Delta Raising Prices for Lounge Membership Again, Says They’re Doing You a Favor

Delta is raising the price of SkyClub memberships next year.

  • Basic memberships (you pay for guests) go from $450 to $495 next year
  • Guests-included memberships go from $695 to $745

Diamond members — who fly 125,000 or more miles per year and spend at least $15,000 — continue to receive access for free.

At the same time that prices are going up — in keeping with Delta’s idea that you can spend SkyMiles in the company store for about a penny apiece — the price of club memberships paid with points goes down from 70,000 to 47,000 for a basic membership and 110,000 to 70,000 for the ‘executive’ membership.

Delta says that day passes, which they raised from $50 to $59 a year ago, account for less than 1% of guests.

Just like when they raised prices three years ago the rationale is offered that higher prices allow them to continue to invest in the clubs. But it’s strange then that they’d be reducing the mileage price at the same time then. And it’s certainly not necessary to raise the price in order to improve the experience. Most airlines in the world don’t charge memberships for lounge access at all.

US Airlines Didn’t Used to Charge for Lounge Access at All

It’s an historical anomaly that US lounges charge for access at all. In general airlines around the world (outside Australia/New Zealand) do not charge for access. It’s provided free to premium cabin and elite customers.

In the US, airlines charge even elite frequent flyers traveling domestically for access. From the time American opened the first airport lounge up through 1974 they didn’t. However the federal government ordered – on anti-discrimination grounds – that airlines either make clubs available to everyone, make clubs available to everyone flying a particular class of service, or make clubs available to everyone who pays.

Paid memberships were a way of ensuring compliance with non-discrimination rules coming out of the civil rights era. Anyone who could pay – regardless of race – could access the lounges.

Once the airlines had a revenue stream associated with the lounges it became difficult to walk away from that. The lounge network starts looking like a separate business unit, with its own profit and loss calculation.

International Airlines Offer So Much More

The private cabanas of Cathay Pacific’s The Wing lounge in Hong Kong are gorgeous.

The architecture of the Qantas first class lounge in Sydney is impressive.

The dining, by celebrity chef Neil Perry, is fantastic as well.

And though complimentary spa treatments are only 20 minutes there, they’re out of this world good.

The top tier elites of these airlines can use their first class lounges regardless of class of service flown.

It seems strange to pay hundreds of dollars to access US airline lounges compared to what is bundled with status elsewhere in the world.

I’m not saying it isn’t worthwhile — for the handful of times a year I’m delayed by weather or mechanicals, the help I get in the lounges is worth the price of admission. But it sure is curious.

Delta SkyClub Seattle, credit: Delta Air Lines

Delta is investing in its lounges, the new Seattle lounge is gorgeous and the San Francisco lounge is attractive as well. New York JFK gets super crowded, what could be a nice space is hardly peaceful. They’ve improved the food offerings… a bit. But they even charge for Stella Artois beer, that isn’t included.

Pricing will continue to rise, of course, as long as people keep buying memberships at the new rates.

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. Since I fly from the east coast, I can attest that none of the Delta lounges I have been in look anything like the two you have pictured. I actually cannot imagine purchasing a lounge pass at those price, since free priority passes with CC’s are so much better.

  2. “Most airlines in the world don’t charge memberships for lounge access at all.”

    Once again scale of economics. Thousands of people walk through a Delta Sky Club on any given day. How many people are visiting the QF F lounge in SYD in a 24 hour period?

    Same with any other US based airline. Lounge traffic would make providing the amenities you see in an international lounge cost prohibitive. Basic logic that seems to be ignored by everyone here. But hey lets give lounge access to everyone who flies in the F cabin or anyone with Gold or higher and then we’ll really talk about that overcrowding issue.

  3. I have been in the LH lounge in FRA, not only is it big, great food, drinks and loaded with people compared to AA in PHL .

    Been in the Asiana F and B lounge in Inchon and they too were very busy at 10 pm. There was a 20+ wait list for a shower in the B lounge and in the F lounge they were all dirty waiting to be cleaned.

  4. I get my Sky Club membership with my Diamond status, and even if I did not it comes with my Amex Platinum membership.
    This year I have found US Sky Clubs wayyyyy overcrowded with the consequence that the bathrooms are proven time and again to be too crowded. In Seattle (old club) I actually left and used a concourse bathroom.
    Mind you, the Amex lounges, esp at SEA and DFW are also oftern getting so packed too as to be of no value.

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