It is worth noting that, while unfortunate, this change does not impact Priority Pass memberships that are bundled with premium credit cards such as the American Express Platinum card. Bank-issued Priority Pass memberships are marketed as “Priority Pass Select” and already specifically excluded United Club access. As of May 15th, there will technically not be a difference between paid “full” and complimentary “select” memberships anymore.
United’s decision is hardly surprising overall. The airline recently opened several new lounges featuring a modern new design (in Chicago, Seattle, San Diego, Boston, and London) and has embarked on a project to renovate their lounges worldwide. Just a few weeks ago United announced significant improvements to complimentary food offerings. These enhancements come at a cost, and while Priority Pass does not disclose the details of their financial arrangement with lounge operators, it is unlikely that United finds the revenue stream significant enough to offset the increased operating costs. Besides, some lounges often function at capacity, and crowding impacts the passenger experience. Incidentally, Delta also placed access restrictions after expanding their services throughout their Sky Club network, by charging for guests. So far, United’s move is friendlier to their own customers and we do hope that they will not follow Delta’s lead.
For Priority Pass members who have purchased a full membership, the loss of United Clubs may be significant if they often travel through the US. Priority Pass only offer alternative lounges at 17 out of 34 airports where United Clubs are available, and in addition, where alternative lounges are available, they are often located in separate terminals. For example, at Chicago O’Hare, Priority Pass members used to enjoy access to four United Club locations in terminals 1 and 2, in addition to the Swissport and Air France lounges in Terminal 5. While Priority Pass pitches the latter clubs as alternatives, the reality is that Terminal 5 is not connected airside, does not offer TSA PreCheck, and is officially off-limits to passengers departing from other terminals. Effectively, Chicago passengers are left without alternatives.
Overall, though, Priority Pass really shines outside the US. It offers a much more complete network of lounges in Europe and Asia, where incidentally, at least at major airports, the average lounge is superior to a US domestic lounge. The product will remain no doubt attractive to most international travelers.