United is going to start restricting club access to people actually flying same day. And they’ve started serving Illy coffee in the clubs (it’ll be a few more months until that’s onboard).
I still think the American Express Centurion lounges are far better (especially the food) but so does everyone else and they can be crowded at times.
American Express Centurion Lounge Miami
But United’s changes make the clubs 18% better, right?
They’ve apparently raised the price of day passes from $50 to $59, following Delta’s $59 day pass pricing move. (United increased the annual fee for its club memberships, too, following a similar move by Delta.)
Lounge Day Passes are an Anomaly
On the one hand if you want to reduce overcrowding (as the move to restrict access to those with same day travel is ostensibly supposed to accomplish), you shouldn’t sell day passes at all. American Express does not sell passes for the small Centurion Studio in Seattle to its members that do not have a Platinum or Centurion card.
On the other hand, they’re a source of revenue. But if they’re a source of revenue, airlines would likely charge less rather than more for them.
Many airlines sell lounge access at a discount through programs like Priority Pass (or Lounge Club).
Airlines have learned that if they price domestic premium cabins at a modest increment over economy, people buy the seats and they make more money (and upgrades become harder to come by). Charging 4 or 6 times the price of coach for a first class seat wasn’t revenue maximizing back when only about 10% of domestic first class seats were paid for. By reducing the price they do a better job monetizing the product.
An average day or single visit pass from a US airline will cost $50 or now $59. At that price, very few people buy them. Most US airline lounges are a (somewhat) quieter place to sit and work with free wifi separate from what’s offered in the terminal and usually cleaner bathrooms as well — plus frequently assistance with reservations in the event of irregular operations.
Complimentary booze is usually of the rail variety, with decent food and drink charged at a premium if available at all.
I’ve always thought airlines would make more at $25 than $50, but that would mean more people in the lounges.
And if they were trying to reduce crowding by making it seem more expensive, they’d likely have gone to $60. You choose a final digit of ‘9’ when you want something to seem less expensive not more (the price feels more like $50 than $60). The idea of the 9 is presumably not to scare customers away from buying the pass and entering the lounge, while the goal of reducing overcrowding is met by making it seem too expensive and scaring off some people.
Of course you can just buy your day passes on eBay, though United says you shouldn’t. With all of the day passes out there from United co-brand credit cards, eBay is saturated with them.
US Airlines Didn’t Used to Charge for Lounge Access at All
It’s an historical anomaly that US lounges charge for access at all. In general airlines around the world (outside Australia/New Zealand) do not charge for access. It’s provided free to premium cabin and elite customers.
In the US, airlines charge even elite frequent flyers traveling domestically for access. From the time American opened the first airport lounge up through 1974 they didn’t. However the federal government ordered – on anti-discrimination grounds – that airlines either make clubs available to everyone, make clubs available to everyone flying a particular class of service, or make clubs available to everyone who pays.
Paid memberships were a way of ensuring compliance with non-discrimination rules coming out of the civil rights era. Anyone who could pay – regardless of race – could access the lounges.
Once the airlines had a revenue stream associated with the lounges it became difficult to walk away from that. The lounge network starts looking like a separate business unit, with its own profit and loss calculation.
International Airlines Offer So Much More
The private cabanas of Cathay Pacific’s The Wing lounge in Hong Kong are gorgeous.
The architecture of the Qantas first class lounge in Sydney is impressive.
The dining, by celebrity chef Neil Perry, is fantastic as well.
And though complimentary spa treatments are only 20 minutes there, they’re out of this world good.
I can access both of these lounges as an American Airlines Executive Platinum. The top tier elites of these airlines can use their first class lounges as well, regardless of class of service flown.
It seems strange to pay hundreds of dollars to access US airline lounges compared to what is bundled with status elsewhere in the world. I’m not saying it isn’t worthwhile — for the handful of times a year I’m delayed by weather or mechanicals, the help I get in the lounges is worth the price of admission. But it sure is curious.