With American, Delta, and United cracking down on how/when “members” can use their lounges, I question whether membership is even the correct term to describe what airlines now offer.
Think about it. If you’re a member of a gym, you show up when you want and stay as long as you want. Your membership gives you access to the facilities: there are generally no other strings attached. Same with membership in a country club or a fraternal organization. Your membership allows you entrance during opening hours.
Not so with airline lounges, which can charitably only be described as subscriptions. By the end of next year, American, Delta, and United will only allow “members” to use their lounges if you are traveling on that airline or an approved partner. AA is even raising “membership” fees by $100…
I was a member of the AA Admiral’s Club for two years. It made sense for me because I lived in Philadelphia and was able to access AA lounges at my “home” airport even while almost exclusively traveling on United. I also preferred the AA lounge to the overcrowded United lounges in Chicago.
But effective next year, I would no longer be welcome in the AA lounges under the same scenario. Surely, I cannot be the only one that finds far less value for lounge membership now. The legacies share terminals in many smaller airports and access to a lounge, no matter the carrier you were flying, was a key selling point for many.
Perhaps airlines cannot be blamed. These restrictions seem to do little to actually control crowds. In fact, crowding is arguably worse as American and United take space away from their entry-level lounges for their fancy longhaul business class lounges (Flagship AA lounges and Polaris United lounges). If people are still willing to pay, why not? Better to cater to your own passengers then those on other airlines, right?
American Express Platinum Is A Better Choice Than Lounge Memberships
With further restrictions on lounge access, the value proposition continues to diminish. While airline lounge membership will still make sense for some, now the Platinum Card by American Express represents an even better relative investment. For a $550/year annual fee, you receive:
- Priority Pass lounges + restaurants access
- American Express Centurion Lounge access
- Delta Sky Club access (when traveling on Delta)
That’s in addition to a host of other cardmember benefits.
At LAX, my home airport, that opens up a number of options across four different terminals. That seems like a better use of resources than an airline club membership, considering the other benefits of the card. The drawback to these used to be that access was more restricted than with airline club memberships. That will no longer be the case by the end of 2019.
I find the American Express Platinum card now represents a stronger value than ever before. Sadly, this is not due to improved benefits but due to a decline in benefits of airline lounge membership. Consider an AMEX Plat card or even a Chase Sapphire Reserve before you shell out money for airline lounge membership after late 2019.