Why haven’t the Amex Centurion Lounges reopened yet?
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Aside from wearing masks and keeping your distance, much of the airport ground experience has changed since the pandemic started. Many restaurants and stores remain closed, and boarding procedures have been modified.
Airport lounges have largely remained closed throughout the pandemic. My all-around favorite lounge network — American Express Centurion Lounges — closed on March 21 and there are no visible signs of reopening. But as some airline and membership lounges have now been able to reopen, let’s explore why Amex hasn’t yet reopened its signature blue doors.
There’s little demand
Right now, there simply aren’t many people traveling.
On any given day over the last several months, somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 passengers cross through TSA checkpoints around the country. That’s a fraction of the more than two million travelers that took to the sky each day last year. In addition, whatever momentum airlines have seen over the last few weeks of summer is expected to be lost come fall when leisure travel usually dips.
Amex recently surveyed its cardmembers and found that over half of July’s Amex Travel hotel bookings were made at locations in the cardmembers’ home state or within close proximity. With much of the world closed to American tourists, 90% of lodging bookings and 79% of air bookings were domestic.
Airlines say that leisure travel has picked up faster than business travel. The latter is still years away from returning to pre-pandemic levels. Price-sensitive leisure travelers don’t necessarily make up the traditional Centurion Lounge demographic, so of the people currently traveling, few are likely seeking a respite in the Amex lounge.
In addition, major U.S. airlines have been very calculated about reopening their own lounges. Both American and United have shuttered their premium business-class-only lounges — with no reopening date in sight. And of the airline lounges that have reopened, most are in major hubs or focus cities. There’s just not enough demand to warrant opening more throughout the network.
The value of airport lounges looks different nowadays
Airport lounges look a lot different during the pandemic. Seats are blocked for social distancing, and many of the amenities are closed or scaled back.
Two of the principal reasons cardmembers love Centurion Lounges are the chef-inspired food and beverage selection and the special amenities like showers, spas and family rooms.
Because of local government restrictions and to promote cleanliness and distancing, Amex likely couldn’t reopen its lounges with a similar offering as they have had in the past, even if they wanted to.
Of the Big 3 U.S. airlines, American Airlines has started to once again offer prepared food in some of its Admirals Clubs. Delta and United are both sticking to prepackaged snacks. In some airports, like San Francisco, airlines aren’t even allowed to serve anything in the lounge.
As Amex considers when to open its lounges, it has to decide what to do about these amenities.
With spas, showers, family rooms, workstations, buffets and bars likely closed, what exactly is the point of spending time in an Amex lounge — especially when the terminals are still empty?
New card benefits have been introduced
Aside from the limited demand and value in opening Centurion Lounges as we knew them, Amex has sweetened the deal for Platinum cardmembers during the pandemic.
If you hold the consumer version of The Platinum Card® from American Express, you’re eligible to receive up to $320 in statement credits on select streaming and wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers (up to $20 per month) from May through December 2020. This joins the Platinum card’s existing annual Uber benefit and more.
Centurion Lounge access was previously a big selling point of the travel-focused card. But now, Amex is meeting cardmembers where most of them presumably are — stuck at home or close to it.
Could pop-ups replace traditional lounges?
Amex might not be in a rush to reopen its lounges. For now, that’s likely not a big deal to most cardholders.
But as we approach the holidays, it’ll be interesting to follow what the issuer does with its lounges. Leisure travel may dip again in the fall, but it’ll hopefully come roaring back come November as many families will have been separated for the better part of a year. Hopefully, by then, we will also be further along in the fight against coronavirus, and venturing out will be a safer choice.
But even if travelers are taking to the skies once again, I wouldn’t be shocked if the lounges as we knew them remained closed for the foreseeable future in favor of a more in-the-moment type offering.
Pop-ups are a great, cost-effective middle ground between keeping lounges closed and fully reopening them before the time is right. Perhaps cardholders will be able to come by, flash their card and boarding pass and get a takeaway goodie bag with a sealed beverage and pre-made salad or higher-end sandwich to enjoy before their next flight.
Time will tell whether Amex decides to go this route, introduce a reservations-only capped capacity approach or choose another direction entirely. But one thing’s for certain — I can’t wait for the day when I can walk through those blue doors once again.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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