Priority Pass Crowding: Worth The Hassle?

Last week we reviewed the new Hilton Aspire credit card from American Express. The card is another addition to the increasingly popular premium credit card market. With a $450 annual fee, the Aspire card includes access to Priority Pass lounges, among other benefits. As it stands now, Priority Pass lounges in the United States are bursting at the seams. These days I enter lounges with the expectation that I might turn right back around and leave. Other times I wonder if it’s even worth the hassle to enter in the first place. I sure don’t go out of my way to enter, or view them as a “destination”.

Priority Pass Network Background

Priority Pass is a network of around 1,000 airport lounges worldwide.  Unfortunately for domestic travelers, it’s footprint is a lot stronger overseas. Here’s a map from Priority Pass’ website:

In addition to the rather limited network within the United States, many domestic lounges come with restrictions. For example, my local Priority Pass lounge (The Club at PHX) doubles as a British Airways Lounge around it’s daily departure. During these hours, Priority Pass members are prohibited from entering.

Premium Card Explosion Hits Priority Pass Lounges

The Hilton Aspire is the latest in an explosion of premium credit cards to hit the market. The most noteworthy of course being the Chase Sapphire Reserve which includes Priority Pass access for cardholders and their guests. The Sapphire Reserve launch was so popular that Chase ran out of metal cards to issue.

So now we have tens (hundreds?) of thousands of new Priority Pass members ready to invade Priority Pass lounges across the country. You’d think Priority Pass would be ready to drastically expand their network, right? Well, change has come fairly slow. Last year Priority Pass added a total of six lounges across the United States. Of course that’s hardly enough to keep up with demand. I’ve seen reports of new lounges cropping up this year, but Priority Pass hasn’t given any specific numbers.

Just this year I’ve walked in, and then right back out of lounges in Newark, Phoenix, and Honolulu. You know the crowding and/or atmosphere is bad if I’d rather leave a lounge to venture back into Newark Liberty’s terminal.

Better Terminal Dining Meets Stale Pretzels

Here’s the other part to this. Airport dining has really improved over the last few years. In many cities, gone are the days of fast food and generic airport bars. Now we’re starting to see an influx of local restaurants take over airport terminals. The contrast is always striking to me in Phoenix. Often times I fly American out of gates next to an Admiral’s Club and 4 Peaks Brewery. My options are an often overcrowded lounge with free cheese squares and Bud Light, or a local brewery with good food and drink options (albeit at a price). More often than not we end up at 4 Peaks.

Bottom Line: Priority Pass Crowding

I think Priority Pass (like Chase) was really caught off guard by the explosion in premium credit cards. That being said, their latest agreement with the American Express Hilton card shows they’re moving full steam ahead with new partnerships. I’m eager to see an end of year news release from Priority Pass regarding how many domestic lounges they’ve opened this year. Furthermore, a road map of future plans would be interesting to see. Right now, I feel like my membership is becoming less and less valuable as time goes on. How much do you value your Priority Pass membership?


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