The Rise of Airport Lounges

Once upon a time airport lounges were the domain of business travelers and frequent fliers. A shift away from that model is well underway, with an explosion of lounges worldwide offering more of this affordable luxury to everyone. At the same time some airlines are beginning to restrict lounge access to business class passengers and above only, even turning away those who got those tickets using miles. The market is moving in both directions to deal with increased demand.

Why Use a Lounge?

This phenomenon was developing prior to 2020, but as travel has recovered following that strange year, the demand for lounges has only increased. People want to get away from the noise, the $27 beers, the lack of power outlets, the poor internet access, and most of all, the crowds.

In their place, lounges offer quiet spaces, “free” food, decent internet, and comfortable places to sit. Even better, if your flight is canceled, you’re going to get far faster service in a lounge from their airline staff than what you’d get waiting in a line with everyone else to get rescheduled.

Not Just Airlines

Priority Pass, one of the big non-airline players in the space, has a network that covers 91% of the top 100 busiest airports in the world. Priority Pass is often bundled in as a free benefit with some credit cards, but even as a stand-alone product it can cost as little as $99/year and $29 per lounge visit.

Credit card companies are getting in on the act too. Most might be familiar with the Centurion Lounges from American Express, but now Capital One and Chase are getting in on the act. Capital One’s lounge is tied to its Venture X card, which costs $395 a year. It already has a lounge at DFW with a cycling room, craft cocktails, and showers, with locations in Denver and Washington, D.C. coming soon. Chase’s Sapphire Lounge will first debut in Boston, Phoenix, and NYC and will be tied to a card that costs $550/year.

The low costs of Priority Pass and the burgeoning number of credit card lounges have brought in large numbers of people into what were formerly exclusive places. This has led to crowding at Centurion Lounges, sometimes leading to queues outside the lounge! 

What’s Ahead?

As we noted above, while some lounges are becoming democratized, some airlines are flying the other way. Delta Sky Clubs no longer permit you in the lounge more than three hours before your flight. They are also building Delta One lounges, that like United’s Polaris Lounges, are only available to that class of passenger and no one else.

What’s clear is that as more people travel or return to traveling, they have had enough of the traditional airport experience and are willing to pay to escape it. Whether that’s through paying one-time charges at the base-level lounges offered by Priority Pass, or by spending $75,000/year on their American Express card so they can enter free into the Centurion Lounges (it’s $50/visit if you spend less), or by coughing up for the business and first class fares to get into the rarefied air of a Delta One or Polaris Lounge, travelers are fleeing the crowds in search of a bit of peace and quiet, because it’s a little luxury that can make a big difference in your journey.

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