The democratization of airport lounges

When she has time to get to the airport early, Anne Marie Mitchell, a communications professor in Chicago, will treat herself to a few hours in an airport lounge, either using a free pass from her airline credit card or One day’s use will pay. charge.

“You get a bar, a nice clean bathroom, breakfast and it’s not overcrowded,” she said. “It makes traveling more fun.”

Airline lounges, bastions of civilization in airport terminals, which are now often filled with irritable passengers, due to flight delays and cancellations, the long-flight elite, forward class ticket holders and expensive credit cards The people who have returned.

Now, with leisure travelers leading the airline industry’s recovery as commercial traffic, some clubs have made it easier for relatively few fliers to claim some pre-departure perks, while others – Delta Sky Club including, which has adopted a new rules So that no user can enter the club more than three hours before their scheduled flight – struggling with growing pains.

Historically, legacy carriers in the United States, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, have operated lounges for passengers flying in first and business classes, as well as for passengers who qualify for membership. Their offerings sometimes include standard clubs (eg. United Club in United) and more specific for forward-class flyers on long-haul international flights (United Polaris,

Another class of clubs welcomes members flying any carrier. it includes priority PassWhich provides access to over 1,300 lounges in over 600 cities (membership plans include 10 visits for $299 per year).

In this case, a lounge may be an actual airline club, such as the Plumeria Lounge from Hawaiian Airlines, which Priority Pass members have access to in Honolulu; public airport restaurants that offer food credits, such as Stephanie’s Restaurant at Boston Logan International Airport; other club brands, such as Minute Suites, which have private rooms at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; Or airport facilities like the B Relax Spa at Los Angeles International Airport, where members get credit for chair massages.

Increasingly, lounge users are not airline devotees, but rather expensive credit card holders.

“Bundling lounge access with a premium credit card has become popular,” said Gary Leff, who wrote the airline blog. view from the wing, “It’s a way to sell cards and retain members.”

American Express platinum Card holders have access to multiple airline lounges, as well as the company’s own lounges Centurion Lounge, which are found in 13 U.S. cities — new coming to Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and Washington’s Reagan National in 2023 — for a total of more than 1,400 lounges globally. The card costs $695 annually, which includes a credit of up to $400 in hotel and airline expenses, among benefits.

Now other banks are joining the lounge game, including Capital One, which opened its first lounge — with a stable cycling room, showers and craft cocktails — in Dallas-Fort Worth in November, with follow-up plans for Denver and Washington Dulles outside Washington, D.C., in 2023. Access is available to the owners of the bank Venture X card, which costs $395 per year, and their guests; Card perks include a credit of up to $300 for travel purchases.

JPMorgan Chase has announced that it will open its own brand, Chase Sapphire Lounge by ClubWith six global locations, including Boston, Phoenix and New York’s LaGuardia Airport, starting next year and is available to its holders Chase Sapphire Reserve Card ($550 per year with benefits, $300 in credit on travel purchases and including Priority Pass membership).

In this time of airline devastation, many travelers are willing to buy themselves floor seating outside the airport hell, close to the only available electrical outlet in Concourse, offered by pay-per-use clubs. Gone to the rescue

Plaza Premium Group, which has restaurants, lounges and hotels in over 70 global airports, recently launched ppl pass america, which costs $59 for two trips within a year Lounge in North, Central and South America. The pass takes you to the stand-alone Plaza Premium lounge and the airline lounges it operates for the likes of Virgin Atlantic, Avianca and Air France. There are six eligible lounges in the United States, with a new location in Orlando, Fla., expected to open later this year.

The company’s director of global business development, Jonathan Song, said: “The first and professional top-tier premium frequent flyer is well taken care of.” “The remaining 85 percent are economy class and airline agnostic, where we see the rise of affordable luxury. People want to enjoy VIP services first and foremost, but don’t want to spend that amount for tickets.”

Now affiliated with American Express, Escape Loungealso known as Centurion Studios, has 14 locations including Minneapolis and Sacramento, California, offering pay-per-use plans at $40 per visit if booked online 24 hours in advance, and $45 at the door. (Platinum cardholders have complimentary admission) Access offers standard perks including free Internet access, food and drink, and new locations are expected at the airports of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Columbus, Ohio later this year .

another option, club, has 16 locations in the United States, including New Orleans and Seattle, and two in London. It sells no subscriptions and runs strictly on a pay-per-use basis at $45 per visit (free for Priority Pass holders).

Website and app for one-stop shopping lounge buddy Sells airport lounge passes starting at $25. In lounges with similar amenities, for example, London Heathrow – such as Wi-Fi and free food and drink – the site offers a $39 pass to the Plaza Premium Lounge and $74 to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. In Barbados, a pass costs $27.

United offers its Ko day pass United Club For $59 on its app. Annual membership costs $650 or 85,000 miles for members who fly the most frequently. American Airlines also sells its own one-day passes. Admiral’s Club for $59 or 5,900 miles. Delta does not offer paid access.

Considering the high prices of airport concessions – a vendor in LaGuardia was recently condemned for selling $27 beer – Hungry travelers may find admission worthwhile.

“On a one-time basis, with a longer connection, you can make the math work for you, depending on how much you’ll spend,” Mr. Leff said. “You can eat and drink your money back, and it’s probably less crowded and has a power port for you to plug in.”

Beyond the complimentary gin and tonic, those flying into a booking jam may find it pricey to pay a fee in an airline lounge to get instant airline assistance.

“If your flight is canceled and there’s a two-hour wait to talk to someone, pay the $50 club fee and you’ll have access to agents who tend to be the most experienced and do amazing things to get you there. can be where you need to be,” said website founder Brian Kelly points guyIncluding loyalty rewards.

Depending on when you fly, even buying your way out may be out of the question these days as pass holders have been turned away, thanks to capacity congestion.

“Centurion Lounge is like going to TGI Fridays. You check in and they’ll call you when there’s an open space,” said Mr. Kelly. “As we’ve seen with travel this summer, people are eager to go and draw from the premium experiences of the past few years. are missed, so when they’re traveling, they’re falling apart.”

The problem of congestion is not necessarily new, but has been exacerbated by some new factors, including a shortage of airport staff.

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

“There are now queues outside lounges as well, something I never did in the pre-Covid travel era,” wrote Haris Stavridis, owner of a public relations agency in London, in an email. “Lounges are supposed to be your safe haven, but they are becoming problematic now.”

Some clubs are addressing the boom with their new three-hour rule, including Delta Sky Club. While it’s nearly doubling the size of its San Francisco Centurion lounge and tripling its club footprint in Seattle this year, American Express will start charging cardholders for guests (adults, $50) starting next year. unless a user spends at least $75,000 per year. card.

Clubs may be victims of their own success, but accessing them may still be the cheapest upgrade-per-profit you can find while flying today.

“With Amex or miles or shopping, everyone now has some kind of privilege,” said Patrick Rollo of Providence, RI, who travels frequently for his work in real estate. “So, everybody’s going to the lounge.”

Elaine Glusack writes the Thrifty Traveler column. follow him on instagram @eglusac,

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