American Express Platinum cardholders have seen annual fee increases and restrictions due to the popularity of the Centurion Lounge, but now Capital One and Chase are poised to ease those crowds.
American Express Opens Centurion Lounges, Reduces Access, and Increases Fees
Over the last decade, American Express has opened more than 40 Centurion Lounges located across the globe for its Platinum and Centurion cardholders. These lounges help customers who may not qualify for an airline lounge based on their ticket find a premium seat, outside of the terminal crowds. The American Express Centurion Lounge has delivered a consistently elevated product with better food and drink options, updated decor and design, better lounge features like kids rooms, massages or manicures, and consistently better service.
Whether the home-grown lounge network fueled the popularity of the American Express Platinum card, or the popularity of the eligible American Express cards has created more demand for the lounges is less relevant than the result that there are lines snaking around the outside of most Centurion facilities. They are so busy, in fact, that American Express posts just how busy each lounge is inside of the AMEX app.
COVID protocols compounded crowding issues with reduced lounge access for fewer guests due to distancing guidelines and the closure of airline clubs that may have absorbed some eligible AMEX travelers in the past.
In response to the popularity of both the credit cards and the lounges, American Express has adjusted its offerings and starting in February of 2023 will reduce Platinum card members’ ability to bring guests with them inside Centurion lounges. They have also increased the annual fees of both their personal and business Platinum cards from $450/year a few years ago to now $695/year – a 54% increase.
Chase Adds Lounges to Premium Offering
Chase has a mixed relationship with its Sapphire Reserve card and its customers. It is disincentivizing sign-ups through lower new sign-up bonuses than the Chase Sapphire Preferred for example, as well as paying a points dividend on spend for Preferred customers. At the same time, Chase has added some perks to the revamped Sapphire Reserve offering more earnings when booking through the Chase travel portal and rolling out lounges.
The first four Chase Sapphire lounges (in partnership with airport lounge company, The Club) will be offered in:
- Hong Kong
- New York (Laguardia); and
- San Diego
By offering its own lounge network, customers that hold both cards traveling through these cities will have their choice, though AMEX has not announced any plans to build a location in San Diego yet, opting instead for larger markets like Las Vegas and hub cities like Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Seattle.
Chase has not yet indicated just how many lounges it intends to offer within the network, though Centurion lounges started with the same limited rollout. Whether the Chase offering will rival Centurion Lounges or even a Delta Sky Club remains to be seen as does its global reach. JPMorgan Chase Bank (NA) is primarily focused on the US domestic market as that’s where its credit cards are offered. Their customers travel globally (hence the Hong Kong location) but without local Chase accounts and clients, global need will be limited.
Nevertheless, with access to the Centurion lounge becoming harder to come by even for cardholders meeting all required entry criteria, Chase’s alternatives will relieve some congestion in the three key markets of the first four offered.
Capital One Joining The Mix
Plenty of digital ink has been spilled about the Capital One X and its premium offerings this week; Matthew had some salient points to add as well. I’ll leave comments about that product to Matthew who did a fantastic job, and while this is not a credit card pitch, if you’re going to sign up for one of the cards anyway we would appreciate your support.
I frequent “The Club” in Pittsburgh, and while it’s nice and – dare I say – better than the American Airlines Admirals Club at my home airport, it’s not nearly the level of its rivals. Centurion Lounges’ commitment to premium food and beverage, and Capital One’s impressive initial offering suggest that Capital One is serious about the premium traveler credit card market.
With an annual fee for the “X” card of $395, it’s substantially less than American Express and even Chase’s Reserve card ($550) though relief from crowds, limitations, and refusal of service due to capacity constraints from Centurion Lounges will only be available at Dallas/Fort Worth for the foreseeable future. Washington-Dulles and Denver International are both slated to open in 2022 but no further plans have been disclosed.
What might be the biggest differentiator for Capital One, is that they grant two free visits for Venture and Spark cardholders, ($45/visit for guests) as well as selling access for $65/visit to anyone. As a new entrant to the space, this might encourage those who already hold the Venture card (competes at the same price point as the Sapphire Preferred and just below the American Express Gold) to try the offering and if they see value, upgrade their current card for unlimited access.
Another note about airport lounges generally and where Capital One succeeds, is that their commitment to the things lounge customers value is what will set them apart. I mused about the United Club and its pitiful breakfast selection that they wanted to charge $50 for on a recent trip, Capital One makes food and drink (La Colombe draft coffee is reason enough to visit) a priority, not secondary to free wifi (offered in airports anyway) and a seat. They open with showers available (some American Express Centurion lounges have not reopened showers following the pandemic) and offer food to-go, which is not an option at many others.
American Express Centurion Lounges are head and shoulders above almost all other airport lounges, without question. However, their success may have created a problem of too many cardholders seeking to use the lounge despite their many locations. Prohibitive annual fee increases and new restrictions may seem like a good solution, but with real competitors opening for customers that may already have a card with other banks, lounge crowding relief may come from Capital One and Chase. Whether that eats into American Express profits is yet to be seen, but I, for one, welcome the alternatives.
What do you think? Will Chase and Capital One lounges give some relief to crowded American Express lounges? Will customers convert or cancel AMEX products in favor of these alternatives?