Miami Airport Lounge Staff Steal Millions

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:

  1. The next time lounge employees seem disinterested in providing services, they might be focused on really important things. Such as scams like this.
  2. 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.”)

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. Well I don’t know about #1 above. If that’s true then lounge employees of a major US carrier currently in the process of merging must be running an entire Corleone family type of deal, according to their service standards.

  2. I really don’t think bartenders and servers are collecting the checks from Swiss Air for deposit, so the bad service just probably comes naturally to them.

  3. Wow- this was probably the worst lounge I ever got on an intercontinental flight with Swiss. And now I know why…
    The highlights include non-functional internet (no one seemed to care) and no food for most of the time- the sandwiches they brought lasted for about 10minutes. Bad luck if you missed them.

  4. Re: Amex charges.

    Maybe they were just manufacturing spend. $60-70k per year, per person is not that crazy of you are manufacturing.

  5. @Tummy ??? IANAL but I think you might as well shoot yourself now as imagine that a jury will accept “I was manufacturing spend” as a defense when $2 million has gone missing & you’re living in a house far beyond the means of every working person on the jury combined.

  6. I use this lounge frequently and I must say they always manage to stock Häagen-Dazs Dulce De Leche ice cream.

    Also, realize this is Miami and this is the way things happen quite often.

  7. The lounge in terminal J used to be quite terrible (even the F section), but I was pleasantly surprised couple of weeks ago when I stopped by after a long absence. The lounge has been updated and they combined both sections to create one big lounge. There are now more snacks and drinks as well as a buffet section with sandwiches, cheese, ice cream, etc so you no longer have to wait for the sandwich cart. Overall it’s quite an improvement although the internet is still terrible.

  8. @Papa Smurf – LAN recently took over management of the lounge, which explains the improvement.

  9. Fortunately a Star Alliance lounge operated by Avianca will be opening in MIA next year.

  10. So these idiots were depositing the checks into THEIR accounts? And no one at the company wondered why they were missing millions of dollars? Geniuses all around!

  11. How does a bank let checks made out to a company be deposited into personal accounts??

  12. Avianca lounge sucks…it is not the food or the service but seems that always full. Lan lounge is bigger but food options now good. Regarding the scam…well…Miami can be in the United States but ias as close as a third world country as you can get…

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