Are There Too Many Priority Pass Cards Now, and Will Alaska Airlines Lounges Leave?

Anyone who wants airport lounge access these days gets it bundled with a premium credit card — be it from Chase, Citibank, or American Express.

Earlier in the month I wrote about the Turkish Airlines lounge at Washington Dulles joining Priority Pass and adding to the more than 40 US lounges you can access with the card (and more than 1000 worldwide).

The Alaska Airlines lounges have been a part of Priority Pass for years. The Seattle boardroom, before they opened a second one, has been super-crowded for years.

Reader Thomas W writes about his experience recently though getting denied entry to Alaska Airlines lounges due to overcrowding.

In the past couple of weeks, Alaska Lounges have started strongly limiting Priority Pass access.

..”Will AS keep Priority Pass access?” Front line staff say they are being swamped by [Priority Pass] users, not leaving space for regular members.

Certainly, for the past couple of years, for a Seattle-based person, having the Prestige with Admirals Club and Priority Pass access, has been a no brainer. I suspect we’re seeing the first negative impacts of Sapphire Reserve flooding the market with Priority Pass users…

After a couple of rejections (I used Priority Pass almost 50 times in the past 12 months at Seattle and LAX), I’m back to being a Board Room Member.

Alaska Airlines Boardroom Pancake Machine

Unquestionably more people than ever before have Priority Pass cards in the U.S. with the increasing popularity of the program as a benefit of premium credit cards.

And Alaska Airlines has been growing rapidly as well.

You’re most likely to run into problems gaining lounge access during peak of peak travel times, and during busy travel times coupled with bad weather which causes significant flight delays.

However I don’t think this means Alaska Airlines will necessarily leave the program, or that denying people entry to the lounge when it’s packed to the gills will last either. Alaska will be opening a 3rd lounge in Seattle in the coming months. I think we need to wait and see what the ‘concourse C’ lounge does to diminish crowding before forming expectations of what happens next with Alaska and Priority Pass.

Nonetheless, it’s an issue to watch.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m surprised you needed your PP card that many times, since first or biz class seem to include access to most lounges. Are you flying mostly economy?

  2. Alaska has to own this problem. While most of the airports they operate in (partic. SEA and PDX) have undergone substantial renovations, the Board Rooms have lagged.

    Some of us choose to fly Alaska _because_ we have PP cards that are supposed to provide access, and so their rejection of their customers is a poor reflection on their airline. If Alaska can’t provide the service advertised they should change their product. Soon.

  3. It doesn’t seem to be unique to Seattle. I’ve recently seen the Board Room at LAX block Priority Pass access as well.

  4. I think it will boil down to how much incremental revenue they would lose by discontinuing the access. Priority Pass compensates the lounge each time a user signs in. I am not sure the amounts; however, on the Paid version of Priority Pass, the charge per person is about $27. I would assume they would get less than 50% of that fee per person. At 50% the lounge would get $13.50. They would have to weigh that against the average cost per-person per-visit for food, drinks, overhead, etc. So the decision would likely be if the lounge is breaking even or not or if it is costing too much for Priority Pass users.

    In the past United offered access to paid members but not the credit card members in the Select program. So that would make me assume the fee earned from Select Members is significantly less per person.

    Does anyone know the actual fee per-person the lounges receive from PP users?

  5. I am under the impression that the luxury card crazy is an American phenomenon. If true, I imagine that it’s creating a surge in demand for PP lounges in the USA, but only a marginal increase in demand for PP lounges located abroad.

    Is there any chance PP will rearrange its membership tiers into 1) specially for the USA 2) specifically for non-USA 3) worldwide access? Their current membership structure could use a re-org anyway…

  6. ISSUE #1: Clearly this has been an issue for some, but all I can say is I’ve never experienced it. Priority Pass has access to FOUR lounges at SEA. Two are run by Alaska Airlines, located in Concourse “D” and in the “North Satellite”; the other two are “The Club @ SEA, and are located in Concourse “A” and the “South Satellite.” As I have a daughter in college in Tacoma, I fly in and out of Sea-Tac relatively frequently and have never had a problem accessing a lounge at SEA.

    ISSUE #2: Even though I am an Alaska MVP GOLD member (via a status match thru Virgin America), I cannot access the Alaska Airlines Board Room unless a) I purchased a First Class ticket (upgraded tickets are not eligible); b) I purchase a Day Pass for $45/per person; or c) buy a “membership” to the Board Room for $295/year. On the other hand, my Citi Prestige card comes with Priority Pass membership for myself and my immediate family (or two guests). WHY would I become a Board Room member?

  7. I agree with Bill, after 14 years of membership I dropped because AS has been asleep at the switch Their boardrooms are old tired, dingy and small. Example there is a former Red Carpet Room at SAN closed, the AS area is packed everyday yet they won’t open the clubroom. I fly on average 100K a year with AS all FC and have talked to a number of BR employees I have gotten to know over the years they all shake their heads. I also get the comment that AS makes money on PP.

    If AS wonders why they have so many PP they need to look no further then their own management.

    If I get refused entry due to over crowding so be it. I’m a big boy

  8. I have an internal AS source who told me what AS will not renew the PP contract when it comes up.

  9. My partner and I were flying out of LAX last week and were looking to access the AS lounge with our Chase Reserve-obtained Priority Pass card. Unfortunately a big sign before you enter the elevator stated the lounge was not accepting Priority Pass or Lounge Club due to overcapacity. I completely get there are fire codes and the like, but it was disappointing. And it’s not just AS. He’s also a United Club member and there have been times where it’s incredibly too packed, so much so that there’s no where to sit. We’ve literally witness people YELLING at staff about the fact that they have been given passes and there’s simply no way to get in and enjoy it (to their credit, United staff handled it as best they could). It’s a corporate bait-and-switch, IMHO. I caught the new Mileage Explorer Visa commercial which touts the 2 passes that come with its card as being able to make that memorable trip even more memorable (paraphrasing). There’s going to be a breaking point where people realize they’re not getting value for that annual fee and the airlines will have to come up with something else to justify it. For the Chase Reserve, we’ve done the math and one of us won’t be renewing our account next year; if there’s no big bonus and lounge access is difficult/only getting worse, the $300 travel credit is the only item we would use, but that’s not covering the entire annual fee. He can add me as an additional user on his account, I can get the extra points for dining and not have to pay an additional $450. The old adage “If it’s too good to be true…” seems applicable here.

  10. OT but last night I was amazed at the poor state of the AMEX DFW lounge. Carpets are stained and disgusting looking, door handles are broken and loose, restroom was filthy with no toilet paper (even had food service napkins in place of the usual hand towels), the food was mediocre at best (flavorless bbq chicken tacos), door staff let at least 10 teenagers into the lounge just ahead of me on one card, and staff seemed distant and not really interested in being there. I spanned the time that dinner service stopped for the night and employees saying goodbye were not enthused about returning the next day. Being there last night made lounge access much less valuable. The best part of the night was having a somewhat quiet place to sit with access to power. Other than that I’m not sure it’s worth schlepping across terminals to get a free drink anymore…

  11. @MEOW —> That may be, but it matter not one bit! As I said above, there are two other PP lounges at SEA to go to, and it’s not like SEA is as spread out at LAX or JFK!

    As for the rest of their lounges, AS has lounges at LAX, PDX, and ANC. In terms of PDX and ANC, the PP lounge IS the Alaska Board Room, so I can see how that might affect some people. LAX has four PP lounges, one of which is an AS Board Room. But rarely does one venture from terminal to terminal just to visit a lounge at LAX, so unless you’re flying out of T6, it’s a non-issue.

    @Ghostrider5408 —> Exactly right! “Their boardrooms are old tired, dingy and small.” (And yes, I also get that AS makes money on PP.)

  12. IAD Turkish lounge now overcrowded. Air France IAD blocks access many hours in the day.

    Too many CSR pass holders.

  13. I travel 2/3 times a month to Mexico and recently return through IAH. The KLM lounge was overflowing and PP holders were referred to the AF lounge.

    IMHO, I believe the future for us premium credit card holders (Chase Reserve, Amex Platinum) is that PP will limit our vistits to something like 1x a month of 12x annually.

  14. Jason Brandt Lewis, yes there are four PP lounges at SEA. I’ve been to all four.

    The caveat is that the non-AS ones are a hike away if flying AS. The one in the A concourse doesn’t open until after 9 a.m. either. So, it’s not quite an adequate replacement.

  15. Not trying to be argumentative, Thomas, but I’d say these don’t work FOR YOU, and that’s a perfectly valid point. I, on the other hand, have flown inland out of SEA on either VX or WN and have also used all four lounges without a problem or hassle. I don’t find the walk, or even the “train ride” that big of a deal . . . just my 2¢, worth far less, and it’s certainly an instance of YMMV.

  16. @Robert – I’m glad you brought up the state of the Amex Centurion lounge at DFW.

    Last week, I went to the Las Vegas Centurion lounge and couldn’t believe the state of the Men’s restroom. It looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in a week and there was a foul moldy smell that was hard to avoid. The floors were wet and smelly (not with water, mind you), and I had to tippy-toe around to avoid stepping in whatever was on the floor.

    We were there in the evening when the lounge wasn’t busy, but I’m really disappointed with the state of the restroom.

  17. @jason
    For me, it is more an issue of the hours of the alternative lounges. I generally take a flight between 7 am and 9 am so the concourse A lounge, opening after 9 am, is of no use to me. I imagine a lot of others are in a similar situation.

    I never had a problem not getting into an Alaska lounge until last month, when it happened 3 times. I doubt I will renew Citi Prestige if this continues.

  18. It looks like lounges in the US are failing due to too much access. AMEX was the best to execute but that’s even becoming too tough to maintain.

    @vx_flier – One thing I forgot to mention about the restroom at DFW was that someone had dumped a cup of tea in that silly sink and it all just stayed there. I spent a few hours in the lounge, during the slow time of day, the sink was a wreck at the first of my stay and when I left. Crowds are one thing, neglect is another…

  19. And if the Biz Plat card matches the Personal for benefits/annual fee changes then it’s going to not be worth keeping. I had a hard time justifying it this past year but Centurion Lounge access was key to me keeping the card, if the lounges continue to decline then it just won’t be worth it any more.

  20. My understanding is once the c concourse lounge opens Alaska is going to renovate the original lounge. The new one in n in a few years will be the biggest yet. So three bigger and better will hopefully allow PriorityPass to stay!

  21. I agree, there was a line out the door at the IAD Turkish lounge last Saturday.
    I used my PP card and so did the 2 people in front of me, hardly a good sample size but anecdotally I can see how the PP benefit may be saturated.

  22. The non–AS lounges at SEA have awful hours. Not just for early flights, but they close by 7PM so if you are taking a red eye they are useless. Fortunately, AS doesn’t offer many red eye flights so the BR is not usually packed at those times.

    If AS drops PP, it becomes much less useful to me as a SEA based flyer.

    The PP lounge situation at the NYC airports is also pretty bleak.

  23. @Juan

    Domestic US flights don’t give you lounge access when booked in business or first. They require paid membership, day pass, or other credential like Priority Pass to get in.

  24. @PeteyNice —> True. The impact all depends upon where you live, and what airport(s) you most often fly in/out of. As of now, flying mostly out of SFO, and typically on Virgin America, it’s a non-issue for me. Of course that may very well change once VX and AS truly merge.

    For example, I would expect AS to leave the International Terminal and move into Terminal 2, which AA and VX share. Problem is that only AA has a lounge there; the PP lounge is in IT. I’ve always been surprised by VX’s decision to open their first (and only) lounge at LAX when SFO is their home airport. Hopefully AS will open a Board Room there, or perhaps (even better from a personal point-of-view) PP will.

  25. Will be eager to see feedback regarding changes to Amex Plat, specifically add’l priority pass access … eventually these lounges will be so swamped that Plat cardholders won’t want to go near them?

  26. I just got the Sapphire Reserve, and my first time I just tried to use the PP at the AS lounge in PDX, except there’s a tattered sign out from denying access to PP members…I was really excited about this and now I’m pissed. I didn’t realize PP is basically like flying stand-by at these lounges.

  27. Alaska @ LAX on 4/22 (Saturday) at 12:00 PM, which is NOT a prime time, had the sign up. I took a chance, and they did allow me in without a discussion. The lounge was of course, empty.

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