who doesn’t have any immediate plans for overseas departures but like the idea of not sitting at Burger King at seven in the morning before your flight to Melbourne. So what type of lounge access will you get at Australian airports?
Starting off at our biggest airport, Sydney surprisingly has just the one lounge you can get access to in Terminal 2, called the REX lounge. However, if you are leaving from Terminal 1 or 3 you can get up to $36 off your meal at several bars and restaurants.
Melbourne has more choice on lounges with one at both Terminal 4 and Terminal 2 and the same $36 off your meal at a select range of cafes and restaurants.
Brisbane has a lounge at its international terminal with a discount offer at its domestic terminal partners. Adelaide, Cairns and Darwin also have lounges, while Coolangatta has a partner discount.
Perth is noticeably absent from the list, a fact which jumped out at me for several reasons. It's the airport I travel from most frequently, and a lot of international transfers happen here. However, the reason may be because every lounge in Perth is owned by a major airline instead of being a private lounge.
Who would this pass be good for?
This pass is perfect for the frequent international traveller who primarily travels in economy class.
Ideally, the most value will come to those who fly internationally more often, as recommended check-in times are earlier than for domestic flights, so you get more time in the actual lounge.
You may think that straight off the bat, lounge access is primarily for business travellers, but a holidaymaker with a 2-5 week trip abroad, including a long haul and several stops, will easily find comfort and value in picking up a pass.
The final verdict on whether you should pick a Priority Pass membership or not comes down to a few pigeonholes:
The occasional flyers
If you are just doing a trip to Bali as your yearly getaway, then this may not be for you. Instead, opt into buying one or two single-visit passes before your departure flights, directly with the lounge.
The frequent flyers
If you are like us, off on a multi-stop Europe trip with quite a few opportunities to visit lounges, picking up the Standard Plus membership at US$299 will be your best bet, giving 10 lounge accesses at around US$25 each, for peace, quiet and unlimited drinks and food.
The live out of suitcase flyers
With all the airport visits and time spent sitting in terminals, the Prestige Pass will find you the most value and comfort, giving you unlimited access to over 1200 lounges around the world.
Okay I am convinced to buy one, but I am overseas and they can’t post my card to me. Can I still get it?
I was in the same boat as you. I was overseas and found out my travels were being extended beyond what I anticipated, and worked out I would find value in picking up a Standard Priority Pass. All I did was sign up online, download the Priority Pass app for my phone, and enter in all my membership details. I can use my full membership digitally as long as the lounge allows paperless passes (which most do, don’t worry).
The app will also let you know which lounges are available at each terminal and what type of amenities you can expect when visiting. It’s great to jump on there to plan your trip.
Did you know that some credit cards have complimentary Priority Pass memberships?
Why pay for membership when you can get access as a part of your credit card benefits?
Not sure whether your credit card gives you free lounge access?
Don’t worry, right here at Credit Card Compare there is a page dedicated to Priority Pass credit cards. Check them out here.