Every once in a while, there’s a shake up in every industry. Think back when iPhone took over the phone industry, think Tesla on a mission to dominate the Electric Vehicles industry. While this latest piece of news might not be on that epic proportion, this latest move by Plaza Premium will certainly cause ripple effects to millions of travellers on their future lounge access opportunities for their flights.
Plaza Premium Splits with Priority Pass
Plaza Premium, the world’s largest independent lounge operator from Hong Kong, has concluded its business relationship with Priority Pass and Lounge Key starting 1 July 2021. This means that MILLIONS of 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 all Plaza Premium Lounges globally.
Plaza Premium has confirmed that not all Plaza Premium Lounges will be excluded from Priority Pass. Select lounges will still be eligible.
Frequent travellers would know that Plaza Premium lounges generally have higher quality than your run-of-the-mill lounge. They also have a few revolutionary Plaza Premium First facilities, which require an upcharge), but they were always a welcome place of retreat during your stopover or before your flight.
I could testify to that, since I previously had the opportunity to visit a few Plaza Premium Lounges before borders were closed. I had particular fond memories of my time at the one in Singapore Changi Airport and Melbourne International Airport, both which seem to be dropping out of Priority Pass access.
The possible reason for this development? One word: Crowds. It’s well documented that Plaza Premium partnered with almost every lounge membership program available, which would often lead to severe overcrowding. Along with social distancing, this move will no doubt alleviate this problem, although it’s worth noting that DragonPass, another lounge membership programme, will still retain access. Other bank programmes and airlines which Plaza Premium has direct contracts with, which we will discuss below, will still retain access.
The Impact on Travellers
Yes, the world might not see much travelling now, but it’s good to brace ourselves for the upcoming trips we have ahead.
For example, as of August 2021, Priority Pass/LoungeKey will have 0 offerings for places of rest at over 10-15 airports and terminals. These include major hubs like Melbourne, Hong Kong and London Heathrow Terminal 2 & 4 amidst others. This is no doubt a huge loss.
For majority of our readers based in Singapore who are Priority Pass/LoungeKey holders, you will be relieved to know that while the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 1 and Blossom Lounge in Terminal 4 will no longer be accessible, you still have these lounges available.
As you can see, you will still have options in Terminal 1 but no more at Terminal 4 (Update: Blossom Lounge is still thankfully open to Priority Pass holders!) However, do remember that after passing through customs, there is nothing stopping you to hop over to another Terminal to access the lounge with your Priority Pass/Lounge Pass! Just remember to buffer enough time to go back before boarding!
Affected/Unaffected Credit Cards
Credit Cards offer complimentary lounge access via partnerships with the lounge operators as mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, the fallout for the Singapore credit cards seems massive, with about 75% of credit cards offering Priority Pass/Lounge Pass. Popular cards like the Citi PremierMiles/DBS Altitude and even the mass affluent HSBC Visa Infinite/SCB Visa Infinite are not exempted.
Thus, if you want to retain access to Plaza Premium lounges, you will want to look specifically at the AMEX Platinum Charge/OCBC Voyage/UOB Visa Infinite. These cards are with Dragon Pass or possess direct contracts with Plaza Premium, so they are unaffected.
On a global level, the story is unfortunately similar. Our global friends in the miles & points space also report that many North American cards like Citibank, TD, Chase are losing access, and are scrambling too to fill in the gaps, especially since travel in the Western world seems to be reviving faster than us here in Asia.
This is one of the bigger shake ups in the world of airport lounges, and come 1 July 2021, millions of cardholders will lose their beloved lounge access. On the bright side, I fully expect the Plaza Premium lounge experience to improve significantly due to the sheer number of Priority Pass/LoungeKey holders.
Personally, my main card for lounge access has always been OCBC Voyage, while supplemented by a Priority Pass card. However, 90% of my clients have solely held Priority Pass/LoungeKey access, so I have recommended and seen an increase in AMEX and OCBC Voyage applications since more than 15 frequently travelled airports only have Plaza Premium lounges.
My conjecture is that since banks regularly negotiate these contracts with these providers, I won’t be surprised to see more banks taking up direct partnership agreements with Plaza Premium to mitigate the inconvenience to their cardholders.
It’s also important to not exaggerate the loss; Priority Pass/LoungeKey still holds (for now?) the biggest networks of lounges in global airports, so to leave them at home will be a huge mistake. It remains to be seen how they will fill the gaps in their shrinking network, but for now, keep a lookout on the rise of Plaza Premium!