Delta Drops The Hammer On Sky Club Access In Four Ways

Delta’s Sky Clubs are nicer than competitor products, with more and better food. But they’re also busy. There are frequently (long) lines to get in, and once inside they’re crowded – hardly a respite from the terminal. Delta has a problem, driven in part by more people with access through credit cards because of their Amex agreement, and in part because a nicer lounge means passengers are more likely to go when eligible.

This week I wrote that Delta Air Lines would cut Sky Club lounge access for elites flying coach on international itineraries. They’re doing that. But they’re going further.

  • Already they limit access to within 3 hours of the start of travel
  • Starting February 2, Delta Gold members and above (who do not have Sky Club memberships or credit cards that give them access) will no longer be able to use clubs when traveling coach on international trips
  • Also starting February 2, club members will no longer be able to use clubs when flying basic economy
  • And beginning January 1, non-elites will no longer even be able to buy club memberships
  • Effective January 1, prices for memberships are going up from $545 to $695 (from $845 to $1495 to an Executive membership with guests)

In addition, Delta – which just increased the spend requirement for Diamond elite status – will no longer let their top elite members choose an individual club membership or guest pass as a choice benefit, starting February 1 either. For the 2024 elite and beyond, an ‘executive membership’ with guests will require 3 choice benefit selections instead of 2.

Delta told Zach Griff that their promise, mere weeks ago, not to take away choice benefits “was not disingenuous because it’s something that we were evaluating.” So there’s that.

Notably, partner elites aren’t having their access to Delta lounges taken away. SkyTeam Elite Plus hasn’t been devalued. And access via Platinum and Centurion American Express and Delta Reserve credit card isn’t changing. Delta’s American Express contract runs to 2029. This is a huge incentive for U.S.-based SkyMiles elite members to get American Express credit cards.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I’m not a Delta FF. I can imagine AA and UA are chomping at the bit to copy Delta since it’s their favorite past-time.

    But I do have an Amex Platinum, and the 1-2 times a year I fly DL, I get lounge access.

    I simply cannot imagine that this is going to materially solve the problem. The problem is how many people have Amex Platinum cards. And it’s clear Delta gets too much revenue from that to put restrictions on granting access to those cardholders.

  2. “Starting February 2, Delta Gold members and above (who do not have Sky Club memberships or credit cards that give them access) will no longer be able to use clubs on international trips”

    This is a significant error and you need to correct this. GMs and above can use the Sky Clubs provided they are in premium economy or business class.

  3. “And beginning January 1, non-elites will no longer even be able to buy club memberships.”

    So they get the credit card? This is stupid.

  4. Re: Daniel

    “Can DL golds access SkyTeam lounges (AF, KLM, etc.) when flying internationally?”

    not for long!

  5. Are they really still nicer? I know DL was investing in them a bunch a few years before COVID but I feel like AA and UA have basically caught up in terms of offerings (and obviously blow DL away in terms of their premium J/F lounges).

  6. If American or United were smart, they would instantly offer a status match for diamonds to executive platinum or Premier 1K.

    Delta elites can no longer trust Delta to live by what it literally just said a couple months ago. What about the diamonds that have already selected 2023 choice benefits? Will those selections be honored?

    The idea that Delta is giving the giant middle-finger to diamonds and platinums who fly international economy or comfort plus — many employers, including the government — prohibit business-class on flights under a certain number of hours — while at the same time rewarding infrequent customers with a credit card is quite incredible.

  7. Nobody seems to be pointing out that Delta claims it will open Delta One lounges in late 2023 or early 2024. What happens to the regular Sky Clubs at that time? It’s conceivable that the quality of food and alcohol, both of which are mediocre at best right now and highly variable depending on the airport, will decline as Delta pivots the better food and alcohol to Delta One lounges.

  8. FNT – I don’t think so – some of Delta’s biggest investments recently have been in clubs that presumably will never have a Delta One lounge (LGA, FLL, AUS, etc).

  9. According to the email I just received, Delta Skymiles Amex Platinum must pay $50 to enter.

    Effective February 2, 2023: Delta SkyMiles® Platinum or Platinum Business Basic and Additional Card Members will have access to the Delta Sky Club® at a per-visit rate of $50 per person (previously $39) when traveling on a same-day Delta or Delta partner airline flight. Card Members may also bring up to two guests or immediate family (spouse/domestic partner and children under 21) at a per-visit rate of $50 per person (previously $39), per location.*

  10. I’m not sure that I needed yet another reason to avoid Delta but they sure keep on delivering on that front.

  11. I just received this email from Delta:

    Effective February 2, 2023, Delta Sky Club Executive and Lifetime Members may bring up to two more guests to the Delta Sky Club, in addition to the complimentary two guests already permitted at a per-visit rate of $50 per person or 5,000 miles (previously $39 or 3,900 miles), per location.

    This works for us Executive/Lifetime Members. THANK YOU DELTA !

  12. To announce a massive policy change like this at the end of the qualifying year is an incredibly nasty way to treat high level customers. It is far too late to change my travel purchasing habits for this year. but Ive now status matched to United as a Platinum. Really not sure the whole rat race is worth is and will probably downgrade my DL Amex card, too.

  13. No more selling SkyClub membership to non-Medallions?

    DL really seems to hate its “basic economy” flyers — even more so families on such fares, as it is at the most hostile end of the spectrum when it comes to seating assignments for families with young children — so their hostility toward lounge access on such standard economy class fares doesn’t surprise me. Disappointing Delta, as always.

  14. Gutting DL Gold/Platinum/Diamond Medallion access to DL lounges when flying DL/SkyTeam internationally in economy class is yet another sign of how much contempt DL still has for its frequent flyers in the back of the flying bus.

    The DL lounges aren’t chock full because of SkyTeam ElitePlus in economy class. They are as full as they are because DL filled up the lounges with Amex card customers and SkyClub lounge memberships.

  15. @ Gary — As Ed Pizzarello has proprsed, will Delta be offering any refunds to Club members? Or, consistent with past changes, will Delta just ripoff these customers and pocket the cash? If the latter, I hope there is a class action lawsuit coming.

  16. @Anthony: LGA, for example, is already leaps and bounds better than most Sky Clubs in terms of food. I think you will see two categories of non-Delta One lounges once the business-class lounges open. Key markets like SFO and LGA will likely have significantly better food than PDX, DEN or CVG. MIA will be interesting because of the LATAM partnership. Also, Air France makes extensive use of the current MIA lounge.

  17. Sure a lot of hassle to avoid the riff-raff! I’m coming from the Golden Age era of flying. Yes, I belong in a museum.

  18. How is this not a direct violation of Sky Team rules?

    “SkyTeam Elite Plus members, regardless of their travel class, are allowed access to a SkyTeam lounge at a particular airport if traveling on or connecting to/from a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member airline. Simply present your boarding passes and a valid Elite Plus membership card for the lounge agent to validate for admission.”

    https://www.skyteam.com/en/about/faq/lounge-access

  19. Hah hah
    We here @ Delta are getting rid of the little people
    and or bottom scavengers
    Go you mere peons go !

  20. They also raised the price of Amex Delta Platinum day passes from $39 to $50. Just received the email 🙁

  21. Gold and above still have access if flying premium economy or Delta One internationally or in first class to Canada, Mexico, or Central America.

    Effective February 2, 2023, Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallion® Members flying internationally in Main Cabin or Delta Comfort+® will no longer receive Delta Sky Club access, unless they have access through a different entry method (such as a Delta Sky Club membership). Please note that Diamond, Platinum, or Gold Medallion Status still permits entry to the Club if flying in Delta Premium Select internationally or Delta One®‡.

    Terms and Conditions

    ‡Access to the Delta Sky Club continues to be permitted for Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallion Members flying in First Class to Canada, Mexico, and Central America.

  22. If Delta Gold, Platinum, Diamond and 360? (unspecified in post) (Skyteam Elite Plus) who are flying economy won’t have access to SkyClubs, it seems certain they will not have access to Delta business lounges when they open. American Concierge Key, Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro (oneworld Emeralds) have access to American Flagship lounges regardless of class of service flown on long-haul international flights. That’s one of the nicest perks flying AA versus DL, assuming AA sticks to this policy.

    oneworld lounge access also beats Skyteam because AA Platinum, (equivalent to DL Gold) are oneworld Sapphire and will have access to oneworld business class lounges and AA Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum and Concierge Key will have access to oneworld first class lounges. oneworld business class lounges are almost always superior to the lounges available to Skyteam Elite Plus.

    Once Delta business lounges open, SkyClubs will probably decline in some areas or forego material improvement.

    VFTW got it right in this post. Premium Economy travel on Delta will have lounge access for Elite Plus. The previous article said Delta Skyteam Elite Plus on PE travel would not qualify for SkyClub entry.

  23. The fact that having a certain credit card means more than flying on airline is a HUGE problem. A person buying a premium or business class ticket gets boxed out for somebody with an AMEX card is ridiculous. Love my friends in the military but free access to lounges for those servicing and their guests is like inviting a swarm of locusts to the club in certain cities

    This problem exists with hotels as well.

  24. I forgot that AA gives top-level elites flying internationally in economy access to the best One World lounges that are otherwise reserved for first or business classes. That means Delta is now worse than f-cking American Airlines. Who would have ever thought that? And yes, I think we can all assume that Delta diamonds will not have access to the Delta One lounges. Delta has already said these will be for Delta One and 360 customers only. More and more, 360 is the old diamond and diamond is the only platinum. Gold is completely worthless without lounge access. Next thing you know Delta will eliminate Sky Priority bag tags and check-in lanes. This is a complete violation of Sky Team rules.

  25. Can do just as well finding an empty gate. Kicking back with a drink and snack for considerably less than $50.

  26. @GUWonder – totally agree about your point on BE.
    My days of business travel, at a rate of 75-80K miles/yr (DL exclusively, First and Business over-seas), are over. We now travel for pleasure. And BE is saving real money. The fact that DL wants us to pay extra $75-150/ticket, to grant me 10,000 SkyPesos, is extremely annoying.

    As a MM, I wrote a long letter to DL. This was 6 mos ago. Never heard back. That’s an example of DL customer no-service 🙁

  27. So, if I am reading all of this right, membership costs are increasing to $695. DL AMEX Reserve cards will still grant access to the Sky Clubs and their annual fee is remaining at $550. So it’s cheaper to gain access through AMEX and to purchase a membership with Delta. What kind of fresh new hell is this???

  28. Gary
    Congrats for the lengthy citations in the Wall Street Journal’s article on the subject. -:)

  29. Back when I was traveling (80’s and 90’s, last century), club membership cost about. $110/yr. And we knew a small trick how to get the membership for an extra 2 mos, for a total of 14 mos. The employer didn’t pay for it, we all paid for it out of our own pocket. I cannot imagine paying $545, left along $695, for the privilege of having a free drink or two before and after the flight.

  30. Did I read it correctly, that club members who fly basic economy cannot use the club? If yes, why would anyone who regularly flies BE buy the club membership?

  31. So……

    A Delta Platinum Medallion flying DL coach internationally from JFK would not have lounge access – but a Czech Airlines Gold on the same flight at the same fare could use the DL lounge. The DL Gold flyer could use the Air France Lounge or the Korean Air Lounge.

  32. Folks: It’s pretty obvious what’s next. Delta is going to eliminate complimentary upgrades for elites. That’s just painfully obvious if you look at all the devaluations in the last few years. Already, very few elites besides diamonds are getting upgrades anyways.

  33. The Delta Difference = The Also-Ran.

    Poorest lounge access, poorest mileage program, worst website, poorest (none) accommodation of missed transfers.

  34. As a Diamond status member with the Reserve card, a Sky Club membership, and flying First Class, this is a welcome change.

  35. Where is Sky Team in all this? I mean I’m sure Sky Team has no enforcement powers, but this is against the published Sky Team rules and regulations. Delta is denying elites access to its Sky Club lounges, but granting access to a passenger ticketed in basic-economy or economy-class who just happens to be a Sky Team Elite Plus customer from Czech Airlines (an airline that basically no longer exists as it only has one plane and one route left) or an elite from TAROM (another basically bankrupt airline that doesn’t even have transatlantic flights). In what alternative universe is that remotely acceptable, not least for platinums and diamonds? Especially when Delta just raised the MQD spending threshold for diamonds. Moreover, not all diamonds or platinums can just get a credit card for Sky Club access since Delta has platinums and diamonds based outside the Untied States where these credit cards are not available.

  36. @Aaron: “I’m not a Delta FF. I can imagine AA and UA are chomping at the bit to copy Delta since it’s their favorite past-time.”

    There’s nothing for UA to copy — United has all of these restrictions already — no access for elites without a paid membership, PERIOD. The only access is when traveling on an international business class ticket or with a paid membership (or co-brand card). And no access through a useful card like an AmEx Platinum — the only choice is the United Club Card which is less rewarding that putting the spend on a Sapphire Reserve for AmEx. It’s a hugely embarrassing mess.

    United’s lounge food is also literally putrid. In Boston, they put out uncooked, cold, slimy Canadian bacon and label it “breakfast charcuterie”. I’m not making it up. It’s revolting. (And yet, somehow, I keep coming back.)

  37. As a Diamond Elite Member for nearly 10 years and Million Miler, I am appalled at this change. I have flown hundreds of connecting flights just to keep Loyalty with Delta instead of other carriers and used the sky club Choice Benefit year after year, to have the opportunity to sit in a comfortable spot to work or relax in sometimes 2 or 3 hour layovers.

    I am most upset that Delta is rewarding those who purchase an AMEX card, which happens to have the same Yearly Fee as the New Sky club access Fee with Club access, over Loyal Customers who physically get on the plane and fly week after week and make status honestly by being so Loyal.

    Delta this doesn’t feel good at all and makes me want to jump over to Alaska, American or United. I can’t believe after 15 years of Loyalty to you I have to say this. It just really hurts people with my flight history. 🙁

  38. Notice how every change affects elites, or loyal travelers. It’s appalling/infuriating that Delta continues to punish those who have continued to fly and earn status even through the pandemic yet allow non-elites or other airline elites who own Amex platinums access. Maybe stop rolling over status and allowing Amex platinums in and you wouldn’t have such a crowd, but that apparently is too difficult for Delta to comprehend.

  39. Why would this be an incentive to get Amex? So you can stay in line for ages to get into an overcrowded lounge? I walked past the excessive line at the Delta lounge in Atlanta last week and it was starting to get heated as Delta personnel were saying the lounge was full. I laughed out loud. And I have an Amex. I got a sandwich and sat at my gate. And was fine.

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