Will American Express Eliminate Priority Pass Restaurant Access? They’re Doing it in Hong Kong

I think of the $28 Priority Pass credit at several airport restaurants to be one of the best travel advances in years. If I can get a seat next to a power outlet and have someone bring me food and drink I’m happier than I would be in most airport lounges.

I love a great airport lounge, a quiet and uncrowded place to work with power outlets, comfortable seating, and that’s well-provisioned with food and beverages. That doesn’t describe most lounges in the U.S., at least most US airline lounges other than United’s Polaris and American’s Flagship lounges and a couple of Sky Clubs.

On the whole the lounges that you can access via Priority Pass are fairly mediocre though there are exceptions. A $28 per person restaurant credit is certainly better than access to the median Priority Pass-accessible lounge.

Bobby Van’s, New York JFK Terminal 8

Restaurants are getting $23 – $24 from Priority Pass for each $28 credit. And Priority Pass can easily become one third of an airport restaurant’s business. Where Priority Pass is provided by a credit card, these charges are being billed to the bank and Priority Pass makes its fees as well.

Priority Pass is an expensive benefit for banks to offer, even more so:

Minute Suites, Philadelphia

We’ve seen banks cut back on Priority Pass already. Some cards (like US Bank Altitude Reserve) limit the number of visits they’ll pay for. Others like Sapphire Reserve have stopped offering unlimited guests. Some people had made truly gluttonous use of Priority Pass lounge access like bringing 19 guests into a lounge in Quito, Ecuador and bringing 35 guests into a single lounge with just one Priority Pass card in Kigali, Rwanda.

Now we’re seeing what may be the beginning of the next big restriction on bank-provided Priority Pass cards: American Express has notified Hong Kong cardmembers that effective August 1 Priority Pass cards that come with their Centurion, Platinum, Peninsula Platinum, and Cathay Pacific Elite credit cards will no longer offer “non-lounge airport experiences” such as restaurants, cafes, and bars “where food/beverage credit is offered instead of entrance into a traditional airport lounge.”

This would cut American Express’ costs to issue these cards significantly, and be a huge cut in cardmember benefits. The worry here is that it could spread (1) to other American Express markets, and (2) to other issuers. I have asked American Express what their plans are for this restriction and will share anything that I learn.

Of course the US may just be a more competitive market for Priority Pass access, and American Express might be loathe to cut back when other issuers like Chase do not. There’s clearly a desire to reduce costs. Hopefully competitive pressures will cause the benefit to be maintained for other markets.

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. I’m just gonna say it… I don’t understand priority pass as a business model. I get it, sort of, as a paid subscription service to lounges. But this whole get it for free with a premium credit card and then adding rebates to airport restaurants makes no business sense to me what so ever.

  2. I don’t blame them really. I was at the Denver airport and went to the Priority Pass restaurant and the line was 20 people long waiting to get in. A better solution might be to have Amex Plat/Centurion sections inside restaurants. I saw this Stockholm airport. They had a big restaurant and then a private partitioned off section for Amex Plat/ Centurion holders. Pretty nice concept. But Who knows if that would work.

  3. With AMEX buying lounge buddy and ready, I always thought buying Priority Pass would be interesting. Then AMEX can cut the benefit from their competition.

  4. “a quiet and uncrowded place to work with power outlets, comfortable seating, and that’s well-provisioned with food and beverages“

    This actually describes most SkyClubs. There’s a few rough ones, but mostly in airports with better ones (ie D gates in ATL) or they’re scheduled to be re-done (ie SLC) … very few just plain suck.

  5. Actually I think this policy would be quite appropriate at airports/terminals where there is an Amex Centurion lounge (which is the case @HKG) or even a PP lounge. The addition of restaurants to the PP program came about to service airports/terminals that did not have member lounges.

    Also can you clarify if this applies to all Plat/Centurion cardholders or just those based/issued in Hong Kong?

  6. @Alex H I think Amex could get away with it in certain markets like Denver, where they have the Centurion option on the way, but no way Chase could cut that perk without offering a lounge in that airport. Denver is a major hub with people flowing through it all the time. As a CO resident I would not hesitate to jump ship to Amex Plat if this happened.

  7. I walked by the Plaza Premium lounge at HKG last month and counted 53 people waiting to get in.

    This may be a problem specific to HKG

  8. Oops. I guess I was wrong. It’s time for me to dump the business platinum.

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