Waitlists and limited hours: It's getting harder to enjoy an Amex airport lounge
Some folks look forward to visiting airport lounges and love to linger as long as possible, watching planes maneuver on the tarmac, potentially with a stiff cocktail in hand. Others prefer to spend as few minutes as possible in the airport and usually skip lounges altogether, even if they have complimentary access.
I fall in the middle.
After skipping most lounge visits during the majority of my pandemic-era travels, on a recent trip through Denver International Airport (DEN), it was mealtime and my family needed something to eat. Taking advantage of the lounge access perks that come with our $695-annual-fee The Platinum Card® from American Express (see rates and fees) felt like a better plan than paying airport prices for drinks and snacks for four at the end of an already pricey ski trip.
But when we hopped terminals and arrived at the Centurion Lounge in Terminal C, it was full.
Our dreams of "free" avocado bruschetta, salads and other small plates of nibbles from the live cooking station were dashed. Instead, we were met with a 30-45 minute wait just to get in. I didn't wait that long to get into a hot nightclub in my 20s, and sure wasn't waiting that long with two kids for an airport lounge. We didn't have that kind of time to spare anyway, so we turned around to take the train (and our empty stomachs) back to our actual terminal.
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There are lots of components of travel — and the world — that are less than ideal right now, so other than being a bit annoyed at the wasted effort, I was ready to chalk it up to bad luck.
But when I started talking to some friends and coworkers, I learned this was not a total fluke. A polling of the TPG Facebook Lounge revealed the same undeniable pattern: It's getting harder to make use of Centurion Lounge perks both because of the pull between demand and capacity and the lounges' limited hours.
Here's the current situation -- and what to know before you traipse across the airport in search of a beverage or bite to eat.
The hours are limited
Staffing is tough-to-impossible to maintain during the omicron spike as people need to quarantine, so a temporary reduction in lounge hours makes sense to me.
For example, the Charlotte (CLT) location was listed on the Amex website as closing at 4 p.m., but only through Jan. 10, when closing hours were said to extend back to 8 p.m. A truly temporary reduction in hours is one thing, but ongoing limited hours for such a marquee benefit of an increasingly pricey card is a different issue.
The Denver Centurion Lounge location closes at 5 p.m., and that's not listed as temporary. The LaGuardia (LGA) location doesn't open until 8 a.m., well after the first and even second bank of business travelers have boarded their flights. In Miami (MIA), the lounge closes at 6 p.m., aka before dinnertime.
In contrast, the United Clubs I frequent in Houston (IAH) have hours that generally run from 5:45 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m.
For the Centurion Lounges to really meet the needs of a wider swath of travelers, the current hours aren't sufficient.
Related: Amex adds live lounge capacity indicator to app
You may have to wait to get in
In addition to the limited hours, another challenge — and the one we recently faced — is that there may be a wait to get in the Centurion Lounges. If you haven't been to the lounges a lot lately, this could be a shock.
While the lounges don't always require a wait to get in, the quoted 30-45 minute wait we recently faced to enter the Denver lounge wasn't a one-off. It happened on a day that just under 1.7 million people were flying in the U.S., according to the Transporation Security Administration. That's not a super slow travel day, but nor is it a recent record-setter.
According to the feedback in the TPG Facebook Lounge, in addition to waits at the Denver location, multiple travelers have faced frequent waits in locations such as Seattle (SEA) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), too.
"Good luck if you have a short connection at DFW," shares TPG Lounge member Christina Riley, who reports encountering waits at multiple lounge locations. Riley goes on to share this has led her to "reconsider my love of airport lounges because they have become more aggravating than beneficial."
How to increase the odds you'll get to enjoy the lounge
Other than letting Amex know your thoughts and crossing fingers for an eventual adjustment, there's not much any of us can do about the limited hours or the demand to get in the lounges. However, there are a few tips and tricks to be aware of the next time you clutch your shiny Amex Platinum Card on the way to the lounge.
First, know that you can check the status of the lounge in the Amex app. And in fact, even if you've never done that before, your next trip is probably a good time to start.
You'll need to download the Amex app from the app store. You can then access that part of the American Express app by going to your Platinum Card in the app and then selecting the membership option at the bottom.
From there, you can select "Find an airport lounge" and then you can search for your location of choice. Once you pick a specific lounge, it should display whether it is currently open, the hours and a live indicator displaying how busy the lounge is currently.
I've seen the app say a lounge is not busy, a little busy, very busy and almost full.
If it says very busy or almost full, be prepared for there to be a wait to get inside. Almost full is the highest capacity designator there is in the app, so translate that to mean there's quite likely a wait to get in.
You can go ahead and request a QR code to access the lounge from right there in the app. But while having a code may speed up the process at the entrance door with the lounge employees, unfortunately, it isn't usually going to result in skipping the line.
TPG Lounge member Jochai Ben-Avie shared that, "Checking in on the app saved me a few minutes because the Amex employee didn’t have to manually enter my data, but I still had to check-in at the desk outside the lounge and I think I was only added to the waitlist once I had checked in in person."
While it would be great for the app check-in to serve as your placeholder and alert you when it's your turn to enter -- especially if that helps prevent you from traversing terminals only to be disappointed -- that's not the reality of its use as of today. However, getting the QR code before arriving to the lounge does expedite the check-in process once you get there.
Also, there's not always a line. TPG Lounge member Vincent Varquez reports that in his "five Centurion Lounge visits over the last six months or so (LAS, DEN and PHX), I've never encountered any wait."
But unless you are pretty sure of your own personal luck and know you are traveling at a very off-peak time that is still within the operating hours of the lounge, you're safest allowing for at least a 20-30 minute wait to get in, especially if you are traveling during a peak time.
At a minimum, I recommend that you use the app to get a gauge for how busy the lounge is, knowing that it's an estimate and not the full picture in terms of how long you may need to wait if it is at capacity.
Related: How to access a Centurion Lounge
For better or worse, presumably, to address the current supply-and-demand situation, Amex will begin limiting the complimentary guests that can be brought into a Centurion Lounge by a cardmember in early 2023. To its credit, the company has been building new lounge locations, as well as expanding the size of some of its existing lounges. The Platinum Card also gets you into all sorts of other lounges beyond just the Centurion options.
But even with air travel still below pre-pandemic levels, that hasn't always been enough, especially with the current lounge capacity restrictions.
While additional space and staffing for these popular lounges can't appear overnight, there are things that could be done.
I'd love to see a takeaway-bag option of snacks and a beverage to enjoy when the lounge is over capacity. The new Capital One Lounge has an amazing grab-and-go section and United is actually building a grab-and-go lounge concept for its Denver hub.
On top of that consolation prize for when the lounge is full, adding functionality in the Amex app that can not only alert you to the capacity of the lounge but allow you to secure your space in line (once you are at the airport), along with an estimated wait, could prevent some wasted time and disappointment.
Spending almost $700 per year for an annual fee on a card that is supposed to get you into its own network of lounges only to see that access become more complicated and limited isn't a great feeling. While there are plenty of other perks that also come with a Platinum Card and its annual fee, there are also a lot of airport salads and sandwiches you could grab with that amount of annual cash, too.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.