In an effort to reduce crowding, Delta Air Lines will be either cutting or restricting lounge access for a number of travelers in 2023. Unsurprisingly, this move comes with full blessing from Delta’s most valuable client, American Express.
No Surprise: Delta Air Lines 2023 Lounge Access Restrictions Favor American Express
There’s a lot to unpack concerning Delta SkyClub access changes in 2023. Here’s a brief summary:
- Delta will only sell lounge memberships to Diamond, Platinum, Gold, and Silver Medallion elite members as of As of January 1, 2023; non-elite SkyMiles members will not be able to purchase lounge membership after this point
- Individual annual memberships will increase in cost from $545 to $695, while Executive memberships will increase in cost from $845 to $1,495 as of January 1, 2023.
- The companion guest fee will increase from $39 to $50 as of February 2, 2023 on all products.
- Delta Sky Club members flying on basic economy tickets will no longer have lounge access as of As of February 2, 2023 (American Express Platinum cardholders exempt)
- Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallion elite members (i.e. SkyTeam Elite Plus members) will no longer receive Sky Club access when traveling on international itineraries with their status, unless they’re flying in premium economy or business class on Delta or a partner airline as of February 2, 2023
- Diamond Medallion members can no longer use their Choice Benefits for an Individual Membership and the cost for an Executive Membership will increase from two to three Choice Benefit selections
Briefer summary: Delta is making it harder to access its lounges in hopes that crowding will be reduced.
We can certainly debate the merits of these changes. Personally, I recognize that Delta had to act in some way to reduce crowding, especially at airports like New York JFK. I am not comfortable with Delta’s unilateral degradation of SkyTeam Elite Plus benefits, but at least you can still access Delta lounges with a partner SkyTeam Elite Plus card when traveling internationally (had Delta restricted this, I would hope that SkyTeam would have pushed back). At the same time, I realize that if the choice was between offending American Express Platinum or SkyTeam, Delta is always going to protect its relationship wtih American Express.
Interestingly, Delta confirmed this explicitly. Zach Griff spoke to Dwight James, Delta’s Senior Vice President of Customer Engagement and loyalty, who explained:
“Ultimately this comes down to a lot of our most premium customers, the experience they’ve grown accustomed to having, candidly, in many cases, they’re no longer having it … and with so much travel now coming back at the rate that it has been … we needed to make changes.”
That’s fair enough, but who is Delta’s most premium customer? Did you notice who the big winner is in all of this? Clearly, it is American Express.
I tend to think these changes will help to reduce crowding, but the biggest culprit of all for lounge crowding is American Express Platinum. But notice that Delta will not block AMEX cardholders from access. The only negative change is raising the fee for guests from $39 to $50. That’s a small price compared to Platinum cardholders still being able to access the lounge when traveling on any class of service on Delta.
As James put it, this is all part of the plan:
“This initiative is something that we’re doing in unison and making American Express aware that this is something we need to do and they wholly support and agree because they look at these customers as theirs as well.”
It’s no surprise that American Express is onboard when the impact of this policy change will be far fewer SkyClub members, who (with any common sense) would re-direct that annual fee to an American Express Platinum Medallion card.
While the status quo was unsustainable and Delta cannot seem to build lounges fast enough, I am struck by how much the new SkyClub lounge policies so greatly favor American Express. If you ever had any doubt as to who Delta’s true MVP client is, now you know.
What are your thoughts on the new Delta SkyClub policy changes?