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.
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.”