American Express Has a New Solution for Centurion Lounge Overcrowding: Advance Reservations

Update: American Express walks back the statement from their executive on booking lounge visits via app. See below.

American Express upped the game in US domestic lounges with their Centurion Lounge product. They offered stylish spaces, good food, premium beverages and in some locations showers, kids clubs, and even spas.

Today there are lounges in Las Vegas, Dallas Fort-Worth (re-opening soon), Seattle, New York LaGuardia, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Miami. There are additional lounges that have been announced for New York JFK, LAX, and Denver.

It’s tough to get space in airports. It’s incredibly expensive (American Express spends unimaginable sums) and airport authorities are excruciatingly difficult to work with.

And no matter how much space you get, it isn’t enough if you offer a good product. Demand forecasts always underestimate how many passengers will want to visit lounges, and how much time they’ll spend, when a qualify lounge is on offer.

As a result most American Express Centurion lounges are crowded most of the time. They’re about to re-open Dallas Fort-Worth in a new location with more space. Their New York, Denver, and LAX lounges will be larger than several past lounges. But space alone isn’t the answer.

I’ve written several times that American Express should limit the number of complimentary visits each cardmember gets, however that’s purely speculative I do not have the data that would say whether that would move the needle. I’ve simply assumed that there are enough power users to matter.

Instead though American Express has a new approach. According to Josh McKay, American Express Vice President of Global Premium Product Benefits, they’ll be rolling out a feature for cardmembers “to book lounge visits with the Amex app and allow the company to manage lounge demand in real time.”

We don’t know what that will look like yet. For instance,

  • How much time will you be able to book? How far in advance?
  • Will there be any penalty for booking and no showing? (And if not, why not just book every trip through the airport ‘just in case’ and will this make it appear that lounge access is unavailable?)
  • Will there be a limited number of times you can book and guarantee access, with the rest accessible based on availability?

(HT: Doctor of Credit)

Update: American Express reaches out to suggest that booking via app is an example of something they’ll consider not something they currently plan to implement,

We continuously consider various ways to manage capacity in our Centurion Lounges, like the idea that one day you could potentially use your mobile app to check lounge availability or space (not reserve a spot). This was mentioned in discussion as an example potential improvements we consider, but there are no actual plans to implement this so at this time or in the near future.

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. On roll-out, it will likely be a train-wreck. They are a victim of their own success. It will be impossible to not piss some people off.

  2. We were turned away from the Centurion lounge in Seattle when our flight was delayed four hours and then again when it was delayed another six hours. Delta was more than accommodating.

  3. Does this also imply that Lounge staff will be forced to remove guests once their reservation “stay” has ended (on paper, at least)?

  4. I am an AMEX Platinum member for decades, my wife is an authorized user at a paid fee.I believe cardholders only should be accepted. No guests, no kids. If you want to you can get them cards by paying an annual fee.
    Problem Solved.

  5. @Donato, I travel a few times a year with my sister, who only travels a few times a year, makes no sense to add her or for her to hold the card. The rest of the year I travel with my husband, who does have his own card but even if he was just my guest, we would both go in, I dont see the difference if he has the card or is my guest, 2 people are 2 people going in. Having said that, we dont travel often through airports that have Centurion Lounges, si when I do get to one, in expect to get in.

  6. They impose a reservation system at the No 1 Lounge, a Priority Pass Lounge, at Gatwick. When I first tried to enter, there was literally a line of people out the door being turned away who did not make reservations. I was similarly turned away and was quite irritated. Luckily, Norwegian—quality carrier that it is—decided to cancel our flight so I made a reservation for the next day. It required paying $5 per person (for PP members) and came with an a la carte meal as well as Fast Track through security and immigration. The lounge was full but not jammed and quite enjoyable. It was totally worth it. I must say, while I was at first disappointed, I think there is something viable here.

  7. This would make me seriously consider downgrading my Platinum Card to Gold. None of the other amenities justify the annual fee for me.

  8. @IAN
    Perhaps I was not totally clear.
    Nothing against kids.
    My belief is that entrance to Centurion lounges should be for members only. That is why I pay extra for my wife and daughter and have little sympathy for those that keep guesting family and companions.
    I totally did not take into account the fact that some kids might be too young to have their own card, that is a reflection of my age and my kids ages

  9. Was at LAS centurian earlier before connecting in SFO, it is 10pm on a Wednesday and the SFO lounge is living up to my expectations, it is comically mobbed. There aren’t any kids here and everyone is well behaved. Not sure what the solution is, but the scene in here is reminiscent of the church in Solyent Green.

  10. When one enters a club, at least in my experience today, they slide the card. Is that to see if it is still valid, not expired?

    I am also in the camp that thinks it should be cardholder only, and no guests, except in slow times when one guest should be allowed for a nominal fee. I think they should also put a time limit with a fee for overstay (but not bother to try to enforce that except I very busy times).

  11. You would think AX would raise the credit score requirement for the platinum or similar cards, which would limit the amount of “future” card holders, raise the US fee to $600 for the base card, offer a $400 catch all travel credit, add free trip delay insurance on the card, and remove all the hide and seek credits they play with now, etc. The small fee increase and raised credit score would do a lot to remove many.

    I wonder the percentage of unknowns crowding the lounge, i.e. I’m available at xyz from 8-10 let me know if anyone needs access, forum postings. It’s easy to blame “families with kids” for over crowding, but if they make up even 5% of the volume I’d be suprised.

  12. @donato. Absolutely agree with second comment. They have a play area for kids who certainly cannot have their own credit card. Absent that if you want access you should be an authorized user. Or have your own card. Guests would be required to pay similar to what Delta does when you have access to the sky club.

  13. @Donato – They need to drop all guesting privilege but add immediate family. I rarely see kids in the DFW or SFO lounges, plus my family might get use out of the lounge once or MAYBE twice a year only. But coworkers flying together? They’re in there all the time.

    I like the idea of reservations but then the last minute business traveler might be left out in the cold…and he/she is the target audience of the Plat card anyway…

    As for the SEA comments above the SkyClub is much better than the AMEX lounge anyway, you were done a favor by not being allowed in…

    I’m really going to have to evaluate my holding the Plat card, lounge access is one of the few perks I actually use and it’s gotten much less valuable over the past several years.

  14. As an actual centurion cardholder I’m as annoyed as I am amused at all the unwashed platinums and their guests overcrowding the lounges. At least we have reserved seating which is a decent gesture. Still, the bar is definitely too low.

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