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If your international travel is often mixed between different airlines and alliances, a Priority Pass card could be just the ticket to access over 900 lounges in more than 100 countries worldwide.
Priority Pass lets members use airport lounge facilities regardless of which airline they’re flying or which travel class they’ve booked – so you’re just as welcome to visit a lounge when in economy with EasyJet as you are flying in first class with the likes of Qantas or Emirates.
It’s also particularly handy if you’re flying with Emirates to Europe in economy, as even paid-up Qantas Club members only receive lounge access in Australia, Dubai and London Heathrow – not in other major ports such as Rome, Paris, London Gatwick and Frankfurt.
With only one participating lounge in Australia – in Cairns' international airport – the Priority Pass program is a great adjunct to your existing Qantas Club or Virgin Australia lounge membership, rather than a complete replacement.
Whether you’re a weekly road warrior or a once-a-year globetrotter, here’s what you need to know about Priority Pass.
Priority Pass: the basics
Priority Pass doesn’t actually operate any airport lounges of its own. Instead, the program arranges access to existing airport lounges for its members, whether the facilities are run by an airline, a separate company or the airport itself.
That means that while travellers can benefit from the extensive lounge network, the availability of amenities such as wireless Internet, alcoholic beverages and showers can vary between lounges.
Here’s a quick one-minute video to get you started on Priority Pass:
So that travellers know what to expect in each airport, a full lounge list is available through dedicated Priority Pass apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry, plus the Priority Pass website.
Then, click on a lounge to see where to find it and what’s on offer. Jumping across to Hong Kong, here’s what you’ll find in Plaza Premium’s new flagship lounge:
(Plaza Premium and Priority Pass are two separate companies, although the bulk of Plaza Premium’s lounges can be accessed with a Priority Pass membership.)
You’ll also find any useful conditions on the ‘details’ tab for each lounge. In this case, it notes that free alcohol is limited to bottled beer only and that fax facilities are subject to additional payment.
Priority Pass: lounge locations
When we suggested you retain your Qantas Club or Virgin Australia lounge membership for use within Australia, we weren’t kidding – you’ll find a Priority Pass lounge only at Cairns International Airport, with nothing else on home soil.
It’s a different story overseas, which is really what makes the program useful to business travellers. You’re covered close to home in Auckland, plus in most of the major transit hubs such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Helsinki and Kuala Lumpur.
In Singapore, Priority Pass access even outshines what you’ll get as a Velocity Gold or Platinum member. When flying with Singapore Airlines, these elite travellers can only access SQ’s two KrisFlyer Gold lounges, which come without showers, or even toilets.
On the other hand, Priority Pass members have a choice of eleven lounges across Terminals 1, 2 and 3 at Changi – ten of which have in-lounge shower facilities.
Further abroad, you’ll also find lounges in business destinations such as Shanghai, Tokyo (Narita), London (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Southend and Luton), New York (JFK, La Guardia and Newark), Los Angeles, Helsinki, Frankfurt, Zurich, Paris, Rome, Santiago, Vancouver, Toronto and more.
At Heathrow, that includes the No. 1 Traveller lounge and its relaxing day spa in Terminal 3 – which is where Qantas first class passengers on QF2 or QF10 can enjoy a free spa treatment.
Although a visit to the day spa isn’t included with your Priority Pass lounge entry, you can flash your membership card when booking a treatment for a 10% discount.
Priority Pass: critical caveats
Before shelling out for a lounge membership, make sure that lounges are available in the ports you frequent most, and that those lounges are both open and in a suitable location to your usual flights.
For example, some European lounges may not be available to both Schengen and non-Schengen passengers.
As such, you won't be able to access a 'non-Schengen' lounge in Italy (typically located beyond outbound passport control) if your next onward flight is to Germany, as both countries are within the common Schengen border area.
Elsewhere, some airports allow free movement between terminals after you’ve checked-in – such as Changi in Singapore – while others only give travellers access to the terminal in which they’re flying out of, which can keep you from accessing a lounge if it’s in another part of the airport.
If you're unsure which terminal your flight departs from, refer to your airline itinerary or check the respective airport's website.
Priority Pass: membership plans
Depending on how frequently you travel, Priority Pass has three different membership plans.
Standard Membership costs US$99 each year, but doesn’t come with any inclusive lounge access. Instead, you’ll also pay a US$27 fee each time you visit a Priority Pass lounge, billed directly to your credit card by Priority Pass.
Standard Plus Membership comes in at a yearly cost of US$249, but includes 10 lounge visits to use within 12 months. Any usage above that is charged at US$27 – again billed directly to your credit card. Unused lounge visits don’t carry over to the following year if you renew your membership.
Prestige Membership provides unlimited access to Priority Pass’ widespread lounge network, and sets travellers back US$399 each year.
Crunching the numbers, Prestige is the best option if using the lounges 16 times or more each year, Standard Plus suits best for 6-15 annual visits, with Standard the most cost-effective option for anything less.
Whichever plan you choose, you’ll have access to every participating Priority Pass airport lounge upon presentation of your membership card and onward boarding pass.
Guests are welcome to join you in the lounges using just the one membership card, but you’ll pay US$27 per visit for the privilege – even on the Prestige plan.
Business travel organisers and groups of 10 or more jetsetters can also negotiate discounted membership rates and terms through the Priority Pass for Business program.
Priority Pass: a few tips
Travellers with certain credit cards including Westpac Altitude Black and Citibank’s Signature and Select cards already have a free Priority Pass membership available to them, so if this applies to you, contact your bank for more information.
Altitude Black and Citibank Signature each come with a free Standard membership and two free lounge visits, with guests and any additional use billed at the usual US$27 rates.
Included in its overall annual fee of $749, Citibank Select throws in a full Prestige membership and waives the usual charges for your first guest on each visit, which isn’t something that can be achieved directly through Priority Pass' regular plans – short of buying a full membership for your guest.
Speaking of extra plans, Priority Pass members save 50% each year on a Standard membership for their partner, valid for the life of the primary user’s membership.
As the Standard plan’s per-visit fee is the same as the normal guesting fee, it only stacks up if both partners travel separately. Companion discounts aren’t available on the higher Standard Plus and Prestige plans.
Finally, you’ll be handed a Priority Pass receipt when you visit most lounges, which shows the details of your visit and how many guests you took in with you.
On more than one occasion, this author has been billed guesting fees when using Priority Pass lounges as a solo traveller, but after scanning and emailing the relevant visit receipts, the credit card charges were reversed without a fuss and with apologies.
With that in mind, we’d suggest retaining your receipts until the visit appears under your account history on the Priority Pass website – of course, with the correct number of guests.
To join the program or to browse the extensive lounge directory, head to the Priority Pass website.
Already a Priority Pass member? Where does your card most come in handy, and which is your favourite Priority Pass lounge?
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