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Taryn and I used to receive two United Club passes each year we had the United MileagePlus credit card, and boy did we think we were baller. But guess what? Times have changed, and airport lounges probably aren’t as awesome as they used to be.
I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal bemoaning what airport lounges have become. Travelers often envision lounges with posh couches, white-gloved servers, flights of wine, and a quiet respite from the chaos in the main terminal. However, with so many more people having access to these lounges due to owning premium travel credit cards, many of these lounges aren’t the sanctuary they once were. It’s a good thing for issuers but not for us, cardholders.
To be fair, I just wrote about the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which offers complimentary Priority Pass membership. The Priority Pass grants free access to over 7,000+ airport lounges throughout the world. While the pass doesn’t grant you access to all lounges, the list is quite comprehensive. Check it out here. A single visit to an airport lounge will likely cost $25+ so the Priority Pass has the potential to save cardholders a ton of money. It’s a fantastic deal, even for the infrequent flyer.
But maybe it’s TOO good of a deal. Premium credit cards offering Priority Pass membership (Chase Sapphire Reserve, AMEX Platinum, Citi Prestige, etc.) are popular among millennials, who (generally speaking) prioritize travel more than previous generations. And who wouldn’t want to take advantage of free snacks/beer and better access to outlets for charging your iPhone?
As a result, the ritzy airport lounges that were previously for the exclusive use of loyal business class travelers are now being shared with less frequent (and probably less discerning) flyers. This democratization of airport lounges means that airlines are often cutting back on some of their previous perks, such as free booze. I know… major party foul.
It also means that credit cards are cutting back as well. Literally days after posting my review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, Chase announced that they would limit the number of free guests per Priority Pass cardholder to two. They previously allowed unlimited guests, which was crazy excessive. Not a huge loss if you fly alone or with a significant other, but for a family of four, it’s a huge bummer.
Ultimately, opening an airport lounge to Priority Pass members can also be a moneymaker for the lounges themselves. I don’t know the specific economics of the transaction, but the lounges are reimbursed for each Priority Pass member (and guest) who uses their facility. Typical lounge access using the Priority Pass could be valued at $28/person, so the additional revenue can quickly add up if 50 people use the pass on an average day.
So the value of airport lounges (and therefore the Priority Pass) is changing. However, one encouraging change is Priority Pass partnering with airport restaurants; instead of allowing access to airport lounges, Priority Pass will essentially give you a voucher toward purchases at participating airport restaurants. It’s only available at a select few airports at the moment (Miami, Portland, and St. Louis to name a few), but a free sit-down meal is much more appealing to me than an overcrowded and underwhelming airport lounge.
As I stated in my Chase Sapphire cards review, Taryn and I generally want to spend as little time as possible at the airport before departure. But if a free meal is waiting for us at the airport? Now you’re speaking our language. We always tell our travel concierge clients that getting the right card would always depend on how you travel and spend money. If you love staying at airports, then this might be for you.