What Priority Pass Lounge Access Is Like in the U.S., In One Sign

Provide decent food and people will come to the airport early. More people will spend more time in lounges even accounting for expecting more people to do just that. It’s why American Express Centurion lounges get so crowded. And it’s why some Priority Pass lounges get so full they turn away guests.

A lot more people have lounge access than ever before thanks to Priority Pass cards that come with premium credit cards. And there’s a mismatch between Priority Pass cardmembers and where their lounges are. US banks have been the most aggressive in handing out these cards, but less than 10% of participating lounges are in the U.S.

Adding airport restaurants helps, but those get busy too, people come for free food and drink even more than for access to a lounge. Here’s how the economics of accepting Priority Pass works out for restaurants.

Walking through Washington Dulles airport this past week, I was able to capture what Priority Pass lounge access is like in the U.S. — in just one sign.

This is at the Washington Dulles Turkish Airlines lounge.

  • Access to the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses at the airport had ended for the day.
  • Turkish’s own flight doesn’t depart until 11 p.m. So it wasn’t that Turkish needed the lounge for its own passengers.
  • However Saudia uses the lounge and their flight departs at 5 p.m. Their passengers will be exiting the lounge around the time that Priority Pass guests become welcome again.

Priority Pass is a great way for lounges to monetize their downtime, since the space is leased all the time and airport leases are expensive. However Priority Pass guests are getting access to excess capacity only. Think of Priority Pass lounge access, then, as the last minute saver award that may or may not open up.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. More Priority Pass restaurants is the answer to overcrowding in Centurion Lounges. Wider selection and a la carte quality beats the Amex buffet.

  2. The membership is mostly crap and given out like candy with every credit card on the planet like it’s something exclusive
    Having said that maybe 3x a year it might come in handy but most the time I’m embarassed to present it as the agents cringe when they see it.
    Oh hello Mr fake member
    sorry we are to busy today to accept access
    can’t you see there are 3 other guests already occupying our available space?
    Your not welcome and neither is your faux membership
    Why don’t you get a real membership?

  3. Well,

    Limiting time of service to “down time” may have to be the bitter that comes with the sweet. If I am flying out of IAD on Jet Blue (which I have never done) there is not particularly a Jet Blue lounge to belong to, even at BOS or JFK.

    These arrangements whereby TK, for example, treats some like the poor country cousins may be what is required to justify their maintining a lounge at an outstation with one flight a day, with C-entitled access for certain airlines, *Gold, and Priority Pass t o fill in the cracks. But folks have to moderate their expectations.

  4. You won’t have to worry about JetBlue flights at IAD after Jan 7. The corrupt and unaccountable WMAA raised rents and enplanement fees so high at IAD that JetBlue can’t make money despite decent loads. Sad!

  5. Been to that lounge a half-dozen times or so, on Sunday afternoons. When I was last there a month ago (around 4:00pm), there was a minimal line and they admitted the guy immediately in front of me. Seconds later, the manager (he looked/dressed like a chef) gave an earful to the woman who was signing people in and told her to stop (because the lounge was full)… felt bad for her. So all PP entries were stopped and I was the first person, standing right on the threshold of the lounge, in a slowly growing line. There was no “PP resumes at 4:15PM” sign, but I was finally let into the lounge around 4:20PM (if my memory serves correctly).

  6. What is the problem? There wouldn’t be a PP if it guaranteed 24/7 access, so something is better than nothing.

  7. This is mostly a US problem and I think the restaurants are part of solving it.
    I mostly use PP in Asia and Europe and it’s fantastic, couldn’t imagine traveling without it: nice lounges everywhere, 95% of the time hot food that’s better than what you’ll get at US3 lounges and I’ve not once had an overcrowded lounge or was rejected.
    US airports are dreadful and just don’t have the lounge capacity they need.

  8. Sooner rather than later we are going to see an annual limit per member to PP lounge visits. I would also expect that PP cardholders (CSR, for example) would be able to purchase lounge access at a discounted rate, once the annual limit is reached. This would actually be a win/win for everyone, and would create funding for PP to open more lounges in the US.

  9. I agree that some lounge access is better than none or Restaurant credit only but… Just wait until this time next year when the airlines all require same day own carrier boarding passes even for members and THEN you’ll see how bad it gets on the Priority Pass front.

  10. Yeah I have to agree in Europe it’s a real life saver. I’ve had on occasion run into the dreaded full no PP allowed signs but 9/10 times it is a way to ensure kg et some lounge access. I have had some great situations with it such as the priority lounge and security access in Montevideo Bay Jamaica. Or the number 1 lounge in Birmingham England (arguably better then any except Emirates lounge there).

    Either way it’s my fall back anytime I am on an airline I don’t have status with.

  11. “Closed to PP” info should be on an app.
    It’s not like it’s a surprise when huge intercontinental jets take off.

    PP should list all of this info on each lounge in their app so that you don’t get there like an idiot

  12. @JRMW, in my communications with PP, I have made that very suggestion – identify in their lounge listings certain hours that are pretty much guaranteed access, then label the rest as “capacity controlled, may use lounge on space available basis only.” If we had that information readily available, we wouldn’t make useless trips to the lounge, or would do so under our own understood risk. In the example Gary gave, he may know when Saudia schedules its international flight, opening up the Turkish lounge to PP users again, but most PP members don’t. I’m with those who find PP useful mostly internationally, which I really value, and just hope for a few crumbs now and then in the U.S.

  13. I live in Europe and PP is extremely useful in the airports here. The only time there was a capacity issue is in Amsterdam – I have used the BA lounge a couple of times this year. However, the PP lounge at Schipol is actually nicer and I prefer it over BA.

    I have used the Turkish lounge at Dulles and it was packed. I was on a biz flight so I got in, but no PP. Unfortunately if you live in the US there are not too many choices.

  14. The AMEX Platinum Card is the same, with regard to Centurion Lounges. I arrived 3 hours and 20 mins before a flight and they claimed that capacity controls meant that I could not enter (for 20 minutes).

    This explanation is false, and deliberately so. Only AMEX sells AMEX cards and Centurion Lounge access. They are overselling cards beyond the capacity of the claimed benefits in order to maximize card sale revenue. The cost is borne by the “members” who are defrauded into signing up for the card.

    Obviously, I cancelled the card immediately and will switch to Chase as my primary travel card.

  15. @L3 Switch to Chase and you will be happy you did. I got rid of AMEX Plat after an absolutely dreadful experience at the LAS Centurion club whereby my AA flight was overbooked, booked on a later flight to be assigned a seat at the gate near boarding time. Because my boarding pass didn’t have a seat assignment I was denied club access. Told them to call AA, went and got a cup of coffee and sat down. They called the manager and had me escorted from the Club said I needed a seat assignment printed in the boarding pass along with my Platinum card. I Cancelled my Amex card in the spot. I’m all in with Chase now and it is a far better experience.

  16. @DFWSteve – that was a terrible experience! Also, Amex is not patching Ameriprise loophole where folks are getting Amex Plat every year without paying annual fee leading to the mess in lounges.

  17. Having that information on the app would be really helpful. Since I got PP about two months ago with my SPG Luxury card, I’ve used it domestically in Atlanta (three times, decent lounge), Cincinnati (once, a low-end lounge), once for restaurant credit at DCA, and twice changing at JFK (WIngtips, Terminal 4). Of those seven attempted visits, only once (JFK) was there a delay and after I sort of camped outside figuring out what to do they actually just let me in.

    I’ve also used it twice in Zurich, once in Amsterdam, once in Budapest, and once at SAW – the Asian-side Istanbul airport. The lounge at SAW was super over-crowded, but they let us in just the same.

  18. We were never told when we signed up for these cards that access was only when nobody else want to go. Just another bait and switch used to lure people in.

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