Delta’s Sky Clubs have been packed. Not only are they limiting club use to within 3 hours of flight departure (with one executive declaring Sky Clubs ‘aren’t a WeWork’) they’re testing fast track priority lanes for top tier elites to skip the queue to get into lounges.
Other airlines have challenges. United’s flyers until recently lacked a suitable lounge at Newark. American Airlines closed down its main club in Charlotte for six months, and the two clubs they have now weren’t enough to begin with. But Delta has a special challenge, it seems.
Delta charges more for club access than others and they provide better food. They charge more still to bring in a guest. Making the lounge exclusive is supposed to make it uncrowded, but that’s not what has happened. Instead, there’s this:
From a friend in like for the #JFK Delta SkyClub T4 right now #soldoutsummer #sos pic.twitter.com/iUITNkczak
— Matt Colbert (@MattCAviation) June 18, 2022
The airline has a deal with American Express that currently runs through 2029. It isn’t just club members and premium co-brand cardholders (as at United and American) who gain access. It isn’t just elites selecting club membership as a choice benefit, either (as American offers also). It’s Amex Platinum and Centurion cardmembers, too, who get to access Delta lounges when traveling on Delta.
To offset this, American Express has built some Centurion lounges in terminals where Delta operates. The initial American Express strategy had been to focus on terminals where they didn’t already have a lounge partner – after losing access to American, US Airways and Continental lounges thanks to mergers and to those airlines’ card deals. Delta’s premium cobrand cardmembers can now fly Delta and access to Centurion lounges too.
When there’s a nice lounge, or even a mediocre one, passengers are going to use it more than you’d expect even accounting for knowledge that passengers will use it more than you’d expect. They’ll eat more and they’ll stay longer. And the more flights an airline cancels, the more crowded its lounge becomes. Delta’s shift to becoming a less reliable airline contributes to the crowding, as people spend more time in airports and need more assistance with itineraries.
I really want a Delta credit card made from reclaimed Boeing 747 metal but when I write about it I write about how cool the metal is, not about how much you’ll the access to Delta lounges that it provides.
At the end of the day a lounge with a line to get into is going to be crowded once you’re inside. It’s not a relaxing place to spend time or work. You might hit the buffet (and it’s possible to eat your way out of the card’s annual fee, even leaving aside the 100,000 SkyMile initial bonus offer) and even post-devaluation you get a decent return on SkyMiles buying premium drinks in their lounges. The best reason to have access to the club is for agent assistance when traveling, during irregular operations, because you’ll never get through to an agent on the phone if you don’t know the trick to do so.