Delta To Detroit Sky Club Members: Go Away

Space at an airport comes at a huge premium. American Express, for instance, would be in far more airports if they could have gained the space. Now there’s competition from Chase (with Airport Dimensions) and Capital One in addition to The Club (Airport Dimensions), Plaza Premium, and others.

The good news is that travelers will travel inside an airport to use lounges, so less marketable spaces can be turned into club lounges. Still, most airports are highly space-constrained. They’re expensive in terms of rent and the capital costs necessary to build out a lounge. So these spaces are always smaller than they ought to be to provide a peaceful experience.

Add in that when a lounge is nice, people will arrive earlier and spend more time there than you expect even knowing that people will arrive earlier and spend more time there. If there’s decent free food the problem compounds several-fold.

And travel is back. Leisure travelers arrive earlier at the airport than business travelers did. Clubs are full.

One lounge that’s gotten the most criticism lately is the American Airlines Admirals Club in Charlotte. Renovations to the main club have it closed, and those are largely for fire code and other changes will be modest. But that leaves the secondary club as the only club (though there are ‘service centers’ with drinks and takeaway snacks and reservations help) that have been set up. There are regularly lines to get into the only lounge, which defeats the purpose of lounge access. You’re waiting in line to get into a crowded space.

Of course United has lacked a proper club at its Newark hub for years since converting the main club space to a Polaris lounge. They have several spaces, including under construction, but New York-based flyers haven’t have good or enough space to relax or work at the airport for some time.

With travel’s return Delta is having trouble, too. Here’s the new Detroit A43 club – at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday. If there’s a time when a lounge should be empty it seems as though that would be it.

Contra American Airlines there are no lines to get in, just passengers being told to go away. This isn’t a one-off, they have a pre-made banneer to put out.

We are currently at capacity, but we look forward to welcoming you shortly.

American Express lounges have had the biggest problem with overcrowding, because the food has been decent (though less good than it was years ago – it’s expensive to feed all those travelers and it’s no surprise I haven’t seen beef in awhile). They’ve clamped down on access, no longer selling guest access to otherwise-ineligible cardholders, limiting guests, and moving further in that direction. But it hasn’t helped, and use continues to grow.

But Delta justified its Sky Club charges, which are higher than competitors, on the basis of the exclusivity that would provide. Higher charges, less demand, greater space for those with access. And Delta has even squeezed American Express to build lounges in its terminals and grant Centurion lounge access to premium Delta co-brands. It’s clearly not enough.

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

Update: For those of you arguing that this Delta club is a special case, here’s the New York LaGuardia club at 2 p.m. on Monday, shared by a reader.

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. These lounges are too cheap. The price of admission hasn’t kept up with growth in the wealth of the traveling public. It’s laughable that a club membership is only some $500/year. It should be 10X that.* Then bring back actual gourmet food and drinks. Call me when it’s time to board. Drive me to the gate if it’s too far away.

    *There is a lounge at LAX that charges close to this price, and it does not have capacity problems.

  2. There are satellite Sky Clubs at the north and south ends of the Tram in McNamara Terminal.

  3. It is likely that the airlines will raise prices to compensate for full lounges . Perhaps high end credit cards with airline club access will raise their annual fees .

    The real problem for Delta is the lack of dedicated Delta One lounges . Lounge access is a featured component of Delta One . However , all D1 passengers funnel into the Skyclub since there are no D1 lounges. This adds to the crowding during peak international banks.

    I can’t imagine paying thousands of dollars for D1 and waiting in a long line or flat out turned away . If I was a corporate travel coordinator for a company that has a DL corporate contract , I would make sure DL knew this lounge situation was untenable .

  4. Seriously, Gary, are you THAT ignorant of Delta’s hubs or are you intentionally failing to note that this location is what is intended to be the Delta One lounge but is being used as a SkyClub right now?

    Delta’s primary DTW SkyClub is literally right across the hall and is 10 times larger

  5. This is by far the smallest SkyClub at DTW, albeit the newest. Calling it “nicest” is a marginal compliment, at best. Honestly, the flagship lounge just across the way overlooking the terminal is several times the size, and, as mentioned by others, there are satellite lounges at either end of the terminal (and also in the regional B/C terminal, if I’m not mistaken). That a very small SkyClub in Delta’s second largest hub would be packed to capacity is hardly shocking.

  6. You do realize that Delta is halfway through the process of rebuilding its entire complex at LGA – half of the airport?

    I don’t like to see those signs either but I am not surprised to see them at LGA.

    I don’t expect to see them in Delta hubs and you don’t in their primary hubs.

    And I don’t think you bothered to cover Delta’s new SkyClub at LAX which has been called by many as the nicest and one of the largest standard airline lounges (not exclusively for premium international cabin passengers).

    And while AA should have done more to create an alternative facility at CLT during reconstruction, that is not permanent.

    And if you wanted to be objective about discussing airline lounges, how about you do the research and create a comparison of the size and number of each airline’s lounges at least in their largest airports? The size of most of them is available online.

    If you did, I would bet you would find that Delta has more lounges and more square feet in total in its lounges than its competitors.

  7. Unless it’s a world class lounge from an international carrier I find myself these days just arriving as late as possible and not even bothering. As far as connections, finding an empty gate area is far more relaxing than most domestic lounges these days. I would honestly love to see a next up tier of lounges that you a pay $2k+ annual membership and offer full amenities – and no other options for entry. That new LA Lounge is the right idea – but they need to be better positioned airside for connections.

  8. What will happen to lounge capacity once business travel is back to normal? Even worse?

  9. @Tim Dunn – First, I’m not really blaming Delta. If you read the piece fairly I lead with the challenges here. Second, Delta’s new-build lounges are very nice for what they are. This started with the San Francisco and Seattle lounges half a dozen years ago, and continues – the Austin club is outstanding.

    Second, it’s absurd you first excuse the new Delta DTW lounge by saying it’s so unique, so I throw up another one and you say ‘but it’s not a hub.’ Pre-pandemic the JFK T4 lounge was a mad house, and certainly some of the Atlanta lounges become zoos too. This isn’t about Delta, it’s a problem for almost everyone, space is scarce and expensive and the nicer the lounge the more traveler demand.

    The point is the old Yogi Berra line that the place is so popular nobody goes there anymore. But leave it to you to get defensive about criticism of anything that involves Delta. How ’bout this: defend the earn-burn proposition of SkyMiles 😀

    p.s. AA needed a third (maybe fourth) club in Charlotte to begin with, something I wrote about pre-pandemic. Saying “but it’s temporary” misses the point, there was a lack of space and AA passed on space inside the terminal that others have used for lounges. It’s mismanagement of their premium product at their number two hub.

  10. All of the A terminal lounges (four!) were overcrowded and at capacity today. They simply don’t have enough seats. It doesn’t help that tired old main one doesn’t have hot food.

  11. honestly this is such a skewed story against Delta in Detroit! The laundry referring to is one of the smaller lounges and right across the hall from one of the largest lounges. There’s also three other lounges strategically throughout the airport in Detroit Delta has been kind enough to have agents outside that lounge and directing them or walking them over to the uncrowded lounge. What’s wrong with that? It seems that you have something against Delta especially in Detroit!

  12. Prior to the new location opening at LAX, both of Delta’s lounges in T2 had been experiencing time-outs. Sometimes concurrently.

    But, to be fair, the other airlines and Amex have their challenges.

    To be more fair, one must acknowledge that Delta’s rollout of these new lounges should strike fear in the hearts of its competitors.

    Keep raising prices and elevate the experience.

  13. Gary,
    yes, LGA is a Delta hub, but I was referring to its big 4 – ATL, DTW, MSP and SLC where Delta has multiple hubs at each airport – and none of those have entire concourses closed for construction.

    Apparently the defensiveness is on your part since you went back and tried to rewrite the article to be about lounge space in general when MULTIPLE readers pointed out that the lounge you happen to have cited is literally right across the main entrance to the concourses from the primary DTW Sky Club – one of 5 at DTW.
    and multiple other travel writers managed to get to LAX for the opening of the latest phase of DL’s terminal renovation and its new Sky Club. It was that big of a deal for air travel in the US.

    and, yes, AA needs more lounges at CLT; I honestly don’t know why anyone bothers to connect on AA through CLT if they have AC access.

    Yes, I agree that lounges are getting more and more crowded but, I repeat, if you want to be objective, list how many lounges each US airline has throughout their system and the amount of square feet at those facilities.
    If you did, I know that Delta has more lounges and more space total than any other airline – and they are still building new lounges and renovating others faster than any of their competitors.

    We all want a private jet experience at commercial rates. I get it. Me included.

    but I don’t try to cherrypick an obvious exception or two and act like it is anything close to the norm whether it is about DL lounges, AA’s passengers, or anything else.

  14. @Tim Dunn – I did not rewrite anything. And you’re missing the point, limiting the discussion to hubs is absurd.

    And saying “but United and AA suck” misses the point, because it’s not just an issue about DL/UA/AA, and note that I flag problems with both UA and AA in the post. And Centurion lounges.

    Why you can’t see this post as being what it is – the problem of managing lounges with broad-based access when lots of travelers have access, that the nicer you make them the more people bother to use them and spend more time in them. And recognize that this is a problem, and not make excuses because the photos are from Delta (and AA).

  15. Gary, Gary Gary… All you ever do is complain! Impress us with an upbeat, positive, read-worthy article please. I’m getting to the point where when I see your name, I hit the back button!

  16. Gary,
    we don’t need to drag this out.
    I’ll go back to my original question.
    Do you either not know that the picture of a SkyClub that a reader sent you (or you plucked off the internet) is of a location that is right across from Delta’s main DTW Sky Club or did you just intentionally leave that information out in order to make a case.
    And yes you did revise the article by adding the picture from LGA – to clearly make the point the DTW picture isn’t an exception.
    And anyone that reads your blog doesn’t have to read for long to realize that you don’t fly Delta that much. Just fact check your sources before jumping onto something just to create a flimsy narrative.

    The question is simply why it is so hard for you to admit that you took an exception and tried to turn it into a generalization when it is clear that neither Delta or any other airline regularly limits access to its clubs other than in places like AA @CLT which have been well documented.

    and we know EXACTLY why you write about negativity – because people click on it. All of the “good” articles you cite have about as many comments combined as those 4 articles.
    We get it. You sell article clicks to sell credit card advertising.

    Just keep it accurate and admit when you are wrong – or just being manipulative.

  17. This sign was out at FLL last week also. I was allowed in but then the guy behind me was denied and he lost his shit and I think they actually had to call security.

  18. Lost in the back and forth is a discussion of what exactly you are paying for when you buy a lounge membership? Is it the right to use a lounge when you travel…or only sometimes? If the former the agreement would require the provider to not sell memberships in excess of the capacity such that a customer is denied access. If it’s the latter then not being able to use a lounge is part of the bargain.

    Reading the agreements I don’t see anything to indicate what is being offered is anything but the former. There will be the occasional extraordinary circumstances, but that clearly isn’t the situation (or there wouldn’t be the need for a banner). So this appear to be a failure to deliver on a contract. Whoever is selling the membership needs to either 1) revise what they are offering for sale to comport with what they are actually delivering or 2) increase capacity to meet what is being promised (either by building more lounges or selling fewer memberships).

    What is actionable is to take people’s money with the promise of delivering goods or services and then not doing so.

    If you buy a lounge membership that promises access and it isn’t being routinely it seems reasonable to ask for a partial refund. If it isn’t granted, you can sue for the what you are owed.

  19. Bla Bla Bla. Who cares? It’s just a Delta Rat Hole. Move on. I think Gary has a wide spectrum of aviation articles. Some I like, some, not so much. But I do think he is on the ball and very informative.

  20. HMMM, I’ve saying for the past 4 years that DL is over-rate and living on their past reputation, that is now being the new reality of the new DL. AA and UA (and not because of IFE screens) are moving up in the eyes of passengers. DL’s recent moves aren’t customer friendly and their cut throat moves trying to guess the competition verses just doing what’s right, which is what they used to do.

  21. Sunviking82: “AA moving up in the eyes of passengers.”
    Yup, when they see their planes take off NOT when they sit in them…..

    I’m just wondering if Tim Dunn is one of Deltas largest shareholders.
    Don’t jump all over me Mr. Dunn, I do admire your fact based arguments

    and lack of personal insults, but dang, you’re so intense! When I see your name I really look forward to reading your comments. Just the facts Jack!
    May I ask respectfully where/why it comes from? It’s impressive.

    That said, I trust Gary Leff. Can’t I like you both?

  22. There’s a simple way to solve this dilemma at ALL these clubs – if you want access – buy a yearly pass from the airline and only allow a small number of family members (2) inside with the paying cardholder. They have to stop the nonsense of perks with a credit card! These clubs should be exclusive and not for Joe Schmoe, his wife and their 4 children taking up 8
    seats with all their worldly possessions since they’re too cheap to pay for their bags! Enough is enough.

  23. I never dreamed an article about lounges could get so…..interesting!
    It’s a whole new (probably environmentally unsustainable) airport world now. Millions flying everyday! No wonder there’s crowding…..

  24. Looks like nearly every day at SLC Delta lounge. Lines of 30+ and signs saying go away.

  25. Looks like the Delta cheerleaders are dusting off their pom poms and awaking from their COVID slumber. It’s a sure sign things are returning to normal.

  26. @ ayenus — Don’t worry, the stock “wealth” will be gone in 3-6 months. The housing “wealth” will take 18-24 months.

  27. JorgeGeorge,
    you paid me the highest compliment by using “fact-based”
    that is actually the ONLY standard I expect in discussions

    and I do have a couple hundred dollars worth of DAL stock in my portfolio – fractions of a percent.

    I will note that it has made more money for me over the past couple days than my tech and media heavy indices. and futures are pointing to it beating the market indices today as LUV shortly reports its earnings – which I expect will be very strong. but LUV doesn’t have lounges even if they do hedge fuel – which will save them hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs.

    DAL is the world’s largest airline by market capitalization – just ahead of LUV – but both are multiples of times larger than AAL and UAL. The inconvenient fact is that DAL is running a very good business. Guiding to very strong margins- better than some of the “sexy” stock market names.

    Did Delta sell a bunch of Amex cards during the pandemic with Sky Club access and now they are much more full than they were pre-pandemic? probably. but the fact that people are clamoring for Sky Club access even as more new clubs than any other airline are being opened says Delta is actually meeting a market need and putting itself in a much better position financially than its competitors.

  28. This particular club is a small one that recently opened with a full service bar. The much larger club across the corridor is undergoing a renovation and food service is limited. It is not surprising that this particular club was at capacity.

    (I also suspect this club will be turned into an international business class on sometime in the future.)

  29. JorgeGeorge,
    while we wait for Gary to post some new content for today (yes, I do look forward to reading what he writes and I generally agree with his points), I’ll note that Southwest lost money and missed earnings expectations but saved 46 cents/gallon or a couple hundreds million because of its fuel hedges.
    Speaking of fuel, all of the airline growth during the recovery process hasn’t gone smoothly. you might have missed that UA has cancelled its flights from EWR to Johannesburg (and back) for a week because they say they can’t get fuel – but DL which also flies from JNB to ATL has managed to get fuel for its planes. Not sure of the difference but clearly there are some stumbles for each airline in getting their operations back to pre-covid levels.
    I was more surprised to hear that someone experienced the “we are full” sign at FLL than at essentially an overflow Sky Club in DTW which will become a Delta One lounge or in LGA which is under construction.

    btw, I also own a little LUV stock and it will make me some money today.

  30. 1) Airline club crowding is an issue for all US airlines. That said Delta and Amex are actively working to address it – new SkyClubs at LAX and Austin, new D1 space at JFK, new Centurion space in ATL, etc. New space in ORD. Recently expanded and renovated clubs in Austin, New Orleans, etc. SkyClubs are a core proposition for Delta, so they are investing

    2) All airlines rely on credit card relationships. It’s laughable people expect airlines and credit card companies to remove lounge access from their credit card offerings

    3) Gary, I will defend the earn and burn proposition for SkyMiles. SkyMiles are very attractive for domestic flights and have value during flash sales to international business class flights to Europe. In particular, elites can book domestic economy flights, including transcons, are eligible for upgrades, including using instruments like RUC, and critically, earn elite mileage on award flights. For domestic travel, Delta Skymiles is a very attractive program relative to the other majors.

  31. It is absurd that consumers pay for access to premium lounge only to be denied access due to capacity issues. People on here saying this is not DL’s (or AA’s or UA’s) fault need to explain to me who’s fault it is. Is is mine for wanting to use a service I paid for?

    If the airlines are going to market a premium experience they need to make it a premium experience. I flew through MSP last week and used the SC in C (flew into C and out of A). The ONLY seats available were two seats with a coffee table right outside the bathroom doors. How, who in the h@ll wants to sit right outside a bathroom door while eating or drinking? It’s disgusting.

    DL has to do better. If they are victims of their own success then they need to focus on upping their game.

  32. Thank you, Gary, for this article on lounge access. When four people exit the Delta Airlines Sky Club® lounge in Detroit, that should create space for four more people to enter. However, I have noticed that Delta SkyClub keeps their “go away” sign outside the lounge, advising passengers they are not welcome to use their membership.

    Delta Airlines advertises, “With more than 50 locations, the Club offers complimentary cocktails, fresh and healthy food options, free high-speed Wi-Fi, and more. Your Club experience – whether you work, relax or play – is up to you. And the way you access the Club is also your choice. You can choose to purchase one of two Delta Sky Club Memberships or apply for the Delta Reserve® Credit Card, which offers complimentary access to the Club.”

    When purchasing a Delta Sky Club Executive Membership for an annual fee of $845.00, it is with the expectation that you will receive the advertised benefits of unlimited Sky Club access for you and up to two guests per visit (or your spouse/domestic partner and children under 21).

    A solution for the deceptive practice of selling unlimited Delta Sky Club access and not allowing passengers to use their unlimited membership by denying club access is to compensate members with a $50 to $100 refund for each Sky Club failed access attempt.

    Agree or disagree?

  33. Ken A,
    let me (who has stirred up the hornets nest) say that, yes, Delta or any other airline should provide specific compensation if they cannot provide a service for which they charged.

    Delta has automated giving credit when bags don’t arrive on time; they should be able to very quickly figure out a way to compensate you if they sold too many Amex cards during the pandemic and now have more customers than their clubs can hold.

    Just make sure that there really are no nearby alternatives – such as the DTW main Sky Club that is right across the hall.

  34. I fly out of DTW 3+ times a month and I’ve literally never seen it closed due to overcrowding. Others are correct. This is an exceptionality rare circumstance. They have 4 lounges at the airport for that matter. Was the one 100feet away that is just across the hallway also full? That lounge was built by Delta to help with overflow demand. If you’re going to say something about this lounge being closed you should definitely have a picture of the sister longue you could throw a baseball too also being closed.

  35. Thank you Mr. Dunn for your response. Fascinating! I do love information. Doesn’t Delta own a refinery? That is one forward thinking move along with SW fuel hedges.

  36. Yes Jorge
    Delta has said it’s refinery will save it 20 cents per gallon. Alaska is also hedged and expects about the same fuel cost per gallon as Delta
    Southwest will save 2 to 3 times that amount.
    Now that most of the airline industry has reported their latest financial results, Delta is providing the strongest financial expectations for the June quarter. They are clearly attracting higher value passengers. They just need to deliver what those premium customers want.

  37. This month alone, I’ve seen these exact signs saying they’re currently full at both SLC and ATL. So let’s all be objective, and not try to play DTW down as an isolated case.

  38. Thanks Tim! I read this blog and comments to learn about a piece of the world I know nothing about.
    Your factual and slander free posts are most appreciated!
    Sadly, this standard is all to often not upheld in many other comments.
    I think being anonymous has a big thing to do with it. I’ve never liked that about the internet. That’s why I use my real name. I own what I say, even the dumb stuff-and there’s way too much of that LOL. But it comes from a genuine curiosity, so again, thanks!

  39. thank you, Jorge.
    If Gary is willing to write under his own name, I don’t think it’s too much to ask others responding to do the same – as I also do. I don’t agree with everything that everyone else says but I would shake Gary if I happened to meet him.
    Maybe we can arrange for a Sky Club meeting at some point. 🙂

  40. If this is an on going problem, I would believe the solution would be “reservation” at each club you plan to visit during your trip. Seems it would be an easy add on to the reservation network. And if a club is full but there is an alternative, you could easily be redirected Does this sound doable ?

  41. Tom Krpata — that’s a big investment for no return to the airline’s bottom line. Airlines already know who’s flying when and who has access to the club. Reservations won’t tell an airline anything new and would frustrate flyers who see that every club is reserved to the brim.

    I maintain charging more for access and dialing back the credit card benefit. Maybe don’t give access to every cardholder from day one. Gatekeep the lounge access in some way. “Spend $25,000 annually to unlock a Sky Club membership” – something like that.

  42. The dearth of lounges in general, and the scarcity of access to the few lounges operated by the airlines, exists because the patrons of the lounges allow it. If we stop doing business with airlines with inadequate lounge access, then they will be forced to improve access.

    History has proven price increases for lounge access do NOT increase access. On the contrary, airlines price access at the price that maximizes their profits knowing they won’t be able to accommodate most of their elite customers.

    Charging elites for lounge access most aren’t allowed to use is far more lucrative than increasing the price extracted from a smaller pool of elites who will demand unfettered access and expect white glove treatment.

    Airlines have demonstrated complete disregard for their commitments to current lounge patrons. Who believes they will respect us in the future unless boycotts force them to?

  43. @Stuart — Indeed, like most things Elites spend money on, airline lounges are overrated. It is rarely difficult to find a quiet area in an airport to wait for your flight. I often go into a lounge to get something to eat and drink and then depart for a quiet, tranquil environment somewhere else in the terminal. Lounges are rarely an oasis of calm.
    FWIW, the airlines are picking up on this willingness of travellers — even leisure travellers — to spend money on things they perceive to be nicer. Like look for more first class seats in the future. Of course they will be overpriced and you’ll have plenty of competition for them, but this is not a bad development from an all cattle-car travel experience.

  44. I love it when the Dear Leader cultists get enraged at accurate reporting of how mediocre their chosen airline is.

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