Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Priority Pass: Excellent value for airline club access

As a fan of airline clubs for the respite they offer from the cacophony of the concourse, I am always looking for ways to access them economically. In addition to gaining membership through the use of an affinity credit card or using accrued frequent flier miles, another way to make the price of admission more affordable is Priority Pass.

Unlike individual airline club memberships, which limit members to clubs operated by their main airline and sometimes (but not always) those operated by affiliate airlines, Priority Pass has entered into arrangements with a number of airlines that allow its members access to more than 850 airline clubs worldwide. Annual rates are on par with individual airline club memberships, but the flexibility it offers leaves individual airline clubs standing at the gate.

For example, Priority Pass offers three different membership levels, each with different annual fees and “co-pays” to use the clubs. The Standard level can be obtained for as little as $79 for the first year ($99 per year after that) and requires a $27 fee per club visit. The Standard Plus can be purchased for $199 for the first year ($249 annually thereafter) and includes 10 free club visits. The Prestige level can be obtained for $319 for the first year ($399 a year after that) and includes unlimited club visits.

The introductory first-year prices are offered in conjunction with The Freddie Awards, for which Priority Pass is a sponsor. More details are available here. Compared to memberships to clubs operated by individual airlines, those prices can represent real bargains.

For example, an annual membership in The United Clubs starts at $550, depending on one’s United MileagePlus status, plus a one-time $50 initiation fee. A United Club membership allows access to only 45 club locations according to the United Club page at UAL.com. Infrequent travelers can choose to buy access at a cost of $59 per visit. Unlike some airline clubs, however, United Club require that a member be flying on a United flight that day to be granted admission, though that requirement will be changing in August. After Aug. 18, members will have to produce a same-day boarding pass but it will not have to be for a United flight.

American Airlines’ Admirals Clubs offer a slightly better value. While annual membership carries no initiation fee and rates run from $400 to $500, depending on one’s American AAdvantage status, American (NYSE:AAL) also offers 30-day memberships for $99 and “day passes” for $50. Unlike United (NYSE:UAL), American’s day passes can be used at any number of Admirals Clubs on the day the pass is purchased. American’s network allows access to “more than 50 Admirals Club locations worldwide,” according to AA.com.

Potential for substantial savings

Depending on how much you travel and how frequently you visit airline clubs, a Priority Pass could result in substantial savings over a membership in an individual airline’s club. As with any purchase, it is important to crunch the numbers based on your individual preferences and how you travel.

For example, a traveler with a standard-level membership who makes four round-trips a year and uses an airline club at each airport would pay eight $27 fees plus the $79 annual fee, for a total of $295 dollars, resulting in an all-in cost of slightly less than $37 per club visit. Given the total cost, one might well consider paying an additional $24 for the Premier pass and the unlimited access it offers.

A traveler who flies five round-trips per year and uses a club at each airport could find the Standard Plus membership very reasonable indeed at a per-visit cost of $19.90. Additional visits, at $27 per, will of course change the value calculation.

As with all membership levels, the per-visit cost of the Prestige level membership will be determined by the number of visits made annually.

In my estimation, however, the flexibility available with Priority Pass is an even more valuable benefit.

Until recently, I was a member of The United Clubs. At Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA), my home airport, the United Club is in Terminal A, which is fine if I’m actually flying United. As often as not, however, I fly Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK), which uses Terminal C, or Southwest (NYSE:LUV), which uses Terminal B. In either of those instances, the United Club simply isn’t convenient, while the Alaska Airlines Boardroom is more convenient if I’m on Southwest and steps from my gate when on an Alaska flight, and admission to the Boardroom is covered by Priority Pass.

I have also been a member of American Airlines’ Admirals Clubs. However, my travels don’t take me between any two city pairs predictably, so the flexibility of being able to visit a United Club, an Alaska Airlines Boardroom, a SwissPort lounge, Air France VIP Lounge, Canadian Maple Leaf Lounge, Virgin America Loft, or any one of the more than 850 clubs offered is enticing indeed.

Because of the reduced number of club locations available through a United Club membership thanks to the merger of United and US Airways, I decided not to renew my United Club membership when it expired. A Priority Pass card may soon have to fill the empty card slot in my wallet.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

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