American Airlines seems prepared to raise the price of access to its Admirals Club airport lounges, but this will make sense only if they improve the lounge product. I alluded to this in my explanation of how each of the major U.S. airlines is at a crossroads. Fortunately the lounge product is improving and this will make a higher fee worth it.
American Airlines Lounge Access Is Cheaper Than United, Delta
American’s Admirals Club membership costs $500 – $600 per year, depending on elite status ($50 higher in the first year). That’s slightly cheaper than United, and much lower than Delta. But the real value comes from the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard which has just a $450 annual fee, and no annual fee additional cardholders who also receive lounge access for themselves and two guests.
United charges $550 – $650 for an annual membership, depending on elite status. The United ClubSM Infinite Card has a $525 annual fee and is the best way to gain access (especially with an offer to earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening).
Delta charges $695 for membership ($1495 for an ‘executive’ membership with guests) and only elites can purchase one. Members can’t access the clubs when flying on a basic economy ticket. The way around these restrictions is with their premium co-brand cards.
Currently American’s Lounge Product Lags United, Delta
United Airlines has improved its United Club food choices a lot, though they lag Delta here. All of the new build and renovated Delta lounges are gorgeous. Take, for instance, the club in my home airport of Austin – which has an outdoor deck (not to mention the new LAX Club, LaGuardia, etc.).
Delta lounges have been crowded, though (hence the restrictions on access). Lines to get in are long, most prominently but hardly only at New York JFK Terminal 4.
- The food attracts passengers
- Delta still lacks a separate business class lounge product to draw people out of the main clubs
- More people have access, since all Amex Platinum cardmembers flying Delta can get in
You don’t get the same crowding at United or American lounges, except when lounge capacity is reduced usually for construction.
American’s 2018-era design template is institutional, and doesn’t create relaxing spaces. The lighting feels like a hospital. And while they’ve added some food options, the afternoon guacamole and the avocado toast is something Mastercard pays for. Where there’s been ‘make your own tacos’ it’s been with tasteless meat. The meatballs are overcooked pasta are ok? On the other hand, the addition of baklava is delicious – a real improvement over mini brownies and rice krispy treats.
American Lounges Are On The Cusp Of Improving – A Lot
The primary reason to be a member of the Admirals Club is access to reservations agents in the club. The agents in some of their clubs, especially for me the incredible AAngels in the Austin club, are outstanding and provide personalized service to keep you moving if something interrupts your flight.
However a peaceful escape from the terminal, in a beautiful and relaxing environment, which makes it convenient to have something tasty and healthy to eat along with a cocktail before your flight? And in major hubs, the ability to shower as well? For a frequent traveler that’s worth paying for, too.
The new Admirals Club on the E (regional jet) concourse at Washington’s National airport is just such a place, though the food needs work of course. It is downright gorgeous, and not usually crowded. Plus, since the concourse is connected airside to American’s other piers, it’s worth a walk regardless of which American flight you’re on.
National Hall is now entirely behind security, so you move freely between concourses:
The E concourse is just a couple of quick moving walkways beyond the C and D piers. And then the Admirals Club is directly on the left.
Even the entrance to the space is gorgeous.
The elevator up to the lounge has the local theme of cherry blossoms. And you enter right into a beautiful space.
The lounge is beautifully-designed, with plenty of different types of seating. There are views both of the tarmac and down into the concourse itself.
I especially like sitting in front of the fireplace, with the windows out behind it.
But there’s also relaxation chairs with high sides for a modicum of privacy.
There’s a separate bar and dining room as well. And one of the striking things is that the food area presentation makes the modest provisions look so much better than in other lounges.
The lounge features American’s soda machines from the 2018 redesign (it’s really surprising that lounges at major hubs which didn’t get the redesign don’t necessarily even have these machines).
And they have good coffee machines, which in some lounges sit out of order for extended periods.
Since food options are modest, some American clubs offer self-service food for purchase. In this new lounge, that option was already out of order.
One of the key elements of a lounge is its bathroom. One of the things you’re paying for is a clean and uncrowded restroom apart from the public ones in the terminal. And though there’s no showers in this new lounge (there’s not even a customs facility at DCA airport, and most flights are less than 1250 miles by law) the bathrooms do not disappoint.
This is the new Admirals Club design template. They’re planning for the Denver and Newark lounges, sharing similar design motif with local characteristics, to open this year.
It’s going to be a long time before it broadens out much beyond that, but this has incredible potential. It’s downright beautiful and I enjoy spending extra time here.
This Will Come With Higher Fees
American Airlines charges less for its lounges than competitors, and delivers less overall. But food is a little bit better than it used to be (there’s a long way to go) and the design template creates much more relaxing spaces. That’s worth more.
We can expect prices to go up. Citibank is considering higher fees for its card with lounge access, and charging for authorized cardmembers who gain access. If the Citi Executive card fee rises, expect lounge membership cost to rise as well – otherwise the co-brand card wouldn’t be the relatively better way to gain access. Keeping the card as more attractive than paid membership is necessary because they prefer you to get the card and spend on the card – and a premium card tends to attract higher levels of spend, which is profitable both for the bank and the airline.
Though price is expected to rise, it makes no sense for most to pay more for the current lounge product. But the new lounge template at National airport, expanded more broadly, would be worth it. I could sit comfortably inside the new Washington National Airport’s E concourse Admirals Club for hours.
If American would further improve the food in its lounges (beyond meatballs and baklava) and fast track a rollout of this new lounge design which is vastly better than the 2018-era institutional template, I’d be willing to pay more for it.