Frequent travelers love airport lounges, but do we love them too much? Maybe.
Overcrowding is becoming a serious issue in airline clubs- so much so that members are rethinking annual memberships, or considering newer options.
During busy morning hours, the United Clubs and the American Express Centurion Lounge my home airport (SFO) are frequently more crowded than airport terminals. Club staff have difficulty keeping buffets stocked and tables cleaned.
Last time I was in New York-JFK, I had to squeeze onto a stool between two other travelers and peer out at the tarmac to mentally escape from the crazy-crowded Delta Sky Club where I’d just waited two-deep for a glass of chardonnay at the bar. In Istanbul last May I saw business class passengers wait in bathroom lines for 10-20 minutes at Turkish Airlines’ massive (but crowded) business class lounge.
When American Express announced that it was raising its annual fee for the Platinum Card from $450 to $550, I thought, “hmmm could Amex be taking a page from airline play books and jacking up fees to reduce crowding at Centurion Lounges?” Maybe. UPDATE: Amex has restricted the number of family members to two only.
And then yesterday, I heard from a reader reporting that Alaska Airlines clubs at Sea-Tac were turning away Priority Pass cardholders due to capacity issues.
At one time, high fees and lack of publicity kept most airline clubs cozy, quiet and comfortable refuges from crowded airport concourses. But that started to change a few years ago, when airlines began offering one-time passes for $50. Then credit card companies got in on the act, offering membership or day passes to card holders. That started to swell the ranks of club visitors.
Then American Express saw a need for better airport lounges for its top tier Platinum and Centurion card members, and started to build lounges of its own. These Centurion lounges wowed members with chef-prepared meals, top-shelf bars, wine tastings, sophisticated design, and showers. The travel media fawned. But then Centurion lounges became overcrowded, too.
One solution to overcrowding has been the growth of airline agonistic lounges like The Club, which charges $40 per visit and has locations at 9 airports in the US. In my experience, these lounges are rarely crowded, and relatively nice. There are also Escape Lounges in the U.S. and the U.K.
Technology can also help. For example, the LoungeBuddy app helps travelers determine which lounges have availability, how much they cost and if they have a “pay as you go” option for as little as $25. Founder Tyler Dikman credits much of his company’s recent growth to travelers frustration with with crowding, which he says has become worse in the last three years.
I don’t know about you, but with the help of PreCheck and Clear, I now feel that I’ve honed my travel skills 🙂 so well that I usually get to the airport without ample time to fully enjoy the airport club experience, so the perk is less valuable to me. Plus, many airports terminals are as nice as airport clubs these days (hello SFO T3E or T2 or Newark Terminal C, Los Angeles TBIT or Delta’s new C gates at LGA)
What about you? Have crowded conditions forced you to reconsider club memberships or credit cards offering lounge access as a perk? Please leave your comments below.