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Club lounges at busy airports are oases for weary travelers, offering respite from the crowds, noise, and general chaos. Equipped with comfy seating, cable TV, and open bars, they're the most civilized way to wait out flight delays.
The problem is, they're tightly bound to individual carriers. Admission to American Airlines (AMR
) 38 Admirals Clubs, for example, requires either flying in the front of an AA plane that day or an annual membership fee starting at $450. And where do you retreat in airports not served by American?
The solution is Priority Pass, a service that provides unlimited access for $400 a year to more than 500 lounges in 275 cities around the world. Other membership options: Pay $99 per year and $24 for each lounge visit, or $249 per year with the first 10 visits free.
Launched 15 years ago in Britain, Priority Pass has 1.7 million black-and-gold-card-carrying members, only 50,000 of whom live in the U.S., according to its president, Terry Evans. The service hasn't been promoted heavily lest it become too successful. Priority Pass runs the risk of alienating its airline partners if it drains off too many of their members or the lounges start getting too packed.
The service's largest competitor is American Express (AXP
). Platinum and Centurion cardholders can get free access to select American, Delta (DAL
), Northwest (NWA
), and Continental (CAL
) lounges. The catch: They gain entry to a club only if they're flying the carrier that operates it. If your accountant or tax preparer starts asking tougher questions or demanding more documents to back up your income and deductions, here's why: A little-noticed law passed as part of the recent Iraq war-funding bill significantly raises the fines tax preparers must pay if the Internal Revenue Service determines that they should have known a client's claims were unlikely to pass muster.
If the IRS questions a return, tax preparers must prove "more likely than not" (a 50%-plus chance) that the move might have been found acceptable, says Tom Ochsenschlager, vice-president at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Previously, all they had to show was a "realistic possibility," or roughly a 33% chance. Preparers who fail to make their case could face penalties of $1,000 per return or half their fee, whichever is larger. That's a hike from $250 under the previous law.
The new law does not apply to taxpayers who prepare their own returns. However, there is talk on Capitol Hill of making individuals subject to the "more likely than not" standard as well. That's unfair, says Ochsenschlager, because the standard would be too difficult for most people to meet.