The US airline making it harder to get into its airport lounges

Delta thinks its cozy airport clubs are a little too welcoming.

On Wednesday, the airline announced it would change the requirements for access to its Sky Club lounges from early next year to “maintain a first-class experience”.

The updates include limiting who can buy memberships, raising prices and cutting off access for frequent flyers without premium tickets. Passengers with an eligible credit card can still use it.

Delta said in a release that lounge “visitation growth has outstripped club capacity — leading to frustration for some customers who found themselves waiting in line or looking for a seat inside.”

Under the new rules, annual membership to the club will only be offered to travelers who have achieved frequent flyer status — divided into four medallion levels from silver to diamond — and not to any passengers. To achieve Silver Medallion status, customers must earn 25,000 qualifying miles and make a qualifying payment of $3,000 ($A4409). Delta Air Lines stopped offering single-access passes to its Sky Club Lounge in November 2018.

Individual fees will increase from $545 to $695, and executive membership fees will increase from $845 to $1,495, which includes access for up to two guests. Guest fees will rise from $39 to $50. For top-tier Medallion members, among the benefits of status advancement, the cost of opting for executive membership will also be higher.

Even if they’ve paid their membership fee, travelers booked on the most restricted fare, known as basic economy, won’t be able to use the lounge unless they have an eligible credit card.

Previously, frequent flyers with status could use lounges at the departure airport if they flew internationally on any part of the plane. Now, those same flyers sitting in the main cabin or the “Comfort Plus” section won’t be able to use the lounge unless they have some other way (like a paid membership) to get in. Passengers with “Premium Select” (a mix of economy and business class) or top-tier “Delta One” seats can still use the club.

The latest changes, which will take effect in January and February, follow efforts earlier this year to reduce the amount of time people spend in lounges before flights. Back in June, Delta Air Lines instituted a policy that customers could only enter the club within three hours of their scheduled departure time. At the time, Delta said the move was to ensure customers would have “broad access” to the experience.

The lounge offers free Wi-Fi and beverages, dedicated assistance with flight issues and a place to wait away from the large crowds at the gate.

In Detroit and Atlanta, travelers will be able to use the airline’s app to see how crowded clubs are starting next month. Officials said they chose those airports as a starting point because each has multiple clubs that allow passengers to choose an alternate airport if their first choice is too busy. The capacity check option will be available at other airports in the first half of 2023.

“It’s important to us that Delta Sky Club continues to provide our guests with an industry-leading experience,” said Dwight James, senior vice president and CEO of Customer Engagement and Loyalty, Delta Vacations, in a news release. “While we are delighted to see so many clients enjoying the fruits of our team’s hard work, our aim now is to balance the club’s popularity with the great service and atmosphere they have designed – our guests deserve it.”

Kyle Potter, executive editor of travel website Thrifty Traveler, said the new changes didn’t surprise him.

“Delta made its first attempt at addressing this in the spring, and it became clear that, actually over the course of a few weeks, it didn’t really change the needle, if at all,” he said.

On social media, some travelers have complained that the moves are a slap in the face to loyalty members who have already established status with access to lounges — especially since certain credit card holders still have access to the club.

Potter said banks and airlines have pitched travelers willing to pay hundreds of dollars in annual fees on credit cards that would give them perks like points and lounge access.

“There’s a battle between credit cards and elite status, and credit cards are winning,” he said. “Not only is that the main way to get into Delta Sky Club, it’s the number one problem with how crowded Delta Sky Club is.”

In a statement, Delta said it did not change the lounges lightly.

“Our top priority is ensuring a premium experience for our members, so we have to balance the popularity of the Delta Sky Club experience with our commitment to premium ambience and service,” the airline said.

Washington post

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