It’s Time for LAX to Move Forward With an American Express Lounge

At the beginning of November I suggested that an American Express Centurion lounge would be coming to LAX.

The big hint was American Express Centurion Lounge-branded couches past security in the Tom Bradley international terminal.

At the time no lease had yet been signed, but LAX told employees in an October newsletter that it was coming “to the south side terminals (between terminals 6 & 7).”

Since that time the Houston Centurion lounge opened. But… apparently no lease has yet gone final at LAX.

Understandably the airport authority is distracted by shiny things — spending at least $5 billion on a people mover that will connect the terminal area of the airport to a consolidated rental car center. The people mover component will cost over a billion per mile instead of buying some no emission buses.

But I’m confident that the Board of Airport Commissioners can find it in their busy schedule to move this forward.

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. I know this wasn’t the main point of the post, but I wanted to address your comment about the people mover. The reason for its construction has actually very little to do with reducing emissions (though, that’s certainly not a bad thing)–it has to do with congestion. In contrast to almost every other major airport in the US, there is no way in or out of the terminal area except in a vehicle on the roadway. Sure, buses take up less space than cars when full, but it all adds to the congestion, and replacing the current rental car buses with zero-emission buses won’t change that at all. I’ve been stuck for a long time in massive traffic jams on the roadway, and any way to reduce traffic will help.

    Furthermore, the people mover will also connect to the metro rail system. The existing rail-to-bus is lightly used, and the hope is that people will use the new connection more (like the Airtrain at JFK was a huge improvement over the previous shuttle).

  2. @ss I am not suggesting the point of the people mover is environmental though that was one argument for it. Busing people to the consolidated transportation center isn’t perfect but neither is, umm, the most expensive per-mile transportation project in history.

  3. @Gary I’m totally with you on that, the pricetag seems way too high for what it is

  4. There’s going to be a spectacular United Club opening there later this year.

    With the sharp decline in quality of Centurion food / beverage and an existing Alaska club in T6 there’s really no need there, especially as United ups the game with both new United Club amenities and a Polaris lounge.

  5. @Greg we haven’t even seen the first Polaris lounge yet — which will be open to business class passengers but not United Club or Star Gold members. So let’s not get too excited about it 😉

  6. You imply that the people mover is over-priced and not needed. First of all, the people mover is just one part of a complete project to try to fix the nightmare that is LAX transportation. Obviously you don’t live in the area. LAX is my home airport and I experience it on almost a weekly basis. We’re not talking Dallas or Denver or some other area that has lots of open space which is vastly cheaper. We’re talking about an airport than is completely surrounded by residential and commercial areas with no space to expand.

    In 2015, LAX was ranked #7 in passenger traffic worldwide. US only, it was 3rd. That is a tremendous amount of traffic and people for such a restricted space. Thinking that a few zero emission buses going around the horseshoe is going to fix it is completely absurd.

    Yeah, a new lounge would be nice – if you can get to it. Sorry, but fixing the traffic situation is a vastly higher priority.

    Here are two links you should review: (New Look at the LAX People Mover Set to Be Finished in 2023) (Here’s the Mindblowing Plan to Un-Fuck LAX Transportation)

  7. I think the ridiculous train at Dulles that connects 3 or the 4 terminals cost about $1.5 billion for 1.5 miles. I believe this project has the dubious distinction of the most expensive per mile transportation boondoggle in the USA courtesy of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, an opaque ungovernable quasi-public agency with unlimited access to cheap financing. Welcome to Washington!

  8. @Gary… It’s great that you want to see more Centurion lounges but you shouldn’t criticize the airport commission/authority if you don’t know the facts. People that live in and fly from LA understand how congested the airport terminals are and the urgent need for improvement. The goal is to reduce the traffic flow not add more buses and even more congestion. It’s also going to be connected to the other metro lines as another commenter already mentioned. Quite frankly it’s long overdo that mass transit be added to LAX. Sometimes I think you are too consumed by the Centurion lounges and the food offerings. I also would love to see the lounge come to LAX but it has nothing to do with adding mass transit.

  9. @Mark I do know the facts. I agree that the terminals are congested. Buses replacing cars wouldn’t be perfect but better than spending over a billion per mile. The project is almost as much of a joke as the LaGuardia terminal renovation.

  10. @rjb no question Dulles comes close to what LAX is doing, but LAX is even more expensive.

    Of course, Dulles built their train dropping United passengers off where they supposedly plan to build a terminal in the future rather than where there’s a terminal today so you take the train and still have a schlepp..

  11. Gary! I think you either have a twin, or you’re at the Park Hyatt Paris right now! Saw someone that looked exactly like you today!

  12. Can’t wait for that lounge to open. Our 5 hour layover in LAX en route to SYD was made worse by poor lounge choices since United is redoing their lounges as well.

  13. @gary – really love your blog… usually you have great insight and good information – and I also want an AMEX lounge; but give it up – you really kind of stepped in it when talking about the people mover.

    I live in the LA area and you aren’t going to efficiently move as many people without that type of project. There simply isn’t space a LAX to increase the size of the roadways and rely on buses to do it. Regarding the costs… as others have pointed out:

    1. LAX is a relatively small airport in size, yet handles a ridiculous amount of traffic
    2. Any land that LAX needs to purchase as part of their plan is going to be extremely expensive. The airport is located in a prime area (South Bay) with extremely high housing costs.
    3. Anything that happens at LAX brings lawsuits and environmental impact studies. The surrounding cities (and their residents who live in $$$$$$$$$ homes) always keep a close eye on what happens there. They don’t want their property values negatively impacted.
    4. LAX has been trying to reduce traffic and move some to Ontario and even potentially Palmdale – but as much as people hate LAX, they insist on using it. It is extremely conveniently located. So LAX is trying it’s best to keep up by doing innovative things and renovation projects.

    If you have a plan which is better than what LAX has proposed, you should contact the mayor immediately, or perhaps the LA Times. You would no doubt get alot of good publicity and most likely a few million at least for saving so much money.

  14. @Gerry “If you have a plan which is better than what LAX has proposed, you should contact the mayor immediately, or perhaps the LA Times. ”

    Hardly. Plenty of experts based in LA proposed better more cost-efficient plans. (For LA-based proponents of zero-emission buses as an alternative, see Robert W Poole) They aren’t as sexy, they don’t provide nearly as much money to contractors, so there isn’t as much lobbying for them.

  15. @Gary: who gives a **** about a new Centurion Lounge? Passengers have other options to use (as they already do). What passengers do NOT have is a) an uncontested way to get to their rental cars; b) room on the road for their friends, family, taxi driver, etc. to drop them off and pick them up. Right now each and every car rental company, except Silvercar, runs multiple busses (many of which run on CNG) circling LAX like vultures. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the total number exceeded 100!) The people mover may not be cheap, but removing 40-50 busses an hour? I’ll take that every time!

    Don’t forget that LAX was originally built as a “single decker” airport. I remember it from back then. The construction of an “upper deck” while the airport was open was one of the biggest PITA’s — think “Big Dig” bad — but the end result was well worth it (back then). Now LAX has continued to grow, but not expand, and the congestion is worse than ever.

    Bring on the people mover!

  16. @Gary… Interesting that the people who actually live in and commute from LA support the project while those who live in other places like Texas are critical. You’re argument reminds me of the health care debate. All the opponents of Obamacare say it’s terrible and let’s get rid of it yet they fail to provide one single reasonable long term alternative. There are already rental car busses cramming the terminals so how is adding more rental car busses going to eliminate the congestion circling around LAX? Maybe you should try picking someone up at LAX around 10:00PM. I also don’t buy your argument about busses replacing cars because they’re not going to be replacing cars. People that rent cars are not driving cars around the terminals these are locals dropping people off or picking people up or transportation/shuttle busses. It’s obvious since you’re not local or spend time in and out of LAX you only care about a new lounge facility.

  17. @Mark “all the people” who live in LA? We’ve got a pretty limited data set here.

    You clearly don’t understand the alternative when you state “There are already rental car busses cramming the terminals so how is adding more rental car busses going to eliminate the congestion circling around LAX?”

    LAX is building a consolidated rental center, you need buses to only a single destination rather than buses for each rental company. You currently have shuttles for every off airport parking lot. And every hotel. You move those out to the consolidated transportation center, and again it’s one bus line to one location.

    I’ve spent tons of time around LAX indeed I even used to live there.

  18. @Gary… Yes, I clearly do understand because I live in LA and fly in and out of LAX constantly. You are only focusing on the rental car bus traffic which is just one component of the traffic and congestion problems. The majority of the traffic flowing through the terminals are not rental car shuttles. Having rental car center shuttles do nothing to eliminate the hotel shuttles, ride share vans, Uber, Lyft and the thousands and thousands of cars flowing through the terminal each and every day. The new transportation hub will be used for passenger pickups as well as providing transportation to a single offsite rental car center. I realize solving this issue is not as sexy or tasty as the Emirates first class lounge but to people who live and fly out of LAX it’s important and it needs a long term solution not a bandaid solution.

  19. How about some non-stops from Ontario to the east coast for all the business in the Inland Empire area. That would further relieve the LAX congestion.

  20. @Mark re-read my comment. I was specifically saying your earlier argument missed the mark because it dealt with rental bus traffic. Now saying I’m dealing with rental buses only when if you just re-read what I wrote and I talk about hotel shuttles, parking shuttles, and everything else you’re talking about.

    I’m not in any of my comments here criticizing a transportation center, although even that may not be the ideal solution, just writing about how you get to the transportation center.

    Re-read my comments they address yours directly. It’s almost as though you’re writing without reading them, before getting snarky about Emirates and whatnot.

  21. It always takes a good 15-25 minute wait for a rental car bus (from the right company) to pick me up from T4 when i arrive at LAX. Then another 10 minutes waiting it to stop at T5, T6 & T7; then another 7-12 minutes to get to the rental car center. Meanwhile at DFW i can land and be in my rental car in 15 minutes.

    So yes, an automated people mover is needed. Most major worldwide airports have them. Sounds like someone is just really hurt theres no centurion lounge and is trying to place some misdirected blame wherever he can.

  22. Whenever I travel to LA I do my best to avoid LAX. LGB is my current choice, but then I’m lucky to have non-stops there. Rental car pickup is a quick walk away. If LAX improves things drastically then I’ll reconsider, at least while I have other options.

  23. @Sice, I agree that LGB *can* be more convenient from an “ease-of-use” point of view, IF your travels require you being near Long Beach. For me, however, LGB is (approx.) a 45 minute drive south of LAX, and *my* travels to LA generally keep me north of LAX, so I’d just be adding nearly an hour to my drive . . . When possible, I use BUR for the very same reason you use LGB, and try to avoid LAX if/when I can. But if a people mover can rid the airport of all those Hertz, Avis, National, Sixt, Enterprise, etc. shuttle busses, I’m all for it!

  24. @Gary, you wrote:
    “@Jason Lewis says someone not bearing the cost…”

    You know, Gary, whats absolutely true. I will not bear any of the cost of the People Mover (unless there is an airport tax affecting the price of airfare in and out of LAX, or a tax added to the price of a rental car), in which case I actually will bear some of the cost. However, a) I *did* bear (my share of) the costs of adding that second deck to LAX when I lived in LA; b) I *did* bear (my share of) the costs to rebuild and transform SFO when I lived in San Francisco; and c) I *did* — and still do — bear (my share) of capital improvements to OAK, including BART expansion (to both SFO and OAK) now that I live in Berkeley. So . . .

  25. @Gary, you are usually on point, but the people mover at LAX is DEFINITELY needed. And $5 billion is a lot of money, but that’s about $3 per passenger over the next 20 years (lets assume 20yr bonds are issued for the project). Granted, it will be LA taxpayers (including me) that pay for it, but in my experience I sit in about 20 minutes of traffic in or directly around the airport every time I’m going to LAX. This problem is only getting worse, not better. I would happily spend $3 to not sit in 20 minutes of traffic every time I go to LAX, and I expect you would too if you value your time at over $9 an hour.

    A low or no emission bus fleet may help alleviate the problem for a couple of years, but do you really think that will be a 20 year solution to the ever growing congestion at LAX? When people talk about how the US needs infrastructure investment, this kind of project is exactly what they are talking about. It will make it easier to live and do business in LA.

  26. Amex should just remodel the DL Sky Club in T5 that will vacated next summer.

    Anyone who believes that more busses are a solution to anything at LAX is demonstrating a Trump-like grasp of the facts.

  27. I wonder maybe if the delay in getting a Centurion Lounge at LAX has to do with the shake-up in progress in regards to all of the renovations for DL to move to T2/3? Also, while the previously-mentioned location would have had it between DL and UA gates (and also accessible to AA airside,) with DL moving and a bunch of foreign airlines moving in there, the prospective usage numbers might not still be what AmEx was originally counting on. Or I could just be completely off and it has nothing to do with this.

  28. Maybe with DL moving to the other side and building a connector between T2/3 and TBIT, AmEx is trying to get a location in or at least closer to TBIT instead of all the way over between T6 and 7, as a location in or near TBIT would become more central to the people who could access the lounge from the airside, especially if T1 eventually also gets an airside connector the other terminals.

    At any rate, I’m glad LAX is finally getting airside connectors in place. Having to completely leave security, leave the building, then walk over to another one and re-clear security to make a connection was annoying to say the least. It also then left you at the mercy of what poor and expensive food options were available in the area you actually had access to at the time.

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