A year and a half ago Delta significantly raised the price of lounge access and said it was to improve your experience.
By charging an extra fee for your spouse and kids it was supposed to give you ‘a more exclusive experience’.
As I wrote at the time, “Delta’s pitch is true – a higher price will ‘reduce overcrowding’. Their product simply isn’t worth the higher price in my view, and others will feel the same, so fewer people will occupy the lounge.”
I said that other airlines wouldn’t match right away but we’d eventually see some follow. You can guess which airline would follow next, since United manages by doing what Delta does. Indeed, a year and a half later United followed suit with higher club prices.
But they didn’t take away free guest access. Instead, Matthew is reporting that United is going to require a same-day boarding pass in addition to membership to access the club.
He took a photo of the sign in a lounge today:
Photo: Live and Let’s Fly
United is giving a full year’s notice so that existing club members, who have purchased their memberships on the basis of being able to access even without a same day boarding pass, aren’t getting a bait and switch on their payment. Although that doesn’t do much for those who purchased lifetime memberships.
It’s not clear yet whether United will still issue gate passes for someone to use a club meeting room, or whether they might require same day travel on United or a partner airline (think of the United ticket as a co-pay in addition to the membership fee for accessing the lounge). There are plenty of United club members who will use the lounge even when flying another airline out of the same terminal.
A passenger arriving off of a redeye flight would also not have a ‘same day’ boarding pass, as Matthew points out. A redeye passenger might value their club membership for a shower in such circumstances.
There are lounges you might want to access just because it’s a place for free booze. There are a ton of airline lounges that I would view as a club I’d be happy to visit, even if I didn’t need to be in the airport.
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Spa
Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney
However I just don’t see the United Club as that kind of place.
Of course you can still buy a refundable ticket to satisfy the requirement. Visit the lounge, and then refund it.
A German man bought refundable business class tickets 36 times in a year just to have lounge access without flying. And a Chinese man used one first class ticket to eat free for a year.
Still, if you’re going to go through all of that trouble, it sure seems a waste to visit a United Club.
That US airline lounges even charge for membership turns out to be an historical accident.
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.
Since this is a paid membership club though it would be nice for members to be welcome, any time.