If everyone is a VIP, where do you put all the actual VIP’s? For years, I’ve argued against the mass market lounge concept. It’s a nice thought, but when the terminal is more peaceful than the lounge, something has gone wrong.
Now, how people access airport lounges is beginning to change rapidly, with Plaza Premium dropping Priority Pass and a shakeup of credit card benefits on the way.
Plaza Premium Drops Priority Pass
I never thought many lounge concepts ever made much sense as a business model, even as attractive as the marketing materials could make it all sound.
You’re selling something based on the idea of exclusivity and amenities, while trying to ram the spaces to the rafters, while cutting amenities to maximize revenue? That’s kinda like being a vegan stuffing your face with meat. They’re disparate concepts.
The TL;DR Version
Plaza Premium, the world’s largest independent lounge operator, is ending its primary relationships with Priority Pass and Lounge Key. This means many people who access Plaza Premium lounges via a credit card perk or a Priority Pass or Lounge Key membership, either on its own or as a credit card benefit, will no longer be able to enter most, but apparently not all Plaza Premium lounges globally.
The scoop was unveiled by Executive Traveller and is a major development for credit card perks and travel benefits, with many reverberations still to come.
The big exception? Amex Platinum. Plaza Premium lounges are available via the Amex Global Lounge Collection, so even with the loss of PriorityPass access, Platinum Card members still have full access to these spaces by showing their physical Platinum Card. For everyone else, such as Chase or Citi premium card holders, not so much.
Plaza Premium Was A Case Study In Lounge Overcrowding
Plaza Premium was the first non airline lounge operator to really notice the dismal impact which making lounge entry rules “too accessible” could have on experience. Hong Kong International Airport was an all too perfect example.
At the standard Plaza Premium Lounge in Hong Kong, anyone who visited could see the lounge space long before they arrived, thanks to a snaking queue. Ugh. Nowhere to sit once inside and not much to eat or drink either.
Smart travelers often pulled a 180° and just bought lunch elsewhere and found an empty gate area to sit in quiet, rather than enjoying their “free” space, neck and neck with masses. What’s VIP about that?
Sure, as a business case, the Plaza Premium lounge received a modest fee from PriorityPass when users swiped in, but overcrowding and constant reductions to service and amenity levels, including food and drinks, made it hardly discernible from public spaces, and hardly the ‘lounge dream’ which travelers are sold on.
It wasn’t sustainable, and certainly wasn’t an experience worth paying for. In covid-19 times, with occupancy caps, that strain became more apparent.
Yet only a few feet away, the Plaza Premium First lounge, which required a co-pay for PriorityPass members, and was otherwise limited to paying guests or premium cabin airline travelers, was an oasis with high class booze, food and ambiance. It was worth the co-pay. Less, can in fact be “more”, and the lounge competed on a level with top spaces.
Plaza Premium is following in the footsteps of American Express, which recently announced a reduction in guest access for Centurion Lounges, cutting the number of people who automatically have access to their lounge spaces. The hope is that the new caps on entry will allow for even more refinement in food and beverage and greater sense of value for guests able to escape the crowds, rather than enter them.
If You Have PriorityPass Or LoungeKey
If you have PriorityPass or LoungeKey, either as a standalone subscription, or a perk of a premium credit card in your wallet, it’s now worth “less” than it was before. You’ll have far fewer lounges to access as travel rebounds, at least for now.
Plaza Premium is one of the larger global airport lounge operators, with spaces in a countless number of US and international gateways, most of which all PriorityPass and LoungeKey members will largely be locked out of. LoungeKey, locked out, get it?
The good news is, this should warrant a pivot from many credit card issuers to find better solutions, much like what American Express has done with its massive global lounge collection, and what Capital One is beginning to bring, with its first flagship lounge, destined for Washington Dulles.