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6 ways airport lounges are improving — and one way they definitely aren’t

July 16, 2020
6 min read
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To promote safety and well-being, airlines are making numerous changes to the travel experience.

Planes are getting cleaned more regularly, seats are being blocked and boarding procedures are being modified to avoid crowding. But there's one element of the ground experience that's going to look quite different, and that's airport lounges.

We spoke with Sodexo, one of the world's largest operators of airport lounges, for a behind-the-scenes look at how these exclusive enclaves are going to change due to the pandemic.

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The buffet is still there...

It's just not self-serve. Though some lounges are closing the buffet in favor of single-serve, pre-packaged items, many lounges operated by Sodexo will continue to serve prepared foods.

Photo courtesy of The Club

At The Club lounges, there's a dedicated buffet attendant who takes your order, plates the food and delivers it to your seat. The bar is also open as normal, though the server stands behind a plexiglass protective shield.

The Club operates 19 lounges across the U.S., many of which will be reopened by the end of July. You can access them by purchasing a day pass, though all accept Priority Pass memberships too. Priority Pass memberships are a benefit of many of our top credit cards.

Related: Everything you need to know about the Priority Pass program

Masks aren't necessarily required

This comes down to the club you're visiting, as well as local government restrictions.

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For instance, all travelers entering Delta Sky Clubs are required to wear a face mask, regardless of the club location. The same can't be said about The Club locations.

Masks are highly encouraged when you're not eating or drinking. But unless there's a government or airport restriction requiring them, mask-wearing won't be enforced.

Related: TPG face masks available for a limited time

Overcrowding could be a thing of the past

Airport lounges suffered from overcrowding in the years leading up to the pandemic. There just wasn't enough space for lounges in airports and demand far outpaced supply.

Now, overcrowding could become a thing of the past. Travelers haven't yet come back in pre-COVID numbers (we're a far way off), so you don't need to worry about crowding just yet.

Lounge overcrowding pre-COVID (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Time will tell what'll happen when a vaccine is available, but social distancing is here to stay in the meantime. You'll find decals around the reopened lounges to help guests practice social distancing.

Related: Why I skip the lounge and head straight to the gate

Entering is a breeze

This one was a long time coming, but it's getting accelerated due to the coronavirus. In Europe and Asia, you can enter many airport lounges simply by scanning your eligible boarding pass next to an automatic gate.

I have yet to see that in the U.S. But now, we're seeing touchless registration systems pop up across the country. All The Club locations now operate with such a model, and I've got to imagine that it's going to expand to other lounge networks.

American Express and Delta were both at the forefront of the digital lounge entrance revolution. Amex acquired Lounge Buddy and already started deploying a faster check-in experience, while Delta now allows you to pair your eligible credit card in your digital wallet for speedier entry.

Image courtesy of American Express

I'm sure we're going to see lots more innovation on this front in the coming months.

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access in 2020

Upgraded air purifiers

There's lots of talk about HEPA air filters on planes. But did you know that some airport lounges also have a similar air filtration system?

According to Sodexo, most airports have high-quality air handlers that process the return air through a three-stage pleated, HEPA and charcoal filtration system. In locations where The Club has access to the air handling unit, they are upgrading existing air filters to MERV-13 — the highest achievable filter that removes most bacteria and viruses from the air.

Expect it to be squeaky clean

The entire end-to-end travel experience will look a lot different in the pandemic world. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, as airlines across the globe double down on their cleaning efforts before and after flights, customers have noticed how clean their planes have been.

Photo courtesy of The Club

The same applies to airport lounges. Expect the kitchen and other high-touch areas to be sanitized throughout the day. Likewise, seating and table areas will be wiped down regularly.

Finally, you'll find lots of hand sanitizing stations available in every corner.

Related: How to thoroughly disinfect your airplane seat

Shower at home

As much as I love the Lufthansa rubber ducks, I likely won't be collecting any in the near future.

That's because they are given out to first-class flyers who use the shower facilities in the lounges. And showers are, unfortunately, going to closed for quite some time.

Across the board, we're seeing airport lounges reopen without their shower facilities. In most cases, these closures include other high-touch amenities, like spas, family rooms and phone booths.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with Amex reopens the Centurion Lounge network, since many of these lounges differentiate themselves by their top-notch amenities.

Related: The 8 do’s and don’ts in an airport lounge

Bottom line

Airport lounges are going to look a lot different when you're ready to travel again.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. Expect them to be a lot cleaner, and much less crowded than before. Unfortunately, some of the amenities will be closed, but that's a small price to pay for a safer visit.

Featured image by United Club at London Heathrow (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

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  • Steep $550 annual fee
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  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more