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Plaza Premium lounges drops Priority Pass

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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?

Yes.

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.

Plaza Premium 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 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.


Getting airport lounge access for free from a credit card

How to get FREE airport lounge access via UK credit cards (November 2021)

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

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points 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.

Nectar American Express

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 (98)

  • Johnny5a says:

    I assume LoungeKey (also owned by Collinson) will be affected to

  • Christopher says:

    Can’t agree that lounges will return to being vestiges of the jet-set age – the pay as you fly lounge visitors are the ones doing their utmost to earn a return (in alcohol) for the fee they’ve paid.

    I’d bet most Priority Pass visitors spend an average 15 mins and have 1 coffee.

    • Rob says:

      Personally, I agree with you, but I know that the lounge operators don’t agree.

      I once went to an Ibiza lounge with a big group. One of the US banks issued a PP with unlimited guests. 15 of us went in on one guys card, triggering a bill of probably €200 from the bank to the lounge. We stayed literally 10 minutes having had a coffee each.

      • C says:

        I tend to do similar. Most of the time its a place for a quick drink, civilised regrouping and sanitary break after security and check, and a phone top up. I too have paid visitor fees for colleagues/ clients without lounge and access on numerous occasions, with a visit length similar to what Rob describes (until there is a flight delay…).

    • flyforfun says:

      Maybe I’m not most, but I’ve spent up to 5 hours in one. Going back to Australia frequently, either on a paid Y ticket or if lucky as my Qantas staff friends +1 travel companion I had no lounge access.

      Using Cathay Pacific, I discovered the PP lounge at Hong Kong and loved it. Good food. Relatively quiet lounge. Great view of the airport runways. And reasonable showers. Much better than the awful Maharaba lounge at Dubai that I think was the only choice on the Priority Pass card. Even used PP in Brisbane airport pre departure just to use a voucher and pig out on the food – can’t do the drink. Don’t know how people can fly after a skin full!

      Starting a new job before the pandemic that involved Euro travel I got the Dragon Pass instead via the deal. Hope that gets repeated when things open up again.

    • KBuffett says:

      It’s very handy for indirect flights, long wait times etc.

      • Lady London says:

        handy for flight delays also.

        Other than the same 15 minute and a coffee as Rob mentions, my main neef for a lounge has always been to have somewhere always available I can just stroll into and get some work done without having to research all the options at every airport.

    • Will says:

      I’d pretty much always go into a lounge for a 20-30 min coffee and toilet break with a PP, so the lounges usually did very well from my visiting patterns.

      Very occasionally I’d be on a boys jolly, pay for guests and we’d give the bar a very good go but was the exception.

  • Lord Doncaster says:

    Seems a certain American blogger was the spoiler

    • Rob says:

      No, it was leaked to a friendly Australian site, using a quote that was specifically written for HfP at my request and supplied to me last night.

      There is more to this story than has been made public so far. I was hoping to get the final piece of the jigsaw during today which is why we were sitting on it.

      • JK says:

        Sounds like Exec Traveller poached it…? in like “flynn”!

        • Lady London says:

          No he’s a gentleman and only published today.

        • Rob says:

          No, Exec Traveller published it first. However, the statement from Plaza which they published was the statement that Plaza had written for me, at my request. We are not sure if Plaza deliberately gave it to other sites to steal our thunder, after we had spent 4 days researching the story. They knew we were going to publish today. As it stands, Exec Traveller gets a huge pile of backlinks and not us.

          Win some and lose some though. And this story isn’t over yet ….

  • Jonathan says:

    I used priority pass for a short time, I had 2-3 intended travels last year that got cancelled due to the pandemic, and these so called lounges I visited only really had good seating, the food and drink offering was poor in most of them I visited. I simply didn’t feel the experiences weren’t worth the cost of the pass

  • KBuffett says:

    Slightly off topic, but I was looking at the accounts for The Collinson Group. Interesting business with a surprisingly large turnover. It also seems they are trying to take profits offshore now, perhaps to reduce tax.

    • Rob says:

      It’s a huge business. I suspect that they don’t necessarily consolidate it all either. The insurance operation, which most people don’t even know they own, is substantial on its own.

      • KBuffett says:

        It’s certainly impressive and understated.

        There seems to be only one offshore company as the shareholder now…. 😉

  • Pablo says:

    Telegraph is still selling Dragonpass lounge passes for £20.50 with code TELEDP17

  • Andrew says:

    This is good news – will keep numbers down in the lounges for those that are still elidable to enter.

  • David D says:

    Makes the 2 free PP passes that you get with Amex Gold not worth much now – guess it’s a sign of the times.

    • kitten says:

      Well…. those 2 PP passes you got with Gold are probably worth the same as before.

      As in… 20 attempts per year to access lounges with a Priority Pass would have got you 2 entries at a major UK airport 🙂

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