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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.

  • Alan says:

    No plans to fly anywhere in the near future so hopefully this will get sorted soon, but quite a devaluation for the Amex Plat – have found it good to have the No 1 option in the past and their new Edinburgh lounge was quite nice and a useful alternative if Aspire full or you were travelling out of the gates in that area.

  • MinR says:

    Is Lounge Key also owned by Priority Pass?

    I

  • Colin JE says:

    Visited the Club Aspire lounge in Edinburgh last week. The lounge was like a ghost town. Only 6 other people there at 10am. Given that this was the only lounge open in the airport, that’s extraordinary. I’m thinking, perhaps cynically, that prebooking is a way of raising extra money. If No1 really want to limit numbers they can just turn away people, as they did previously, when they reach capacity. But, selfishly, I’m glad I’ve got a Dragonpass, because I tend to prefer No1. Nicer seating, better food, and papers you can take with you, in normal times.
    Barclays gives Dragonpass with 6 free passes a year in their Travelpack for £18 a month plus travel insurance and European RAC cover. If you add it to a joint account you get two cards and joint cover, but still only 6 free visits.
    That said I think buying a DP direct is not that expensive.

    • Cuchlainn says:

      Ditto re Aspire Lounge in BHX Sunday week ago but OH was REFUSED ENTRY using PP via Amex Plat – “required to pre book 48 hours in advance” with 6 pax in Lounge. 2 parties behind OH similarly refused entry.
      Email to [email protected] , awaiting reply…

  • Richard says:

    I’ve been a PP member for many years and I like the flexibility of being able to just turn up to all of their lounges. I did use pre-book once before at the No1 lounge, but I want the choice of where and when I do that, I don’t want it to be a forced into it (particularly when I travel on business and my schedules vary). As long as there are other lounges that I can use (which there does seem to be) then it’s no great loss for me.

  • Andrew says:

    So the general consensus is the No1 lounges are pretty appalling and really it’s no great loss their departure from PP. Probably a amicable parting of the ways – No1 lounges more suited to the leisure travellers wanting a ‘treat’ and us as PP holders, the more discerning travellers, are looking for something a little better anyway.

    • ChrisW says:

      And which PP lounges would you suggest for “the more discerning travellers”? They’re all pretty grim!

      • Lady London says:

        I suppose Pri Pass could flip this situation for the next year or two if existing airline or alliance lounges were willing to accept Pri Pass on, say, a 2 year contract.

        Gotta feeling there’s a couple of BA lounges that do this already.

        The lounges wont be full in that kind of time plus a quickish negotiation using the No1 contract as pro forma! and would help offset lounge operating costs for the key covid adjustment period without harming the airline’s image permanently.

        Pri Pass (and Amex behind them who you can be sure are being consulted by Pri Pass) then gets time to consider forward strategy.

        No idea about the relativities or the sense of this but wondering does Collinson have enough deep pockets and longterm confidence in the business to buy No.1

        • Peter says:

          I don’t think Collinson would have pockets deep enough otherwise they wouldn’t have started a redundancy process less than a month after COVID started

          • Rob says:

            Collinson has very deep pockets. However, I know Colin Evans and he is not the sort of guy to run unnecessary costs. First sign that you are not fully busy and your job would be toast. In retrospect he was right to do so too, and it is acting like this that has given Collinson deep pockets.

      • Andrew says:

        Plaza Premium aren’t too bad.

        • Josh says:

          I would agree Plaza Premium lounges are a step up from those operated by No. 1

          • Rob says:

            Something may happen with these two at some point. There is ZERO crossover remember – No1 is only in Heathrow T3 whilst Plaza is in T2, T4 and T5. Plaza has nothing in Gatwick or the regions.

            Either Plaza buys No1 (which has private equity ownership) or Plaza has a cash crisis, decides to pull out of Europe and sells, or there is some sort of merger with Plaza taking a shareholding in No1.

            Aspire is also in play, with Swissport in the process of being bailed out. You’d have to suspect Collinson would want that, however, given the Club Aspire JV. Collinson is very good at buying businesses for peanuts at weak points in the cycle.

  • Lady London says:

    No.1 in Gatwick has permanent queues at anything like peak times.

    The Aspire in LGW North I have a soft spot for. it’s the old BA lounge. Unfortunately it’s also QR’s lounge now and for a very short time, BA’s lounge.

    Like @Nick I need to have reliable access to somewhere to work when travelling that I can go to automatically and know I will be accepted. Kooks like I am going to have to do the tiresome thing and work out a solution for each airport now.

    Regus was good for a while but I prefer a better food and drink option and the UK ones are landside and they tend ro have lumited opening hours. I liked their global pass but it was too expensive and I dont recall seeing them offering, say, a 10-visit offering.

  • ADS says:

    “we offer alternative lounge options in all airport terminals where a No.1 Lounge is located”

    Is this true to all terminals (not just airports) ?

  • David Webb says:

    Number 1 lounges want to make every customer pre-book AND charge the customer for the privilege? Sounds like they are desperate for money. Given how few people are using airports and lounges at the moment I don’t think social distancing or capacity is an issue – it just feels like an excuse to get more money from customers. I’ll continue to use my free Priority Pass visits at other lounges instead.

    • Becki says:

      I agree. This is just a ploy to charge more money without adding any more value. A non refundable deposit from the visit fee would have been a logical approach – not charging more to pre-book, especially at these times of such uncertainty with travel.
      Would anyone pay their hairdresser an additional fee to book a slot?
      I am glad Priority Pass stood up to them

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