Priority Pass cards will not be accepted at the majority of Plaza Premium airport lounges globally from 1st July.
You don’t need to worry if you have The Platinum Card from American Express, as the deal between Amex and Plaza Premium is still in place. You will still be able to enter a Plaza Premium lounge, with a guest, by showing The Platinum Card at the lounge.
Plaza Premium is retaining its deal with DragonPass, which will continue to be accepted at Plaza Premium lounges.
Which UK Plaza Premium lounges were in Priority Pass?
Not all of them, but almost all. A few launched without accepting Priority Pass but eventually started taking it.
The permanent hold-out was the Plaza Premium lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5.
This was, I believe, linked to the fact that Collinson Group, owner of Priority Pass, was also co-owner of the Club Aspire lounge in Terminal 5. It was financially beneficial for them to ensure Priority Pass guests went to their own – inferior – facility.
The following UK Plaza Premium lounges are currently part of Priority Pass:
- Plaza Premium Heathrow Terminal 2 arrivals
- Plaza Premium Heathrow Terminal 2 departures
- Plaza Premium Heathrow Terminal 3 arrivals
- Plaza Premium Heathrow Terminal 4 arrivals
- Plaza Premium Heathrow Terminal 4 departures
Are Plaza Premium lounges worldwide leaving Priority Pass?
Most, but not all.
This also impacts the LoungeKey card issued by HSBC and some other banks.
This is the statement we got from Plaza Premium:
“In view of the rapidly changing travel environment and staying true to our mission in Making Travel Better, we have reassessed our product and service offerings in the hope of creating a comprehensive airport hospitality experience to reach more travellers globally. As a result, it is with regret that we have decided not to renew our contract with Priority Pass and LoungeKey, effective 1 July 2021 except for a small number of lounges which are still under review.”
This is the statement we got from Priority Pass:
“Certain Plaza Premium lounges will be removed from the Priority Pass Programme as of July 1st 2021. Due to the recent nature of this change, we are in the process of communicating with our members. We already have alternative lounges in operation for many of the locations and for the remainder we are undergoing sourcing of new partners.”
We have tried to find out if the Heathrow lounges are in the ‘small number’ which are still ‘under review’, but no-one at Plaza Premium or Priority Pass was willing to comment.
Didn’t No1 Lounges also leave Priority Pass?
Back in September, No1 Lounges stopped accepting Priority Pass cards.
This was partly down to money but also partly down to Priority Pass being unable to support No1’s wish to move to 100% pre-booked visits.
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 Priority Pass hiked the guest fee charged to users from £15 to £20 a couple of years ago.
To be crystal clear, I am not criticising Priority Pass 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 money from Priority Pass 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.
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 a relatively low marginal cost.
If the fixed costs are covered by direct sales and airline contracts, guests sent by Priority Pass should still be profitable if the payment covers marginal costs, ie the food and drink consumed. This assumes that Priority Pass guests are not displacing someone who would have paid more.
Covid restrictions are likely to have led to a cut in capacity. More importantly, in many lounges it has led to the closure of self-serve buffets and the launch of table service. This is likely to have pushed up costs.
I am guessing that lounges are coming to realise that they can hit their revised capacity limits purely from direct lounge pass sales and airline contracts.
As DragonPass has retained its deals with both No1 Lounges and Plaza Premium, we have to assume that they are willing to pay more for access and/or are more willing to embrace compulsory pre-booking.
What is left for Priority Pass cardholders in the UK?
For clarity, it is possible that the Plaza Premium Heathrow lounges are in the ‘small number’ that may be reprieved. We will receive final confirmation nearer to 1st July.
If they do disappear then, adding this to the loss of No1 Lounges, Priority Pass cardholders will be struggling for options in Heathrow and Gatwick.
There is no risk of Club Aspire lounges losing access to Priority Pass as Collinson is a shareholder in both businesses. Standard ‘Aspire’ branded lounges are not part-owned by Collinson but it would still be very odd if they pulled out.
Remember that Amex Platinum cardholders are not impacted Even if the Heathrow lounges leave Priority Pass, the exclusive arrangement between American Express Platinum and Plaza Premium seems to be continuing.
If you currently pay for a Priority Pass, you may want to move to an American Express Platinum membership instead. This will ensure that you retain Plaza Premium access. American Express Platinum comes with two free Priority Pass cards anyway, each of which allows a guest.
You also get Eurostar lounge access via The Platinum Card amongst other lounge benefits. American Express will also be opening an exclusive ‘Centurion Lounge’ in Heathrow Terminal 3, for Platinum and Centurion cardholders.
Will the airport lounge return to its jet-set heyday?
Private airport lounges have historically been advertised as places to relax and recharge before or after a long flight.
The reality, in recent years, has been very different. Many lounges have become more crowded than the terminals themselves. Real exclusivity has meant paying £100 for PremiAir at Manchester Airport or the First Class Lounge at London City Airport, both of which will also drive you to your aircraft.
One upside of these changes is that third party lounges may again become a civilised experience. You will have to pay for the privilege, however.
How to get FREE airport lounge access via UK credit cards (May 2021)
As a reminder, here are the three options to get FREE airport lounge access via a credit or charge card:
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.
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 a 20,000 points sign-up bonus. Full details are in our American Express Preferred Rewards Gold review here.
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.