The blogging world was atwitter with condemnation over a change in 2023 for AMEX cardholders, but few have mentioned the collateral damage from the new American Express Centurion lounge charge.
Centurion Lounge Policy Change “Disclosed”
American Express has changed who can access its Centurion lounges beginning in February 2023. However, they didn’t really announce the new $50 per person guest charge, rather, they simply changed their terms and conditions and astute bloggers caught it. The new change maintains that Hong Kong and London Centurion lounge guest access will remain unchanged, likely due to contractual agreements with cardholders therein.
The current policy allows American Express Platinum and Centurion cardholders to access the lounge so long as they present a boarding pass showing confirmed reservations for same-day travel. Each cardholder (including authorized users) is presently permitted to bring two complimentary guests into the lounge with them.
Centurion cardholders will remain exempt from the limitation, as will those who achieve spending of $75,000 in a calendar year with 2022 as the first year in which that spend will be tallied.
The Problem They Are Trying To Solve
There are too many people in American Express Centurion Lounges. That was true before the pandemic and social distancing hasn’t helped matters. Airport rent is expensive and making larger lounges has to stop at a certain point. This is especially true since there’s no direct revenue from the lounges, just an implied reason for holders of the personal and business Platinum card from American Express to continue paying their annual fees.
Turning guests away or asking them to wait to visit is not popular among members, nor is the increasing difficulty in securing seats at many of the lounges. American Express already invests an incredible amount into the soft product with expensive, chef-designed menus, and premium cocktails. But even the wi fi in many locations is becoming constrained.
The bank simultaneously needs more customers, more revenue, and fewer visitors – a tall order.
There are some affected by this change that really do not contribute to the problem. Families occupy a minor presence in the lounges but are significantly affected.
Take my situation for example. I hold both a business and personal version of the Platinum card, my wife holds one too in her own right. My daughter, however, will not be eligible for an authorized user account for several years (minors cannot be added as authorized users until they reach the age of 13.) In my specific example, my family pays three annual fees but unless I pay an additional entrance fee, my family won’t be permitted which will leave all of us on the outside looking in.
Before you dispute my assertion to suggest that it’s actually freeloading families bringing in parties of six on a single annual fee and an authorized user (with their two guest children each) I’d point you in the direction of the family rooms. My family frequents the Centurion lounge whenever we travel together on a major trip in which we have time to visit. We have encountered precisely one other child (without their parent, no less) in the family room on any of those dozens of visits.
I have seen plenty of consultants (one of the many hats I wear) bringing in co-workers filling their plates at the buffet and trading stories at the bar. To be fair, Platinum card members are well within their right to bring up to two guests free of charge and they should – Platinum and Centurion AMEX cards aren’t cheap.
However, I find little merit in the suggestion that it’s all these pesky families causing problems of crowding. Families generally consume less food on a per guest basis, far less alcohol, and often occupy space exclusively for them leaving the rest of the lounge to other cardholders. Families are not the problem.
Three couples on a weekend getaway enter the lounge on a single annual fee and an authorized user. Each cardholder can access the lounge plus their two guests each.
In 2023, that option goes away for all the examples (my family, weekend three couple trip, consultant and peers) but in our specific case and those with children under the age of 13, we don’t even have the opportunity to add them as authorized users. The consultant could pay one time and add up to three additional cardholders for the same $175 fee (which actually could make the problem worse) but younger families are ineligible.
There’s no perfect system to process policy/impact how and where product changes are made. Centurion lounges need a manner by which to reduce their visitor load and this accomplishes that goal. However, families are disproportionately affected as collateral damage for other bad actors which is both frustrating and disappointing. This cardholder would at least like a provision that allows for a “family pass” or a younger authorized user to be able to enter as we expect. If holding three Platinum cards isn’t enough to get three people through the hallowed gates of the Centurion lounge then maybe I don’t need any Platinum cards at all.
What do you think? Are families disproportionately affected by this change? Should there be a lower age requirement for adding authorized users?