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Why grab-and-go food and drink is the future of the airport lounge experience

Dec. 15, 2021
7 min read
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Airport lounges don't always live up to their intended purpose.

They're designed to be spaces for relaxation or productivity -- but overcrowding, disruptive children (or adults) and tight connections sometimes make that impossible.

However, the ability to enter an airport lounge -- and enjoy the space itself -- is only part of the overall equation. The needs of the modern traveler, especially one that is traveling for business, are predicated on one thing: time.

That's the power of having grab-and-go food and drink at airport lounges. And it's been a hot topic of late thanks to new spaces that have debuted.

In fact, grab-and-go fare can be the ideal antidote for travelers who lack the energy -- and time -- to find an open lounge table. Let's take a closer look.

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Solving the problem of space

The rise in popularity of airline lounge memberships, Priority Pass and, now, lounges from credit card issuers are all creating the problem of not having enough space.

Space for travelers

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

With airport lounge access fast becoming a near-ubiquitous feature for many travelers, space inside these lounges is quickly running out.

Take American Express, for instance. The issuer is well aware that its premium Centurion Lounges can become overly congested -- so much so that there are, at times, waitlists to even enter.

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A new policy beginning on Feb. 1, 2023, is an attempt to address that very problem. All guests that come in with a cardholder -- such as those who have The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express -- will be charged a rate of $50 each ($30 for children aged 2 through 17). Those that meet or exceed $75,000 in purchases on their card are exempt from this policy.

Long lines at the Dallas Amex Centurion Lounge. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

While Amex typically does not offer a dedicated grab-and-go selection in its lounges, it's a concept that it may want to consider as a means to satisfy loyal cardmembers paying hundreds of dollars in annual fees -- especially ones that are short on time.

Even industry experts say this is likely where we're headed.

Stephen Freibrun, principal consultant at ICF, a global firm advising airports on commercial strategies, told TPG that grab-and-go is primarily an advent of the pandemic as "customers want to control their lounge experience."

"I think this is the future for airport lounges, especially as airports and vendors have gotten to understand that providing a curated experience will drive uptake," Freibrun added.

For lounge operators

Space isn't simply a concern for travelers, but also for the lounge operators themselves.

Airports only have a finite amount of real estate -- and as we've seen from recent airport board documents, the competition for lounge space is more fierce than ever before.

In November, Chase’s lounge proposal in San Diego (SAN) beat out other key competitors in the space, including the companies behind Amex Centurion Lounges and Escape, Plaza Premium and Aspire lounges.

"We're seeing an explosion of lounges with significant footprints, rent revenue for airports and continued opportunities to enhance the customer experience," Freibrun noted.

What we're seeing thus far

Capital One Lounges

When Capital One first teased their airport lounges earlier this year, it was notable how much they emphasized their grab-and-go concept.

Capital One described their to-go offering as "thoughtfully designed and industry-leading" with "healthy selections and sustainable packaging that will make 'sad salads' a thing of the past."

Canned beverages to go at the Capital One Lounge at DFW. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Related: 5 distinctive amenities in the Capital One Lounge that impressed me the most

After experiencing it firsthand at a lounge preview event this fall, Capital One's description isn't far off from reality.

The wall closest to the entrance of the new Capital One Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) lounge includes an entire open fridge of grab-and-go food and drink selections. From salads and grain bowls to sandwiches, mixed fruit and more, there is a comprehensive to-go selection, all individually packed in sealed, eco-friendly containers.

And you can consume these items anywhere, including onboard your flight.

United Clubs

Since reopening during the pandemic, some United Clubs have been offering packaged snacks and sandwiches.

TPG's Summer Hull experienced the pre-made containers of fruit and cheese, turkey sandwiches and other snacks. She noted that while the offerings weren't amazing in quality, "they were the sort of dishes that would probably sell for about $10 each out in the airport terminal, and they were easy to eat in the lounge, or carry with you onto your flight."

In addition, United is trialing an entirely new grab-and-go concept. With an overall footprint of around 1,500 square feet, United's upcoming Denver lounge will focus on options for the road (or in this case, the flight).

A United representative provided the following statement to TPG: "United plans to open a new club concept at Denver International Airport in early 2022 that will represent a new variation of what a club space can offer customers. We look forward to sharing more details in the coming weeks as we finalize our plans."

American is offering paid grab-and-go options

Select Admirals Clubs are now offering grab-and-go options. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

American also began offering a selection of grab-and-go items at select Admirals Clubs across the system.

An American Airlines spokesperson told TPG that an array of "assorted sandwiches, salads, snacks and non-alcoholic bottled beverages are available. [It's] just another option if our customers need something quick and filling if they are limited with time between flights."

However, the food and drink come at an additional cost, ranging from $3 to $12. These fridges are located at the following clubs:

  • Charlotte (CLT) Terminal C.
  • Dallas (DFW) Terminal A.
  • Dallas (DFW) Terminal C.
  • Dallas (DFW) Terminal D.
  • Miami (MIA) Terminal D, Gate 30.
  • Phoenix (PHX), Gate A6.

Bottom line

The rise of grab-and-go isn't a novel concept by any means.

For instance, Air Canada has had a small cafe in its Toronto (YYZ) hub with on-the-go dining. And Lufthansa operates a “Delights to Go” service in its Munich (MUN) hub, with a choice of boxed meals for its premium-cabin passengers and elite flyers.

Airport lounges in the U.S. have been slower to adopt this, but the pandemic has accelerated how providers have to address customer concerns. And with competition heating up within this space, operators need to think beyond the status quo and adapt to travelers' needs in order to stay ahead.

Domestically, Capital One is spearheading the grab-and-go movement and we may be starting to see a shift in what a traditional airport lounge can offer. And for what it's worth, I think that's a good thing.

Featured image by (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
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
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
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.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
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
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • 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
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023