Battle of the Airline Lounge Memberships: Priority Pass Vs. The Legacy Carriers

by  Christine Dayao | Oct 26, 2015

Have you ever had airport lounge envy? We’re guilty of it. That’s the feeling you get when you’re heading to your gate and walk past those nicer areas in the concourse set aside for fliers who’ve sprung several hundred dollars to enjoy quiet, private quarters and amenities. Delta, American Airlines, United, and a host of other carriers offer one-year memberships to their own lounges for $450-$500 -- but there’s a less expensive way to get lounge access. Here's a look at Priority Pass, a company with its own lounges, and how it stacks up against the big players.

Priority Pass is a three-tier membership program starting at $99 per year. It provides flyers on any airline (and in any class) access to more than 850 airline and airport-run lounges across 400 cities worldwide -- including New York, London, Cape Town, Venice, Hong Kong, and more. The brand has been around for more than 20 years, but a recent overhaul encompassed a new website, mobile app updates, and a "digital membership card" that gets you into the lounges more quickly.

To break down the Priority Pass costs: A standard annual membership is $99, and travelers pay an additional $27 for each lounge visit. Upgrade to the standard plus tier, which has an annual fee of $249, and 10 visits are included without the extra fee. Finally, the prestige membership is $399 per year with unlimited visits. (Any member can bring along an additional guest for $27.)

For a comparison, the three U.S. legacy airlines charge more for memberships to their lounges (though they don't charge any additional fees per visit). Delta’s Sky Club is $450 for an annual membership, plus $29 per guest, per visit, for up to two guests; American’s Admirals Club costs $500 and covers two guests; and United’s United Club is $500 per year. This means that even the most expensive Priority Pass tier, with unlimited visits, is about $50-$100 cheaper than the major airlines' lounge memberships.

For leisure travelers like us, though, we like that this pass is flexible -- you can opt for more or less expensive tiers depending on how frequently you travel. Plus, more lounges are available to you through the pass than with membership with a single airline; Delta, which has the largest network of the three we've discussed here, has only 200 Sky Club and partner lounges compared to Priority Pass' 850. And you'll find the standard lounge amenities in most locations: complimentary WiFi, refreshments and alcoholic beverages, light bites, and, in some cases, even showers.

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