The Club America lounge at the Miami airport is a rather sorry place. It’s moderately better than sitting in the terminal.
Actually there used to be 2 Club America lounges at the airport, if memory serves — one in terminal F and the other in terminal J.
The terminal J lounge appears to have been renamed for LATAM and operated by LAN now.
And now I know why.
- The lounge is actually owned by the airport authority.
- There was a contract with a private company to run it (in place since 1999).
- Airlines pay for use of the lounge. 20% of the checks were deposited by lounge employees into their own accounts, instead of the airport authority’s account.
In all at least $2.19 million was taken — although the true amount is likely much higher.
The stolen funds came from 11 airlines, including:
- $1.1 million from Swiss
- $347,000 from Taca
- $279,000 from Virgin Atlantic
Apparently the thieves ran up over half a million in American Express charges over the past two years, despite combined incomes of less than $90,000. (They live in a property assessed at $1.4 million as well.)
The theft was discovered two years ago when $49,000 in billing vouchers not on the lounge’s books were found on the ground in the lounge’s office.
The airport’s contract with the lounge operator was supposed to earn that company $200,000 a year. (It’s that company’s employees which stole the funds, although I’m not aware of any allegations that the company itself was aware of the thefts.) The airport’s director says he has tried to oust the lounge operator, but the city’s government wouldn’t allow it.
Two important lessons, I think:
- The next time lounge employees seem disinterested in providing services, they might be focused on really important things. Such as scams like this.
- The very best lounges, of course, are run as local government profit centers.
(HT: Robert G. who comments, “Having been to this ‘lounge’ glad to see it’s finally been classified as a scam.”)