How Delta Could Have Reduced Crowding, Instead Of Kicking Employees And Customers Out Of Sky Clubs

How Delta Could Have Reduced Crowding, Instead Of Kicking Employees And Customers Out Of Sky Clubs

The most overcrowded airport lounges over the past few years have been Delta Sky Clubs and American Express Centurion lounges. Both have taken extreme measures to reduce crowding.

  • American Express has limited the cards that gain access to its lounges (though also added Delta premium co-brand cards), reduced the time period in which cardmembers have access, and limited guest access.
  • Delta has raised the price of club memberships, restricted who can purchase memberships, and eliminated access by club members on basic economy fares. They’ve also taken away access from mid-tier elites and above flying internationally and coach and from employees with memberships or premium credit cards (which they pitched to employees for lounge access only last year).

Delta has even had to provide refreshments to customers standing in line waiting to get into one of their lounges.

American Express has faced a crowding problem because when first introduced, their clubs elevated the airport lounge experience in the U.S. More people will come, and stay longer, than you expect when there’s decent free food – even after accounting for knowing that more people will come and stay longer. Airport space is tough to get and the lounges weren’t big enough for the number of customers they were signing up, either.

Delta has faced a crowding problem because the food in their lounges is better than competitors, because they do not yet have a dedicated business class lounge product (like United and American do) to divert some of their guests, and because anyone with an American Express Platinum card flying Delta has access under their lucrative co-brand deal.

Both American Express have focused on restrictions, and limiting access to a product that their customers have been entitled to. Neither one focused on providing their customers with an alternative to divert them from lounges.

Singapore Airlines is offering ~ US$7.82 in retail coffee credit for skipping lounge access, presumably during periods of heavy crowding. These credits (35 Malaysian ringgit) can be used either at airport Starbucks or Old Town White Coffee. I’ll take OldTown White Coffee kopitiam over Starbucks.

Delta has a close collaboration with Starbucks already. American Express has given out Starbucks gift cards occasionally in the past when denying cardmembers access due to lounge crowding. Surely they could team to buy these cards at a big discount, driving business to Starbucks and freeing up lounge space.

A Delta Sky Club Executive membership went up by $650 this year. The airline could allow members paying $1495 back into the lounge when traveling on a basic economy fare. That extra membership cost covers a lot of $8 gift cards purchased for some percentage off of that.

At a minimum it seems like providing customers more choice, rather than taking away benefits for customers (and paying employees), seems like the better place to start for an airline that aspires to be a premium brand.

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