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Why the Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass Changes May Be a Good Thing

May 07, 2018
5 min read
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Over the weekend, we wrote about upcoming changes to the Chase Sapphire Reserve slated for August 26, including how you earn points on purchases that qualify for the $300 yearly travel credit, Priority Pass guest privileges and the card's price protection benefit.

The reactions were mixed, with many readers claiming it was a non-issue while others threatened to cancel their cards as a result. When it comes to one of the perks, I want to offer an alternate opinion: that the Priority Pass tweaks are not only a non-issue but a welcome change.

As a reminder, here's what the rumored change to the Sapphire Reserve's Priority Pass membership entails:

"Priority Pass Select access will be limited to two guests per visit. If customers have more than two guests, a fee of $27 will be charged to their Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card for each additional guest within two statement cycles."

Under the current policy, cardholders are allowed unlimited guest privileges, making this card rather unique among those that offer Priority Pass Select membership. Most others follow a similar policy to the new one outlined above, including The Platinum Card® from American Express:

"At any visit to a Priority Pass Select lounge that admits guests, you may bring in two guests for no charge. You will be charged $27 for any additional guests."

The same holds true for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express:

"All lounge visits are complimentary, with up to 2 guests free of charge. You will be charged $27 for any additional guest."

The new policy for Sapphire Reserve cardholders simply brings the card in line with most other premium travel rewards credit cards.

Why This Is a Positive Development

So how could a reduction in benefits be a good thing? Well for someone like me, who typically travels with just my wife and daughter, an added restriction in the number of guests allowed to accompany a cardholder into a Priority Pass lounge has a major (potential) plus: It will reduce the number of travelers who can access these lounges for free.

In the last year alone, I've encountered two times where I was denied access to a lounge due to overcrowding:

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  • The Club at MCO while flying WestJet to Calgary
  • The Alaska Airlines Board Room at LAX while flying American home to Florida

In both of these cases, the lounges had reached capacity for Priority Pass members, and each one wanted to ensure that either paid business-class passengers (The Club) or paying club members (Board Room) could get in. While I completely understand the rationale behind these restrictions, it's nevertheless frustrating to be unable to utilize a published perk on a credit card with a $450 annual fee.

It's impossible to know how many Sapphire Reserve cardholders were in those respective lounges when I was denied and whether they had brought in loads of guests, but I believe that the release of the card was likely a tipping point for Priority Pass overcrowding. While many new cardholders already had a membership through other cards, there were many who suddenly gained access for the first time. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen of my friends and family members who fall into this category, though I'm sure there are many more.

Believe it or not, this issue has only become more acute since then. The Hilton Amex Aspire card and the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card were both launched in January with full Priority Pass membership and 10 lounge visits per year (respectively). The upcoming launch of the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Credit Card will add yet another premium card with Priority Pass membership to the marketplace, potentially inflating the number of lounge-goers yet again. As a result, having the card with the most flexible guest policy put up some new guardrails may be a welcome change.

What If You Still Aren't a Fan?

Of course, many of you may still feel frustrated by these changes, especially if you're a family of 4+ and typically enjoy relaxing in a Priority Pass lounge prior to your flights. If this is the case, you could always add your spouse or another family member as an authorized user on the card, as this will come with his/her own Priority Pass membership (though also would incur an additional $75 annual fee).

Alternatively, you could have them simply apply for their own Chase Sapphire Reserve card. This would get them a large sign-up bonus and also allow you two to combine your Ultimate Rewards points in an effort to redeem them for maximum value.

Bottom Line

Anytime you see a headline about your favorite credit card with the word "devaluation" in it, your stomach probably does a backflip from anxiety (or is it just me?). When I first heard about some changes to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I immediately thought the worst was in store, but I was thankful to see that they were relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I would argue that the Priority Pass changes are a net positive for me and many others in that they may help reduce lounge overcrowding. Fingers crossed that actually comes to fruition as of August 26!

Photo of the Plaza Premium Lounge at London-Heathrow courtesy of Priority Pass.

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