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American Airlines is reopening its second airport lounge in Charlotte on Wednesday, one of a handful of recent Admirals Clubs the airline has refurbished amid fierce competition for premium customers.

TPG got an exclusive sneak peek Tuesday afternoon inside the redone club in Concourse B. If you haven’t been inside one of the 10 lounges American has updated in the last two years, you should know that the visual differences are striking.

The new clubs offer most of the services and snacks available at all 54 Admirals Club locations: the cheese cubes, pita chips, hummus, espresso machines, soft drinks, soups, sweets, and free basic wines, beers and liquor. But the look is modern, sleek, and bright, and in Charlotte, a new bank of windows overlooks a runway and taxiing American planes.

The airline wanted to give customers “a clean, modern feel that makes them feel relaxed,” says American spokeswoman Sunny Rodriguez. Besides CLT, in the last two years the airline has renovated Admirals Clubs at Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Boston (BOS), New York-JFK (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Terminal A, Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), and Toronto (YYZ), and it added a club in Houston (IAH). Lounges in Pittsburgh (PIT) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Terminal D are under renovation. A new first-class Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining are being added in Dallas as well.

The battle for lounge customers is heating up, too, with airlines upgrading their facilities and opening new super-premium lounges that rival international competitors. Meanwhile, smaller entrants such as American Express, Airport Lounge Development, and Escape Lounges are adding locations.

“We are seeing more independent lounges being built than ever before, and legacy airlines are turning their old, tired locations into truly premium havens,” says Brent Griffith, chief marketing officer of LoungeBuddy, an app that rates lounges and sells passes. United’s Polaris lounges, American’s Flagship First Dining, and refreshed Delta Sky Clubs show that US airlines are “stepping up their game.”

“The best part about the club isn’t the food or the free drinks, it’s that you get your space,” said Moe Siddiqui, 51, a medical salesman from Tennessee. “You don’t have to be part of the herd.”

At Charlotte on Tuesday evening, travelers such as Siddiqui kept approaching the lounge, located between gates B3 and B5, on the mistaken belief that it was open. He then headed to the other, much larger Admirals Club in Terminal C. The renovated lounge in Terminal B, which has been closed for the last seven months, is about 4,500 square feet and has seating for about 100 people. The older lounge at Terminal C is about 23,000 square feet and seats 452.

There are a few ways to gain entry to Admirals Clubs. Buying a membership has just become more expensive on February 1, at $650 or 85,000 AAdvantage miles per year, less for elite-level AA frequent flyers. You can also get in if you are flying on a qualifying first or business-class ticket; if you are an Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro and Platinum elite-level flyer on an international same-day ticket on American or any airline in the Oneworld alliance, in any class; if you have a one-day pass ($59); or if you have the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, which gives access to the cardholder plus spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18 or up to two guests. Uniformed military get in free.

Beyond the design and furniture, Charlotte’s new club does have some features older clubs lack, including a freestyle Coke machine and a wine machine called a Cruvinet, which keeps wines fresh and at the appropriate temperature. The airline also installed more plugs to charge electronic devices.

The renovation coincides with the Charlotte airport’s $70 million plan to renovate and expand its terminals to cope with a surge of people flying. In the last 10 years, the number of passengers stepping on a plane in Charlotte has increased by more than 30 percent. The airport says its changes make the airport look more modern, bigger, and brighter.

“It’s growth, but it’s also a desire to update our facilities to meet demand and to meet customer expectations,” says Jack Christine, the Charlotte airport’s chief operating officer. “Things like charging. People show up to the airport now with 18 different things they want to charge before they get on the airplane.”

Charlotte has grown to become the country’s sixth largest airport by flights, and it is American’s second-busiest hub behind only Dallas-Fort Worth.

All images by the author.

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