American Raising Prices, Adding Restrictions for Club Access

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American Airlines is raising prices of Admirals Club membership by $100 per year effective February 1. At the same time they’re reducing the mileage cost of membership — that’s still too expensive, though, since they’ll ‘only’ be giving you 1 cent per mile in value using miles to pay for membership. (Today’s mileage pricing is even worse.)

They are also eliminating household membership discounts. Adding a spouse as a member will be just buying them their own membership starting February 1.

With these changes the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® becomes an even better relative value. The card comes with Admirals Club membership. It also lets you add up to 10 authorized cardmembers at no additional annual fee, and each can access lounges themselves with up to 2 guests.

The card also has a day left offering 75,000 miles after $7500 spend within the first 3 months of cardmembership. [Offer expired]

And an even bigger deal, to me, effective November 1, 2019 same-day boarding passes on American Airlines, oneworld partner airlines, or Alaska Airlines will be required for entry.. This follows Delta and United was first with the same-day boarding pass restriction.

Under American’s literal published terms you would not be able to enter:

  • with a prior day boarding pass in the event of a flight delay when a lounge remains open
  • after a redeye flight (leaves one day, arrives the next)
  • when flying on a non-alliance partner like Air Tahiti Nui or Fiji Airways

I reached out to American to see if they really intend to be so draconian, and a spokesperson confirms that they do update: 11:26 a.m. Eastern: clarifies that “we’ll allow redeyes and delays into the lounge” despite the rule that says “[s]ame-day boarding passes … will be required for entry.” Hopefully agents will understand things as-intended, or American will update their website to make this clear.

American raised prices $50 – $100 in July 2016. Ironically it’s an historical accident that US airlines charge for lounge access at all rather than offering it to most elites.

Here are prices of a new Admirals Club membership. Renewals are $50 lower, and will be 5000 miles lower as well.

Current Price (Cash) February 1 Price (Cash) February 1 Price (Miles)
General Member 550 650 65,000
Gold 525 625 62,500
Platinum 500 600 60,000
Platinum Pro 475 575 57,500
Executive Platinum 450 550 55,000
Concierge Key Free Free N/A

American promotes that they’ve added new clubs in Houston, Orlando, and a second Los Angeles club. Of course they’ve closed clubs too. The most most recent closure announcements are Hartford, Greensboro, and Caracas. The main New York JFK Admirals Club was eliminated to expand the business class Flagship lounge there.

Lounges do now include some more substantive food options such as avocado toast and made to order guacamole. They’re also testing new food in Houston, Phoenix, Chicago O’Hare and the Dallas Fort-Worth A club. I’m not a fan of the meatball sliders, but there ya go. I’m also not a fan of the redesign of the DFW A Club but opinions vary.

You have 3.5 months to renew at current pricing, and American lets you renew up to 4 months in advance. The reason you get membership is for better assistance during irregular operations. That’s why I keep my membership.

United’s pricing tops out at $550 for general members. Delta charges $495 without guest access for lounges with more robust food offerings, but $745 with complimentary guests. Delta offers slightly better than 1 cent per point when redeeming miles for membership and offers decent value spending miles for good champagne in the lounge.

I asked American whether we can expect to see a change to the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® and a spokesperson tells me “No changes to the Citi card.” It just seems crazy that someone who can get this card would pay for an Admirals Club membership.

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. @Gary the one reason I can see for someone getting a membership over the Citi card is if someone is able to expense a lounge membership, in which case they may not really care that the cost is $50-150 more.

  2. I was under the impression that United required a same day boarding pass, but from any airline…

    Limiting it to just alliance partners seems extra harsh.

  3. @Pete – correct, that’s what I intended to communicate sorry I was unclear. Delta requires the same day boarding pass to be on their airline or a partner, I had then said United was first with the same day boarding pass requirement. They do not require that boarding pass to be with a partner. They also don’t offer showers unfortunately!

  4. If they keep raising the rates, tier point runs on BA for silver may become a better deal rather than getting a really expensive mediocre credit card with no discernible benefits apart from the club membership.

  5. To clarify, even with a membership that comes with the Executive card, you now have to show a same day boarding pass of a OW partner airline? So if I’m flying on Southwest, and want to use the lounge, I now can’t?

  6. For the non-credit card cheapest route – an Alaska Lounge membership is $450. It gives you access to the AC as long as you’re flying AA or AS.

  7. @MM – that will be the policy effective November 1, 2019. Currently when I fly Southwest out of Austin (purely because they offer a non-stop on a route American does not) I may use the American club. That will no longer be permitted. The United Club next door will still allow it.

  8. AA pushing us away from loyalty once again. I can’t say I blame them as they are overcrowded now.

    Maybe they could add a small fee like say $5 for non-alliance same day flights to raise revenue to off set the stock price losses 🙂

  9. I redeemed Business Extra points for this year’s membership (I don’t want the Citi card). I fly AA probably 60% of the time, Delta 30%, and Southwest 10% of the time out of Charlotte. If I now won’t be able to use the club during 40% of my travels, it’s worth 40% less to me. I love it – raise the price and also make it less useful. Adios, club membership.

  10. I would think travelers have several different reasons for membership. I have used my UC membership ZERO times for irregular ops. The one time I needed help I was instructed to rush to the gate of an alternative flight (which I did and successfully boarded/cleared standby thanks to my status). However I do find UC valuable as a place that I can get a beverage and snack without worrying about my luggage wandering off. Also as a controlled environment for my children. I have also started using it for a pit stop after deplaning. It is far less valuable to my airport experience than something like TSA pre-check, Global Entry, CLEAR, priority boarding etc – way down the list.

    I would be these changes are pretty marginal for most travelers – you’d be a fool not to get the CitiAA card for membership unless you can expense it with your employer.

  11. They might lose me at requiring same day boarding pass. I use the clubs but am not always flying AA. The service with AA has become rather awful but the clubs have gotten nicer. I like the clubs but not their planes or services. They should model the planes after their clubs. I’d just go into the club business exclusively. They seem to do nice there but fail as an airline carrying passengers.

  12. Well, I’ve been a member for 18 years. (EXP for all those years, too). Spousal membership the last 5. We have not done the card because of the reduced privileges of the authorized users. Wife is gold and flies more non-American than I do.

    Now everyone has reduced privileges, so no point in the membership – especially the spousal membership.

    Going to be getting the card at or before renewal time. All that is left now is deciding when to pull the trigger. Maybe that’s what was intended by the bean counters?

  13. Aw cmon Gary. Meatballs are good @ DFW. At least as good as subway and much better than just cheese cubes, etc.

  14. Requiring boarding passes really is a significant devaluation of the membership. As they have made quite a bit nicer clubs I’m fine with the increased fee. I think that is reasonable. But requiring a boarding pass is a huge value loss for someone that does not always fly AA.

  15. If I renew – the 120 mark for me is Jan 30th! So, I can renew one more time under the new rules. Now need to decide with the reduction of benefits if it’s just better to get the card. Didn’t get the card before because “authorized users” couldn’t access partner lounges – and The Wife was not a fan.

    So, renew and pay $625 for full access for authorized user until Nov, or put the card with The Wife as primary to get the 10k EQM boost.

  16. Chacun a son gout. I like the refurbed DFW A club.
    Same day boarding pass won’t be an issue for me, nor, I suspect the majority of most Admirals’ Club users.

  17. I apologize, but can I get clarification here?
    After Nov 1 – If I’m using my Citi Exec AA club membership but flying a non-OW carrier (e.g. Southwest), then I will not be allowed in?
    What’s the point of paying for the Citi Exec when an AS Board Room membership gets me access to two airline clubs for cheaper?
    Anyone know if I can product change a Citi Exec to anything else?

  18. Major bummer. A big part of the value prop is that I could also use the club in LAX T5 when I am flying B6.

  19. @tomri Surprised at that as my company would never pay any expenses that wasn’t tax-deductible

  20. Its not that hard to book a ticket an generate an AA boarding pass. Maybe a script could even be written to book the last flight of the day out of any one persons departure city. Most people wouldn’t do that, but some readers of this blog aren’t most people.

  21. @Tomri – a business class pay for club lounge access on behalf of an employee and as long as the business doesn’t deduct the expense they the benefit isn’t taxable to the employee [though i admit it’s probably been a decade since i looked up the irs rules on this]

  22. @VX_Flier after November 1 of 2019.

    Alaska Club membership does not get access to the American club in San Francisco. It does not apply when flying American’s oneworld partners. It does though come with a handful of other lounges you can access including 4 United clubs.

    The Citi Executive card lets you get no annual fee authorized user cards which gain Admirals Club access. Alaska club first year fee is $350, same as the Citi Executive annual fee. It drops after that though.

  23. @JollyKingCole – I had the subway meatball sandwich for the first time in maybe 8 years last month. Their meatball has a better consistency than American’s which is sort of mushy in the middle.

  24. An additional advantage of the Citi card is the 10000 EQMs after qualified charges, although with the now EQD requirement to achieve status, that might not be much help. Also, now that AA has the Flagship lounges and Flagship dining, no membership is required into those much nicer lounges as long as a business or first tic is purchased for the transcons or international flights. Sadly, people are now finding out about these – we returned to LAX from JFK last night and the Flagship dining was packed. However, thanks to Gary for the heads up, we’re now enjoying the Krug champagne.

  25. I think it is time to revolt and send letters of dissent on this issue. That is why I purchased my membership 20 years ago was to fly any carrier and have club access. This really sucks.
    15 years ago Delta had decided to start charging for alcohol and the members made such a stink that they backed off. Now is the time to voice your concerns to American to allow access with any BP.

  26. The only reason I applied for the CC was I had to pay $49 to get into the club on a revenue first ticket. I can’t think of a foreign carrier that doesn’t grant club access on a rev ticket. Perhaps there are others.

    Actually I applied for the card because Gary said he could use the cc link bonus. The Leff empire has fallen on hard times , as have I.

    I’m with Boston. I’ll book a refundable ticket on AA if I need access. My plan is to buy the most expensive first class international ticket then refund it.

  27. @Gary @Thomas —>

    A 1-year, first-time Alaska Lounge Pass membership costs $450, but only if you have zero status with AS. It’s $375 if you hold MVP status, and $295 if you are MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75k. One-year renewals are $350, $325, and $295 respectively. (NOTE: When I joined, you could purchase a one- or a three-year membership. I bought the three years at a substantial discount over three 1-year memberships, but I no longer see that option on the AS website.)

    Although the AS lounge pass is not good at all of AA’s ACs — and that SFO ban really hurts, as it’s my home airport — it *is* good at Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Buenos Aires, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, Nashville, New York (JFK, LGA, EWR), Orange County, Orlando, Paris, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Sao Paulo, St. Louis, Tampa, Tokyo (Narita), Toronto, Washington (DCA).

    The AS lounge pass also gets access at select Qantas clubs, some UA lounges, and some independent lounges (that may or may not be part of the Priority Pass network). AND, in terms of SFO, the AS pass *does* get you into the Cathay Pacific lounge in the International Terminal…great if you’re flying out of the IT; not as great when flying out of T2.

  28. @beachfan
    I.R.C. § 274(a)(3) Denial Of Deduction For Club Dues — Notwithstanding the preceding provisions of this subsection, no deduction shall be allowed under this chapter for amounts paid or incurred for membership in any club organized for business, pleasure, recreation, or other social purpose.

    Clubs organized for business, pleasure, recreation, or other social purpose include, but are not limited to, country clubs, golf and athletic clubs, airline clubs, hotel clubs, and clubs operated to provide meals under circumstances generally considered to be conducive to business discussion. The purposes and activities of a club, and not its name, determine whether it is organized for business, pleasure, recreation, or other social purpose

  29. OK, here’s my question:

    When you get a boarding pass on your phone, that boarding pass is no longer usable to scan, once the plane lands. So, does this mean that you’re no longer allowed to use the Admirals Club after you land anymore?

    Is that where this is heading?

  30. @Gary Leff

    A business can pay for club access for an employee, but it is not tax deductible under the IRC. The employee would not include the benefit as taxable income as long it is substantially used for business purposes. In the event the club access benefit is not used exclusively for business purposes then there would have to be a determination if personal use is de mimimis then no benefit would be included in the employees taxable income.

    The employer would have to show to an IRS agent that the lounge access is not taxable to the employee by documenting that the employee used it a majority of the time for business purposes. If a sole shareholder uses the club to fly from NYC to Florida to golf on the weekends then more likely then not the employee would have the benefit included in their taxable income for the year.

  31. I disagree. The meatballs are consistent – not mushy in the middle. The sauce is clearly better as well. Meatball sliders are a hit, and offer balance to lentil and vegetable soup offered together most days.

  32. I’ve had a lifetime Admirals Club membership for years (dating back to USAirways). There were no same-day boarding pass policy restrictions when purchased. Does this new policy apply to lifetime members? If so, this significantly devalues the membership and, as a frequent flyer for both business and pleasure, I will be certain to go out of my way NOT to fly AA in the future. Any legal issues for AA there, aside from the public relations disaster of the new policy?

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