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Not all airport lounges are created equal; while some offer little more than shelter from the terminal, the best ones can make your travels much more comfortable, while adding a welcome touch of luxury. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen offers his selections for the best lounges in the Priority Pass portfolio.
If you’re a frequent flyer, you probably value lounge access. Fortunately, there are many ways to get into a variety of airport clubs in the U.S. and abroad. Last month I went through the best domestic airport lounges and how to gain access. Today I want to shift gears and focus on one of the most popular lounge programs out there: Priority Pass. Which of these lounges offer the greatest comfort and widest selection of amenities?
Before I get into the list, here’s a quick primer on the program. Priority Pass is the largest independent airport lounge access program in the world, with over 700 locations in 123 countries (and counting). The best part about the program is that you don’t need to be flying with a specific airline or in a specific class of service in order to access these lounges. As long as you have a boarding pass that allows you to get through security, you can get into the club.
There are three tiers of membership that can be purchased:
- Standard Membership: $99 annual fee, plus $27 for each lounge visit
- Standard Plus Membership: $249 annual fee with 10 free visits; additional visits are $27
- Prestige Membership: $399 annual fee with unlimited visits
All of these levels include guest privileges, though each guest will be charged a $27 access fee when they accompany you into a lounge.
The Standard Membership makes the most sense for infrequent travelers with five or fewer visits each year. The Standard Plus Membership is ideal if you plan on visiting a lounge 6-15 times per year. Anything more than that, and you’re better off going with the Prestige Membership.
In addition to these memberships available directly through the program, there’s another “level” called Priority Pass Select that’s included with certain credit cards. This gives you access to the vast majority of Priority Pass locations (United Clubs are a notable exception) with no fee. Here are the cards that currently include this benefit:
- The Platinum Card from American Express (also the The Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN): The $450 annual fee gets you free access, though you’ll still need to pay the $27 guest fee. One way around this is to pay $175 to add up to three additional Platinum cardholders; each one is then entitled to their own Priority Pass Select membership.
- Mercedes-Benz Platinum: This card has a $475 annual fee, and comes with the same guest policies as the regular and business Amex Platinum cards.
- Citi Prestige: This card has a $450 annual fee, though cardholders can bring immediate family or up to two guests into Priority Pass lounges for free.
The most important thing to remember when it comes this benefit is that you must call your card’s customer service number to obtain your Priority Pass credentials. TPG covered this last August, but it bears repeating, since you’ll almost certainly be declined at the door if you try to access a Priority Pass lounge with just your credit card.
Now that you know your options for getting in, what are the top Priority Pass lounges out there? In no particular order:
If your travels take you through Terminal 4 of London’s Heathrow Airport, your Priority Pass membership allows you to access this oasis. I visited this lounge last year when flying Kenya Airways in business class, and it’s a fantastic spot to escape the bustle and noise of the airport. You can enjoy a wide variety of cuisine and beverage options that reflect the unique tastes of the various SkyTeam member airlines, and a variety of seating options make it easy to stay productive or simply relax before your flight. Free WiFi is also provided for all lounge guests. I particularly enjoyed the selection of drinks at the wine bar, and a wellness center includes showers and full-body massage chairs.
This relatively new option is usually reserved for long-haul, full-fare paying customers on Virgin America (plus limited access for elite flyers), but Priority Pass members can also get in when flying out of Terminal 3 at LAX. Enjoy a variety of light snacks and complimentary drinks from the contemporary bar, or use the free WiFi to catch up on work. Even though you’re allowed to bring in your immediate family or up to two guests, note that children under 12 are not allowed at any time. This is the only lounge from my Top 10 domestic lounge list that makes an appearance here.
Priority Pass members actually have two lounges to choose from at Hong Kong International Airport, both of which are a part of the Plaza Premium Lounge Network. Both are open 24 hours a day and provide a variety of facilities and services for travelers, such as WiFi, showers, and a number of food options, including a noodle bar. The newer location (in the West Hall) boasts impressive views of the tarmac and a variety of seating options, perfect for a short (or long!) layover.
This new option for Star Alliance travelers, which opened on July 25, 2014, is also available to Priority Pass members departing on international flights. Designed with a contemporary Brazilian decor, the lounge houses close to 300 guests, and you can enjoy a variety of hot and cold dishes along with a complimentary bar. Fast (and unlimited) WiFi, wireless printing, and numerous charging outlets cater to business travelers, but if you’re on vacation, kick back in one of the many comfortable seating options and enjoy the airport views provided from the mezzanine level location. You can also freshen up in one of the four on-site shower suites.
Leaving your Jamaican vacation behind is made much easier by the Club Kingston lounge at Norman Manley International Airport, winner of Best Caribbean lounge in the 2013 World Travel Awards, and recently voted Priority Pass Global Lounge of the Year for 2014. You can enjoy a variety of complimentary snacks and a premium bar, featuring native Red Stripe beer (naturally). Use the free WiFi, shower facilities, or private meeting room for your business needs, or book a treatment in the on-site spa (charges apply) to extend your vacation just a bit longer and ensure complete relaxation before boarding your flight home.
Singapore’s Changi Airport is in many ways a destination in and of itself, but if you want to visit a unique lounge, head over to Terminal 1 and check out the relatively new Airport Wellness Oasis. While the food and drink offerings may be lacking compared to a typical lounge, Priority Pass members can enjoy a complimentary 20 minute Fish Spa treatment. This activity made this list of 25 things to do at Changi Airport, so while this lounge isn’t traditional, it’s worth the trip.
Here’s another spot that appears on this list less for the impressive spread of amenities and more for a single feature: the outdoor terrace with views of both the tarmac and Swiss Alps. I gave high marks in my domestic lounge post to both Delta SkyClubs with outdoor decks, and as an aviation geek, this is one lounge I’m dying to visit. You can still enjoy complimentary snacks and drinks that change regularly, and free WiFi and computer terminals allow you to stay connected throughout your layover.
There’s no question that Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is ruled by Delta, but if you want to avoid the standard (though slightly upgraded) SkyClubs, your Priority Pass gives you access to The Club at ATL in the airport’s new Terminal F. By all accounts, the new lounge is a pleasant spot to pass the time on a layover, and with better food options and significantly better free drink offerings, it may be worth a visit here instead of the new SkyClub across the concourse.
In addition to the locations linked above, there are many others that you might include on your list, depending on your personal taste or travel patterns. here are some runners-up that deserve a mention:
- British Airways Gallery Lounge, Washington-Dulles (IAD): British Airways recently reopened this lounge to celebrate the arrival of the A380 in Washington. However, it’s only available to Priority Pass members between 7 am and 2 pm daily.
- Singapore’s Changi Airport: This isn’t so much an honorable mention for a lounge but a shout-out for sheer quantity. As a Priority Pass member, you have access to 10 different lounges when traveling through Singapore! This includes the unique Airport Wellness Oasis mentioned above, but also several other more standard lounge options. While none of them reach the level of luxury provided by Singapore Airlines’ lounges, they’re located across all three terminals, giving you valuable flexibility to access a lounge regardless of which airline you’re flying.
- Beijing’s Capital Airport: Another airport that wins for quantity is Beijing (PEK), as you have a total of 8 lounges to choose from. I visited one of the Air China Business Class lounges back in January 2014 and was quite impressed, but your other options cover both the domestic and international terminals.
- Other The Club locations: If you travel domestically, The Club also has locations in Cincinnati, Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Jose. With similar amenities, these can be great alternatives to airline-specific lounges (though I would strongly recommend the Centurion Lounges in DFW and Vegas if you’re an American Express Platinum cardholder.
Lounge access can be a lifesaver (or at least a headache-reducer), and if you have Priority Pass membership through the American Express Platinum or Citi Prestige cards, it can be valuable added benefit. Hopefully the lounges highlighted in this post can help make your travels as stress-free as possible!
What are your favorite Priority Pass lounges?
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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