American Express Denies New Access Rules for Centurion Lounge Access, Limits Imposed During ‘Busy Periods’

Just a few days ago I asked if Centurion lounges have gotten so crowded no one goes there anymore. The lounges are nice, an improvement on their US airline lounge alternatives. They’re stylish spaces with decent food and beverage programs.

Seattle Centurion Lounge

Any time you open a nice airport lounge you learn that there’s more demand than even the most aggressive models predicted. United has had to expand its Polaris lounges. Even American’s 28,000 square foot Miami Flagship Lounge gets busy at peak times.

What’s more space in an airport is at a premium and difficult to secure. If you want to build a lounge you take the space you can get.

American Express has tried several things to manage overcrowding.

That’s not done the trick. The level of demand has also taxed American Express food and beverage budgets for the lounge. My impression is that they more careful with food costs than earlier on in the lounge program to compensate.

Their latest move has been to limit access to lounges to within 2 hours of flight departure, and eliminate access after your flight (so no more access on arrival when you do not have a connecting flight).

The Centurion lounge in Seattle has a paper sign on the door that reads,


Due to peak travel periods, access to the lounge is

Guests must have confirmed same day
Departure/Connecting boarding passes.

If you are traveling on Delta, you may access the
DELTA SKY CLUB located at Gates A1 and S10
If you have your Priority Pass Card you may access
The Club at SEA at Gates A11 and S9

We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your support.

Miami was imposing two hour prior to departure access limits on Memorial Day as well.

It’s unclear how often these limits will be imposed or at which lounges. And in fact, to be clear, American Express says that this is not a new policy.

  • They tell me that “We have always had this policy in effect for all our Centurion Lounge locations when we hit capacity.” I have never heard of it being enforced before this past weekend.

  • They further shared that “We only restrict lounge access if we hit capacity” so this isn’t a regular policy at all of their lounges all of the time. We can guess what peak periods will be, and we’ll learn how often signs are put up, but we don’t know with precision when we’ll be let into a Centurion lounge on arrival or more than 2 hours prior to departure. And lounges are needed when we get to the airport early precisely because of uncertainty in our plans.

My issues with this approach are three-fold.

  1. They’re imposing the policy without letting cardmembers know in advance. So people are learning about it when they show up at the airport and walk up to the lounge. They’re finding out they don’t have lounge access on arrival.. on arrival. Or they’re at the airport early only to have to sit around and twiddle their thumbs.

  2. More than two hours is sometimes the reality of travel. They aren’t focusing on keeping out ‘abusers’ of the lounge who purposely show up super early to eat and drink. They are limiting the usefulness of the lounge for real travelers, business people who get stuck at the airport due to misconnections or cancellations, when airline schedules for 2-3 hour connections or when meetings end early and you just need to be productive at the airport. Two hours just seems like the wrong standard.

  3. So much for catching a shower after an overnight flight and heading to work. Most Centurion lounges have showers, I used the one in Houston this month. Popping into the lounge for a shower and a coffee on arrival is legitimately useful.

Dallas Fort-Worth Centurion Lounge

Ultimately there are too many people who have been eligible to use the lounges, who have wanted to use the lounges, relative to the size of the lounges. There’s only so much they can do to expand capacity in the airports they work in (and larger lounges are going to attract more people who still stay longer, since currently some people – like me – often stay away precisely due to the crowding).

They have limited guests and could limit those further. They can limit how long someone can spend in the lounge (as they seem to be testing here). Or they can limit how often someone can visit the lounge (eg capping the number of allowable visits per month or year).

It is simply difficult to offer a quality lounge product which includes a peaceful, quiet experience for the number of people who have access through Platinum American Express cards.

Centurion Lounge Seattle

Personally I’d rather see limits on the number of annual or quarterly visits, and if they have to limit how long someone can stay in the lounge I’d much rather see 4 hours than two hours prior to departure which really means 1 hour 15 minutes for most passengers. Telling someone to go walk around the terminal until it’s two hours before their flight isn’t a premium experience. Nonetheless this is a difficult challenge American Express is trying to address.

(HT: Josh F., Ken G., and thanks to One Mile at a Time for noting this extended yesterday to Miami.)

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. Stopped by the Oakland, CA airports small, Amex-affiliated Escape Lounge last Thursday and it was indeed very busy – my wife and I found the last two seats available.

    I think your solution of capping the number of annual or quarterly visits makes sense, though of course from Amex’s point of view that could dissuade some folks from getting the card to begin with.

    Another possible option is to do what Priority Pass does in a number of airports, giving $28 per person credits (I believe limited to the PP card-holder and one guest) at certain restaurants, though that both adds to Amex’s cost and doesn’t address necessarily address other reasons people want a lounge, such as a quiet place to work or even to take a shower.

  2. I got the AMEX Platinum/Schwab card in April @ $550 annual membership fee and am currently in the process of spending $5k by July to get a big points bonus, which will balance out the first year cost. (I expect to get $750 which can be redeemed as an investment in one of my Schwab accounts.) I’ll cancel next year if the Centurion enticement falls flat. The SPG Gold enticement has apparently already fallen flat with the facts you gave us earlier on the Marriott/SPG merger. (I’m keeping my Chase/United card with bonus United miles for spending and United Club access for $395 annually. I’ve consistently gotten what I pay for at that club, even though it’s a notch below Centurion and restricted to United and partners.)

  3. I can understand the two hour rule for people departing from an airport, but for connections that sucks because often people can’t control flight schedules that leave them with long connections. Centurion Lounge access is a major reason to have a platinum card.

  4. Isn’t it funny that the airlines kicked Amex members out of their lounges partially due to overcrowding, and it seems like Amex is now having the same issue in their own lounges.

  5. @doug – I completely agree. I have an upcoming flight through SEA with an imposed schedule change…my 2 hour layover just jumped to 5 hour. It’s a KE award on DL metal with no hope of changing flights…was thinking we’d hang out in the AMEX lounge for that time. Lounge access is one of the primary reasons I hold the Plat card, if these restrictions are permanent then I’ll need to reevaluate my membership… I wonder if any analyst at AMEX has thought about this, or if AMEX could have imagined that their lounges might actually cost them some business!

  6. I was at SEA very early this morning and the sign was on the door before the lounge was crowded. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the new normal applied across all Centurion lounges.

  7. Off Topic for sure
    Sadly American Express has become up there with one of the most dishonest companies in America.
    I put them on par Consumer Relations wise now with Spirit Airlines, Easy Jet and as awful as American Airlines in fact Amex is worse than American if that’s possible when it comes to Consumer Relations a feat unimaginable just a few years ago
    Amex makes it near impossible to call an executive liaison to solve a problem except by writing in
    And the address is kept a secret at their call centers
    Its cost them hundreds of thousands of my spending on my leisure and business cards for their abhorrent business behavior

    The most recent noticeable downfall was after they lost Costco account and overspent renewing the Delta Partnership.
    Cost cutting became so rampant it affected their better judgement helping customers
    Then there is the as$inin# rule of once in a lifetime sign up bonus for a card product
    Yet they keep bombarding you with useless offers years after you cancel a particular card
    So they can bait and switch you after signing up.Cardholders beware get a lawyer and read the fine print
    Chase and Citibank and most all others have it right with reapplying for cards
    And they are the beneficiaries of American Express and their stupid business behavior
    You would think Amex was a welfare office today

    That’s quite a contrast from what I grew up with many decades ago when they were the Gold Standard in every way of customer service excellence/brand assurance
    that every consumer could be happy with and others would want to aspire to do business with
    They had a customer comes first policy
    Over the years American Express has been sued in class action suits for ripping customers off on a number of different issues with over billing card holders like travel insurance
    I could have over looked some of the bumps in the road but today calling them for customer service is the ultimate punishment and abuse for being a cardholder
    Irritating beeps as you are recorded every last word you say so it can be used sometimes incorrectly against you in the most minor of matters like a promotion
    Their foreign call centers are atrocious and clueless
    Ever have to dispute a charge?
    They are a bunch of bumbling idiots and frequently cant open a case properly or solve their way our of paper bag

    It doesn’t surprise me that they would do anything without notification as they are now the slime balls of the industry and greediest only tied with Bank of American and Wells Fargo
    I went from loving American Express 18 years ago to hating them with a vengeance
    Want to know how I really feel about them?
    After recommending hundreds of card holders through the years I no longer or rarely recommend them to anyone
    The only thing positive about American Express is few of their card partners like Starwood Marriott and the new Centurion Lounges that is if you can find some place to sit 😉

  8. This is nothing. Parker is looking at renaming the gate waiting area as a lounge and charging for a seat.

  9. The two hour limit is absurd. One of the main selling points of a lounge is a place to get work done during otherwise wasted time at airports, which is often many hours before a flight (given how early one must get to an airport nowadays, especially for international flights) or during long layovers or delays. And often when I land, I need to shower or do some work before heading out of the airport and rely on the lounge for that.

    If AMEX can’t provide that, then I don’t need their card, especially with the new increased annual fee, as the Centurion Lounge is the main reason I have one (can’t always find an Admiral’s Club).

  10. So it’s pretty clear these lounges are too cheap to enter. AMEX is in a bind because they’ve promised a lot to Platinum members.

    I think limiting # of visits per year makes the most sense. I presume this has been discussed internally at AMEX and I’d be very curious to know why it has not been implemented.

  11. Thanks for reporting on this. Lately, it seems that nearly anyone who hasn’t declared bankruptcy can get a Platinum Card or some other card with Priority Pass. It’s hardly surprising that people who have been sold these “exclusive perks” want to use them. The result is lounges that are packed with leisure travelers and their screaming broods– all thrilled to gorge themselves on “free” pretzels and macaroni salad. I’m beginning to miss the last recession.

  12. According to Gary’s post from 1/24/17, there are approx. 1.3 million Platinum and Centurion cardmembers, not counting additional authorized users. Limiting the number of annual visits will solve nothing as the leisure traveler (who is likely to be the one hanging around for hours drinking and eating) doesn’t travel often enough to exceed the limit and it will punish the business traveler who frequently uses the lounges and is not likely to hang around for hours unless on a layover or IRROPS. The lounges are in popular airports and, given the number of cardholders., it is understandable that they are packed. AMEX created a monster and now that the expectation is there, it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

  13. Bait & switch is nothing new for amex. There is a reason UA, DL, AA lounges are in the condition that they are, but at least they reflect reality of their clientele, i.e. no time limts. Unlimited sales of memberships + access for “members” = excessive usage and overcrowding.

  14. Huge opportunity to strengthen their Centurion branding.

    Armored gladiator at the entrance to each lounge. Only the strong enter!

  15. This card becomes less valuable everyday. Absurd that this rule gets applied to connecting passengers.

  16. The main reason I paid an astronomical fee for the Amex Platinum was to use the Centurion lounge at SEA. Alaska usually closes their lounges to Priority Pass, and the Priority Pass lounges are way out of the way.. (I get Priority Pass through Chase Saph anyway).

    I frequently have 3 hour layovers at SEA, and going into a lounge 2 hours before takeoff really means a 1 hour stay.

    My suggestion? Those of us with AMEX Platinum cards should just sit at the Centurion desk and send out a live stream of our wait. And For me, there’s no point in keeping the card it it doesn’t give Centurion lounge access.

  17. Since Amex lost Costco, I’ve noticed that overall customer service at Amex has taken a nosedive. Customer service used to be the #1 thing I thought of when I thought of Amex. I’ve used a Centurion Lounge once (at LGA) and it was nice. I was flying DL and had to go to a different terminal to use it. If I arrived at the Centurion Lounge after taking 30 minutes to get there and found the 2 hour rule, I would be pissed, and it just might cause me to D/C my Amex Platinum card. I don’t see any good solution to this mess.

  18. I remember when the Centurion lounge was for Centurion card holders only. It was wonderfully empty. For platinum holders Wouldn’t you rather be allowed in 2 hours before your flight than be told “sorry we’re full come back later or stand in line and wait for someone to leave before you can come in” and then stand in an hour long queue?

    I think Amex is doing the best they can to handle peak periods and a 2 hour rule is more than fair. If you don’t like it, get the Centurion card, pay more and you won’t have to deal with that rule. Other cards with a similar fee structure to the platinum card don’t have their own lounges, so see this as the free added benefit it really is.

  19. @Sir Flysalot – that policy existed only in the first lounge (Las Vegas) as they learned how to run a lounge, it was a test and they always had the intention of broadening it.

  20. Limiting access to number per year or quarter punishes the frequent traveler and favors the liesure travelers. Not in my consideration the intention of AMEX. I believe the value is well worth the annual fee as a frequent business traveler and would be happy to pay twice as much for more exclusivity. I think this is the only viable solution for AMEX to implement. Restrictions of any form will only hurt their relations with long term business clients.

  21. Centurion lounge should be for centurion card holders only. Whoever branded the Lounge centurions and gave access to Platinum cardholders was not smart at all. The centurion card has nearly lost all of its mystique and perks. A platinum card is nearly as good. They have devalued their premium product so much that the only reason to have the card is based on nostalgia when the card actually meant something. The lounges should be rebranded as AMEX lounges and while it doesn’t reduce the crowding it reduces the expectation of some high end experience. I do like what airlines like emirates do, one entrance to Lounge but one side is business and one side (kept seperated) is first class and the experience is much different.

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