Austin American Express Lounge Is Now Off The Table

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.

Airport Lounge Concession Bid Scoring Sheet

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.”

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. You get what you vote for in your local elections Austin. Keep it ‘weird’ – working out great here.

  2. Qualified and financially advantageous or not, we can’t have those pesky white devils operating things….. which coincidentally also makes them automatically insurrectionists, transphobic, racist and TRUMP supporters!

  3. @Gary: This case is actually an object example of why Democrats screw up cities whenever they run them. Right at the bottom of all the airport’s decion-making was — the passeger.

    The only thing missing is the homeless sleeping in the lounge.

  4. “The airport solicited bids to run a new independent lounge, and selected MAG (“Manchester Airport Group”)”

    Perhaps they should re-brand and add the city name. “-Austin” would make it a MAGA project.

  5. People want to come to Austin and in general Blue states/cities, bec of diversity, education, freedom etc. So, there will be some issues since population is increasing. Red states/cities are mostly either losing folks or stagnant growth or a cultural/economic/education wasteland and backward.

  6. They could’ve easily used the American express brand to make money from their airport lounge. But I understand why they want to build their own to brand themselves independently.

  7. There’s a reason AUS is often at the bottom of “best run airport” lists of any meaningful quality.

  8. @FTRUMP

    Correct, that’s why populations in Texas and Florida are declining so rapidly and have such high unemployment rates relative to blue states.

    FWIW: You can think Trump is an idiot and ALSO think Wokist lefties are idiots too … and ruining otherwise fantastic places to live.

  9. @FTrump

    Do not let facts get in the way of a great story. Never mind Texas gained 2 congressional states while losing folks. Can you explain how that happened?? Can you please watch more than just CNN??

    PS.. have you been to AUS lately? APD won’t respond to any 911 calls unless the crime is still in progress. Homeless camps under almost any highway bridge. Most of my female friends avoids Austin for entertainment and go elsewhere. The risk is just too high for them

  10. Bergstrom is a nice small (even with the new Delta wing) airport with good food. Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought it much of a candidate for for an independent lounge. It’s not like Southwest flyers are demanding lounge access. And as to it being bureaucratically difficult to put one in, well, it’s Austin. If the bureaucrats don’t want it, it won’t happen.

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