This popular air travel perk is getting less useful by the day

An unhappy woman sitting in an airport next to her suitcase.

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Complaints about access to the Priority Pass lounge are becoming more frequent.

Key points

  • Priority Pass is an airport lounge program.
  • Several credit cards include free Priority Pass membership for cardholders.
  • Lounge issues have made Priority Pass less valuable in recent years.

If you’re a frequent flyer, the Priority Pass program sounds amazing when you first hear about it. Enjoy free access to over 1,300 airport lounges around the world! To make it even better, several travel credit cards offer free Priority Pass membership among their perks.

It was also an incredible advantage. For a long time, Priority Pass has been one of my favorite travel card perks. Whenever I traveled, I made sure to check in advance which salons I could visit.

Unfortunately, Priority Pass has gone down a lot in quality. Whether you’re considering getting a card with a subscription or you already have one, it’s a good idea to know what’s been going on with this program lately.

A declining number of salons

The big draw of Priority Pass has always been the lounge network, made up of the program’s partner lounges. In the past, you had a good chance of finding one or more lounges open to Priority Pass members at any major airport you visited.

This is no longer true, as many salons have decided to end their partnerships. There are now several major airports where you won’t find any airport lounges that you can visit with Priority Pass, including:

  • Denver International Airport
  • Los Angeles International Airport
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

These airports have what Priority Pass calls “airport experiences,” a new type of benefit we’ll cover later. But in terms of traditional airport lounges, there is nothing.

Even at airports that have Priority Pass lounges, they are not always convenient to visit. Take Atlanta airport, the busiest in the United States. It has a single lounge for Priority Pass members, in the international terminal (plus some experiences in other terminals).

More ‘airport experiences’

To mitigate the loss of its lounges, Priority Pass has partnered with other types of businesses to provide airport experiences. Members can then obtain special benefits, normally by spending credits, at these businesses. Here are some examples of experiences you might have:

  • Meal credits in partner restaurants
  • Massage credits at partner spas
  • Spend Credits at Minute Suites (private travel retreats that can be used to nap, work, or relax)
  • Spend Credits in Gameway Video Game Lobby

This would all be interesting additions at Priority Pass for people who want to experience something different. The problem is that they are increasingly becoming the only options as real salons leave the network.

Because I used to steal a bit from LAX, I’ll give you a first-hand example. Priority Pass previously had several lounges at the airport. I visited the Alaska Airlines Lounge and the Korean Air KAL Lounge for free, and they were both great places to relax before a flight. Back then, Priority Pass was a great perk that I loved having.

Now, Priority Pass lets you spend time at a spa or video game at LAX. I’m sure these can be great perks if you’re in the mood. But personally, my only reason for having access to airport lounges is to enjoy real lounges, not to get a brief massage or play video games.

Access denied

Even when you find a room to visit, there is no guarantee that you will be able to enter it. Because a Priority Pass membership is such a common credit card benefit, network lounges often reach capacity. Some also limit when Priority Pass members can visit or decline them entirely, two issues that many members have complained about this year.

Priority Pass still has some value, at least if you get it through one of your credit cards. This can come in handy depending on the airports you are departing from and what it offers there. I wouldn’t pay for an actual membership, though, nor would I count on it. If I see there’s a lounge I can access, I’m crossing my fingers, but I also have a back-up plan in case he turns people away.

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