American Express Has a New Strategy to Limit Overcrowding in Centurion Lounges

Back in March American Express started limiting access to Centurion lounges.

Since March 30th they’ve only allowed Platinum cardmembers to bring in 2 guests. Centurion cardmembers can bring in 2 guests or immediate family. Additional guests cost $50.

The idea was to limit the overcrowding rampant in the lounges. The problem is they’re too good, cardmembers want to use them. Airline clubs may give you cheese cubes or soup, maybe guacamole, but the Centurion lounges are generally more stylish and offer a hot buffet as well as a bar with more than just rail drinks complimentary.

The Dallas Fort-Worth and Miami lounges have complimentary spas. There are kids rooms, showers in most. And customer service is great.


Houston Centurion Lounge Bar

It’s worth noting that the new Houston Centurion lounge has remained peaceful and quiet when I’ve been in, likely owing to its location. And also that there’s a secret to always finding space in the Dallas lounge.

This didn’t really do the trick. While families of four would have to pay (or add an authorized user to a Platinum account), crowding continued.

So American Express is taking another step to limit crowds. Via Zach Honig effective October 2 only Centurion and Platinum cardholders will be able to access the lounges. Previously anyone with an American Express card could pay-in to the lounge for $50. (This wasn’t offered at the Centurion Studio in Seattle.)

I don’t have the data to know how many people were doing this. Perhaps it’s more than I’d have imagined and this will make a material difference. I still think we’ll have crowded lounges.

  • Getting enough space in an airport is tough, American Express takes what they can get. Although now that they’re building a new lounge in Dallas Fort-Worth to eek out an incremental 3000 square feet I wish they’d just have two lounges beside each other since 3000 feet isn’t going to be enough…

  • I suspect the only way to really limit crowding would be to limit the number of visits each Platinum cardholder can have for free, e.g. charge cardmembers for visits after their first 20 in a year.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Unless you spend over $100,000/yr on your Amex Centurion card you should have to pay $50 to access these clubs. The clubs have become filled with the same riff raff sitting in basic economy. The last few times I was in the club people loaded their plates with so much food that it cleared out the entire buffet. You would think they haven’t had a meal in weeks.

  2. I like the idea of limiting annual visits, as long as everybody body passing through the door on a cardholder’s account counts as 1 visit. Totally agree with @Mark’s assessment as well, current patrons seem to be disproportionately composed of people who rarely get lounge access and then use their rare opportunities to consume as much free food and drink as possible as quickly as possible. Can’t use my access because the lounge is always overcrowded, keep reducing access, once they get to the point where most cardmembers can make 4-5 visits a year without circling for a seat they will know they’ve gone far enough.

  3. I’ve been to very few lounges that I would think are worth paying $50 for. I can’t imagine they are a large number of people paying this when they can simply go to a bar or airport restaurant for less. I love lounges and have lost count with how many i have visited, but I certainly don’t see them worth anywhere near that amount for a single visit with the exception of something like the pier in HKG.

  4. Once again AMEX wants to have their cake and eat it too.
    They love to peddle their cards and have people signup for those that come with benefits like lounge access, but whence people actually want to enjoy those benefits AMEX starts “crying” and attempts to restrict access to those benefits.

    #AMEXsoSAD

  5. THat’s correct, with the rise of travel bloggers peddling these cards, and telling everyone how to maximize their spending, they have become nothing more than lounge membership clubs. Everyone and their grandma is now a travel hacker and spreads spend around 10 cards, where before, a bunch of upper management types would indiscriminately put thousands of company spend and subsidize the whole lounge network.

    Now people, including many Boarding Area bloggers, openly brag about only keeping their AMEX card for the lounge, while doing their spend where the rewards are best, since MR points have gone downhill anyway.

  6. This seems like a wise policy. My guess is that these changes will be incremental until the issues are resolved. I think the problem is somewhat geographic. SFO is always hopping and while I can’t say I’ve been there more than once the IAH club was ridiculously chill. Night and day.

    IAH is also much bigger and SFO is smaller given the traffic volumes and location.

    The clubs are universally great and I’ve actually been trying to route more through IAH (you’re welcome United) rather than SFO (due to overcrowding) or other locations without a club.

  7. In my dozen or so Centurion Lounge visits, I’ve never seen them CRAZY crowded. I’ve seen USA airline-run lounges even more crowded. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen, but the idea that these places are completely overrun seems false.

    As far as clientele goes, there seem to be some snobby readers here. The lounges generally attract upscale travelers. “Riff raff”? Get serious.

  8. It’s already like this in Miami; no paid entry. It’s been that way pretty much from the beginning for capacity reasons.

  9. @Gary, I agree in that my anecdotal evidence is that there are very few if any gold and green cardmembers paying $50 to use the lounge. I think this is more of a play to get people to upgrade their card than to limit lounge traffic. They’ve decided that the buzz about the lounge has reached the level where it can help revenue on the card side.

    Now how about changing the food once a year or something???

  10. My wife and I have used Centurion Lounges exactly twice — when, as Gold cardholders, we received two free passes. I completely agree these are some very nice lounges, not as nice as (e.g.) Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouses at JFK and LHR, but certainly far better than both Priority Pass and Alaska Airlines’ lounges. But, following those two very nice visits, I had no intention of paying $50 to enter, nor of upgrading to Platinum (at $450 AF, let alone $550!). Depending upon the airport and the time of day, I’d rather pay for a good meal, or relax in one of the lounges I have access to as part of my (e.g.: Business Class) ticket or via Priority Pass.

    Is the food as good in a Priority Pass lounge as it is in a Centurion lounge? No. Of course not. But I’m not typically going there to grab free food and free booze. I’m there to relax in a quiet, comfortable environment prior to my flight¹. And none have ever been so crowded that we haven’t been able to do just that. (You want to talk “crowded”? You wan’t to talk about people grabbing as much food and alcohol as they can in a lounge before a flight? You need look no farther than BA’s Club Europe lounges at LHR! Gawd awful!)

    @Mark, if the “riff-raff” are bothering you so much, I suggest you talk to Tom Price — he probably has some private jets he won’t be using . . .

    _______________
    ¹ .Unless it’s to take a shower at the Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge at LHR.

  11. Great to see AmEx make an effort. As Centurion Card Member for 15+ years I assign very little value to their lounge access as invariably packed. They are building a good network of facilities, now they need to manage demand/access by deciding why they are building them; to serve their better clients or as marketing tool to sell memberships that will likely churn.

  12. The comment about making the lounge only available to Cent card members who spend 100K a year. Really? We should change that to 100K a month maybe. My buddy spends 250K a month on his SPG card.

    When Amex lost AA they decided to create their own clubs which is a selling point for plat at $550 per yr. If you take it away you lose customers. Plain and simple.

  13. Even if Amex does this, adding an AU is $175, and they are in. If people are using the card simply for lounge access as people have stated, this change will not help the crowding.

  14. Do you know where are they building the new lounge at DFW?

    I would be adamantly opposed to limiting entry unless it’s far higher like 50 or more. Traveling 50 weeks a year on business, this is a legitimate entry and I often use the lounge on each end in a week, such as DFW-LGA or DFW-IAH. I don’t stay in there all day and hoard food and drinks. Sometimes flights are delayed last minute and I have returned to the lounge to wait for another hour or 2. I do agree that lately the clientele has become questionable at times but I guess that goes with the loss of respect that has occurred in society in general. They have stripped the Platinum card of every other value that I used and their customer service has become a joke. If they start limiting access then there would be no reason for me keep the card as there are plenty of other cards out there to fill the void.

  15. Doesn’t seem like much of a change

    From American Express’s website:
    What is the guest policy?
    Platinum® Card members who receive complimentary access may enter with up to two guests at no additional charge.

    Centurion members may enter with up to two guests or immediate family (spouse or domestic partner, and children under 18) at no additional charge.

  16. I don’t think the real issue here is the business travelers. Limiting the number of visits hurts them and rewards the occasional/rare traveler.

    And it’s not the business travelers treating it like a golden corral. I’ve sadly seen this.. open bar doesn’t mean “all you can drink”, and buffet doesn’t mean “all you can eat”.

    Logistically, it would be a nightmare, but if they restricted it to people with any airline status or a business class or better ticket…

  17. They need to do something. Lately the crowd has become the Hooter’s and Spirit crowd. Either limit entry to Black card members or charge people $50 especially if they spend more than 50% of their time in the club at the buffet. It seems like it’s really deteriorated since they introduced basic economy fares. It’s brought all the Spirit and Allegiant customers into the club.

  18. @tarniv —> I have no doubt that some people *do* act like pigs at the proverbial trough once inside a Centurion Lounge, but what makes you think that having a Business or First Class ticket would make a person immune to that sort of behavior? If they’re going to act like a pig, they’ll do it REGARDLESS of what fare class their ticket is . . .

    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

    @Mark —> So now you want to limit it only to those with the fabled “Black Card”? (Well, after all it *is* the “Centurion Lounge”!) Would you have Amex now open “Platinum Lounges”? What about “Gold” one? Will you have Amex pin a proximity timer on their clothing — recording the number of seconds they are within, say, three feet of the buffet — and have the employees check the number on the timer with the total number of time spent within the facility. If it’s over 50 percent, is there a surcharge? are they banned for three months? a year? lifetime? EVEN IF they have a Black card? Or perhaps you’d merely ban all people — Black card or no — if they’re traveling on a ULCC? What about if they’re flying Basic Econ on a legacy carrier? What if they’re flying on a full-fare Coach ticket, but that ticket cost <$100? <75? What if they're on a "Companion Fare" from BA, AS, or WN, so one of the two people permitted is theoretically flying for free?

  19. “The lounges generally attract upscale travelers. “Riff raff”? Get serious.”

    @iahphx: I’m there , so you must be wrong!

  20. @Jason Brandt.. I guess Platinum card members are OK as long as they spend $100,000/yr. Yes, they need to monitor these people that spend the entire time grazing at the buffet. When I was recently in the Las Vegas club someone asked them for a take out container and people were wearing ripped shorts and flip flops. It’s definitely the new basic economy fares that are bringing the Spirit and Allegiant customers in the clubs. If I wanted to go to Hooters I would go to Hooters not the Centurion lounge to do some work and relax.

  21. Well, at least you’re consistent, Mark, and there’s something to be said for that . . .

    OBVIOUSLY there is no way the Centurion Lounge (or any other, for that matter), should have/needs to have “to go” containers — I’ll give you that one — but I’d love to know, specifically, how you’d record the time requirements (<50% at the buffet, or you're out!).

    In re: "ripped shorts and flip flops," you could institute some sort of dress code, perhaps, but a) who wants to fly in a suit and tie unless you have to¹; b) how do the people at the check-in counter know that the guy in "ripped shorts and flip flops" isn't the CEO of a tech company that charges 7 figures a year on his Business Platinum card and another 6 figures on his personal one? Besides, you can now purchase fancy, $100+ jeans which are pre-ripped! (Don't ask me why; I don't get it.)

    All this is meant is good fun — as I said above, our two visits to the Centurion Lounge were quite nice, and weren't overcrowded, but I'm not paying $50 to enter with my Gold card. Absent a long layover in between flights, I generally am not in the airport long enough to really enjoy the difference between, and full benefits of, a Centurion Lounge versus a Priority Pass one — which I readily admit are never as good as a Centurion Lounge, but they are free with my Citi Prestige card.

    Bottom line, ANY lounge that's overcrowded is a pain. How Amex deals with the issue will be a touchy matter . . . anything they do will no doubt anger some cardholders, while doing nothing will anger others.

    _______________
    ¹ I'll do it if I'm flying straight into a business meeting, but I generally try not to — I'd rather fly in the night before — and *clearly* I'm not wearing a suit and tie if I'm heading off someplace on vacation!

  22. @Jason Brandt, I’m with you.

    @Mark, have you seen first class passengers in sandals and/or shorts? I’ve seen them. I mix econ for domestics and first/business for international, and you’ll never find ME with sandals and shorts. Don’t judge a book… you know the rest.

    I live in Vegas, pass through many Centurion Lounges numerous times, and I’ve never seen anybody grabbing food like you’ve seen them in Las Vegas. Maybe it wasn’t your lucky day.

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