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. Maybe the real problem is that US airports are so crappy that people rather go to the lounge?

    You’ll probably never seen something like this in Changi or other airports where it is actually awesome to be in.

  2. I can’t believe that people are stupid enough to pay the fee for the card in the first place…

  3. Gary – any guesses as to what, if anything, AmEx will try next? Higher annual fee to thin out the herd? Limit the number of visits per year? Add a per-visit fee for members, not just guests? Increase the seating capacity by pushing tables and chairs closer together?

  4. @Lori L I can’t believe people that bother to read travel blogs can’t get enough back out of a card that it pays for itself…..

  5. It would be interesting to know what time of day, and day of the week this occurred in Denver, and whether it happened during a massive flight cancellation incident. Because I have noticed a big difference at the Denver Centurion lounge since the change requiring each visitor to have a card went into effect. The lounge has been much less crowded when I have gone there since the change, so I wonder whether this photograph is actually reflective of the facts on a day to day basis.

  6. Your reference is one airport. I’ve been to Seattle and Vegas. I Definitely less crowded

  7. Easiest way to thin the lines is restricting access to people who pay the annual fee (military doesn’t and accounts for a high amount of signups) that’ll definitely thin out crowds by a bit

  8. Rubert, I was there on Wednesday when I landed at about 4:30 PM, the line was easily this long. There was a weather situation, several flights were rerouted, delayed take-offs, and cancellations, and we almost got rerouted to Colorado Springs. I stopped in the lounge when I landed just to get myself organized, I spoke to a person in the area I was in, and she had been delayed and in the lounge for three hours. The next day when I left, the line was only about 40 people deep. Also, keep in mind the line you see does not include the line of at least 15 more people waiting at the top of the stairs.

  9. Mitch (commenting to Lori), I have the Business Platinum. To your point, it is the most valuable card in my wallet . . . and I don’t even use Amex lounges. People don’t know what they don’t know.

  10. They should limit access to cardholders 25 and above. No children and no guests. Period.

  11. I was recently in the lounge at DFW, and it was so crowded there was literally not a single seat, and many people walking back and forth looking for one. Awful. Thankfully I was traveling business class on Lufthansa and could access the Capital One lounge, which was quite nice.

  12. It’s not worth it anymore. For less money, you can grab a table at a newer airport restaurant. Order a drink and appetizers and sit at your own table with free Wifi (plus your VPN). It’s a joke.

  13. I visited the lounges at DCA and Atlanta last week. Both were noticeably less crowded. Both were located on the respective B concourses.

  14. I fly out of Denver all the time and rarely see a line at all, let alone one this bad. My wife had to wait last time she flew, but expected a line given it was durring SPRING BREAK. DIA is the 3rd busiest airport in the country. Expect lines at peak hours, peak times, or bad weather/delays. Fly in the mornings or evenings and never wait in line at Denver’s Centurion Lounge, it’s that simple.

  15. Similar horrendous experience at Miami MIA in February 2023. Queue to enter, guard turning away anyone not flying within 2 hours. I had to pay to bring in my daughter. Then there was nowhere to sit, massive queues for any food or beverage and absolutely nothing available that she would eat — no basic or mild food, only various 15+ ingredient global fusion or needlessly pseudo-upscaled randomness. Not even rolls and butter. Oh and none of the womens toilets would flush. Madness! We would have had a more pleasant, cheaper, sanitary, and edible experience spending the lounge child guest entry fee in the airport food court.

  16. This was totally predictable. Before the change, nearly all of my “guests” were family members or business associates who already have their own Platinum cards. Checking them in as guests was more efficient than checking them in separately, but eliminating guest access didn’t stop them from using the lounge!

  17. I went to this one a few days ago, the up escalator was broken and they had a sign saying you needed to use the emergency exit stairs. I followed a guy and his wife up there while he sarcastically commented about how classy taking the non-customer facing stairs was. He then rushed to the counter before the rest of us and started cursing at the counter lady after she found that he was at his destination and turned him away. The lounge was less busy without the escalator working though, so I guess make people take the stairs and continue not letting people visit the lounge after they’ve arrived at their final destination. I’ve stopped visiting the lounge for the most part, I can go sit at a restaurant and expense it on my business trips. It’s usually a better experience anyhow.

  18. Active military get Amex Plat cards for free. Go to DFW lounge on a Sunday night – 60% of the lounge can be military with long lines at the food line – and food running out. While it is a nice jester, at times the crowded lounge is like a USO lounge.

  19. I don’t go anymore. Used to go all the time. Would show up early for the “event”. Now, at DFW, if I show up early I go to AA. Or I just stand outside the gate 45 mins prior to boarding. If you have amex for this particular lounge it’s not worth it. But I’ve been able to use the other benefits to cover the annual fee. So I keep it.

  20. Delta and American Express are trying to keep all of their customers happy and satisfied during their time in the airports. The Lounges are a refuge from all of the hassles of getting into and checking into the airport. However, the volume of folks traveling has exponentially increased and every one wants access to the lounges. Any decisions that are made will negatively impact large numbers of people and make them angry. How does one handle this and not lose customers? I am surprised that fights in the lines have not occurred yet. Hard decisions will need to be made before more chaos ensues. I will probably be one of those who loses access when the decisions are made.

  21. Is it me or did this article kinda abruptly end?

    As a plat card holder id actually be ok with paying less annually to not have access to the lounge.

  22. Denver is particularly bad. I’ve been waitlisted there multiple times, even after the guest policy change with no weather. AMEX should offer food vouchers when it happens. Other Centurion locations can be crowded, but at least you can get in.

    The Denver Centurion lounge is borderline unusable, to the point that I’m switching to VentureX once their new lounge opens.

  23. Why should Amex and its air partners care? They’ve already made their easy money. Stale cheese, 2-buck chuck, and surly staff, anyone?

  24. I was in Denver Centurion on Thursday 4/20 at about 3 pm. Wait to get up the escalator was 5 mins only because of the slow check-in at the desk. You can’t have people just getting on the escalator because there would be no room for them to stand at the top of the platform. Once at the check in desk, I saw one party turned away because they tried to bring a guest who had no guest privileges (yeah, they were pissed).I was able to schedule a shower immediately. But once done, I had to circle the lounge three times (10 mins) to find an open seat. By the time, I left at 4:30, the escalator line was even longer.

  25. Yes, the article did abruptly end. We were at DIA in February (might have been the day that picture was taken). The lines downstairs and upstairs were long. Because we had an infant in a stroller we were directed to the freight elevator which allowed us to bypass both lines. The lounge was really necessary as our daughter needing to pump/breastfeed the baby before our flight to DFW. Not allowing children would not be a good solution. One problem I see is there aren’t enough Centurian lounges. People hear about them so when they’re at an airport with one, they really want to go to it. Another issue is that all the airport lounges I’ve been to (Admirals Club, Centurian, Priority Pass Lounges) are busier than ever. This is in direct correlation to the credit card companies offering lounge access as a peek for getting their card. It’s the war between credit card issuers that’s causing most of this problem.

  26. I’m glad you like the food. Every time I’ve been to one all they had was Indian/Middle Eastern foods. Which is nice…if you like it. Being inclusive is good. But they need to keep in mind that there are customers that can’t eat it or don’t care for it.On travel days, my digestive system gets a little stressed and I’d appreciate at least one option. As it is, I usually get a grilled chicken sandwich in the food court (which I’d love to eat in the Club…).

  27. The simple solution is to include Priority Pass restaurants to alleviate crowding. I’m amazed at the number of “elite” travelers willing to pay American Express for the privilege of waiting in line.

    Reduced service and increased fees seem to be the new normal for Amex. My company cancelled our Platinum cards as a result of this policy.

    Jim Worrall

  28. @Christine,

    Girl, I feel you. I have a daughter who also has an annoying, unimaginative palate.

    You could do what I do, and just stuff a jar of Skippy and some Wonder Bread into her carry-on.

    I also sometimes travel with a tiny plunger, to guard against lazy airport lounge cleaninf staff.

    I mean, what the hell do they do all day? It’s not like airport lounge customers are any more thoughtlessly demanding than all those other people…

  29. There is no free guest access! I had to pay $50 for my wife to join me at a lounge recently. Moreover, a couple came in behind us and neither one had a Platinum card “I left it at home” and they both were let in for free. There were very few seats available, and people were eating from the buffet as if it was their first meal in weeks. Very negative experience. “Member Since 1973”

  30. Airport lounges used to be a place for quiet relaxation from the bustling environment of an airport terminal for premium passengers before their departure. Sadly, that is no longer the case.

    Because AmEx is not an airline, they’re offering access to anyone who holds their “premium“ credit card, the cost of which can be comparable to or less than ONE domestic first class ticket. For most people who fly a few times a year and definitely frequent flyers who often travel in economy class, getting the Platinum AmEx Card might totally be worth the cost.

    Taking some unpopular views, I would suggest these guidelines to help reduce the crowds in the Centurion Lounges:
    1. Only primary cardholders allowed
    2. No guests of cardholders
    3. Only passengers in premium class (business or first)
    4. Business or business casual attire required

  31. Totally agree. Denver Centurion Lounge is a joke. I don’t even play the AMEX game anymore – the time wasted making the trip to the C concourse just to wait to take a number to wait again to get in isn’t worth it.
    My advice – buy the Chase card and head for the United clubs. United is opening their largest one one ever soon on B concourse and a huge one on A concourse. Even better, United has a new grab-and-go lounge where you help yourself to pretty decent pre-packaged foods.
    United is trying hard to fix their problems.
    AMEX is simply admiring their problems.

  32. I was at the Denver one yesterday (Friday). Was there from 6:00 pm till about 8 pm. There were at least 10 people in line and the same number upstairs. A couple in front of me decided to leave when they found out about the fee for the additional person. It was so crowded I was lucky to find a spot at one of the work tables (bonus being charging outlets). It was very crowded and noisy—-several person wait for bar, at times no forks, etc. The lady who checked me in said it was this busy at this time almost every day.

  33. Have been to a couple Centurion lounges. Never had to wait in line to get in. Of course, I have never been very impressed either. I just renewed my plat (the math works out with the other benefits for the time being), but if they expect me to wait in line while paying these annual fees that is going to negatively impact my valuation of the card. Like I said, the benefits outweigh the AF, but its right on the borderline. Anymore negative reductions to benefits and the card is gone.

  34. CLT Centurion Club had gotten very busy. The new guest policy has definitely helped lower attendance. It can still be crowded at peak business travel times and bad weather delays. Even when busy I have not been unable to find a seat, just requires a little more effort.
    Centurion Clubs are a valuable perk on the card but there are plenty more for everyone who travels.

  35. I hear Amex gave guest access to a *lot* of people that didn’t reach the spend limit. Most of the Amex groups are also filled with 22 year olds with $30k salaries and a fairly low credit score having been approved for the card. Maybe enforcing restrictions, raising this card back up to an actual harder to get card, and allowing the card annual fee to be waived for military but not allowing lounge access for military as well as authorized users that are under 18 or 21 would help.

  36. Platinum Card member for 41 years. Benefit value has diminished to nearly $0. I’ve experienced wait time average of 40 minutes at DFW, IAH, JFK, and other airports across the US. I’ve contacted Amex through feedback on the app. Not once have I received a reply other than customary thank you for your feedback. I’ll downgrade my card.

  37. To help reduce overcrowding, American Express could incentivize cardholders not to visit the Centurion lounges. For example, if you use the lounge less than 30 times a year, you will earn a $100 discount when you renew.

  38. Ken A, most lounge users are frequent users. Incentives for infrequent users will not do much to reduce crowding.

  39. Agree with the opinion that if it’s too crowded then for me it’s absolutely of no interest to me. I have walked into and quickly out of the MIA club (for example) several times the past year because it’s more crowded than the terminal! I’m not that desperate for some free snacks. No thank you AMEX.

  40. We were at the Hartford airport lounge because sitting elsewhere in the airport was sub par and restaurant/eateries were crowded and few. Well the lounge didn’t have a huge line to get in but it was so crowded people were sitting on their bags. Whatever crumbs of food would show up would be devoured in seconds. No plastic knives. Scarce plastic cups. And numerous people either being turned away or paying to get in. It wasnt classy or even comfortable at all. It felt third world. We found a seat and drank mostly tea before the cups temporarily disappeared.

  41. I’m active military and it used to be a fairly well kept secret that the platinum card is free for us. However, everyone knows now and we probably make up about half of the customers at the lounge. It’s a nice gesture from Amex but ruining the experience for those who pay so much.

  42. I’ve been lucky, I’ve only seen a line one time so I turned around and went to an AA lounge. I’ve always found a seat, one lounge had terrible food, and the hours have been reduced in the past few years. Was recently at the LAX lounge and was in a quiet room where most of the spaces were taken up by non-quiet children. I told them it was a quiet space and they all politely left.

  43. Lol. First world problems. If you can put $75k a year on your card and you’re whining about having to pay to get a guest in, you need to check yourself. Honestly. Rich people are clueless.

  44. Mary, if you spend $75k on the card, you can bring a guest for free.

    If rich people were so clueless, how did they amass their wealth? 🙂

  45. PHL lounge at 5 PM last Sunday had a line that blocked the elevator from the terminal. The wait to check in was almost as long as the waiting list (25 minutes). However, about an hour later, the line disappeared. Part of the issue is there is no lounge in the international area other than AMEX or BA (which prioritizes its own passengers). AA’s Flagship lounge (which is replacing an Admirals Club) has been under construction for years, so elites and business passengers on AA have nowhere nearby to go other than Centurion.

  46. The last time I made an effort to use the amex lounges a few weeks ago, I tried getting in during a layover in Seattle and again in Houston. And on the way back, I tried in Houston and Seattle again. I was 0 for 4. Seattle was a 45 minute wait both times. Houston was an hour on the first try, and on the 2nd, the line was visible when the elevator door opened. That must’ve been 75+ people in line for a lounge that likely only holds 100. I’ve made it into an amex lounge twice in the past two years and have probably tried 20 times. My annual spending on my platinum is $250k, and I can’t even use their d*mn lounges.

    My suggestion to amex would be a tiered admission fee based on spending. $75k+ = free. $25-75k = $20. Under $25k = $40. I’d love to see some stats on the annual spending of cardholders that use the lounge compared to all platinum cardholders too.

  47. Just an observation: Oh for the days when the vast majority of everyday Americans “took the bus!” Today those people who would have taken the bus 70-years ago, are flying–and they aren’t getting dressed up for that privilege either. To find a certain degree of sanity in travel, you need a private plane and a lounge that caters to those paying for that service. If you are not yet at that level of travel exclusivity, you have to suck it in and deal with it…and, regrettably, it isn’t always pleasant.

  48. Gary, I was there in Denver with my daughter on the day that somebody snapped the picture. The reason the line was long is because there was a ground stop and many flight were delayed or canceled Amex did an unbelievable job of catering to everybody who wanted access. We were there for 2 hours before our initial flight and several owners after our flight was canceled. I can adore you everyone who wanted access was able to get in within 30 minutes of checking in.

  49. The airport is nicer than standing in a line to get in to a crowded lounge.

    One solution to this would be for these people in Denver to start acting rationally.

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