Priority Pass members have complained that they have not been offered refunds, even though they have been unable to travel and many airport lounges have been closed since March.
Priority Pass sells annual memberships which, under normal circumstances, grant access to over 1,300 participating airport lounges & restaurants around the world. This includes 8 lounges and 15 restaurants at Australian airports. Some credit & charge cards, including Amex Platinum and Citi Prestige, also come with complimentary Priority Pass membership.
Which Priority Pass lounges are currently open?
During the height of the COVID-19 travel shutdown, a majority of airport lounges around the world were closed. There were various reasons for this, including health restrictions and insufficient passengers to make it economically viable to keep operating.
Priority Pass says that more lounges are starting to open again. As of 11 September 2020, 57% of global Priority Pass affiliated lounges were open. That’s an improvement from six week ago, when less than half of Priority Pass lounges were accepting guests. Of the 738 lounges currently open, 153 are in China and 93 are in Russia.
But there are currently no Priority Pass lounges open in Australia. This includes the Rex domestic lounges in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, which are normally available to Priority Pass members but remain closed indefinitely. With Australians effectively banned from travelling overseas since March 2020, that makes it extremely difficult for Australians to get value out of their Priority Pass memberships.
The good news is that there are currently seven airport bars & restaurants in Australia that are now open and accepting Priority Pass cards:
- Corretto Café & Bar, Brisbane (International terminal)
- Graze Grill & Bar, Brisbane (Domestic terminal)
- Merlo Café, Brisbane (Domestic terminal)
- Bar Pulpo by MoVida, Melbourne (International/Terminal 2)
- Velocity Expresso & Bar, Gold Coast
- Bistro 2020 & Bar, Sydney (Terminal 2)
- Bar Roma, Sydney (Terminal 3)
Two of the seven participating airport bars & restaurants in Australia that are currently open are located in international terminals, after immigration. This is no use to Australians that cannot travel overseas. But those in Queensland and New South Wales can at least still access their food & beverage credits at five restaurants in the domestic airport terminals of Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sydney.
Under this arrangement, Priority Pass members can access a AU$36 food & beverage credit in lieu of a lounge visit. This does give some value to Prestige members and those with unlimited lounge visits via their credit card (except American Express cards), as all lounge & restaurant visits are included in the membership. (You do need to present a same-day boarding pass to claim the benefit.)
But Priority Pass members with “Standard” membership would need to pay USD32 (~AU$44) each time they access their AU$36 credit – so there’s no benefit there. Meanwhile, “Standard Plus” membership costs USD269 (~AU$370) per year and includes 10 annual lounge visits. By accessing the $36 food & beverage credit 10 times, you still wouldn’t quite have recovered the cost of your membership.
Even for Australian “Prestige” members, access to restaurant vouchers at three domestic airports is not exactly what they paid for. To this day, the Priority Pass website still advertises access to “1,300+ lounges”.
This arrangement also provides no benefit to Amex Platinum & Centurion cardholders in Australia, whose complimentary Priority Pass membership now excludes airport restaurants.
Lounges that are currently closed are still listed on the Priority Pass website, but there is a notice about the temporary closure under the “Opening Hours” section on each individual lounge page.
A full list of Priority Pass lounges that are currently open, which is updated weekly, is available here.
No Priority Pass refunds, just 3-month membership extensions
Despite the difficulty in accessing many of the benefits of their memberships, Priority Pass members have not been offered refunds. Instead, existing customers that purchased their memberships directly from Priority Pass have received a 3-month extension on their membership.
In addition, Priority Pass has offered a further 3-month extension to customers that renew their membership for another year. In some cases, where customers have complained, Priority Pass has also offered 10% off the renewal as a “gesture of goodwill”.
That’s little help to Australians that purchased a Priority Pass membership in late 2019 or early 2020 and haven’t been able to use it due to the lounge closures and travel bans.
“Priority Pass is aware that many members may feel frustrated with the current situation, especially when travel is not possible,” a spokesperson for the company told Australian Frequent Flyer.
“Yet where travel is possible, the network of lounges is increasingly opening up” the spokesperson added, noting that many international lounges have started to reopen. An average of 16 lounges have reopened each week for the past six weeks.
“Like many organisations, Priority Pass continues to review and adapt our approach in line with the ‘new normal’, in an effort to best support our customers, clients, partners and employees. They are continuously reviewing their membership extension strategy,” the Priority Pass spokesperson said.
Perhaps of interest, section 22 of the Priority Pass Conditions of Use states:
Customer accepts that Priority Pass is not liable for any direct or indirect loss to Customer, or any guests, arising from the provision or non-provision, whether in whole or in part, of any of the advertised benefits and facilities.
There’s little doubt that Priority Pass would have taken a financial hit from the pandemic. Its business model is similar to that of an insurance company; it relies on a large volume of members and an assumption that it will collect more in membership fees than it pays to the third-party airport lounges that provide the service.
But the lack of refunds from Priority Pass seems particularly unfair to members that have been unable to travel, or where lounges are still not open at the airports they use. The 3-month extensions may have seemed adequate when they were announced in April. But this is no longer the case as the pandemic has lasted much longer than three months!
In Australia, Qantas Club memberships have now been extended for 12 months. Qantas Club domestic lounges began to reopen in July 2020, although some lounges remain closed.
Virgin Australia Lounge members have so far been promised a six-month extension. But with Virgin’s lounges already closed for six months and not due to reopen anytime soon, Virgin Australia Lounge members will likely receive a further complimentary extension.