American Express Centurion Lounge Guest Restrictions Aren’t Working

America Express has had a huge conundrum with its Centurion lounges. They promote access to acquire premium credit card customers, but customers show up and have a subpar experience because the lounges are too crowded. They’ve been battling this over the past half dozen years and nothing has worked.

When you build a nice airport lounge it’s going to be busier than you expect even after accounting for the knowledge that it’s going to be busier than you expect. People come to the airport earlier. They stay longer. They go out of their way to reach the lounge by changing terminals. Add in that the food and drink is actually pretty good in American Express Centurion lounges and they’ve become so busy nobody goes there anymore.

American Express has been imposing access limits of various kinds for the past half dozen years but it hasn’t solved the problem. They limited who could buy guest access. They limited access to departing passengers only within 3 hours of their scheduled flight. Those didn’t make much of a difference.

So in February Platinum cardmembers who spend less than $75,000 per year on their card lost the ability to bring in any guests for free. My wife has an authorized user Platinum card on my account and can get into the lounge without a fee. We cannot get an authorized user card for our daughter, since she’s under 13, so we’d have to pay to bring her into the lounge with us.

Each change makes some incremental difference in crowding, but American Express keeps adding more people with access to these lounges.

Sadly even after limiting guests of those who aren’t big spenders with Amex, there are still lines to get in. Here’s the queue to get into the elevator up to the Centurion lounge in Denver, to wait in line to get in upstairs. (HT: Douglas)

I cannot imagine putting $75,000 spending on the Platinum Card – most spend earning merely 1 point per dollar – in order to get free guest access so that you can stand in line to get in. I haven’t bothered to head over to a Centurion lounge in the past six months.

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, 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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  1. There need to be obvious rules implemented:
    Rule 1: I always get in without a wait.
    Rule 2: Anybody in my line of sight between my table, the food and beverage, and the bathrooms will be asked to leave so that I may have a tranquil experience.

    All rules should be designed to suit me. It is the only equitable way.


  2. I’m completely done with Amex. Lounges are an overcrowded mess and the staff is rude. Adding the spend requirement isn’t what I signed up for. Two weeks ago at Philadelphia, they “had two seats” and allowed us in, and the host pointed my wife to go sit at a two-top with a attractive male strange, and pointed me to go sit at a different two-top with another woman on the other side of the room! Seriously. Complete shambles!!! it is now way more stressful inside an AMEX lounge than it is in the regular terminal!

  3. There is no reason anymore for us to have the Platinum card. It’s not a perk to have to pay $50 per person to use the lounge. We are disgusted with AMEX.

  4. Amex is ridiculous!! I can take 2 guests in to a lounge on Priority Pass – which is Amex’s partner – but I cannot take my wife to Amex’s own lounge! Absolutely ridiculous!! They asked me to pay $50 for her! What good is my Platinum card then??

  5. I only use a Centurion Lounge when traveling by myself on business and even then, it depends on the time. I usually just go to American Airlines or United Clubs. Food may not be as good but who cares. I have a Priority Pass for some airports. At first, the AmEX lunges were certainly a privilege of membership but now they are hit and miss. Maybe they need to be rebranded as business travel lounges since can’t get family in for the most part even if you pay the $50. I use to stop in at the end of a flight to catch my breath, but now the AmExl lounges are for departure only. I am also wondering if an AmEx Plat card has much value. A basic rule of business is to not offer something that is going t harm the brand, and I bet American Express is regretting getting into the lounge business. It may have been better to partner with third-party lounges rather than ruin their own reputation. I can see AmEx closing the lounges before too long if they cannot figure it out. These lounges may go the way of the old Amerian Express offices in Rome, London, Paris, etc.

  6. I’ve used the Denver Amex lounge a half-dozen times in the last year. It’s been crowded. Good luck finding an open stall in the bathroom. The food is pretty mediocre at best. The employees really don’t seem to like the customers. Amex’s success will probably solve itself as user experience continues to slide.

  7. There is no reason to hold this card except for the lounge access. Most busy executives do not have time nor inclination to play the coupon book game. They certainly don’t have time to wait in lines for lounge access or anything else.

    Expect mass card cancellations once everyone has cycled thru the SUBs and retention bonuses.

  8. Only Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders are supposedly allowed to enter. Way back 8 years ago, there were plenty of cardholders and way less lounges. What changed? Amex went to war with Chase Sapphire Reserve for gaining cardholders. Same for other co-branded cards that offer some type of lounge access. Easier to gain customers than add more lounges.

    As much as I hate paying more for something that was free, there may be no other short-term solution. Charge everyone $20 to enter the lounge. Although discontinuing the restaurant use from Amex Priority Pass was an uncompetitive if not idiotic cost saving measure.

    Currently P2 and I both have Amex Platinums. One is getting canceled and the other will get an AU Platinum card. We are tired of the coupon book mentality of Amex cards. We don’t get $1400/year value!

  9. I would absolutely give up my spot in the lounge for active duty military. The cuts need to be made in the Authorized User department. Want exclusive access? Get your own account.

    Just my .02

  10. This is the second time I have walked out of a Centurion lounge. I don’t want to fight for space and fight for food. I left the lounge in CLT and opted for peace and quiet at Minute Suites.

    It shouldn’t be less stressful in the airport.

  11. There is one solution that should be obvious–greatly expand the lounges so they live up to the AmEX brand and promise. I recently used the newly expanded lunge at SFO, and it was a great experience. Much more room, two bars and two food areas, and no problem sitting. I don’t know how it pencils out for AmEX, but if they cannot deliver on their brand and their promises, they should get out of the lounge business or go all in and build enough capacity to meet demand.

  12. Just walked by the AMEX lounge at CLT. Didn’t even bother trying to get in. Saw about a dozen or so teenagers running in and out of the line for the elevator.

    Until AMEX fixes the guest problem/supplemental card issue, AMEX lounge losing value daily.

  13. Hate to say it but Amex needs to implement a hefty minimum annual spend for the primary cardholder to have access at all. I’m talking like $50-75k/year. Otherwise the lounges really serve no purpose whatsoever.

  14. Recently flew through Denver. Three hour layover. Took 1.5 hours to get into the lounge. I called to cancel my card and they said I would lose my entire yearly fee paid two months prior. What a mess – will cancel next year, their lounges are a joke.

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