The End Of An Era? Airlines Raise The Bar On Its Loyalty Perks And Lounge Access
Photo Credit: Anna Stills

Photo Credit: Anna Stills

The End Of An Era? Airlines Raise The Bar On Its Loyalty Perks And Lounge Access

American Airlines , Delta Air Lines , news , Travel News , United Airlines
Kelsey Marie
Kelsey Marie Jan 11, 2023

Just when we thought we were leveling up — earning points on travel, living our best lives in airport lounges, and standing at the front of the line to board flights — airlines decided to raise the bar. Nowadays, everyone can be treated like an airport elite when flying, and airports want to change that. If everyone can fly like a VIP, are there actually VIPs? 

Related: Delta Sky Club Access Is Getting Harder In 2023, Will You Qualify?

Shot of a businessman sitting in an airport making an online reservation with his credit card

Everyone is living the *soft life*

Travelers are putting their money where it matters by using their rewards credit cards to access airport lounges and the front of the boarding line when flying. Airlines are noticing the impact that big spenders are having and found ways to change their loyalty programs to raise the bar.

Delta Air Lines, American, and United are increasing the spending requirements for tiers that grant early boarding, free upgrades, lounge memberships, and more.

The pandemic’s effect on loyalty programs

During the pandemic, airlines extended travelers’ frequent flyer status without requiring them to meet the annual amounts since travel was restricted. This allowed travelers to earn points and perks with every rewards credit card swipe.

Due to travelers racking up loyalty points, there was an increase in those accessing airport lounges. Many noticed how crowded airport lounges were getting and began voicing their concerns to airlines. Amex Platinum cardholders can currently bring in two guests for free, but as of next month, they will be charged $50 for each guest entering a Centurion Lounge.

Big spenders, less VIPs

Big spenders were great for airlines, especially after being $35 billion in debt due to the pandemic. The airline industry is bouncing back as travel restrictions drop, and people feel comfortable and eager to fly again.

Airlines benefitted from their credit card partnerships, which brought in billions of dollars from selling miles to credit card companies. However, travelers are cashing in their rewards big time.

Delta Air Lines announced last year that the prices and requirements for access to the Sky Club would be raised after receiving customer complaints about long lines and crowds. Earlier last year, the airline implemented a three-hour time limit for those entering the lounge. Delta Sky Club Managing Director Claude Roussel says, “We are not a WeWork.”

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United’s chief customer officer Linda Jojo said at a recent industry conference, “If everybody has status, then nobody has status.” The airline announced late last year that requirements to earn perks and status would be raised. United’s new mini-lounge at Denver International Airport is open to travelers flying on regional feeder jets. This could help with crowds in larger facilities.

American Airlines announced last month that travelers would have to spend or fly more to earn access to the lowest elite tier in the airline’s AAdvantage frequent flyer program. To hit Gold status, travelers will need 40,000 loyalty points, a 10,000 increase from the current requirement.

Bigger lounges, more space, higher bars

To fit more travelers, Delta, American, United, and American Express have been opening bigger and better airport lounges. In November, American and British Airways opened new lounges at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The new lounges include workspaces, showers, and bars.

“While we’re thrilled to see so many customers enjoy the fruits of our teams’ hard work, our goal now is to balance the popularity of the clubs with the premium service and atmosphere for which they were designed – and that our guests deserve,” says Dwight James, senior vice president of customer engagement & loyalty, and CEO of Delta Vacations in a statement.

Related: Delta Sky Club Lounges Are Giving Priority Access To Their Elite Members

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