How Austin Almost Got – And Then Lost – An American Express Lounge

At the start of 2020 the Austin airport was on the verge of getting a new lounge accessible by American Express Platinum cardmembers. It started off as an Escape lounge that would co-brand with American Express, and now such lounges are known as Centurion Studios. But a contracting dispute, the pandemic, and then American Airlines happened.

The airport solicited bids to run a new independent lounge, and selected MAG (“Manchester Airport Group”) USA which runs Escape lounges. However the City Council balked in a dispute over minority contracting rules.

The deal was expected to win approval in January 2020 but this got delayed because Airport Dimensions, which operates lower quality ‘The Club’ lounges, filed a protest arguing that the city should accept their bid involving less rent because they would better meet government Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise standards.

  • Austin airport has a Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goal of 11.06%. Airports score bids on the basis of whether they meet the goal, not on the basis by by how much.

  • The MAG contract hit 13% ACDBE by turning over operations of the lounge (but not ownership) to “D&B Mitchell Group, a Dallas-based, Black-owned business” which would take a percentage of revenue off the top. In addition MAG partnered with local Mozart’s coffee, which is minority-owned.

  • Airport Dimensions, which came in second and operates The Club lounges, had offered a 20% ownership stake to a local minority-owned business.

  • Airport Dimensions also, oddly, claimed they’re a Texas-based company while MAG are a bunch of U.K.-based fer’ners. Airport Dimensions is part of… the U.K.’s Collinson Group which owns Priority Pass. Locally-owned is an impermissible decision-making criteria under federal rules in any case.

In addition to MAG and Airport Dimensions, there were also bids from Plaza Premium (which Capital One is working with on its lounges) and Turkey’s TAV Operations Services which runs Prime Class lounges. The MAG bid guaranteed nearly twice as much revenue to the airport as the second place Airport Dimensions bid.


Airport Lounge Concession Bid Scoring Sheet

The City Council decided not to act on the lounge award, deciding “to withdraw the airport lounge item and to have it reposted at another meeting with new wording once they have had more time to learn about the issues at hand.”

So what happened next? The pandemic. And then a deal to allow American Airlines to build a new club instead.


Rendering Credit American Airlines

With American building lounge in new space, that creates an opportunity to backfill into their existing club lounge space. And it’s already set up as a club lounge. This might seem to create the perfect opportunity for an independent lounge, since currently Austin has only Delta, United, and American lounges – and nothing accessible to passengers of the largest carrier at the airport (Southwest) or passengers traveling, for instance, on Spirit.

Unfortunately the airport is no longer interested. They plan to use the current American Airlines Admirals Club space “to provide areas for temporary tenant relocation during future construction and development projects in the” terminal, according to an airport spokesperson. And as for a process to bring an independent lounge to the airport, “We don’t have plans to launch one at this time.”

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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Comments

  1. Sounds like the airport would have beaten the protest at a formal hearing. The fact that the airport voluntarily withdrew the entire procurement effort on a meritless claim reeks of politics. MAG should have protested the airport’s withdrawal of the procurement solicitation, if allowed.

  2. On Christmas Day, I flew to GSP International Airport via PHL. I had the opportunity to experience the Centurion Lounge in Philadelphia and the Escape Premium Lounge at the Greenville-Spartanburg airport near Greer, South Carolina. This trip was my first visit to any Escape Lounge. GSP is a nice airport. You can go outside for sunshine and fresh air to an interior courtyard at GSP without needing to clear security again. The Escape Lounge food selection was reasonable for a holiday, and the lounge was not crowded compared to the PHL or CLT AMEX Centurion Lounges. You also get free access to Escape Lounges with your AMEX Platinum card. I hope Manchester Airport Group would be able to offer additional Escape Lounge locations in North America.

  3. I’m glad Ken A is happy!
    Chris you made laugh!

    Most Austin Council People fall all over themselves to out woke each other. Leads to puzzling gridlock.

    Now they want to expand the airport
    so of course a company wants to expand the jet fuel storage that’s too close to residents (who were there first) with lots more tanks. Knowing the woke Council People they will want to buy out the residents with million dollar offers (hello Austjn real estate!) because it’s only money right? I would support that because the residents were there first.

    Austin is a place all onto its own…..

  4. Jorge, the heck are you truly fretting about and what does your wokeness complaint have anything to do with it? I get it, nobody wants to live next to a fuel farm, despite the litany of environmental regulations and safety controls these facilities must comply with. I suppose your alternative is to do…what exactly? Frankly, your local gas station is more hazardous.

    Meanwhile, I’m sure there were precisely zero complaints when the Air Force was operating SAC and TAC wings at Bergstrom back in the day. Things seemed to work out fine in the end.

  5. Ari: ever try complaining to the Defense dept? I just wish our woke reps had more spine. I have no answers: translation no money…..

  6. “accessible to passengers of the largest carrier at the airport (Southwest) or passengers traveling, for instance, on Spirit.”

    What?!

    This must be a joke.

    Nowhere in Southwest or Spirit’s fare structure do they offer lounge access. Not as a fare bundle, not as a buy-up.

    No F at all on WN. The Big Front Seat on Spirit is just that.

  7. When you focus on something like ACDBE rather than airport revenue and passenger benefits, you have this debacle. In the end, no one’s interest was served, except American Airlines. Austin wants to wear the mortarboard of wokeness, but ends up with a dunce cap instead. Hilarious!

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