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Airport lounge access is far more widespread than it used to be. In Europe or Asia you usually just need frequent flyer elite status or a premium cabin ticket. Domestically in the U.S., though,
- United Gold elites and higher get access to Star Alliance partner lounges
- Alaska Airlines paid and award (but not upgrade) first class passengers get lounge access
- Premium transcon passengers get access on some carriers
However as a general rule elite status alone isn’t enough for lounge access (revenue-based top tier status notwithstanding) and traveling in a premium cabin isn’t enough either. Instead because of an historical anomaly, US airlines charge for lounge access where in much of the world you don’t pay to use airport lounges.
There are networks of independent lounges, and some airline lounges which allow pay-in access. And you can use those if you have a Priority Pass card.
These cards have become fairly ubiquitous since unlimited visit Priority Pass access comes with the Platinum Card by American Express, Citi Prestige Card, or Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. Those give you unlimited visits for yourself and at least 2 free guests. (The Platinum card added two free guests this year.)
On a paid basis of course you can buy a Priority Pass membership, but the price was steep, and there’s been an explosion of members now that unlimited visit access comes with several premium credit cards.
This explosion of members has been centered on the U.S, where only about 5% of the 1000 or so participating Priority Pass lounges are located. That’s meant crowding in a handful of high demand locations like Seattle and Washington Dulles.
The Priority Pass folks have been on a tear coming up with new creative ways to add value to their expanding cardmember base.
This week we got a new lounge in Pittsburgh.
Recently they added the Turkish Airlines lounge at Washington Dulles although it gets full during peak times (and they may even refuse Priority Pass access as a result). You also now get use of Minute Suites in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Dallas.
With the spread of access, we’ve seen Priority Pass add other non-traditional options besides lounges. You get a £15 credit per person at London Gatwick’s Grain Store Cafe & Bar with your Priority Pass card. Last month they added a food and beverage credit at 7 different lounges in the Sydney airport.
You get a $28 per person credit there with your Priority Pass card. If you bring two friends, that’s an $84 credit. Nice. (Bottle sales and merchandise are excluded.)