Delta makes its airport lounges more exclusive

Delta makes its airport lounges more exclusive


Delta thinks its cushy airport clubs have gotten a little too popular.

On Wednesday, the airline announced it was changing the terms of access to its Sky Club lounges from early next year to “preserve a top-notch experience”.

Updates include limiting who can purchase subscriptions, increasing prices, and removing access for frequent flyers who don’t have premium tickets. Travelers with eligible credit cards will still have access.

In a press release, Delta said the lounges have experienced “visit growth that has exceeded the club’s capacity, resulting in frustration for some customers who find themselves queuing or searching for seats a once inside”.

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Under the new rules, annual club memberships will only be available to travelers who have achieved frequent flyer status — broken down into four Medallion tiers ranging from silver to diamond — instead of any passenger. To earn Silver Medallion status, customers must log 25,000 qualifying miles and spend $3,000 in qualifying payments. Delta discontinued single-visit passes for its Sky Club Lounge in November 2018.

Fees will increase from $545 to $695 for an individual and from $845 to $1,495 for executive membership, which includes access for up to two guests. The guest fee will increase from $39 to $50. For a high-level Medallion Member, Executive Membership will also be more expensive to choose from among the benefits that come with high status.

Even if they have paid for a subscription, travelers who book the most restricted rate – called Basic Economy – will not be able to visit the lounge unless they have an eligible credit card.

Previously, frequent flyers with status had access to lounges at departure airports if they flew internationally on any part of the plane. From now on, the same travelers who are seated in the main cabin or in the “Comfort Plus” section will not be able to use the lounge, unless they have other means of access such as a paid subscription. Customers who have tickets to “Premium Select” (a mix of economy and business) or premium “Delta One” seats will still be able to use the clubs.

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The most recent changes, which take effect in January and February, follow efforts earlier this year to reduce the time people spend in lounges before flights. In June, Delta instituted a policy that travelers could only access clubs within three hours of their scheduled departure time. At the time, Delta said it made the decision to ensure the experience could be “widely enjoyed” by customers.

Lounges offer free Wi-Fi and drinks, dedicated help with flight issues, and a place to wait for a flight away from the larger crowds at the door.

In Detroit and Atlanta, travelers will be able to use the airline’s app to find out how crowded the clubs are starting next month. Officials said they chose these airports to start with because each had multiple clubs, which would allow passengers to choose another if their first choice was too busy. The capacity control option will be available at other airports in the first half of 2023.

“It’s extremely important to us that Delta Sky Clubs continue to deliver a cutting-edge experience for our guests,” said Dwight James, senior vice president of guest engagement and loyalty and CEO of Delta Vacations, in a press release. “While we are delighted to see so many customers enjoying the fruits of our teams’ hard work, our aim now is to balance the popularity of the Clubs with the premium service and atmosphere for which they were designed – and that our customers deserve.”

Kyle Potter, editor of travel site Thrifty Traveler, said the new changes didn’t surprise him.

“Delta made a first attempt in the spring and it was clear, really within weeks, that it wasn’t moving the needle much, if at all,” he said.

On social networks, some travelers complained that the moves were a slap in the face for loyal members who had gained status to access lounges – especially when some credit card holders could still use the clubs.

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Potter said banks and airlines have done a lot of marketing to travelers who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars in annual fees on credit cards that will give them perks like points and lounge access.

“There is a battle between credit cards and elite status, and credit cards are winning,” he said. “It’s not just the main way to get into a Delta Sky Club, it’s the main issue why Delta Sky Clubs are so crowded.”

In a statement, Delta said it did not change the lounge lightly.

“Our number one priority is to provide a premium experience for our members, so we must balance the popularity of the Delta Sky Club experience with the premium atmosphere and service we stand for,” the airline said.

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