Using the Priority Pass for airport perks

This guest post from Marla Taner is an example of the things money nerds do when they get together. I first met Marla five years ago. Since then, she's become a good friend. Plus, she's my “travel hacking” mentor. (Travel hacking, for the uninitiated, is the practice of using credit card points and various loyalty programs to get free or discounted flights and hotel stays.) Marla was in town earlier this week, so she took the opportunity to teach me about the Priority Pass.

I met J.D. in 2013 at the first-ever money chautauqua in Ecuador. We see each other just once or twice a year. When we do, we have a lot of fun.

Part of the fun for me is teasing J.D. about his seeming inability to master the basics of travel hacking. Let me give you an example. J.D. first learned about travel hacking in 2011 when some of his friends urged him to sign up for a Chase credit card in order to get 100,000 British Airways miles. (He even wrote about the experience for Get Rich Slowly!)

That was seven years ago and he still hasn't used the 100,000 Avios he earned as his sign-up bonus. (British Airways calls their airmiles Avios.)

My Travel Miles Balance

What started out as good-nature teasing has turned in this: public shaming. (Sorry, my friend.)

Note from J.D.: The funny thing to me is that one of the GRS readers who saw that article was Brad Barrett. He signed up for the card and got hooked on travel hacking. He now runs the enormously successful Travel Miles 101 website. He's used his 100,000 Avios. I haven't.

I've come to realize that the only way to teach J.D. about travel hacking — and to convince him to use those Avios — is to show him how it works in real life.

Eighteen months ago, I convinced him to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card in order to get the 100,000 mile sign-up bonus. Earlier this year, another friend and I showed him how to hack a three-day hotel stay in Clearwater, Florida. And this week, I decided to show him how awesome his home-town airport is.

Money Nerds Unite!

After a great weekend at Camp Mustache in Seattle, Miss Mazuma and I hopped in a car with Emma Pattee and her hubby to make the four-hour drive to J.D.'s house. He and Kim grilled us dinner on their new deck and let us soak in their brand-new hot tub. (We also got to meet their death squad: three cats and a dog who are born killers. I'll spare you the photo of the dead snake and squirrel.)

I was planning to fly home to Vancouver, B.C. the next afternoon (using just 7500 credit card points for a $220 flight — a 3x redemption value!). I realized this was also a chance to rope my buddies into trying the famous (in travel hacking circles) PDX Priority Pass hat trick.

Priority PassA Priority Pass membership allows you and your guest(s) access to a variety of airport lounges around the world. Most lounges offer perks like comfy seating, light snacks and beverages (often alcoholic), sometimes showers, sleeping areas, etc. The Portland airport is unique in that Priority Pass has partnered with three different food and beverage outlets to offer members incredible value while waiting for your next flight.

J.D. and I had each scored a Priority Pass membership when signing up for our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards. (If you're a frequent traveler, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers other great features such as TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry, no foreign transaction fee, and more. The card is expensive — $450 each year — but includes a $300 annual travel credit, which reduces the net cost to $150 per year.)

What sets the Priority Pass offer for Portland apart is that you can visit all three participating establishments on the same day. You simply show your Priority Pass membership card and your boarding pass at each location, then you can enjoy the rewards!

With flights booked out of Portland, the four of us headed to the airport to enjoy an adventure.

The Priority Pass in Action

Our first stop was Capers Market on Concourse D. This cute little shop sells to-go food along with local Oregon products, such as Olympia Provisions charcuterie, local cheeses, coffee, chocolate, and more. Capers Market also has a wide variety of local wine. The Priority Pass allows the carholder and guests to each spend $28 on products in the store. (But not on to-go alcohol.)

The four of us loaded up on loot. Together, we left with $112 of great stuff. It was fun to watch J.D. try to figure all of this out. But once he realized that tons of people do this every day, that it's part of what his Chase Sapphire Reserve annual fee goes toward, he relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Look at his concentration in this photo!

Using the Priority Pass in a shop

Our next stop was the Capers Cafe, a short walk away on Concourse C. This large restaurant had plenty of seating and an inviting bar area with an extensive menu. We told our server we were Priority Pass members, and in turn he explained that the program was popular with his guests. “Probably half the folks who eat here use the Priority Pass,” he told us.

Once again, we had $112 ($28 each) to work with. Because food and drink at Capers Cafe are reasonably priced — the Portland airport has rules against exorbitant price mark-ups — and because we're money nerds, we stretched our budget to include a nice bottle of wine, an appetizer platter, four lunches, and a shared dessert.

Using the Priority Pass at a restaurant

The food and service were great. We tipped generously and left stuffed — but not too stuffed. We still had to complete our Priority Pass hat trick!

Our final stop was the House Spirits Distillery, also on Concourse C. (This is the world's only airport spirits tasting room.) By this point, we were openly giggling at our bounty. It seemed to good to be true.

Again, we were welcomed by a friendly staff member who was very familiar with the Priority Pass. She explained our options. Our $28 allotment could buy us each a cocktail sampler (seven mini-cocktails) or we could choose other more modest options like the five-glass whiskey or cocktail flights. (You can't use the Priority Pass for bottle or merchandise purchases, but J.D. ended up paying cash for a bottle of whisky and a branded mug.)

Using the Priority Pass at a bar

It's important to note that while the Priority Pass is always awesome because it allows you access to airport lounges, it's only in Portland that you can enjoy this sort of adventure with the program. And even the deal there is subject to change at any time.

So, there you have it: The Priority Pass granted us $336 of value and one afternoon of debauchery. It was fun catching up with great friends before heading out in different directions. Thanks to J.D., Miss Mazuma, and Emma for making my PDX Priority Pass hat trick dream come true. And thanks to Chase and Priority Pass for the excellent value!

Best of all, I think I may have finally sold somebody on the benefits of travel rewards. Right, J.D.?

Marla doesn't have a blog but she's a familiar face at various blogging and money meet-ups, where she frequently gives presentations on travel hacking. She's also been on a couple of podcast recently: Mad Fientist and Choose FI.

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Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
3 years ago

I’ll admit to also not being good at “travel hacking”. It seems that you can use a $249 membership card to get $28 worth of food at my home airport, which I never spend any time in because it’s never a layover for me. These things always seem to work out this way for me, so I don’t tend to bother. If I could actually get free or discounted flights out of this, it would be worth it, but these things always seem to turn into, realistically, 1% or 2% back on credit card purchases, which is nice but hardly… Read more »

3 years ago

Membership cost vs food credit: Picking up the membership on your own would be $249, true, but in this case its included for “free” with the card. Maybe someone is picking up the card explicitly for this benefit, but most are going for the rewards earned, mentioned below. Rewards earning and redemption value: The “3x redemption” speaks to an industry baseline of 100 points per $1 of reward, so $220 instead of $75 for 7500 points is a boon. It is not explicitly mentioned in the article, but using the Chase Sapphire Reserve on dining and travel (airfare, hotel, rental,… Read more »

3 years ago
Reply to  FoxTesla

I can’t say I follow your response (likely due to the lingo) but I do follow Tyler’s points. Could you rephrase this line? >”The “3x redemption” speaks to an industry baseline of 100 points per $1 of reward, so $220 instead of $75 for 7500 points is a boon.” I’m sure it’s me, but the ‘$220 instead of $75″ seems backward? Oh, are you saying that typically she would only get $75 worth of airfare, but instead she got $220? So if that’s the case, what mechanism allowed for that? A “sale”? Ownership of the card itself? I don’t think… Read more »

3 years ago

To me travel rewards are like coupons. I’d wind up spending more to take advantage of the deals.

I have a 5% back gas card that gives me 3% back on dining out. Then a 2% cash back card for everything else that drops right into my brokerage account, so I’m good.

Christine Hughey
Christine Hughey
3 years ago

Excellent article Marla! I’m now extra bummed that my husband Jack and I never got the chance to use our Priority Pass while we had our Chase Reserve. Nashville definitely needs a Priority Pass lounge!

Thanks for sharing all of your tips with our community!

3 years ago

That deal almost makes me want to take a trip to Portland.

3 years ago

We have this same Priority Pass through the Chase Sapphire. It’s been a great card for us – the travel credit alone almost makes up the cost of the card, as well as travel points which we use to go to Vegas a couple of times a year. It is so fun to use the passes to get into the lounges at airports. If we get there early, we’ll grab drinks and snacks in the lounge. If the lounge is full, we go to the approved restaurants and use our credit there. I think they’ve changed the rules recently, but… Read more »

1 year ago

Love it! We’ve just written up a priority pass travel hack strategy for Singapore, using an arrivals lounge to bypass a hotel stay. Check it out on the Mr. Thrifty blog:

Keep up the great content 🙂

Yours in good deals,

LP Thrifty