Priority Pass, a service that grants its members a free or subsidised entree to its numerous airport lounges all over the world, is a highly coveted item for frequent travellers. While most airline lounges are only available to their frequent fliers and business/first class customers, Priority Pass provides access to a lounge in most airports around the world for a fee. For instance, its most basic Standard plan, which costs US$99 annually, lets members enter any of its member lounges for a small fee of US$27. On the other end of the spectrum, its Prestige plan grants free lounge visits for an annual fee of US$399. But, is this service really worth the cost for most consumers in Singapore? We crunched the numbers to find out.
Most Consumers Don't Travel Frequently Enough for Priority Pass
For the vast majority of Singaporeans, paying for a Priority Pass membership would not be a financially wise decision because they simply don't travel frequently enough. For example, while a study by Criteo found that Singaporeans took an average of 5.2 trips in a year, this is likely highly skewed by a small portion of the population that travels very frequently. In fact, surveys conducted by the government shows that only 50% of the population travels overseas at least once a year, 70-80% of which travels 3 times or less per year, which confirms our own estimate of 1-3 trips per year. Given that it typically costs about S$60 to use an airport lounge as a non-member, even those who travel 3 times or less in a year (less than 6 lounge visits) would actually find it cheaper to pay for airport lounge visit on an a-la-carte basis without a membership.
Credit Cards Offer More Cost-Effective Ways of Gaining Lounge Access
Furthermore, most people who travel once or twice a year can receive complimentary lounge visit passes more cost-effectively by using certain miles credit cards. For example, both Citi PremierMiles Visa Card & DBS Altitude Card provide 2 complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge passes every year, while only charging S$192.6 of annual fee. Not only that, Citi PMV Card provides bonus miles for its members to offset this fee, while DBS Altitude Card waives its fee for anyone who spends S$25,000 per year. In a sense, these cards offer a "free" way of utilising the benefits of Priority Pass without needing to pay for it.
Even for those who travel more frequently, there are credit cards that offer better lounge access benefits. For example, both Citi Prestige Card & OCBC Voyage Card provide unlimited lounge access to its users. Although these cards charge a rather high annual fee of around S$500, they are still way more cost-effective ways of getting free airport lounge access all year around due to the fact that they provide mile rewards while Priority Pass's Prestige Plan costs a similar amount in annual fee (roughly S$560).
How About Getting a Frequent Flier Status for Free Lounge Usage?
For some people, opting to earn a frequent flier status with an airline like KrisFlyer Gold or Silver status could be an effective strategy of getting free airport lounge access. While Priority Pass has over 1,200 global locations across 500 cities, most airlines also grant lounge access globally through their alliance networks like Star Alliance, SkyTeam and OneWorld. This is especially valuable since the quality of Priority Pass lounges is not always consistent across locations, and is sometimes even lower than that of airline lounges or luxury options like the Amex Centurion Lounge. However, this could be somewhat limiting for budget fliers who prefer the flexibility of flying with any airline that offers the cheapest flight, since they would have to continue flying with a particular company to earn this status.
Furthermore, we should note that this is an option only available for those who travel extremely frequently. For instance, Singapore Airlines requires one to earn 50,000 Elite miles in 12 months in order to qualify for its gold membership. Given that you can earn about 2-3 miles for every S$1 you spend on a flight, this would mean that you have to spend around S$17,000 to S$25,000 per year on Singapore Airlines economy flights to earn its gold membership status, not a viable option for most consumers. Indeed, it seems like our initial advice above about using certain travel credit cards is the most economical way of getting Priority Pass benefits, especially given that these cards also help you earn miles that can be used to pay for flights.