Live and Let’s Fly asks whether the ‘middle class ruined airport lounges’ and concludes that, in fact, credit card companies providing lounge access has ruined it. Neither is exactly correct.

Lounges that are exclusive are a respite from the terminal. There are a lot of exclusive lounges, from the First Class Terminal to the Emirates A concourse first class lounge in the middle of the airport. We tend to talk about crowded lounges when we talk about other things.

  • Airline membership lounges or business class lounges
  • Pay-in independent lounges, often accessible by credit card
  • Bank’s own lounges built for credit card customers

Crowding at each has a different reason. There are too many people in the space.

  • Credit cards have provided a discounted way to buy access, a better deal for some customers than paying for a membership outright. That’s because it’s valuable to the bank and airline for the customer to take the credit card.

    Credit card access to airline lounges isn't the same at all airlines All Amex Platinum card members can access the Delta lounges. At Delta, it's most important. American's card from Citi has been the cheapest and offers access to both the primary and secondary cardholders.

  • At the same time, bank lounges reduce overcrowding in airline lounges. That’s because there’s more lounges, and more space, to spread customers out over.
  • Priority Pass lounges seek crowding by taking Priority Pass revenue. The more crowded the lounge the more they make, since they earn a fixed fee per swipe. Credit cards pay for Priority Pass, but isn’t the lounge just as much to blame?
  • Airline lounge crowding is also an artifact of history, and in particular civil rights legislation. Airline clubs were “relatively exclusive until the mid-70’s” when government regulators insisted that airlines open their doors. In some sense, the democratization of lounges dates to 1974,

    [The Civil Aeronautics Board] decreed that the carriers had the choice of opening the clubs to all people, or of opening them to all passengers or all passengers traveling in a particular class, such as first class, or of opening them to members of a club, provided that anyone who requested membership in the club and paid the membership fee, if any, could join.

  • TSA is also to blame, causing people to spend more time at airports. Given the uncertainty of how long the screening process will take, people will come to the airport earlier, and find they have more time to kill. That makes clubs relatively more attractive, and also means club members spend more time in lounges.
  • The pandemic is to blame, changing the mix of business and leisure travel (there’s still far less managed corporate travel than pre-pandemic, and the consultant Monday – Thursday client site trips are down markedly). Leisure travelers spend more time in airports, frequent business travelers tend to cut it closer.
  • Airline consolidation is to blame, often leading to the closing of ‘duplicative’ lounges in airports. Take Washington National, where both American and US Airways used to operate clubs across from each other on the center concourse of the main terminal. The old US Airways Club was closed there. United and Continental both used to operate clubs there, now the old Continental club is used. And Delta and Northwest both used to have clubs. The old Northwest club was pre-security in the old (banjo) terminal and was closed.

There is a complicated multi-factor story that leads to lounge overcrowding. It has been worse at Delta because they do not have a separate lounge for business class passengers, and because they have a product that people are willing to wait in line for.

The lounges set a new standard in the U.S. and people flocked to them. Five years ago, I wrote about how crowded Amex lounges had become.

At Milan Malpensa airport 15 years ago, I stood in a line for 20 people to get a drink. The issue wasn't credit cards. Business class passengers and Sky Team airline elites were present. The lounge didn't draw in passengers as well as it could. The shower drain was blocked and they ran out of shower kits. I ate a lifetime's worth of packaged Tillamook cheese in a United Airlines Red Carpet Club 20 years ago. The good old days of exclusive-feeling club lounges weren't always so good for everyone.

The Live and Let's Fly think that it's too simplistic to blame the credit card companies for everything.

Delta used to say nobody is if everyone is elite. Everyone has lounge access. In order to mitigate overcrowding, Delta and American Express worked on getting Delta premium card customers access to their lounges. That didn't solve crowding.

In airlines.

The passengers are at the airport. More travelers have access to lounges. Longer passengers stay in the lounge. They try to visit and take advantage of the food and drinks. Even...


As it prepares to introduce brand new business and first class Flagship Lounges in the coming months, American is temporarily re- branding their existing Flagship lounges as International First Class lounges. New Flagship Lounges will be rolled out as renovations to existing lounges.

In general.