Report: Delta To Cut Lounge Access For Elites Flying International Coach, Premium Economy

Brian Sumers reports that Delta is on the verge of an announcement to cut Sky Club access for elite frequent flyers traveling in long haul economy and premium economy cabins.

Currently SkyMiles Gold elites and higher – who are not club members and don’t have a qualifying credit card – receive lounge access when traveling on international Delta and SkyTeam member airline itineraries, including for a guest. (This includes travel to and from Canada and Mexico, but excludes the Caribbean, Guam, Palau and Saipan.)

These new restrictions, if implemented, would become part of a strategy to address extreme crowding in the airline’s lounges that have lead to long lines and to turning away club members in some locations. Already Delta has limited access to within 3 hours of the start of an itinerary and instituted ‘priority lines’ to skip the queue for premium cabin passengers and top tier elites.

However the moves Delta has made have only limited effect. They (1) have more people with access from credit cards, thanks to their partnership with American Express (Platinum and Centurion cardmembers, not just their own premium co-brand) and (2) offer a more substantive product than competitors, so more of their passengers want to use the lounge. They also do not yet have separate lounges for international business class passengers the way that American (Flagship) and United (Polaris) do.


Delta Sky Club Austin


Delta Sky Club Austin

According to Sumers, “An announcement may come as soon as this week, unless Delta pulls back or postpones its plan.” And if they do this, they’d have to consider limiting access to partner airline elites traveling in coach and premium economy as well. That would, in effect, undermine the key status benefit of the SkyTeam alliance where Delta holds the greatest sway.

Currently ‘SkyTeam Elite Plus’ status is granted to Delta Gold members, Flying Blue Gold, Czeck OK Plus Gold, Saudi Alfursan Gold, and more.

Regardless of their travel class, SkyTeam Elite Plus members traveling on, or connecting to/from, a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member airline have access to a lounge.

Any such move might be announced in the near-term but take place in the future.

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. Delta hasn’t served Guam, Palau and Saipan since 2017. Years ago, there was a Northwest lounge at Guam’s airport if I remember correctly.

  2. And I’m nearly a hundred percent certain that Sky Club access is denied on flights to Canada and Mexico.

  3. Can they do this without SkyTeam’s approval?

    That’s a pretty big benefit to remove.

    The elephant in the room in AMEX lounge access? That and the elite ranks have swelled after the years of waivers/carryover status. DL should wait to see how the thinned ranks of elites look after 2023.

  4. I don’t like the idea of removing a Sky Team benefit. It would allow Air France, KLM and some of the other Sky Team members airlines to remove lounge access for elites flying premium-economy or economy. I do, however, think that Delta should just stop giving gold status customers lounge access. Gold and silver in Delta are basically meaningless elite statuses.

    This also tells me that Delta may be slowing down the rollout of its business-class lounges. Why roll this out now when Delta One lounges are just around the corner?

  5. @ Gary — This is precisely the change Delta needs to make. Eliminate the coach-dwelling hogs at the trough, who act like they haven’t eaten in days.

  6. Building bigger Sky Clubs or limiting the hours you can access the lounges is ineffective. Look at Los Angeles. Widening highways doesn’t reduce highway car congestion. The only way to reduce overcrowding is to remove some customers’ access. Penalizing your best customers for the casual customer who holds an AmEx card is not the right approach.

  7. @Gary, Brian’s article mentions eliminating access for economy and Comfort Plus (extra legroom economy), not premium economy as you write here (for Delta, Premium Select).

    In general, if they do this, it would have to be for Delta flyers only, just like they already do for domestic economy. While I’m not a fan, they need to do something, and I’m sure Amex has told them to pound sand on renegotiating this deal point.

  8. This is brilliant. It would result in AmEx and Delta getting more credit card revenue because elites that had complimentary access would be pushed toward a credit card to maintain access.

  9. THIS CHANGE MAKES SENSE if we remember that “economy” means just that. A cheap way to fly. Lounges are by all means a luxury, and the fact that economy flyers with status can access lounges is a strange artifact of status rules.

    Limiting lounge access at the busiest airports to First/Business flyers plus paid Club Members just makes sense. Please also get your bivalent booster shot if you haven’t already.

  10. Agree w/FNT…why wud u penalize your better customers? Delta has to address the access given to the AMEX Plats. I wud make it free for the co-branded Reserve card and maybe charge $29 or $39 for the Plats. Keep in mind…in many markets those cardholders will still have the Centurion Lounge as an option.

  11. The problem is Platinum cardholders. I say eliminate the SkyClub benefit altogether for them. If they really want SkyClub access, they can signup for the Reserve card or buy a lounge membership. It’s drastic, yes, but given the current atmosphere, it’s the only way to make this tenable. Even changing the benefit to a discounted entry fee I feel won’t make a dent, as most people would still gladly pay $39 or whatever to enter.

  12. 75% of the Sky Club patrons at Detroit’s five Sky Clubs are AmEx cardholders, according to longtime Sky Club agents.

  13. The problem is the Platinum Card. The problem will always be the the Platinum card. The problem for Delta is that Amex is their biggest customer and how they navigate turning off Platinum card access without pissing Amex off is problem a hard problem to solve.

    The problem for Amex is that access to the SkyClub is probably one of their biggest selling points of the card. There isn’t enough Centurion lounges in enough places for that to be a selling point. Who cares about Priority Pass domestically and the Amex version doesn’t allow access to restaurants which makes their version of Priority Pass even less attractive.

    Streaming credits, Walmart +, FHR, airline incidentals, Uber, Saks, Equinox, etc may be useful to some but most probably won’t be all to make sure of them all thus making the Platinum at $695 a VERY HARD sell without SkyClub access.

    So what is Delta and Amex to do? Instituting time limits didn’t work. Building more SkyClub’s won’t work…that’s like thinking you can build more roads to eliminate traffic. More SkyClubs just means more folks will sign up for the Platinum card.

    Start charging or limiting access and folks will stop paying for the Platinum card. They’ve created a mess for themselves and are going to have a hell of a time trying to figure it out. Folks clearly don’t mind standing in line for hours to gain access so there’s no sign of long times breaking the will of the people.

    What’s a mess!

  14. How about military? By all means, grant them credit as required by law….via a green or even gold card. The one-size-too-small Grunt Style and Nine-Line t-shirt crew along with with their dependapotamus and 4 kids can hang out in the USO…..free of charge of course. Thank you for your cervix.

  15. I remember when platinum cards gave one delta and American lounge access.

    It’s funny to see people complain about lounge access through a means that they don’t utilize.

    In reality, delta could limit lounge access to platinum card holders to 12 times a year or something. Same for gold elite who are flying overseas.

    Or in effort to anger the obnoxious people. They should bring back smoking to the lounges so people will just have a drink and a smoke. It will also cut down on food because all the people who would be chased out of the lounge due to the smoke would find healthier options like shoving McDonalds and other trans fat/processed foods down their throats and wash down their SSRIs with an extra large Pepsi.

  16. The money rolling into Delta (and Amex) from the Reserve Card and the non Delta (the REAL) Platinum Card is mind boggling. They are raking it in. They brought this onto them selves wanting more and more money. In effect, they are selling something that they don’t really have in hand any more – lounge access. They are selling it, but it’s not what people signed up for. Maybe card people are noticing and they see a dip in the card sales. They can’t have this, so they decide to screw their Golds and Platinums flying internationally. Maybe that won’t cause as steep a dip in revenue like the Reserves and Amex real Plats not not renewing because they can’t get in. A real problem, BUT THEIR GREED BROUGHT THIS ON TO THEMSELVES.

  17. Hey Gary,
    How about next time you write about Sky Club overcrowding, use a picture OTHER THAN of JFK? If thi problem is really as bad as you make it out to be, then there has to be massive lines at some other Sky Club.

    I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU!

  18. There was a recent discussion at American to see what the impacts would be if arrival access was removed from Admirals Clubs so it would effectively only apply to departing and connecting passengers and possibly adopting a time limit before entry like the Cennies do (wouldn’t put much stock into the latter at this juncture). Also not sure how significantly the entry scan numbers would drop but if Delta pops up with their little holiday gift to the SkyTeam elite in coach gut, American would have the perfect moment to devalue (but just a smidge less than Delta) their club rules.

  19. Yet another Airline that likes the income from cards and points but doesn’t want to provide the services (award flights, lounge access etc) to match. Think Qantas with minimal rewards availability on its own metal, and none for points holders below Gold status, think AAdvantage and Alaska Air with their 330 day limit for award flights on partners with 355 day availability.

  20. @2808 Heavy says:

    “The problem is the Platinum Card. The problem will always be the Platinum card. The problem for Delta is that Amex is their biggest customer and how they navigate turning off Platinum card access without pissing Amex off is problem a hard problem to solve…..”

    Wish I had written this comment as it’s exactly correct. At $695 per year, I’m out if I don’t have Sky Club access the few times a year I bother flying Delta. Love the Sky Club at Seattle. If the Platinum Card can’t get me in, then the value proposition (for myself) greatly changes.

    BTW remember AMEX has a contract with Delta for SkyClub access until the late 20’s.

  21. @Paul IMO, I don’t think Admiral Clubs are nice enough for folks to even want to stand in for line. Why AA feels the need to tinker with access is interesting and makes me giggle considering they can’t possibly be dealing with crowd control.

    Heck, one can get access via to their clubs via the Citi AA Exec card and then gift access to the Admiral’s Club for up to 10 AUs for FREE and even still their clubs still aren’t crowded…mostly because Admiral’s Club kinda suck and no one wants to be there anyway.

    If AA lounges we’re even half decent folks would have the AA Exec card like they do the Platinum card just for lounge access…but they don’t…and for good reason.

  22. Folks, your economy elites have to do a lot of flying to get that status, and it’s usually for business that doesn’t/won’t pay for a better cabin. The status perks are often the difference maker.
    For me, for example, my government employer would frown on putting me in business class, but still expects me to fly across the Atlantic and perform well.
    So, in making my purchase, free lounge access and how IRROPS are handled are valuable.
    And we still get enough food in back. The buffet feeders tend to be those for whom it’s all a novelty. You know, the AmEx crowd.

  23. I use the Sky Club at LAX frequently. I have never had to wait for a vacancy to gain admission. Any line I’ve experienced has been due to the check-in kiosks taking time to process each person’s entry. I have been there mid-day, late afternoon, and evening on weekends and mid-week. Never has it been so crowded that a seat was unavailable. It is probably unfair to paint Delta as a whole based on an issue at certain locations.

  24. I don’t get the focus on the Amex Platinum in these comments – if SkyClub access was removed, many would just sign up for the Delta Reserve card (which has a lower annual fee).

    I could see Delta doing something like limiting the amount of times Amex Platinum holders access SkyClubs for free, or maybe implementing a charge, but the idea Amex/Delta would get rid of Amex Platinum access is laughable.

  25. @Anthony True, some folks will flank to the Delta Reserve but I’d guess a lot wouldn’t. There’s a path to mental happiness via credits (even if one can’t use them all) with the Platinum. The Amex Platinum card also allows some to get the feeling of “perceived prestige” just by having the card and slapping it down to pay for lunch at McDonald’s or their local Apple Bee’s.

    One doesn’t get those warm and fuzzy feelings from the Delta Reserve nor the Delta Reserve offer enough for one to try and recoup some of the annual fee via credits…so yea, I think some who REALLY want SkyClub access will flank to the Reserve but I’d be willing to be that a LOT wouldn’t at a $550 price tag.

  26. Another case of a company being paid up front, in this case by card issuers, failing to spend what’s necessary to deliver the promised service, then finding ways to renege on the promise. You’d think an airline would know how to avoid overselling its capacity.

  27. Another crack in DL’s armor of being the “best”. AA and UA rarely have this issue and AA has more customers domestically and UA more internationally. DL in flight service is suspect as it continues to decline especially for elites. AA and UA, along with their partner airlines (BA /LF verses KLM/AF. . .not even a contest to start) are better for leisure and business travel globally. Once One World has China Southern and GOL they and Star Alliance will out flank SkyTeam, plus OneWorld and Star will a place in a lounge for me.

  28. “And I’m nearly a hundred percent certain that Sky Club access is denied on flights to Canada and Mexico.”

    That’s incorrect. Mexico and Canada are explicitly *included* in Delta’s definition of “international” for purposes of Sky Club access.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing regional flights to/from Mexico, Canada, and Central America nixed for lounge access. Those are short-haul flights. Nixing all international elite lounge access seems harsh, though. I’d be surprised if Delta actually did that, especially since it’s a defined alliance-wide benefit and one of the biggest benefits of Gold Medallion status. Just cutting out all of the people using it for flights to Canada, Mexico, and Central America would solve most of the problem with the least impact on people who actually need it, IMO.

    As for the elephant in the room: Yes, the real reason for Sky Club crowding is primarily Amex card holders (both Reserve and Platinum.) And, yes, those are both part of contracts that have many more years left on them. Additionally, they’re also Delta’s largest profit sources. Delta makes more money from Amex than it makes from actually flying. Very unlikely that that will change any time soon. Much more likely that they’ll simply use some of the pile of revenue to continue building more and larger lounges, as they have already been doing for the last several years, as well as building dedicated Delta One lounges, which are already in the works for at least JFK and LAX.

    The biggest thing Delta needs to do right now is build more Sky Club capacity in JFK T4. That’s the primary source of the problem.

  29. The DL lounges are not chock full of Skyteam ElitePlus passengers in economy class. The DL lounges mostly fill up with passengers on the basis of lounge membership or bank cards providing DL lounge access.

  30. Airlines- capitalism at its best. Love to see big spenders spending big to get to the same destination as the cabins behind them at the same time. I always want to ask these road warriors How are the kids? Seen them lately?

  31. Gary, great Onion like parody. Do it more often. It’s hilarious! Call it bored housewives of lounge land.

  32. Boris, it doesn’t sound like you’re a big-timer. Getting to our destination refreshed is a justifiable business expense for some of us. For leisure travel, when you get older, you’ll also find that it’s more difficult to cram into the economy section and not be wrecked once you arrive at your final destination. Accordingly, I find your comments rather naive in more than one way.

  33. I agree with vbscript2’s closing comment about JFK T4. As big as it is…it’s needs to expand

    Now IF this rumor is true…remember that Delta is 100% aware of when they need to run a line and who is getting in the SC and how they’re getting in. Which leads me to believe that the biggest issues are at the airports with a lot of international travelers (JFK, ATL, LAX, etc.). So, they may believe that this will significantly thin out the access.

    I’m not thinking this is as big an issue in say RDU or SLC? I will say – in my experience – the only lines I’ve ever seen is T4 JFK and B18 ATL.

    That being said…it is still the AMEX Plats that are contributing to the overcrowding in a big way. But, as others here have stated…hard to see that going away…too much big $$ for Delta there.

  34. I have been a loyal Delta traveler since 1991. I have used the partnership with Korean Air to access the Asian market, which I used to travel 4x per year. I may stick to KA from now on. My last time at LGA was absurd with cancelling flights, overcharged fees (yes for changes in the same day), and ridiculous lines to enter the sky club (I have a business membership). Delta needs new ideas, otherwise, it will succumb like other American airlines. Yes, the clubs are overcrowded, because Delta is a success. The key would be who you want to hurt

  35. Since 1996, I’ve primarily flown Delta averaging 100-150K miles a year in the seat.

    My home airport does not have a lounge. Being 1 hour from ATL, unless you are in FC, all you get is water. Beer or wine in C+ but can’t get a coke.

    DL is doing its best to minimize transit time in ATL. Today going to YUL, about an hour ground time in ATL. Lounge line eliminated chance of quick bite and a coke. FC on RJ ATL to YUL. Snack box meal with three small pieces of Cranberry bread. No club in YUL. There is an AF in departures, but isn’t open until
    Mid afternoon and not accessible on arrival at all.

    I’m approaching 3M miles, lifetime Gold at 2M, and the only real benny is international lounge access if I’m not in business. I don’t fly business to Europe. My last two employers wouldn’t pay for that.

    I hold a Delta Reserve card for lounge access. Still maintaining Platinum status, but that usually puts me in the mid teens for FC upgrade,

    Amex centurion lounge is a joke unless you frequent the few locations and fly from that terminal.

    Emirates Gold status at least gets me in all their lounges worldwide with a guest regardless of ticket type.

    Often my only option is on arrival. Rarely use it for long unless I get in early at JFK and have to kill most of a day there.

    Solution for Delta, limit alcohol drinks to 1-2. Then charge. That would thin the crowd.

    Give me 100 hours to
    Apply in any club over the new 3 hour arrival limit since I don’t have a departure club.

    I still go to Popeyes in ATL if I’m hungary.

    Club food is ok, not great.

    Delta did this to themselves when sitting the seat quit being the determining factor if “ valuable customer “

  36. Yes, the airline loyalty programs and lounges catering more to frequent big spenders than frequent flyers is the leading cause of US airline lounges being so very crowded as often as is the case. But at the same time, it’s the frequent big spender appeal that has come with the US lounges being better in other ways than they were during most of the commercial internet era.

  37. @vbscript2 I wish your solution would be one that would solve the problem but unfortunately, in my opinion, I don’t think it would. I’d be willing to be that there are folks who right now are thinking “…if it wasn’t so crowded I would….” and others who are probably thinking “…I would keep my Platinum if the lounges weren’t so crowded…”.

    I don’t think Delta can build themselves out of this situation. Like I mentioned before, it’s like a department of transportation trying to eliminate traffic congestion by building more highways…it never works.

    If they build more SkyClub’s more folks will be willing to part with $550/$695 to get in. The true way to eliminate the overcrowding is to put a cap visits, eliminate access (which isn’t going to happen) or just make the SkyClub as crappy as the Admiral’s Clubs are and folks will naturally stop coming.

  38. I would say, if you are flying Economy, unless you are Diamond, maybe Platinum you should not be allowed lounge access. Also, status due to card spending should be eliminated; you haven’t earned the status for that perk. If I am paying for the lounge, then one should have to pay as well. If traveling Business and First Class, I can see.
    Whatever you do for Delta, you have to do for the Sky Team is well.

  39. @Doug: “Solution for Delta, limit alcohol drinks to 1-2. Then charge. That would thin the crowd.”

    Delta is already essentially doing this for wine. The complimentary wine they’re serving is so cheap and awful. Barefoot is as good. Anyone who wants a palatable wine has to pay for a “premium” drink.

    It will be interesting to see how Delta handles alcohol in the new Delta One/360 lounges –– if they ever open.

    I do agree with you about drinks in comfort-plus on 1-hour or less short flights. Delta really pushes alcohol even though many people don’t drink or can’t drink for whatever reason. During th height of the pandemic, the only beverages Delta served in first-class were water and booze. For an airline based in a historically teetotaling South, it’s really amazing how much they push alcohol.

  40. @Lee Sanyos: Agreed. Part of the solution isn’t to remove lounge access from elites traveling internationally in economy or comfort-plus. Rather, part of the solution is to admit that gold status is no longer really an elite status. Gold should not have Sky Team Elite status. That solves part of the problem right there. Delta could further incentive travel by limiting first-class upgrades to platinum and diamonds. Make gold and silver only eligible for upgrades into comfort-plus.

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