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Priority Pass and Lounge Club drop No1 Lounges

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No1 Lounges, the UK’s leading independent airport lounge group, began its phased reopening yesterday. The flagship site in London Gatwick’s North Terminal was welcoming guests for the first time in months.

Anyone who tried to enter with a Priority Pass, Lounge Club or LoungeKey card was in for a surprise – they weren’t getting in.

No1 is in dispute with Collinson, which runs all three products, in a row over money and pre-booking.

No1 Lounges not taking Priority Pass

How much does Priority Pass pay a lounge?

I have never met an airport lounge operator which was happy with the amount of money it received from Priority Pass.

I was once told that it is around £12 – £15 per visit, although that feels a little high. Rate increases are rare, allegedly. Lounges apparently saw virtually no increase in their payments when Collinson hiked the guest fee charged to users from £15 to £20 a couple of years ago.

To be crystal clear, I am not criticising Collinson here. It is their job to negotiate as good a deal as it can get. If it was to pay substantially more to lounges, it is unlikely that American Express, HSBC, Santander etc could afford to give out lounge passes as they do now.

Lounges are free to take Collinson’s money or not. However, for lounges which do not have contracts with airlines to take their premium passengers or do not have a good sales operation, lounge club cards can account for 80% of visitors.

Pre-booking is part of the issue

For a number of years, No1 has allowed Priority Pass and other lounge card holders to reserve a slot in advance via this page of their website.

For a fee of £6, you are guaranteed access when you turn up. As well as increasing No1’s revenue from your visit, it also reduces queueing at the entrance.

No1 wanted to move to a ‘100% pre-booking’ model for its lounges. This would virtually eliminate queues, beneficial in a world of coronavirus, whilst also raising additional revenue for No1 via the £6 fee. Collinson was not prepared to accept this.

No1 Lounges not accepting Priority Pass

How does an airport lounge make money?

In terms of revenue, I would expect it looks like this:

Most profitable guests – lounge passes sold directly to passengers

Followed by – lounge passes sold by partners such as tour operators to clients

Followed by – airlines which take space for their premium passengers where they do not have their own lounge

Followed at the end by – Priority Pass and similar lounge club cards

It isn’t quite that simple though. Airport lounges have a high fixed cost for rent and staffing and (but we’ll come back to this) a relatively low marginal cost.

If the fixed costs are covered by direct sales and airline contracts, the money from Collinson should still be profitable if it covers marginal costs, ie the food and drink consumed. This assumes that Collinson guests are not displacing someone who would have paid more.

How has coronavirus changed the market?

This next part is pure speculation from me. No1 Lounges generally ran at very high capacity and getting in with a Priority Pass was a bit of a gamble at the best of times.

Covid restrictions are likely to have led to a cut in capacity. More importantly, it has led to the closure of buffets and the launch of table service. This is likely to have pushed up costs.

I am guessing that No1 believes that it can hit its revised capacity levels purely from direct lounge pass sales, partner sales (including via links on sites like HfP) and airline contracts.

It is still willing to accept some lounge card holders, but wants to move to 100% pre-booking. This will let it manage capacity, reduce queues and raise additional revenue via the reservation fee. Collinson does not appear willing to work with No1 to achieve this.

No1 Lounge not accepting Priority Pass

What does No1 Lounges have to say?

I spoke to John Upton, CEO of No1 Lounges, yesterday. He told me:

“We operate some of the best lounges in the world, and especially at Gatwick, so we are naturally disappointed for all of their [Collinson] customers to be honest.   It’s sad, after 10+ years, that we’re no longer part of their programme.   With COVID-19 the whole world’s changed and we are making great progress with a large number of our partners to agree smart and sustainable solutions that meet the needs of both our customers and our respective businesses.  My team remains in dialogue with Priority Pass [which includes Lounge Club and LoungeKey] so let’s see what happens next.   Other leading card programmes, e.g. DragonPass, remain very much welcome.”

I also asked Priority Pass for a statement. They said:

“As the world’s largest airport lounge network, Priority Pass has hundreds of partnerships around the world, which ensure we can offer members over 1300 lounges and airport experiences globally. We work with all our partners to build mutually beneficial relationships and support one another during the travel recovery. For example, earlier this year we rolled out the world’s first global Airport Lounge Standards guide, created by our medical experts, to help our partners reopen with the highest possible safety standards. We’ve also rolled out contactless lounge entry and are supporting our lounge partners with a solution that will enable them to introduce a digital food and beverage ordering solution.

While we constantly work with our partners to find solutions, we also prioritise our members’ experiences. During a time of such uncertainty – particularly around travel – we want to ensure our members have the confidence to travel, and to know that should something change – a trip cancelled or delayed – they have flexibility in how they use Priority Pass. Therefore, while we appreciate there are some advantages of being able to pre-book, a pre-book policy which is mandatory and at additional cost to the member is not in keeping with the Priority Pass global customer experience. We are disappointed that we have not been able to find a resolution with No.1 Lounges at this time, but are open to further discussions to find a workable solution.

Finally, we are confident this will have minimal impact for our members, as we offer alternative lounge options in all airport terminals where a No.1 Lounge is located.”

Will Priority Pass break ties with other UK lounges?

It seems unlikely, if only because No1 was the only lounge group encouraging pre-booking.

There is no risk of Club Aspire lounges losing access to Priority Pass and Lounge Club as Collinson is a shareholder in that business. Standard ‘Aspire’ branded lounges are not part-owned by Collinson but it would still be very odd if they pulled out.

I have seen no indication from Plaza Premium that they are reconsidering their links to Collinson. That said, Collinson is not working with Plaza Premium at their excellent lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5, preferring to funnel cardholders to the Club Aspire lounge instead. Plaza Premium has a direct deal with American Express Platinum to accept cardholders into lounges, which does work in Terminal 5.

What would be interesting would be if American Express or another key Collinson partner in the UK switched to DragonPass so that their customers could regain access to No1 Lounges. When NatWest swapped over to DragonPass last year, it made a selling point of now being able to provide access to the Plaza Premium Heathrow Terminal 5 lounge. It remains to be seen if the No1 brand is strong enough to drive such change.

The No1 Lounges website is here if you want to book Gatwick North access for cash, now that your Priority Pass or Lounge Club card won’t work …..


Getting airport lounge access for free from a credit card

How to get FREE airport lounge access via UK credit cards (August 2022)

As a reminder, here are the four options to get FREE airport lounge access via a credit card:

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points, £200 travel credit and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with two free Priority Pass cards, one for you and one for a supplementary cardholder. Each card admits two so a family of four gets in free. You get access to all 1,300 lounges in the Priority Pass network – search it here.

You also get access to Plaza Premium, Delta and Eurostar lounges.  Our American Express Platinum review is here. You can apply here.

EDIT: Until 25th October 2022, there is an exceptionally generous sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card. You will receive 60,000 Membership Rewards points – double the usual amount – and £200 to spend at Amex Travel. You need to spend £6,000 within six months to earn the bonus.

Amex Platinum Business American Express

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review

If you have a small business, consider American Express Business Platinum instead.

American Express Amex Gold

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for the first year. It comes with a Priority Pass card loaded with two free visits to any Priority Pass lounge – see the list here

Additional lounge visits are charged at £20.  You get two more free visits for every year you keep the card.  

There is no annual fee for Amex Gold in Year 1 and you get a 20,000 points sign-up bonus.  Full details are in our American Express Preferred Rewards Gold review here.

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

A huge bonus, but only available to HSBC Premier clients Read our full review

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard gets you get a free LoungeKey card, allowing you access to the LoungeKey network.  Guests are charged at £20 although it may be cheaper to pay £60 for a supplementary credit card for your partner.

The card has a fee of £195 and there are strict financial requirements to become a HSBC Premier customer.  Full details are in my HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard review.

PS. You can find all of HfP’s UK airport lounge reviews – and we’ve been to most of them – indexed here.

Comments (125)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Jake says:

    That should have read will BA…

  • MD says:

    Well that’s slightly irritating timing as I’m flying out of Gatwick North on Saturday and was tempted to check out the No.1 as an alternative to the (I’m told by our dear readers fairly crappy) Club Aspire which BA seem to be using at the moment.

    However, as it’s taken a fairly extraordinary set of circumstances to even be considering setting foot in a No.1 for the first time, I doubt I’ll miss them. From other comments today it also sounds like they aren’t as premium as they seem to think they are.

  • Simon says:

    Clearly No.1 have a rather inlated view of their offering – as others have said their LGW lounges are pretty grim at any sort of peak hour – more Tpsi (tracksuits per square inch) than I can handle, and bottom of the barrel food options.
    However even with that, it feels like another black mark against re-instating my Amex Plat membership when lockdowns end – getting harder and harder to justify the £550 fee…

    • Andrew says:

      *£575 fee

    • Anna says:

      Having just kitted out a teenager who refuses to wear anything except Nike, I can tell you that tracksuits can cost the same as some designer items!

      • Andrew says:

        And my Tom Ford cashmere tracksuit costs the same as Tom Ford suit.

      • Simon says:

        I was referring to the Sports Direct end of the tracksuit-scale – Lonsdale, Pierre Cardin et al (!)

      • Chrisasaurus says:

        I don’t think it was a money point anyway (or rather I hope it wasn’t) – I don’t think it matters whether you’re wearing a £30 or a £3000 tracksuit out in the grownup world you’re in the same bracket in my eyes!

        • Anna says:

          No I guessed that – it was just a shock to me when my son started asking for a particular brand after me dressing in from GAP outlets all his life – I had it in my head that tracksuits were an inexpensive, comfortable option (and possibly vaguely connected with sport). Wrong on most counts!

    • planeconcorde says:

      I completely agree. No.1 at LGW North is not a premium experience. The staff were rude on more than one visit. The only thing they manage to do it is in comparison make the BA lounge experience feel much better. When I now go into a BA lounge, I think this could be worse I could be in a No. 1 lounge.

  • Neil says:

    I think that the whole Priority Pass business model end of life to be honest. The situation at Manchester has been dire for a number of years and it’s clear, as this article outlines, that the lounges no longer make much of their income from PP – unlike 20 odd years ago when I first had PP and other than some smaller airlines, it was the main income source for third party lounges.
    Manchester lounges in T1 now have such restrictive availability I no longer even try and get in at any time of the day.
    It’s nobody’s fault particularly, it’s just how air travel has grown and people’s expectations have changed. The tracksuit / Prosecco combo wasn’t really a thing 20 years ago.

    • ChrisW says:

      People who don’t fly regularly think the idea of an airport lounge sounds amazing – champagne, oysters, white-gloved waiters. The reality of a Priority Pass lounge is very different to this.

      • Anna says:

        +1 for MAN. Soggy pies and ony one type of red wine rather than champagne and oysters!

      • Chrisasaurus says:

        Plus the alternatives have improved frankly so life outside the lounge is often less dire in comparison. I’m happy to pay for a pret and sit in there for a bit, at least the food (and the coffee) is good

        • Lady London says:

          +1. Pret is my home when I’m unfortunate enough to have to fly out of STN.

          Pret in LGW North is fine especially since they expanded it. The new pasty shop in the middle of upper floor just behind Yo Sushi also has really nice laptop set up although food/coffee is worse than Pret this is too useful.

          Not sure who’s got the Jamie’s spot at LGW North since Jamie’s went bust.

          • raikje says:

            I thought the Gatwick franchises were separate from the rest of the Jamie’s business, and so they still existed (run by SSP)

  • BJ says:

    Great article 🙂 As some will know one of my main issues in the past few years has been a deterioration in the lounge experience due to overcrowding. Hats off to No1 for wanting to move to 100% prebooking. It is good for comfort, good for security, and in these times for managing social distancing. Aspire and others should do the same. Airline lounges need to stop pax with status but flying economy from using airline lounges. All lounges need to limit the the range and quantity of alcohol available to guests; give them a voucher for one free drink. Duration of stays need to be controlled at busy times. PP etc need to stop providing access to millions of customers via banks and credit cards
    If they want lounges for their customers then banks should open their own like amex does. Covid has probably put an end to the need for all that but the industry should get its house in order should things get back to near normal.

    • Dominic says:

      “Stop pax with status but flying economy”

      That’s one way to prevent any further loyalty.

      • Chrisasaurus says:

        That would be a dumb move – most of us don’t choose our class of travel but have free reign over airline…

      • Pangolin says:

        Agreed. For me, the whole point of airline is status is to get C class bennies when travelling on Y (the vast majority of my flights).

        The #1 benefit for me is lounge access. If that was removed I wouldn’t bother going to the trouble of maintaining *G in Star Alliance.

        I’m sure many others would agree that status would be terminally devalued if lounge access was blocked. Basically, that would be more like having Silver status on Star Alliance (a mostly useless status).

    • Andrew says:

      If airlines stopped status passengers accessing the lounges then the status model collapses – airlines don’t want that.

      • BJ says:

        Andrew/Dominic, I seriously doubt that but concede their would be some impact. For the major airlines I suspect the pax that matter most are driven more by corporate accounts than by loyalty schemes. I suspect too that price and schedule also trump loyalty for most pax when they make most of their bookings.

        • Dominic says:

          Certainly the corporate accounts are the critical part, I’m not debating that.

          I guess I used to fall within a bit of a niche, but as an (ex-)student that flew frequently, I have built up my loyalty flying economy, and still fly those airlines now in various capacities.

          • BJ says:

            There will be a lot in that group too. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that the benefit should be totally scrapped, only that it should be used to manage overcrowding and hence the lounge experience in specific lounges in specific airports at specific times when there is a problem.

      • Lady London says:

        @Andrew I think we may well be into a big change in airline status targeting, structure and options anyway around 2024. I think status may well offer different things to most and real status privileges only to few.

        At the same time lounges have clearly been moving in this direction for at least the past 2 years.

        One option could be for individual lounges, locations (eg No.1 LGW North and South) or No. 1 overall to launch their own club scheme. I think something bigger will hsppen to them but it’s a thought.

        Priority Pass should do a strategic rethink about where they fit into the future world and restrategise. Amex needs to plug the gap and has several ways they can do this in if they also work out what is the offering needing to be here now to do what lounges used to do.

    • Rhys says:

      It would be interesting to see the numbers on how many people in the lounges are actually flying economy.

      The bigger problem at T5 imo is that shorthaul and longhaul are mixed together. That means you can get someone on a cheap CE flight somewhere as well as someone paying £1500 in the same lounge, and means BA can’t give higher value longhaul passengers a better service. Other airlines in Europe often offer a Schengen and non-schengen lounge.

      • Andrew says:

        Yes I think this is the challenge BA has – when you compare the Virgin Clubhouse to BA Galleries Club offering for a JFK business class ticket – they are worlds apart. But the Clubhouse would seem overly generous for £100 Club Europe flight. The sweet spot used to be T3 Club Europe – doing the tour of the Cathay, Qantas lounges etc ahead of a £80 flight to Luxembourg.

      • BJ says:

        At T5 the problem could be substantially reduced simply by letting people know 3h in advance if their flight was departing a B gate.

      • Doug M says:

        Agree with Rhys. I’m gold, and usually travel in Business long haul, but almost always ET for short haul. I really can’t see the point of CE when the seat is the same, and if you factor in Emergency Exit row seats worse. I’d like an empty seat next to me, but status will often help with that anyway, via theoretical seating. I’d previously wondered whether BA would tinker with rules to make Gold’s on SH use the business lounges, but they’re so crowded it would only make those worse, and again they do have Business passengers without status in. Perhaps the lounges should be arranged strictly via LH or SH, regardless of class of travel. I’m not a great fan of Virgin, but one area where they clearly win is the Clubhouse, much nicer than BA First lounges. I did wonder if the increase in Delta people would spoil the Clubhouse.

      • RussellH says:

        Schengen and non-Schengen only works up to a point. AMS-NCL has always been non-Schengen, as has CDG-DUB, and are much shorter and presumably cheaper flights than, say, ARN-ATH

      • John says:

        Both Schengen and non-Schengen lounges are usually accessible to anyone who wants to go through immigration unnecessarily.

      • Anna says:

        But you have a slight chance of getting a free 15 minute massage (in normal times) if you’re flying long haul!

    • Nick says:

      No times a thousand. When flying for leisure then perhaps pre-booking might work. When flying for business people need the flexibility that they don’t get from a timed entry slot. There have been many occasions when I’ve turned up earlier/later and/or changed my flight, and a pre-booked slot would be useless. Fine if PP wants to become a leisure operator… not so good if most of their revenue comes from business pax (who often do fly economy or don’t have status for an airline lounge), which I suspect it does.

      • memesweeper says:

        +1

        Lounge benefits are great on business, and short notice changes are frequent. Mad to insist on pre-booking.

    • Lady London says:

      @BJ you’re making me cry! Lounges are one thing that keep me sane when flying Economy

  • Dominic says:

    I’ll be visiting the LGW North No1 lounge today using DragonPass.

    Suspect given the removal of PP it will be completely empty; will report back.

    • Rob says:

      John Upton told me he’d be there today so look out for him. His photo is available online.

  • Leon says:

    I can’t understand why they’re moving to a fee-paying pre-book model now, at a time when travel is down and capacity issues have stopped? Better to have the flexibility a walk-up model provides, particularly given the current situation with flights being cancelled at the last minute. And save £6!

    I’m not overly impressed by No.1 either, so no great loss for me.

  • Travel Strong says:

    “This would virtually eliminate queues”

    I’ve only once ever seen a genuine queue for a PP lounge! Whenever a lounge is full or rejecting PP customers – everyone just walks away.

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