There are some amazing airport lounges around the world. And then there are United Clubs and Admirals Clubs. They’re better than much of what you’ll find in South America, Southern Europe, China, and India. But they’re also expensive while the world’s best lounges come with elite status or class of service on your ticket or can be accessed with a Priority Pass card.
Spa in the Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney
United raised the price of its clubs last summer, raised the price of day passes earlier this year (and started refusing access to holders of day passes at some lounges), and restricted paying club members to accessing lounges only when flying same day.
They’re charging more even as amenities may be inconsistent, such as failing to properly renew their alcohol licenses at Newark.
Empty soup in United Club Houston
O’Hare United Clubs see around 1.7 million visitors per year, or 4,500 to 5,000 people per day. United said memberships are up 4 percent over last year, a year in which the price of memberships rose to $550, from $500.
“People are still buying,” Samartzis said, adding that the airline would consider further increases or tiered membership pricing. “I don’t think we’ve hit the sweet spot yet.”
Remember you can buy cheap day passes on eBay just don’t expect to use them at lounges which are open during renovations.
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.
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.