As air travel has continued to regain its stride following the tumultuous wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one particular issue has reared its head more persistently than others: the challenge of overcrowded airport lounges. The eager influx of travelers newly armed with premium credit cards that grant them access to these sanctuaries of comfort has transformed serene lounges into bustling spaces, often marked by serpentine queues and an overwhelming demand for refuge from the terminal chaos.
For those well-versed in the art of lounge hopping, the all-too-familiar sight of “the sign” at your nearest Admirals Club location has become a sign of the times – that one that informs you that day passes and complimentary entry for military personnel are not on the menu for the day. It’s a reality that we’ve grown accustomed to, and one we see more and more as time goes on.
As a reminder, day passes are best procured on-site. When you purchase in advance, you always run the risk of arriving to the lounge only to encounter “the sign.” There are no refunds in this situation, so now you’re left with a lounge pass to find a use for by the expiration date – a feat that only seems to get harder by the week. For this reason, it’s best to wait and purchase day passes in-person. This is especially pertinent considering AA’s recent price hike for these passes. What was once a $59 or 5900-mile purchase has now been recalibrated to a steeper $79 or 7900 miles. It’s a clear indicator that American is striving to curtail the surge of visitors clamoring for entry.
If the overcrowding quandary at select lounges weren’t self-evident through casual observation (seriously, just go to CLT and look around), American’s recent changes certainly paint a vivid picture. Recent measures put in place by AA include:
- The cost of an Admirals Club membership has swelled to a whopping $850 or 85,000 AAdvantage miles. This represents approximately a 31% increase from the previous fee of $650 or 65,000 AAdvantage miles. For existing members, these revised rates will only apply to membership renewals beginning September 10, 2023. We’d advise most readers to steer clear of purchasing a membership directly from AA, when it can be had at a significant cost savings through Citi. That being said…
- The annual fee tagged to the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® has experienced an uptick from $450 to $595 per annum. For some, however, the real whopper lies in the fine print – the once-gratis Admirals Club access for authorized users has been rescinded. Instead, authorized users will now be subject to a fee of $175 for up to 3 users, with an additional $175 charge for each additional authorized user beyond the initial trio.
Amid these changes, there may be some silver lining here. American Airlines has promised to invest in a series of lounge enhancements that will accompany this price surge. Notably, these improvements encompass an elevated selection of food and beverage offerings, signaling the airline’s commitment to justifying the augmented costs. Additionally, the stunning new lounge at DCA gives us a glimpse into the American’s vision for the future of Admirals Club facilities, with similar lounges opening at DEN and EWR later this year.
But what could this domino effect of changes be foreshadowing for the Admirals Club and its patrons? To glimpse into a potential future, we need only peer across the industry aisle at other lounge networks that have embarked on similar journeys:
- The revered AmEx Centurion lounges have implemented several measures. Access on arrival was removed several years ago, and an overarching 3-hour time limit has been imposed for non-layover visitors. And of course, back in February, complimentary guest access was nixed for many cardmembers.
- Delta has taken the initiative to introduce stringent limitations on entry to their popular SkyClubs earlier this year. The sale of SkyClub memberships has been confined to Delta elites, while those flying on basic economy fares have been effectively barred. Of particular note, AmEx cardmembers with SkyClub access currently enjoy an exemption from these restrictions, though rumors are abound regarding potential amendments. As history often shows, airlines are often quick to mirror their competitors – could this be a hint for what’s to come at AA?
The Admirals Club, even after the recent changes, still features one of the most lenient domestic access policies. While I’m not sure AA’s members have the appetite for some of the draconian measures Delta has taken, one has to wonder how long day passes will remain on the menu.
Could we see this option eliminated altogether, or could American keep this option open to drive some extra revenue on slow days? Time will tell, but for non-members wielding a credit card with airline incidental credits to burn, day passes have previously been a great way to spend those. Before I picked up an Admirals Club membership of my own, I’d often use my incidental credit to buy a day pass when I got stuck for an extended period at an airport without a good Centurion or Priority Pass option.
As the airline landscape continues to evolve, we’re left to ponder the next steps American Airlines might undertake. Will the allure of Admirals Club day passes be further tapered or replaced by access restrictions mirroring those of their peers? The tea leaves point to an industry-wide shift towards refining the exclusivity of these sanctuaries. Time will inevitably reveal the destination of this journey, but for now, the signs are clear: change is on the horizon.