The Democratization of Airport Lounges

The Democratization of Airport Lounges

When she has time to be at the airport early, Anne Marie Mitchell, a communications professor in Chicago, treats herself to a few hours in the airport lounge with either a free pass from her airline credit card or a day-use fee.

“You have access to a bar, nice clean bathroom, snacks and it’s not crowded,” she said. “This makes traveling more fun.”

Airline lounges, bastions of civilization in airport terminals that, thanks to flight delays and cancellations, are often overcrowded with irritated passengers, have long been retreats for the frequent flyer elite, forward-class ticket holders and holders of expensive credit cards.

Now, with leisure travelers leading the airline industry’s recovery as business is delayed, some clubs have made it easier for relatively infrequent passengers to claim some perks before departure, while others – including Delta Sky Club, which introduced a new rule that no user can enter the club more than three hours before their scheduled flight – are dealing with growing pains.

Historically, legacy airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines in the United States, have operated lounges for passengers flying First and Business Class, as well as frequent flyers who qualify for membership. They sometimes offer standard clubs (such as United Club at United) and more exclusive clubs for forward class fliers on long-haul international routes (United Polaris).

Another class of clubs welcomes members flying on any airline. These include the Priority Pass, which offers access to more than 1,300 lounges in more than 600 cities (membership plans include 10 visits for $299 per year).

In this case, a lounge can be an actual airline club, such as For example, Hawaiian Airlines’ Plumeria Lounge, which Honolulu Priority Pass members have access to. public airport restaurants that offer grocery credit, such as B. Stephanie’s Restaurant at Boston Logan International Airport; other club brands such as Minute Suites, private rooms, at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; or airport amenities like the Be Relax Spa at Los Angeles International Airport, where members receive credit for a chair massage.

Increasingly, lounge users are not airline supporters, but holders of expensive credit cards.

“It’s becoming increasingly popular to combine lounge access with a premium credit card,” said Gary Leff, who writes the airline blog View From The Wing. “It’s a way of selling tickets and retaining members.”

American Express Platinum cardholders have access to many airline lounges, as well as the company’s Centurion lounges, found in 13 American cities — with new additions to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and Washington’s Reagan National in 2023 — for more total than 1,400 lounges worldwide. The card costs $695 per year, with up to $400 per year credited towards hotel and airfare expenses, among other things.

Now other banks are getting into the lounge game, including Capital One, which opened its first lounge — featuring stationary bike storage, showers and craft cocktails — in Dallas-Fort Worth in November, with planned follow-ups for Denver and Washington Dulles outside of Washington, DC, 2023. Admission is limited to holders of the bank’s Venture X card, which costs $395 per year, and their guests; Card perks include credits of up to $300 toward travel purchases.

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JPMorgan Chase has announced that starting next year it will open its own brand, Chase Sapphire Lounge by the Club, with six locations worldwide, including Boston, Phoenix and New York’s LaGuardia Airport, serving Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders ($550 per year ) Benefits will be available, including $300 credit towards travel purchases and Priority Pass membership).

In these times of flight chaos, many travelers are willing to buy their way out of airport hell by sitting on the floor to get close to the only available outlet in the concourse, a salvation offered by pay-per-use clubs becomes.

The Plaza Premium Group, which operates restaurants, lounges and hotels in more than 70 airports worldwide, recently launched its PPL Pass Americas, which grants 59 U.S. tickets for two visits within a year to most of its lounges in North, Central and South America. costs dollars. The pass gets you into the standalone Plaza Premium lounges and the airline lounges it operates for companies like Virgin Atlantic, Avianca and Air France. There are six eligible lounges across the United States, with a new location in Orlando, Florida expected to open later this year.

“The first and top tier premium frequent flyers are well looked after,” said Jonathan Song, the company’s director of global business development. “The remaining 85 percent are in economy class and are independent of airlines, where we see the rise of affordable luxury. People want to enjoy the VIP services they would enjoy in the first place and in store, but maybe they don’t want to spend that amount on the ticket.”

Escape Lounges, also known as Centurion Studios, is now affiliated with American Express and has 14 locations, including Minneapolis and Sacramento, California, that offer pay-per-use plans for $40 per visit when booked online 24 hours in advance and $45 per visit the door (Platinum cardholders get free entry). Access offers standard perks, including free Internet access, food and beverages, and new locations are expected later this year at airports in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Columbus, Ohio.

Another option, the club has 16 locations across the United States, including New Orleans and Seattle, and two in London. It does not sell memberships and runs solely on a pay-per-use basis at $45 per visit (free for Priority Pass holders).

For one-stop shopping, the Lounge Buddy website and app sells airport lounge passes starting at $25. For example, among lounges with similar amenities at London Heathrow — like Wi-Fi and free food and drink — the site offers $39 passes for the Plaza Premium Lounges and $74 for the Lufthansa Business Lounge. A pass in Barbados costs $27.

United offers day passes for its United Clubs for $59 on its app. Annual memberships cost $650 or 85,000 miles for most frequent flyer members. American Airlines also sells day passes to its Admirals Clubs for $59 or 5,900 miles. Delta does not offer paid access.

Considering the steep prices for airport concessions — a vendor in LaGuardia was recently censored for selling a $27 beer — hungry travelers might find the entry worthwhile.

“One time, with a long connection, you can make the math work for you, depending on how much you would otherwise be spending,” Mr. Leff said. “You can eat and drink your money back and maybe it’s less crowded and you have a power point to plug in.”

Aside from free gin and tonics, passengers with a booking backlog may find it useful to pay the fee at an airline lounge to receive prompt assistance from the airline.

“If your flight is canceled and you have to wait two hours to speak to someone, you pay the $50 club fee and you get access to agents who are usually the most experienced and can do amazing things for you.” to get you where you need it to be,” said Brian Kelly, founder of loyalty rewards site The Points Guy.

Depending on when you fly, even entering the pass is out of the question these days as pass holders have been turned away due to the crowds.

“Centurion lounges are like going to TGI Friday’s. You check in and they call you if there are vacancies,” said Mr. Kelly. “As we’ve seen traveling this summer, people are hungry and have been missing out on premium experiences for the last few years. So when they travel, they spend a lot of money.”

The overcrowding problem isn’t necessarily new, but some new factors, including airport staffing shortages, have exacerbated it.

“Many better lounges were crowded before the pandemic,” Mr Leff said. “Now people are arriving earlier because of the insecurity of the security lines and then finding they have extra time to kill.”

“Now there are even queues outside the lounge, something I had never experienced in the pre-Covid travel season,” wrote Haris Stavridis, owner of a PR agency in London, in an email. “Lounges should be your safe haven, but they’re becoming problematic now.”

Some clubs are responding to the surge, including Delta Sky Clubs with their new three-hour rule. Though American Express is nearly doubling the size of its San Francisco Centurion Lounge and tripling its club footprint in Seattle this year, American Express will begin charging guest (adult, $50) cardholders fees starting next year , unless a user spends at least $75,000 per year on the card.

Clubs may be victims of their own success, but access to them may still be the cheapest upgrade per benefit you can get while flying today.

“Everyone has some privilege now with Amex or miles or buy-in,” said Patrick Rollo of Providence, RI, who travels frequently for his real estate work. “So everyone go to the lounge.”

Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.