Are Pandora Premium Perks Actually Worth The Price?

Launched back in 2005, Pandora might not be the hippest name in audio streaming anymore, but there's no debating the company's longevity. Now a subsidiary of the satellite radio juggernaut Sirius XM Holdings (NASDAQ: SIRI), Pandora is still one the most prominent ad-supported music-streaming services around and a leading platform for digital-audio advertising. The service can be used on nearly any device, ranging from mobile phones to desktop PCs to smart televisions.

Pandora's angle, if you will, is that it creates personalized playlists based on the preferences of its listeners as studied by an algorithm. Playlists can be defined by an artist, genre, listener mood, and more. The audio-streaming service is free to use, but subject to advertising and other restrictions. If you want to ditch the ads altogether and gain a few other perks, too, the company does offer two different paid subscription levels: Pandora Plus and Pandora Premium.

The mid-tier subscription, Pandora Plus, costs $4.99 a month or a slightly discounted $54.89 for a full year. For that, Pandora fans get ad-free listening, higher-quality audio than regular Pandora, the ability to listen to up to three stations offline, and unlimited skips. For the uninitiated, "Skips allow you to move past a song you don't want to listen to and onto the next song in your station," per Pandora. For Pandora superfans who want even more out of the legacy streaming service, there's the $9.99 per month Premium subscription, which we'll discuss in depth. But first, let's circle back to skips for just a sec.

A quick tutorial on Pandora skips

We've already established that both Pandora Plus and Pandora Premium give subscribers unlimited skips, but why is this important? There are several interactions with the Pandora app that tailor your musical preferences, but also happen to count as skips. For instance, when app users give a song a "thumbs down" by tapping the appropriate icon, it'll both skip past the song and remove it from your station. Therefore, if you don't like a song, give it a thumbs down. If you're merely not in the mood for a particular song, you can just skip it without banishing the song permanently. Finally, a third action exists called "I'm Tired of this Track." Like the name implies, this function skips the tracks and removes it from your station temporarily, not permanently.

Pandora listeners who listen for free receive a limited number of skips each day. If the maximum number of daily skips is reached, users may be given an option to receive a few more by listening to an ad or watching a short video (though this offer isn't guaranteed, as Pandora says users "may be given the option"). Although Pandora doesn't explicitly state how many skips free listeners receive, multiple third-party sources list it at six per hour, with a daily maximum of 12. Note that giving a song a thumbs down or "I'm Tired of this Track" also counts as using a skip.

Pandora Premium lets listeners play specific songs

For the ultimate Pandora experience, listeners can opt for Pandora Premium, which costs $9.99 a month or $109.89 if committing to an entire year at once. Upgrading to Premium also unlocks some discounted plans, like for students ($4.99/month), members of the military ($7.99/month), and families. The latter costs $14.99 per month or $164.89 per year, but includes up to six accounts.

Perhaps the defining feature of Pandora Premium versus Pandora Plus is the ability for Premium members to seek out and listen to a specific song by a specific artist as opposed to waiting for their favorite tracks to come up randomly as part of Pandora's curated playlists. Pandora Premium users can also create their own custom playlists consisting of songs that are specifically selected, then share those playlists with others.

Next, the audio quality of Pandora Premium is reportedly superior to Pandora Plus, which itself is already better than basic free Pandora. Finally, Pandora Premium members can listen to an unlimited amount of music when offline, rather than just three offline stations that Plus subscriptions afford.

Pandora Premium is competitive with similar services

In summary, Pandora users who pay for cellular data will find the unlimited offline listening feature to be handy when on the go, like in a car or exercising outdoors. As well, Premium users will enjoy the highest audio quality that the streaming service offers, plus the ability to share playlists and play specific songs on demand.

Still, there's no lack of competitors to Pandora Premium. For instance, retail giant Amazon has its Amazon Music and Amazon Music Unlimited services, both of which are discounted for Amazon Prime members (two of the perks of having an Amazon Prime subscription). Another well-known name in the music- and podcast-streaming space is Spotify (see our comparison of Spotify versus Apple Music). Comparing apples to apples (pun intended), Spotify also offers a more feature-rich Spotify Premium.

Evaluating all of the nuances of different audio subscription plans is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say that they all share many similarities, including price. If you're already comfortable with the Pandora ecosystem, its Premium upgrade is certainly comparable to other market leaders.