Delta Testing Fast Track Lanes For Top Elites To Enter Airport Lounges

Delta Air Lines clubs get very crowded. There are often lines to get in or signs to go away even though club membership is the more expensive, for instance, than American Airlines Admirals Club membership.

  • Access to Sky Clubs is an elite choice benefit, so many top elites have access without paying cash
  • More credit card customers have access to Sky Clubs than other U.S. airline lounges because not only do they have their own-branded premium American Express cards, Amex Platinum cardholders can access Delta lounges when flying the airline too
  • These lounges usually have better food and drink options than competitor clubs, so people show up earlier and stay longer

Delta once said ‘if everyone’s elite, nobody is.’ But if everyone has lounge access, nobody does. To mitigate overcrowding Delta and American Express worked on getting Delta premium card customers access to (also overcrowded) Centurion lounges, and to build Centurion lounges in some Delta terminals. Now they’re only allowing clubs to used within 3 hours of scheduled departure (though customers on long layovers can still use lounges).

That hasn’t solved crowding because more people have access, and are trying to use the lounge, than there’s space. That can mean lines to get in – a wait list.

As first reported by Zach Griff Delta is testing a fast track lane to enter its clubs, where Diamond and Delta 360 members can cut the queue to get in. The plan is being trialed in Atlanta this month, and could be rolled out to other clubs after that.

Bear in mind that once inside these SkyMiles Diamond members will still find very crowded clubs which means, while there’s free food, they aren’t much of a peaceful oasis from the terminal. And these priority lines make club membership less valuable to other customers. What’s interesting is that with this move Delta is saying its Diamond members are more valuable than American Express customers, since a Platinum card held by a non-Diamond becomes worth less. Platinum cardmembers like to think of themselves as ‘skip the velvet rope’ types, not people who stand in line because they’re merely Platinum cardmembers.

It’s a conundrum. Once they’ve made access available to so many, they have a problem. They could raise the price of club membership, and that would help a little, but it would just push more people over to Amex and their current cobrand credit card deal runs through 2029.

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. So many lounges at capacity, why are lounge owners not expanding their networks?
    If the lounges are so busy there is more money to be made by adding more lounges.

  2. @ Gary — So much easier just to ban Diamonds from the lounges. That would be more in line with Delta’s other asinine lounge policies.

  3. Are Lifetime Sky Club Members excluded from the lines too? It’s been confirmed Lifetime Members are excluded from the 3 hour rule

  4. Thank you, Gary, for your report about the new Delta Sky Club® scheme entitling Diamond Elite and Delta 360 members to exclude other members from the club. Diamond Elite and Delta 360 members can cut the queue to enter before other paying members. When the Delta Sky Club fills to the fire regulation occupancy capacity, Delta Airlines puts a sign at the entrance door that says, “We are currently at capacity. But we look forward to welcoming you shortly.” Other passengers may think it is a scam to pay $695 for a Platinum American Express card or a Delta Sky Club membership and fly on a Delta Airlines ticket expecting entry to a Sky Club before departure. However, when passengers arrive at a Sky Club, these elite passengers are not considered worthy to enter and are denied entry because the Delta Sky Club is at capacity with Diamond Elite members or passengers who purchased Delta 360 service.

    Is Delta Airlines discriminating against the passengers who have purchased Sky Club memberships or Platinum American Express Cards since they may not be welcome to enter the Sky Club? Is this new passenger enhancement part of the continued commitment to the Delta Care Standard?

  5. There are several things Delta could do to reduce overcrowding:

    1) Better design. There are so many wasted seating spaces most single customers take up two seats and most couples take up four seats. Delta’s seating configurations are poorly design, especially since the pandemic has made social distancing a priority.

    2) Some of the overcrowding would be solved by eliminating access for golds by virtue on Sky Team Elite status.

    3) Implement a co-payment of $100 for each guest. That would dissuade plus ones, plus twos, and plus threes.

    4) Eliminate children. Kids under 18 don’t belong in a setting with alcohol.

  6. Creating a hierarchy for club admission creates a caste system that will provoke discontent among members. Why pay for a club membership only to be told there are no seats at the table when it’s time to use it?

    There are other measures available to discourage use, such as raising the membership fee, excluding non paying guests (or implementing hefty surcharges for guest entry), prohitibing children, and/or discontinue or limit free memberships to lower level elites.

    Unfortunately capacity enhancements may be unrealistic given that space at airports are severely constrained already.

    Yet, flooding the number of members without a means to accomodate them borders on fraudulent activity. Ater all, signing people up to expensive memberships while realizing you can’t manage the influx is tantamount to “switch and bait”.

  7. @James, I’ve seen the reports on the FlyerTalk thread about lifetime SkyClub members being exempt from the 3 hour rule, but there’s no current indication of such on the “SkyClub Access” page.

    For a brief period of time online, Delta was using a footnote indicator that suggested that lifetime members *were* exempt, but that footnote indicator has changed.

    I’m a lifetime SkyClub member (from Northwest) so I’m interested in the outcome. I’m also interested in any data points of refund amounts being offered by Delta to lifetime SkyClub members that aren’t happy with the changes (haven’t seen any data points in the FlyerTalk thread).

  8. @David G and @James: I’m also a Lifetime Sky Club member. Any idea about how many of us are still around?

  9. @SDRon, there’s a “Delta SkyClub Lifetime Member Protest Group” (a private group) on FB that currently has 26 people in it.

    It was created in December 2018 to coordinate efforts to fight the “day of flight” club access restrictions being applicable to lifetime SkyClub members. That protest (shockingly) worked.

    My lifetime membership was purchased from Northwest way back in 1985 or so when I was 28. My recollection is that the purchase price was about $600 or thereabouts. In 1985, the cost was still tax deductible if used for business purposes.

    I have no clue as to how many lifetime SkyClub members there might be, but it must be enough that Delta is still afraid to offend the group.

  10. @FNT Diamond: Lounge access when traveling internationally is a defined benefit for Elite+ for all of SkyTeam. It should not be eliminated for Golds and it seems rather unlikely that that would reduce crowding much anyway. I strongly doubt that a high percentage of Sky Club visits are Golds traveling international who don’t already have Amex Platinum or Delta Reserve Amex, anyway.

    I suspect the vast majority of Sky Club visitors are Amex Platinum, Delta Reserve, or Diamonds who used a Choice Benefit. And it seems that Delta wants it that way. Which makes sense, considering that the Amex cards are often more profitable for Delta than the entire actual airline operation is.

  11. @Raif “So many lounges at capacity, why are lounge owners not expanding their networks?”

    Who says they aren’t? Between what has opened in the last few years or will open in the next few months, Delta has new or expanded lounges in at least BNA, SLC, LAX, LGA, ATL, BOS, and DTW and they’ve recently announced plans for new dedicated Delta One clubs in LAX and JFK. That’s just what I can think off offhand, I might be missing some.

    Amex is also expanding or building new Centurion Lounges (or recently opened such new lounges or expansions) in DEN, ATL, LAX, LAS, SEA, SFO, JFK, LHR, LGA, EWR, etc.

  12. I strongly disagree with the way they’ve prioritized some who receive club access as a perk over those who directly pay it. I understand the dilemma they’re in, but the solve should be guaranteed access for those who pay directly for a membership or receive membership (not access, ie Amex Plat) through the Reserve card. You are paying Delta specifically for this product.

    The solve for me would be to set up a system similar to upgrades:
    *Guaranteed (or top priority) entrance for members who pay for the product
    *Metered access that prioritizes based on whatever DL think is appropriate (DL1/Diamond/Medallion/Amex Plat) – best done on an app that can be programmed to balance priority with wait time, and letting people know approx how long their wait time is and alert them when they can enter so they’re free to walk around instead of waiting in line

    Terrible precedent here to let people know that you might pay hundreds of $$ for club membership and be stuck in a line behind people getting it free. Not sure how you sell a $550 annual fee card that way. As a Platinum who holds that card, I will be much less likely to renew under these rules.

  13. Putting aside the issue of crowding, the issue of waiting in line just to show your boarding pass or card is easy to solve. Always have one agent simply checking boarding passes / cards and if some guests also need to re-book their connecting flight through Luganda, have other agents deal with that.

  14. Fair disclosure: I’m a STE+ (FB Plat). I go through ATL a few times a year, and the last couple times, the lounge SkyClub has been a zoo. In all fairness, it was a zoo before the pandemic as well.
    I enjoy how the comments here have a self-serving tone: make others wait longer, not me.

    Well, let’s get right to it: if you’re figuring out a scheme for who has to wait longer to get in a lounge, you’ve lost. Airports, especially in the US, are designed to be loud, inhospitable places. That gives the lounges their premium: they are quiet, comfortable, and not too crowded. The bread-and-butter of the lounge is the business traveler, who generally has been there enough that the cheap food and drinks has its role, but is hardly worth feasting upon.
    If the lounge is bursting with people, looking to gorge themselves and their kids on what some flat rate got them, well that’s a goldang Golden Corral, not a lounge.
    So maybe set up a separate section for the credit card people and give em a proper feed trough, and a ball pit for the kids?
    Now, if only they had enough lounge space. How about building one remotely and having a bus take them there?

  15. @David G, Thanks for the tip. I just joined the Delta Skyclub Lifetime Members group.

  16. Saw this at ATL terminal F. In reality the sign/line for them was further from the door than the regular line, so they’d just walk in and they’d have enough capacity to admit them.

  17. Question: Flying out of AUS with connection in ATL to PRG on purchased Business ticket. From what I read from posts is that passengers booked into F to ATL and Business to PRG MUST be Gold minimum to enter Delta SkyClub . . . any/all SkyClubs on this pairing?
    I haven’t flown DL in years and used One World for International trips. Still can but considering DL Business.

  18. Thanks for the Lifetime ‘tip’ about FB group; I may join that. For posterity sake.. I’m not from NW, but all the way from miles earned on PanAm (used to fly to HON and LHR from LAX and FLL), Western (who had a great HON-FLL flight via LAX that was one of a kind) and as a Flying Colonel (award that Delta had even before the FF program I think.. ); anyway any other FC’s still around? I learned it still shows on the ‘manifest’, although most newer FA’s probably never heard what it represented .

  19. @Gene Gee, another real, living, breathing Lifetime Member. Received mine from PanAm in 1977 while flying the Far East mostly Guam, Japan and Philippines. I even flew the PanAm 747SP non-stop from JFK to Tokyo in F. I’m grateful to Delta for my continued status. The Sky Club in San Diego has never been crowded when I’m in there!

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