Because gutting the Skymiles program twice without notice just was not enough, Delta Air Lines used this fine Friday to announce a major devaluation of its Sky Club lounge access policy. Oh, you have a guest? That will be $29. Will United Airlines and others follow the trendsetting Delta?
I really dread Fridays these days, as it seems that each week one of the legacies gives us a lump of coal. Christmas never ends!
Here’s Delta’s rationale–
We hope you’re enjoying your Delta Sky Club® experience, including more than $50 million in recent investments in expanded seating, renovated Clubs in Atlanta, New York-LGA and Los Angeles, the opening of the New York-JFK Terminal 4 flagship Club and The Sky DeckSM at Delta Sky Club at New York-JFK and Atlanta.
Even with these investments, we occasionally hear that overcrowding can be an issue. To maintain the Club’s exclusive atmosphere, the following changes are being introduced:
- Effective immediately, membership price is $695 annually. This Executive Membership will continue to allow two complimentary guests.
- For those customers who rarely need guest access, an Individual Membership at the current rate of $450 will be introduced Spring 2014. This membership will allow guest access for $29 per visit.
- Beginning May 1, 2014, all customers who receive complimentary Delta Sky Club access as a benefit of their eligible credit or charge card will no longer receive complimentary guest access. A $29 fee per guest will apply.
If you are an existing Club member, you now have an Executive Membership for the duration of your current membership
Another “effective immediately” change, since apparently Delta believes it is against the law to give us any advance notice when they change policy or pricing…
So here’s a summary of what is going on–
- Starting on 01 May 2014, Delta will no longer allow complimentary guests for those entering through an American Express Delta Reserve or an American Express Platinum Card
- “Individual” memberships will cost $450 (not discounted for elites) and allow no complimentary guests while “Executive” memberships will cost $695 and allow two “free” guests
- “Individual” members may bring in up to two guests at $29 per guest
Some are jumping for joy over this, painting all children as wicked little monsters and rejoicing that there will be fewer families “leeching” club space from them, but I disagree–this is not about keeping kids or anyone else out of the clubs, it is purely about driving up ancillary revenue. Some children are angels, others are demons, and that is just the way it always is. I find more often than not that young children in airline clubs and sitting around me on flights are well-behaved. So let’s set aside the screaming baby problem that this policy change will likely fix.
Clubs are overcrowded sometimes, so in all seriousness I do understand why some frequent flyers will welcome this news. But they shouldn’t.
Delta’s penchant to change the rules without warning should be a cause of concern to all who patronize Atlanta’s hometown carrier. Folks, this is not just a change in policy, it is a bait-and-switch and it is dishonest. That Delta continues to implement major changes (here a huge inflation of the price of club membership) without even a day of notice suggests that it is willing and eager to decree other customer-unfriendly changes in a manner that lacks transparency and bucks industry trend. Did you notice that elites no longer receive any discount off “Indiviudal” memberships? That’s a huge hit.
I just paid the $450 annual fee on my American Express Platinum card yesterday and now my benefit of lounge access while travel on Delta have been reduced substantially. What if my friend and I had been flying Delta the other night (after 01 May)? Leave her outside the lounge or waste $29 for an hour of access? That’s not a good choice. American Express now has some explaining to do.
Will other airlines follow?
United Airlines is fond of following Delta devaluations, but I think United and American will first observe, at least through late 2014, the practical effects of Delta’s new lounge restrictions. Many Delta frequent flyers have vowed to cancel their club memberships and some have even said they will no longer fly Delta. If that turns out to be the case, other carriers will not follow and Delta may even rescind its decision. And credit card issuers like Chase (for United) and Citi (for American) will fight hard against similar changes.
But I think Delta will get away with this. Vocal cries will soon die down, clubs will appear to be just as crowded, and American and United will follow in 2015.
If there is a silver lining in this, it is in the fact that Skyteam alliance rules prohibit Delta from restricting guest access when using Skyteam credentials to enter and similar policies hold true for Star Alliance and oneworld. No matter what the legacies do in terms of restricting guest access, alliance access rules will likely remain unchanged.
There is a cost/benefit analysis in everything. United’s Chicago C16, San Francisco domestic, Newark C120, and Washington Dulles C7 clubs are often packed before the evening bank of departures and sometimes you cannot even find two seats together. That is annoying, no doubt.
But on most days, crowding it tolerable and you do not have to wait 40 minutes in line for the only working coffee machine in the club. I would not give up my ability to bring in a friend or family member just to avoid the two or three visits a year when I have trouble finding a seat (that I always find after a few minutes of searching anyway).
So before you road warriors celebrate this news, think how you are able to function just fine even when a lounge is crowded and think about the dangerous precedent of taking away benefits with no notice and even disengenously casting it as a postive enhancement. Friday mornings are not reserved for positive news, so any positive spin is just spin. Delta believes it can get away with charging you a lot more for the same thing. Let’s see if it is right.