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:
- As the Priority Pass network grows. Restaurants mean there are more airports where customers can use their card, driving up costs. The same goes for adding places like Minute Suites and adding Gameway.
- Because restaurant credits may even have a higher take up rate than lounges. I will usually skip mediocre lounges but hit up the restaurants myself. One man hit up Priority Pass restaurants for $200 in free food on a single trip.
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.