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In May we learned that the American Express Centurion Lounge in Seattle was limiting passengers to using the lounge when departing on a flight (no arriving passengers) and within two hours of their flight’s departure.
American Express has tried several things to manage overcrowding.
- They’re building larger lounges than before. They’ve expanded Seattle, they’re expanding Miami, and they’re going to offer a reduced the number of guests a Platinum cardholder can bring into the lounge.
- They stopped selling access to American Express cardmembers without a Platinum or Centurion card.
San Francisco Centurion Lounge
That’s not done the trick. The level of demand has also taxed American Express food and beverage budgets for the lounge. My impression is that they more careful with food costs than earlier on in the lounge program to compensate.
American Express told me at the time that the two hours prior to departure limit wasn’t a new policy (“We have always had this policy in effect for all our Centurion Lounge locations when we hit capacity”) although no one seems to have ever encountered it before May.
They also shared that they “only restrict lounge access if we hit capacity” so this isn’t a regular policy at all of their lounges all of the time.
Seattle is a small lounge, and often overcrowded. However the only Centurion lounge that is generally ‘full’ but not ‘overcrowded’ in my experience is Houston. It’s tucked away inside the international terminal, and you take an elevator that’s tucked away inside duty free to get there.
A new sign was spotted in the San Francisco club, a restriction of three hours prior to departure. Notably this policy does not apply to Centurion (Black Card) customers.
Due to high traffic in our lounge at this time, we can only welcome Platinum Card Members who are departing and who enter within 3 hours of their boarding pass departure time. We apologize for any inconvenience.
My issues with limiting when a guest can enter the lounge in this fashion are three-fold.
- They’re imposing the policy without letting cardmembers know in advance. So people are learning about it when they show up at the airport and walk up to the lounge. They’re at the airport early only to have to sit around and twiddle their thumbs.
- More than 2-3 hours is sometimes the reality of travel. They aren’t focusing on keeping out ‘abusers’ of the lounge who purposely show up super early to eat and drink. They are limiting the usefulness of the lounge for real travelers, business people who get stuck at the airport due to misconnections or cancellations, when airline schedules for 2-3 hour connections or when meetings end early and you just need to be productive at the airport.
- So much for catching a shower after an overnight flight and heading to work. Most Centurion lounges have showers, Popping into the lounge for a shower and a coffee on arrival is legitimately useful.
San Francisco Centurion Lounge
If they need to limit access to the lounge they should post real-time status updates online to give customers notice. A better approach could be to limit the number of free visits that a cardmember gets.
Ultimately there are too many people who have been eligible to use the lounges, who have wanted to use the lounges, relative to the size of the lounges. There’s only so much they can do to expand capacity in the airports they work in (and larger lounges are going to attract more people who still stay longer, since currently some people – like me – often stay away precisely due to the crowding).
It is simply difficult to offer a quality lounge product which includes a peaceful, quiet experience for the number of people who have access through Platinum American Express cards.
Fortunately in San Francisco there’s now (2) Priority Pass restaurants in the same terminal, Yankee Pier near gate 72 and San Francisco Giants Clubhouse near gate 82. They don’t offer showers, however.