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As Priority Pass continues to expand its lounge offerings, it’s also adding more non-lounge options for its members. Visitors have already been enjoying such perks in Sydney, and now Priority Pass makes Portland International Airport (PDX) the go-to US destination for members who want to eat and drink for free without entering a lounge. As of July, there are three such spots at PDX (and there’s still an Alaska Airlines lounge available with Priority Pass).
I had booked a visit to Oregon to view the eclipse, and now I had a chance to experience another phenomenon: the opportunity to maximize free food and drinks by hitting all three Priority Pass non-lounges in one visit.
Priority Pass membership comes as a perk with a few different credit cards, including The Platinum Card from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card that happened to be in my wallet was from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, though since I was traveling solo, the perks for any guests were irrelevant.
For each stop on my airport tour, I would receive a $28 credit, simply by swiping my Priority Pass card. Could I really visit all three in one stop and get $84 worth of food and drink?
My flight landed at Terminal D and so my first stop was the nearby Capers Market. Flying out of Concourse D at PDX, you can’t miss the place; it’s directly in front of the TSA security checkpoint.
The market is wonderful. It includes a full bar with a fresh food menu, a bakery/coffee counter and an amazing array of prepared foods, wines, local craft beers, fruits and cheeses. This is some of the best selection and quality of consumables I’ve seen at any airport. And I was about to get some of it for free.
It was difficult to choose what to get, but knowing I had two more stops to make, I deferred on the self-gorging and opted for a gift for my Portland hosts: a bottle of wine. The cashier recommended a red that cost exactly $28 (no tax in Oregon). He told me that in his 10-hour shift, he gets about 20 people using Priority Pass at this location — and earlier today he had a group of eight people, each using their card with a guest. And I thought I was a maximizer.
Before my return flight a few days later, I stopped at Capers Market again and bought myself some snacks and souvenirs — a prepared salad, a block of cheese, a cup of cherries, a basket of blueberries and a box of honey sticks –and I couldn’t even spend $22 of my $28 allotment.
Concourse C hosts the other two locations, and a five-minute walk across the Concourse Connector provided some floor-to-ceiling views of the airfield.
I arrived next to Capers Cafe Le Bar, which featured table service, a short-order counter, full bar and wine counter. I sat at a table overlooking the runway and ordered from the menu. A singer played tunes on a piano nearby. This wasn’t a lounge, but still had all the amenities I like, such as free Wi-Fi .
Most entrees were pasta and seafood but I chose the roast beef sandwich and a chicken posole soup. (All soups are made here, the server told me proudly). It was a bit too early in the day for me to choose a wine from their list (the same $28 bottle from the market was $34 here) but it’s never too early for a vodka soda.
My food was delivered less than five minutes after I ordered and was mostly terrific. The soup was excellent: zesty, meaty, innovative and fresh. They are right to be proud. The sandwich, served with a bag of chips, was over-dressed for my taste, but had a good portion of moist, rare roast beef between two slabs of Russian rye bread. The cocktail was large and strong. The total cost without Priority Pass: $22.95. With: Free. And I could have added $5.05 more.
Sufficiently fed and a little buzzed, I arrived with optimism to the nearby House Spirits Distillery, about 50 yards into the concourse. With a large selection of t-shirts, gifts and packaged snacks, I was looking forward to picking up some novelties and heading out. Unfortunately, the Priority Pass credit is only valid for their poured beverages. I had no choice but to meet my journalistic commitment by getting day-drunk.
In downtown Portland, House Spirits Distillery makes its own rum, whiskey, vodka and more. The PDX location is the world’s only distillery tasting room in an airport. I hope it won’t be the last. The only drawback is also its asset: the alcohol. As a tasting room, there are no snacks or soft drinks available with Priority Pass. If you’re here, you’re here to try some booze (and you need to show your ID).
The atmosphere leaves something to be desired — you’re in the middle of a concourse with no windows — but a live guitarist nearby and the trusty PDX Wi-Fi helped out again.
I opted for the perfectly priced $28 Sampler Flight, which came with four 1/4-ounce tastings of various Westward whiskeys plus a choice of two 4-ounce cocktails. I chose the Cucumber Collins and the Pineapple Breeze. I chose well. The Cucumber Collins was delicious and summery and the Pineapple Breeze not nearly as sour or disgusting as “pineapple drinking vinegar” would suggest. The cocktails were exceptionally well made and I was surprised to find myself preferring them to the whiskey.
The Sampler Flight also came with a free glass for me to take home. I can’t wait to return to complete the set.
Priority Pass is trying to get me drunk!
Seriously though, it’s ridiculous how good of a value this is. Frankly, even paying cash for everything I had would not have made me upset. The prices are very fair for the quality I got. It was actually a challenge to spend $28 at each place. And if I were traveling with guests, I could get at least another $84 from my airport tour.
Priority Pass gets a rap for not having awesome offerings in the US, especially with some lounges throttling back guest access — including the Alaska Airlines lounge at PDX. But if Portland is any indication, Priority Pass is innovating to offer even better experiences with real quality and tremendous value. Each of the three spots provided a much happier experience than at most lounges I visit.
When you consider I could have also added a stop at the Delta Sky Club (courtesy of my Amex Platinum), I’ll never again fly into Portland hungry. And for those who live in Portland, why not pick up a free bottle of wine every time you return home?
Even if you don’t maximize all options at PDX, a visit to any of these non-lounges should be a priority you don’t pass up.
All photos courtesy of the author.
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