Delta Restricts When Members Can Use Their Sky Clubs [Update: Partially Rescinds Policy]

Update: after blowback from customers paying for club membership, Delta will not restrict ban club members from using facilities on arrival. They will, however, move forward with the plan to restrict use of clubs to three hours prior to scheduled departure.

Original May 4, 22 post follows.

Delta Sky Clubs are generally nicer than United Clubs or American’s Admirals Clubs, but Delta doesn’t have dedicated business class lounges while their competitors do. Fortunately, those are coming.

But a lounge isn’t useful if it’s too crowded, and with travel rebounding lounges are crowded. Some lounges handle that with a line to get in – so members stand in the terminal waiting to enter a space with little room and no tranquility. Delta just rolls out a sign that says they’re full, go away.

Detroit A43 Club, 11 a.m. on a Wednesday

New York LaGuardia Club, 2 p.m. on a Monday

Delta has pushed American Express to build lounges in its terminals at major airports. That relaxes demand from Amex Platinum customers flying Delta, and Delta’s premium co-brand cardholders can now use Centurion lounges when flying Delta too. But it hasn’t solved crowding. Neither has Delta charging more for lounge access than competitor carriers.

So starting June 1 they’re going to restrict club access in two ways, as first noted by Zach Griff.

  • No access until 3 hours prior to departure of your first flight.
  • Access will be for departure only, no arriving passengers (who aren’t connecting), except for those traveling in Delta One (long haul business class seats)

If you have a long connection, you can still use the club during that connection. The three hour rule applies to the time before your journey is scheduled to commence. (A flight delay isn’t going to keep you out of the club.)

The three hour rule, combined with boarding even domestic flights 40 minutes prior to departure starting June 2, means few people will spend more than two hours in a club. Members with Delta 360 status are exempt from these rules.

Eliminating arrival access means not being able to take advantage of showers after a flight, at those clubs which offer one, before heading to your destination.

These changes seem unlikely to make much difference for crowding. Most people aren’t arriving at the airport more than three hours before their first flight, and certainly not to be able to use the Sky Club. And most passengers use it on departure, rather than arrival.

Delta Sky Club Austin

Delta Sky Club Austin

Delta needs more clubs and larger clubs to meet demand, or they need to reduce the number of passengers demanding lounge access by raising prices further. On the other hand, these changes could annoy some members enough that they don’t renew their memberships – because Delta is giving them less for their money. That’ll reduce crowding somewhat.

Nonetheless Delta Gold members, and equivalent elites in SkyTeam, still get access when flying coach internationally. And American Express premium cardmembers still get access when traveling on Delta as well – and American Express has been vocal about all the new cardmembers they’ve been able to sign up.

To borrow a phrase Delta has used in the past, when everyone has lounge access, nobody does.

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. Golds should not have lounge access. Delta also needs to raise diamond from 125,000 to 150,000. That would help weed out the elite ranks. American Express cardholders should only be able to access the Delta lounges for an hour maximum.

  2. I find Delta’s SkyClubs subpar. For an airline that has a high opinion of itself and generally runs a better operation than its competitors, it has always surprised me that the SkyClub format is essentially a cafeteria. They’re always crowded. The food is mediocre and bland. The staff who tend to these clubs don’t do a good job of cleaning up (Atlanta, JFK, LaGuardia, noticeably). The newer clubs in SLC and LAX are just ok.

  3. Only long term solution is to build more lounges, both Delta branded and Centurion, along with expanding existing lounges. As long as Amex/Delta have a credit card-driven lounge access strategy, lounges will be crowded

  4. I prefer restaurants to lounges, they are much closer to your gate and actually have service and real food.

  5. I suggest doubling the cost of membership and miles and restricting to 1 hour in the club to stop these overly entitled elites from congregating.Who do these mere passengers think they are? just because they fly Delta?
    Delta owes them nothing they are captive prisoners in their respective hub cities and are lucky Delta lets them fly and redeem their 500k one way business class tickets to Sydney in an old flying tin can

  6. One thing that confuses me about Delta’s lounge strategy in particular is I feel like they have removed all of the marginal incentives to get a sky club membership over just holding an Amex platinum.

  7. @Gary, can you run through the benefits of simply having an American Express Platinum card, and giving up the American Express Delta Reserve card? What do you lose when giving up the reserve card besides the Companion Ticket? Your thoughts?

  8. Kill off access to Amex Platinum card holders (even when flying Delta) and in turn kill off Centurion access to Delta Reserve card holders.

    Put folks in their rightful place, I mean lounge. May not completely fix the problem but certainly can’t hurt.

  9. We are undoubtedly seeing a massive demand for SkyClub services in part because of the return of air travel which may or may not be sustainable esp. if the US and world goes into a recesssion.
    Airlines kept rolling over elite status during the pandemic while also hawking credit cards which have great benefits.
    It is far from clear that the number of people that have lounge access at Delta or other airlines will remain what it is.
    We’ve never been through a pandemic so it is impossible to know how travel will track but remember that many have indicated that it will take years for the amount of pre-pandemic business travel to return.

    all of that said, Delta’s rule changes are not terribly obnoxious. There are clearly people that camp out in SkyClubs and those people take up a disproportionate amount of capacity; these rules will impact them and free up space.

    we all get to have our opinions about quality because it is subjective but very few travel writers – including Gary who is loyal to AA – believe that DL’s lounges are inferior to AA or UA and, as I noted before, DL undoubtedly has more square feet systemwide available for Sky Club access than either AA or UA. And DL is adding dedicated Delta One lounges -perhaps belatedly – which will not only pull some passengers out of Sky Clubs but also provide a premium international product that better competes with AA and UA in that segment.

  10. As Gary says, when flying Delta Airlines, “eliminating arrival access means not being able to take advantage of showers after a flight, at those clubs which offer one, before heading to your destination.” The new Delta Sky Club® passenger exclusion policy was not previously disclosed to people who paid $845.00 for a year of unrestricted Delta Sky Club Executive membership access. In the future, only valued Delta One customers will be worthy of taking a complimentary shower in the Delta Sky Club upon arrival. After implementing the new Delta Sky Club restrictive member access policy, I expect the putrid smells from Delta passengers’ body odor after a flight to be similar to an entire flight crew after a formidable day at work.

  11. I’ve often used the shower at the Sky Club after flying in on a red eye. I guess I will buy a refundable one way ticket on arrival

  12. This is a bad policy. I fly AA and have a Admiral’s Club membership, but often on business, I’m meeting someone coming in from another city and the first to arrive will generally go to the Club (if one is available at that airport) to wait for the other person. I don’t see anything wrong with that and excluding that option would be a big negative for me.

  13. Will this apply to those who have lifetime access to the Clubs? We were grandfathered in with our NW lifetime card. Thanks.

  14. DL has been living off their past reputation for the last several years. Now the real DL is starting to show as UA and AA move up the rankings in service and reliability. DL used to be one of the worst big carriers in the country, only winning by holding most of the south hostage. I see them heading down again. No number of IFE screen will save the poor service that is starting to show up. The former NW people are the remaining stars in that organization.

  15. Going way back the clubs became increasingly popular as airlines stopped serving meals on flights. But the crowding is definitely a post-pandemic thing. Delta and the Centurion Club are probably right that improved menus have encouraged people to buy memberships and also to stop by the clubs at the arrival airports before heading home. Also maybe a significant number of people are using their status rewards toward airline club memberships. My guess is that building larger or more clubs is a long range expensive option and overcrowding will continue until airlines charge significantly more than they do now or put in stricter rules for use of the clubs. Maybe charge what they do now for card holder use of club with no guests, significantly more to bring in guests, etc.

  16. How does one access a SkyClub when arriving on a long haul Delta One without a connection? Seems like you could only do so from an airport with Preclearance?

  17. No, Gary, I never said anything about overcrowding.
    I challenged your making a thesis of overcrowding about ONE specific SkyClub in DTW that is intended to become the Delta One lounge while ignoring the SkyClub right across the hall which was available and is much larger.

    I found the comments FROM YOUR READERS, not you, about where SkyClubs “had the sign up” to be more informative than what you said, Gary.

    I personally have flown throughout the pandemic and have certainly seen the Clubs more busy but have not personally encountered the dreaded sign.

  18. Jordan – there are a lot of domestic Delta One flights (JFK to LAX/SFO, BOS to LAX, JFK to SEA, etc).

  19. To Jordan, there are intranational D1 routes. Some major trans-con routes offer D1, for example some JFKLAX.

  20. Delta has such a high opinion of itself…will be interesting to see where enough is enough for most customers.

  21. Not allowing access on arrival for those with memberships is absurd.

    The Sky Clubs are overcrowded because:
    1) Gold status should not get you access on international flights. Gold is worthless these days.
    2) The clubs are too small. When the Denver lounge is standing room-only at 10 a.m. on a. Wednesday you have a problem. Or the Detroit lounge at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Has anyone been to the Atlanta A & B lounges? Even at 7 pm on a Tuesday they’re full.
    3) In airports with multiple Delta lounges, they don’t uniformly cater the food and beverages. There’s always a lounge with better food. So passengers gravitate toward the one with the best food.
    4) AmEx cardholders. Delta should limit AmEx platinum cardholders to one hour in the lounge. Sky Club members should get priority access over freebie access.

  22. If it is a club for which I pay, I should have access on departure and arrival. If it is a lounge tied to my status, such restrictions are fine. The U.S. airlines are increasingly turning their clubs into lounges while charging higher and higher prices.

  23. FNT
    funny you mention the DEN SkyClub. I have been in it twice during the pandemic and it wasn’t crowded but I also “missed” the time when the widebodies operated in there. Part ofthe overcrowding is due to the amount of widebodies that are operating on the domestic system. That will not remain throughout the summer and into the fall. Delta’s flight schedule is more “dense” – bigger planes but fewer flight complexes so more passengers in the terminals at the peak times.

    As for the card benefits, Gary is right that Delta and Amex are in it so thick that they are not going to do anything to hurt each other – and they are BOTH each others’ largest partner – because they both benefit financially from the relationship.

    Delta believes that their rule changes will stop the number of people that camp out in Sky Clubs… I’m not sure how many of those there are but since everyone checks in w/ a boarding pass, they know how many people go to the Sky Clubs at each time frame before departure. I hope they are right.

    Not covered either in the rules as I saw them or here is how you are treated if you are on standby for an earlier flight. I presume that if you standby for an earlier flight, your “3 hour clock” starts for the first flight you try to standby on….

  24. To all the geniuses who want to limit hours how do you suggest the sky club implement this. Hire the gazpacho to come kick out the customers?

    It’s not reasonable to kick people out that is why they limit when you can go in.

  25. When a company offers to access clubs for x and people take them up on it, it doesn’t make them freeloaders.

    If anything it makes delta look like an idiot because they can’t provide adequate service. So instead of belittling amex customers call delta and insist they build more clubs.

    Honestly IMO, the only amex that should have access is the delta platinum but I don’t make the rules. You want delta access? Carry the delta platinum.

  26. Also… everyone who thinks people just lay in the clubs, are you actually visiting? I don’t see too many laying in the clubs over three hours. The issue is access. If anyone is laying in there, it’s due to a canceled flight and the 3-4 people in there aren’t causing the overcrowding. That’s at least my experience. Just because someone is drinking like they’re clubbing, doesn’t mean they’re laying in the club.

  27. @FNT – you for real? Yeah the golds are just hogging up space in DTW are causing the overcrowding issue. Maybe you should go work for solved the issue. You could help solve it by becoming the delta police.

  28. @Tim Dunn:

    “Not covered either in the rules as I saw them or here is how you are treated if you are on standby for an earlier flight. I presume that if you standby for an earlier flight, your “3-hour clock” starts for the first flight you try to standby on.”

    You are not issued a boarding pass when you are on standby for a flight. The lounge uses the departure time printed on your valid boarding pass for calculating the three-hour admittance time. However, if you make a same-day round trip like DTW-PHL-DTW, your return flight is subject to the three-hour rule. For example, when you arrive at PHL at 10 AM and your return flight is at 5 PM, you will not be welcome to enter the lounge until 2 PM. Lounge admittance is refused when your first flight arrives unless you have a layover or a connecting flight.

  29. I realize that AMEX and Delta are thick as thieves. But, what if – in the airports that have a Centurion Lounge at least – Platty’s can’t use the Sky Club and Reserve Cards can’t use the Centurion?

    I admit I don’t know if that’ll help but it seems that everyone I ever talk to in a Sky Club got in thru the Platty. Un-scientific…yes! But still…makes me wonder. Launch a Centurion in ATL and let’s see if that helps under those parameters.

    Also, I know it seems like everyone gets in a lunge today but you’d be surprised how many of my friends and family have never seen the inside of one.

    So, it’s still not…everybody!

  30. The crowding is becoming an issue. Seems to me that the 3 hour rule is pretty reasonable. Also, though I would occasionally use a lounge on arrival for doing some calls before going in – when I only had carryons – barring arrivals won’t really affect me that much. I don’t have a lot of expectations from domestic lounges. But I still the see the international lounges (AF, VS, BA) as not very crowded. If you are in an airport, like IAD, with access to several international lounges, that can be good right now.

  31. Ken A,
    I find it hard to believe that Delta’s system doesn’t know that you are on standby for a flight that could be more than 3 hours before your original scheduled flight – which is indeed the basis of your boarding card. There is a ton of information in that bar or QR code.
    Delta clearly does know when people enter the Sky Club relative to their flight; they could not have come up w/ rules restricting access w/o knowing the impact.
    And they aren’t throwing you out at 3 hours -they just won’t let you in more than 3 hours before your flight – which means you realistically can stay there for about 2 1/2 hours if your flight is on time.

  32. @Tim Dunn:

    “I find it hard to believe that Delta’s system doesn’t know that you are on standby for a flight that could be more than 3 hours before your original scheduled flight – which is indeed the basis of your boarding card. There is a ton of information in that bar or QR code.”

    The QR code on your boarding pass does not have your standby information. The QR code has your full name, flight PNR locator, arrival and departure airports, the airline you’re flying, and your frequent-flier number. For example, when a passenger has a departure at 12:00 Noon, they are permitted to enter the Delta Sky Club at 9:00 AM. If a passenger has a standby request for an earlier 9:30 AM flight, the passenger will be refused Sky Club entry at 6:30 AM. A standby request is not confirmation of a boarding pass and does not affect your ability to enter the lounge using the three-hour policy. When a gate agent scans your boarding pass, your PNR record locator populates the remarks regarding this record locator and standby flight requests. Delta would comment on the request for an earlier flight and advise the passenger to standby in the gate area and then check-in with the gate attendant 45 minutes before boarding to find out if you can be accommodated on an earlier flight. You may be the last to board the aircraft once the gate agent releases the seats of no-show passengers. If you have checked passenger baggage, you might not be offered the earlier flight option.

    As published on the Delta Airlines Website,
    “Beginning June 1, 2022, guests will be able to access Clubs anytime within 3 hours of their scheduled departure time† (and connecting customers can continue to access Clubs at any time prior to departure). All departing and connecting customers will have access to Clubs. With the exception of arriving Delta One customers, Club access will be unavailable for arriving customers without a connection. Note that a same-day round-trip does not qualify as a connection. Customers will be able to access Clubs within 3 hours of their scheduled departure flight and within 3 hours of their return flight. Delta 360°® Members will be exempt from this policy.”

  33. I think it’s smart DL is throttling your ability to use the club. Let’s be real, there are many members who will duck in for XYZ. Occupy 2 spots one for them, a second for their luggage. It has become very chaotic. Think of how many morons walk around having conference calls.

    3h is plenty of time prior to a SKD.

  34. Delta continues to devalue their clubs with excessive rules. When there is a high demand for your product, Delta responds with punishing its customer instead of increasing capacity to meet the demand. Makes little business sense.

  35. Raif
    Delta is adding more Sky Club capacity than any other airline – by far. There are more square feet of DL Sky Club facilities than comparable lounges for any other airline.
    They clearly also sold plenty of credit card based memberships during the pandemic while extending benefits which is putting a crush on Sky Clubs.
    DL’s membership spoke and the arrival benefit remains intact.

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