American Express to charge for Centurion Lounge guests

Growing crowds at airport lounges are forcing airlines and lounge operators to take unexpected measures.

By Bloomberg News, January 13 2023
American Express to charge for Centurion Lounge guests

American Express is clamping down on the generous guesting policy at its Centurion Lounges to leave more space for its Platinum and Centurion card holders.

From February 1, American Express will axe complimentary guest privileges for most Platinum cardholders and replace it with a charge of US$50 per guest (the current arrangement permits two guests free per visit).

There’ll be an exception made for high-spending customers who notch up US$75,000 per year on their Amex Platinum or Amex Business Platinum Card, and those holding a Corporate Platinum or Centurion card.

However, these changes apply only to US card holders; a spokesperson for American Express tells Executive Traveller its Australian card members “are not impacted.”

But American Express isn’t alone in battling lounge crowds. 

Delta bans lounge access for staff and economy flyers

Delta Air Lines last year restricted Sky Club members from entering its lounges until three hours prior to their departure time.

As the beginning of this month it halted the sale of Sky Club memberships to ‘non-elite’ travellers while raising the price for qualifying travellers from US$545 to US$695.

From February 2, many frequent flyers will be barred from Sky Club lounges if they’re booked into economy on international flights, along with Sky Club members on ‘basic economy’ tickets.

But even that’s not enough: US blog View From The Wing reports an internal company communication in which Delta acknowledges the “lines out the door” of their clubs and high-ranking “360 and Diamond Medallion Members  waiting for seats once inside.”

As a result, Delta is also banning its own employees from the lounges when they’re flying on company business or a ‘non-revenue’ ticket.

Half a world away, Qatar Airways is easing the squeeze by tapping into the scope of its sprawling Doha hub to open four new lounges in a new wing of the terminal.

This will include what is reportedly the world’s largest business class lounge – the Al Mourjan Lounge North, occupying a staggering 9,000m² (97,000ft², or around 2.2 acres) – plus six lounges dedicated to Silver, Gold and Platinum-grade frequent flyers travelling in economy.

All this might sound like the very definition of a ‘first-world problem’, but airport lounges are becoming increasingly packed as post-pandemic travel surges in wave after unprecedented wave.

Definitely not ‘a good problem to have’

The All Nippon Airways lounge at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport was once an uncrowded refuge of calm for business travelers, favored for such perks as free made-to-order noodles, a private shower, and comfy chairs with views of the tarmac and planes taxiing.

But on a recent Tuesday afternoon while connecting flights at the busy airport, Paige Emerich, a United Airlines frequent flyer, had to circle through the lounge several times before she could even find a seat.

“It was packed, packed, packed,” she says. “I’m still trying to be socially distanced, but there’s no social distancing in there right now.”

Emerich’s experience isn’t unique. Business class lounges around the world can be standing room-only as corporate road warriors get back on planes, affluent flyers treat themselves to no-expense-spared holidays, and regular travelers pay for lounge memberships or premium credit cards that offer access to escape the hustle and bustle of airport departure halls.

The packed lounges come at a critical time for airlines. After almost two years of virtually no international travel, they’re looking to revive earnings and trim losses with sky-high airfares.

Disappointing their most valuable and revenue-generating premium passengers with poor service is something they can ill afford.

There are numerous reasons business class lounges – which almost always offer goodies including free Champagne, wine, spirits, quality nibbles and Internet access – are more crowded than usual.

Once the preserve of first and business class passengers or loyal frequent flyer program members with elite status, many lounges are also available to other travelers through paid access.

Meanwhile, premium credit cards such as American Express also offer lounge access as a benefit to some customers. 

Premium pressure points

The recent jump in the number of delayed and canceled flights has also caused more travelers to spend longer times in these once-exclusive enclaves. Lingering Covid-19 curbs have left some traditionally busy aviation hubs – Hong Kong, for instance – largely off limits, funneling more travelers through alternatives such as Singapore or Tokyo.

And some lounges simply haven’t reopened since the pandemic, boosting crowding at those that are.

The explosion in demand has made it almost impossible for airport lounges to increase their overall footprint in response, says David Flynn, editor in chief of Executive Traveller, a website focused on premium travel.

Waves of people who’ve held off on traveling are now ready to fly, and we’re going to see “more making a beeline for the airport lounge,” Flynn says.

“Frequent flyers have especially been coming back in droves, and their status in airline loyalty programs gives them access to business class lounges even when they’re booked in economy or premium economy class. This adds to the overall capacity pressure on lounges.”

Business and first class – which include lounge access in the ticket – have also exploded in popularity.

“Travellers have moved from stockpiling points to spending them. Flynn recounts.

“They’re finally cashing in all those frequent flyer points and miles they’ve earned on the ground during the pandemic – through everyday spending and online shopping – but haven’t had the chance to use.”

“Now they’re splurging on long-awaited trips, and often doing so in business class, where lounge access is part of the package.”

Loyalty at risk

Last month, Stephen Dorrough was traveling from Salt Lake City to Tokyo on business.

While connecting at Los Angeles International Airport, he visited both United Airlines’ Polaris lounge, available to first and business class travelers on long-haul trips, and the Club lounge.

The latter was less busy than the more exclusive Polaris one, he says.

“The lounge experience of seven or eight years ago has changed,” says Dorrough. “It’s not so relaxing because there are lots of people around.”

It’s unlikely the overcrowding will end soon. Travel operators from TUI, the world’s biggest package tour operator, to British online travel agent Thomas Cook Group report demand that’s above pre-pandemic levels.

Europe’s travel industry continues to see bumper sales, despite average travel prices being  above pre-pandemic levels.

At a time when many full-service carriers are counting on premium and business travelers to buoy profits, perks that disappoint can risk alienating these prime customers.

“If business lounges are constantly overcrowded and you don’t get the service you expect as a frequent traveler, you’ll be less loyal, which is the object of the lounge – to spur loyalty,” says George Ferguson, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Additional reporting by Executive Traveller

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media : the original article can be viewed here

02 Jun 2013

Total posts 54

I know some airlines are trialing "convenience shop" style offerings (in addition to their traditional lounge) where pax with lounge access can stop by and grab a complimentary takeaway coffee and/or snack. To me, that sounds like a smart, lower cost (ie: not space hungry) way to accommodate some pax who would otherwise be taking up real estate in the lounge.

I know if I was travelling on a domestic flight and could grab a good coffee and decent sandwich or snack on my way to the gate, it would probably limit the times I would enter the main lounge.

10 Dec 2019

Total posts 10

Not a bad idea at all. May also help lower the demand on onboard coffee & snacks.

10 Dec 2019

Total posts 10

"Paige Emerich, a United Airlines frequent flyer, had to circle through the lounge several times before she could even find a seat. “It was packed, packed, packed,” she says. “I’m still trying to be socially distanced, but there’s no social distancing in there right now.”

Paige, you're *never* going to find a single seat in a lounge with a six foot radius of anyone else. You're not being realistic. Go sit at an empty gate if you want that. Or alternatively, travel at with 5am departures and try find what you want, although most lounges would be closed.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 64

I must say that I'm not entirely happy at the eroding of the 'spirit' of the lounge access with One World, especially the disappointing precedent set by QR with seperate lounges for OW elites and those flying in F + J. However I think that generally we actually have it fairly good within Australia (yes, even with the packed lounges at peak times) Plus I find it mystifying that being an Elite with QF/Virgin gets us better lounge access within the US than their own members do. 

I've also always thought that the US Airline domestic lounge access arrangements for their FF's, specifically the need to have purchased lounge access membership despite FF status with Delta/AA/UA or class of travel is a poor outcome for loyal PAX. But removing lounge access rights for paid up Sky Club members flying in economy would immediately make me look to AA or UA for my next booking.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 153

There's an easy fix but many won't like my answer. We are simply now spoilt with many passengers flying as cheaply as possible and wanting all the perks the airlines can provide. This simply a sign of the times. To fix the issue we simply need to  following:

1. Cease Credit Card access.

2. No Premium Economy or Economy passengers flying on status.

3. Cease paid annual memberships and 1 visit access.

4. Only 1 guest per passenger.

We survived before Qantas Club memberships and FF status levels were introduced decades ago and we will survive these first world issues again. Does anyone remember the QF Captains Clubs of the 70's and 80's - only those flying F or J could enter. There were no memberships or status levels and the airline industry ran very well. To remove the above will cause mayhem in the economy ranks I am sure, but to solve the issue, I see little alternative. We had a good run!

09 Jan 2023

Total posts 6

On your second point, lounge access is a key benefit of elite status. Travellers would have little incentive to remain loyal to an airline or alliance if they did not receive lounge access despite holding top tier status and could instead shop around for the best deal.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 64

I must admit that I am not entirely happy with the more recent approach in One World to lounge access. With QR in particular complying with the rules but not, in my opinion, the spirit of lounge access by separating Elite FF's from those flying F + J. However I think that we generally have it fairly good within Australia, despite the issues with lounges being packed at peak times. It is also slightly ridiculous that QF Club/Gold/Plat. have better lounge access rights when flying AA than their own FFs. It has always seemed 'cheap' to me that those flying on AA/DL/UA short-haul domestic have to have additional lounge membership (or purchase entry) to access a lounge, despite the level of FF status or class of travel. So Delta's move to block paid up Sky Club members from accessing the lounge when flying economy would remove any value from their lounge membership program.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 108

The access restrictions employed by airlines are becoming bewildering for all flyers, regardless of the value of tickets purchased. Whilst the article highlights steps by a US airline (s), middle eastern companies are well represented in this debacle.  Unless one purchases one of the three most expensive business class ticket on Qatar, business ( lite) - never a cheap option,  will not get one into their exclusive Al Mourjan lounge.

It remains to be seen whether my QFF platinum will get me into their alternative platinum class lounge in Doha. A reply from a recent traveller who has experienced this dilemma would be appreciated.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 39

I am rather undecided as to whether current access policies by various airlines are too permissive or otherwise.

Making access to lounge exclusively for premium cabins passengers may reduce the crowd and maintain the air of exclusivity at the lounge and make it a much nicer place. This is especially true if I have spent a lot more dollars for premium cabins. I have occasionally forked out thousands of dollars for business class with Singapore Airlines only to be disappointed by such a crowded lounge at Changi

But as a customer, the value proposition of any frequent flyer program becomes almost non-existent: (1) Priority check-in - well just do online check-in, more and more airlines do online check in, even for international flights (Australia is still not there yet unfortunately) (2) Extra luggage allowance: never have to use it as I travel carry on or minimal luggage (3) Priority waitlist - do people still do waitlisting??? (4) Priority call centre: debatable (5) Priority upgrade: maybe, but becoming more and more difficult (6) Personalised greetings: I am not that precious, thank you very much (7)  Priority boarding: can always queue earlier, and for domestic flight it is a joke anyway.

I think the net effect is that I might stop being loyal to any particular airline/alliance.

Perhaps the solution is somewhere in the middle? Lounge access to premium cabin passengers, access based on status for Platinum and above, give access to Lifetime Gold (seriously, I think if one is loyal enough to reach LTG they deserve to be rewarded!), reasonable supplementary fee charged for Gold-level access, limit credit card access/complimentary access on non-peak hours.

I disagree with charging for guests as it seems rather petty and fosters ill-will on customers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 318

Couple infront of me yesterday afternoon were told they had to wait an hour before they could enter the Qclub in Sydney, not sure of the situation or if they were using lounge passes but I hadn’t heard of this happening before. 

Air Canada - Aeroplan

28 Feb 2015

Total posts 82

I read recently about some sort of Star Alliance credit card - and, sorry, I can't remember all the details - where if your spend was high enough you would get lounge access to SA lounges. I believe the card is currenly only available in Australia on a trial basis. But the really scary bit was that, while I think one's spend had to be something like $25,000 a year, the introductory offer only required a first-year spend of $4000 to get lounge access (please someone correct me if I have this wrong). It looks to me as if Star Alliance lounges - many of which are already hoplesslly overcrowded - will become a nightmare, with countless new people in them who have done no more than spend $4000 over a year on their CC.

30 Jun 2020

Total posts 6

Gold status with nominated SA airline after 4K spend in 90 days

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 389

Just go back to the basics of F & J ticket pax, status members (Gold, Platinum ++) and then x1 guest (or maybe 2). Cut out all the rest, no credit card holders, no guest passes, no paid access, no upgrades etc and those lounges will be manageable. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Jul 2020

Total posts 5

Bums on seats guys, bums on seats. The objective of any lounge operator is to have every seat occupied, surely, albeit at the behest of the most loyal and regular FF. It's nice when there's no one sitting next to you on a flight but do you begrudge the airline for being full? #JustSaying


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