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woman in priority pass airport lounge drinking coffee
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New Priority Pass Deals Point to Overcrowded Airport Lounges

If you’re not already familiar with Priority Pass, you might want to be for its ability to get you out of the crowded airport terminal and into an airport lounge. Priority Pass is a membership program that provides access to more than a thousand airport lounges around the world, for an annual fee.

The program announced some marginal changes for 2019—mostly for airport shopping deals rather than new developments to the lounge privileges.

Priority Pass seems to be running out of opportunities to add new lounges, and even facing overcrowding, so it’s focusing growth in two smaller areas:

  • A few years back, Priority Pass started adding airport restaurants, with the deal that members take a set amount—typically, $28 per person or the foreign equivalent—off the bill at participating locations.
  • Now Priority Pass is adding airport shopping benefits, with dollars-off and percentage discounts at a wide variety of locations. Typical shopping deals include 10 percent discounts at Duty Free Americas at several locations, 10 percent off regular price on purchases of $25 or more at the America! store at Los Angeles (LAX), 10 percent off at Secure Wrap at New York/JFK, and an extra five minutes on a 30-minute foot rub at XpressSpa at Dallas-Ft Worth. So far, Priority Pass says it has more than 800 different deals of this type.

My guess is that Priority Pass is becoming a victim of its own success. Membership has grown greatly through the inclusion of Priority Pass membership as a benefit on several premium credit cards, first from American Express, later from Chase and Citi. As a result, members are often faced with “Priority Pass access limited due to overcrowding” signs at some busy or undersize participating lounges. And Priority Pass has probably maxed out on available airport lounge options.

These problems aren’t going away, and expanding the benefit focus is clearly a way to offset it. The option for $28 off a dining bill can be quite valuable for members, but the shopping benefit is less so, at least so far.

If you don’t get Priority Pass through a premium travel credit card, membership costs $429 a year for unlimited no-charge lounge access, $299 per year for 10 no-charge lounge visits, and $99 for unlimited visits at $32 each. Each $28 restaurant bill counts as a visit. On all three options, each guest costs $32 per visit.

I get Priority Pass through a premium credit card, and use it a lot. It’s a great idea for anyone looking for an oasis of calm in a big airport’s typically hostile environment, and a good deal financially for the free food and drinks you get at most lounges.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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