When she has time to get to the airport early, Anne Marie Mitchell, a communications professor in Chicago, treats herself to a few hours in the airport lounge, either with a free pass from her airline credit card or with a per diem allowance. rate.
“You get access to a bar, a nice clean bathroom, snacks and it’s quiet,” she said. “It makes traveling more fun.”
Aviation lounges, bastions of civilization in airport terminals that are now often overcrowded with annoyed passengers, thanks to flight delays and cancellations, have long been the refuge of the frequent flying elite, forward-class ticket holders and those with expensive credit cards.
With vacationers leading the airline industry’s recovery as business traffic lags, some clubs have made it easier for relatively rare fliers to claim a few pre-departure benefits, while others — including Delta Sky Club, which has a new rule that no user is allowed to enter the club more than three hours before their scheduled flight – struggling with growing pains.
The growing world of clubs
Historically, legacy airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines in the United States, have operated lounges for passengers flying in first and business class, as well as frequent flyers who qualify for membership. Their offer sometimes includes standard clubs (such as United Club at United) and more exclusive to forward-class pilots on long-haul international flights (United Polaris).
Another class of clubs welcomes members flying on any airline. Among which Priority passwhich 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 could be an actual aviation club, such as Hawaiian Airlines’ Plumeria Lounge that Priority Pass members can access in Honolulu; public airport restaurants that offer food credit, such as Stephanie’s restaurant at Boston Logan International Airport; other club brands, such as Minute Suites, which are private rooms, at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; or airport amenities such as the Be Relax Spa at Los Angeles International Airport, where members receive credit for a chair massage.
Lounge users are increasingly not airline enthusiasts, but holders of expensive credit cards.
“It has become popular to bundle lounge access with a premium credit card,” says Gary Leff, writing the airline’s blog. View from the wing. “It’s a way to sell tickets and retain members.”
American Express Platinum cardholders have access to many airline lounges, as well as those of the company Centurion lounges, which can be found in 13 U.S. cities — with new ones coming to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson in 2023 and Washington’s Reagan National — for a total of more than 1,400 lounges worldwide. The card costs $695 per year, with credits up to $400 per year in hotel and airline expenses, in addition to benefits.
Now other banks are starting the lounge game, including Capital One, which opened its first lounge — featuring a stationary bike room, showers, and craft cocktails — in Dallas-Fort Worth in November, with follow-ups planned for Denver and Washington Dulles outside Washington, DC, in 2023. Access is available to bank owners Venture X card, which costs $395 per year, and their guests; the card benefits include credits of up to $300 toward travel purchases.
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JPMorgan Chase has announced it will open its own brand, Chase Sapphire Lounge at the Clubwith six global locations including Boston, Phoenix and New York’s LaGuardia Airport starting next year and available to holders of its Chase Sapphire Reserve card ($550 per year with benefits, including $300 in travel purchase credits and Priority Pass membership).
What price common sense?
In these times of airline chaos, many travelers are willing to buy their way out of the airport by sitting on the floor to get close to the only available outlet in the concourse, a rescue offered by pay-per-use clubs.
Plaza Premium Group, which has restaurants, lounges and hotels in more than 70 global airports, recently launched its PPL Pass America, which costs $59 for two visits within a year to most of his lounges in North, Central and South America. The pass gives you access to standalone Plaza Premium Lounges 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, Florida expected to open later this year.
“The first and corporate premium frequent flyer is well taken care of,” said Jonathan Song, the company’s director of global business development. “The other 85 percent are economy class and are aviation agnostic, which is where we see the rise of affordable luxury. People want to enjoy the VIP services they would have first and for business, but may not want to spend that amount for the ticket.”
Now affiliated with American Express, Escape Lounges, also known as Centurion Studios, has 14 locations, including Minneapolis and Sacramento, California, that offer pay-per-use subscriptions for $40 per visit when booked online 24 hours in advance, and $45 at the door (Platinum- cardholders have free entry). Access offers standard benefits, including free Internet access, food and beverages, and new locations are expected later this year at airports in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Columbus, Ohio.
Other option, the club, has 16 locations in the United States, including New Orleans and Seattle, and two in London. It does not sell memberships and operates strictly on a pay-as-you-go basis at $45 per visit (free for Priority Pass holders).
For one-stop shopping, the website and app Lounge Buddy sells airport lounge passes starting at $25. Of the lounges with similar amenities at London Heathrow, for example — such as Wi-Fi and free food and drinks — the site offers $39 passes to Plaza Premium Lounges and $74 to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. In Barbados, a pass costs $27.
United offers day passes to its United Clubs for $59 on its app. Annual memberships cost $650 or 85,000 miles for the most frequent fliers. American Airlines also sells one-day passes to her Admirals Clubs for $59 or 5,900 miles. Delta does not offer paid access.
Given the high prices of airport concessions — a salesperson at LaGuardia was recently censored for selling a $27 beer – hungry travelers may find entry worthwhile.
“On a one-off basis, with a long connection, you can make the math work for you, depending on how much you’d otherwise spend,” Mr Leff said. “You can eat and drink your money back, and maybe it’ll be less crowded and have a power port to plug into.”
In addition to free gin and tonics, fliers in a booking jam may find it valuable to pay the fee at an airline lounge to get quick help from the airline.
“If your flight is canceled and you have to wait two hours to speak to someone, pay the $50 club fee and you will have access to agents who are generally the most experienced and can do great things to get you where you want to be.” must be. are,” said Brian Kelly, the founder of the website the points manwhich includes loyalty rewards.
No place in the club
Depending on when you fly, it may no longer be possible to buy your way in these days, as pass holders have been rejected due to the crowds.
“Centurion lounges are like going to TGI Fridays. You check in and they buzz you when there’s space,” Mr. Kelly said. “As we’ve seen with travel this summer, people are eager to go and have missed premium experiences in recent years, so when they travel, they spend money.”
The crowding problem is not necessarily new, but a number of new factors, including staff shortages at the airport, have exacerbated it.
“Many better lounges were overcrowded before the pandemic,” said Mr Leff. “Now people are arriving earlier because of the uncertainty of the safety lines and then finding they have extra time to kill.”
“Now there are even queues outside the lounge, something I had never encountered in the pre-Covid travel era,” Haris Stavridis, the owner of a PR agency in London, wrote in an email. “Lounges should be your safe haven, but they are now becoming problematic.”
Some clubs are tackling the wave, including Delta Sky Clubs with its new three-hour rule. Although it will nearly double the size of the San Francisco Centurion Lounge this year and triple its club footprint in Seattle this year, American Express will begin charging guest cardholders (adults, $50) starting next year, unless a user is at least $50. spend at least $75,000 a year on the card.
Clubs may be victims of their own success, but accessing them may still be the cheapest upgrade per benefit you can get when you fly today.
“Everyone now has some privilege with Amex or miles or buying,” says Patrick Rollo of Providence, RI, who travels frequently for his real estate work. “So, everyone goes to the lounge.”
Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.