The Austin airport was supposed to be getting a new lounge accessible by American Express Platinum cardmembers. It started off as an Escape lounge, that was supposed to be co-brand with Amex, and now of course the relationship between Escape and American Express has been formalized (‘Centurion Studio’).
The airport solicited bids to run a new independent lounge, and selected MAG (“Manchester Airport Group”) USA which runs Escape lounges. However the City Council balked in a dispute over minority contracting rules.
The lounge was supposed to be:
- Approximately 8000 square feet
- On the mezzanine level of the main terminal across from gate 16, which is six gates away from the American and United clubs and squarely in Southwest Airlines territory
- Featuring a local Austin chef curating the menu
- Designed “with a ‘Zoning Concept’ theme [where e]ach zone will be named after a recognizable Austin neighborhood and will feature Austin inspired design, e.g. Downtown District, South Congress Café, Rainey Street.”
The City Council was expected to formally approve the lounge space award to MAG in January 2020 however this was delayed because Airport Dimensions, which operates lower quality ‘The Club’ lounges, filed a protest arguing that the city should accept lower rent from them since they are better positioned to meet government Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise standards.
- Austin airport has a Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goal of 11.06%. Airports score bids on the basis of whether they meet the goal, not on the basis by by how much.
- The MAG contract hit 13% ACDBE by turning over operations of the lounge (but not ownership) to “D&B Mitchell Group, a Dallas-based, Black-owned business” which would take a percentage of revenue off he top. In addition MAG partnered with local Mozart’s coffee, which is minority-owned.
- Airport Dimensions, which came in second and operates The Club lounges, had offered a 20% ownership stake to a local minority-owned business.
- Airport Dimensions also, oddly, claimed they’re a Texas-based company while MAG are a bunch of U.K.-based fer’ners. Airport Dimensions is part of… the U.K.’s Collinson Group which owns Priority Pass. Locally-owned is an impermissible decision-making criteria under federal rules in any case.
In addition to MAG and Airport Dimensions, there were also bids from Plaza Premium (which Capital One is working with on its lounges) and Turkey’s TAV Operations Services which runs Prime Class lounges. The MAG bid guaranteed nearly twice as much revenue to the airport as the second place Airport Dimensions bid.
The City Council decided not to act on the lounge award, “to withdraw the airport lounge item and to have it reposted at another meeting with new wording once they have had more time to learn about the issues at hand.”
So what happened next? The pandemic. And the whole thing was tabled. In the meantime Austin airport has only Delta, United, and American lounges – all of which now restrict use to passengers actually flying those airlines on the day of departure. There are no independent lounges in Austin, and the largest carrier at the airport – Southwest – has no lounges.
And that’s the way it’s going to stay, at least for some time. According to airport spokesperson Mandy McClendon, the contract to build a new lounge “was canceled and is not anticipated to let again at this time.”