How Amex’s Plan To Reduce Lounge Crowding May Actually Make It Worse

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Earlier this month, American Express announced that the guest policy for their network of Centurion Lounges would be changing as of March 30th. Whereas Platinum members could previously bring in two guests or their immediate family, they’ll now only be allowed two guests, period. This is presumably being done to alleviate crowding, which can certainly be a problem at times.

Yet it’s hard for me to believe that restricting families is really going to fix the issue. And in fact, I’m going to argue this silly policy is actually going to make things worse.

I’ve had The Platinum Card® from American Express for a while now in part because my family gets pretty good value out of the lounges.

One of the features we like most about the Amex Centurion lounges is that most of them have family rooms — dedicated places set aside to let the little ones be little. We’ve used the family rooms in the Houston, Dallas, and San Francisco clubs.

Amex-Centurion-Lounge-Houston - 38
Amex Centurion Lounge Houston family room

But here’s the thing, we’re usually the only family in the space. I can’t remember a single time that we shared the San Francisco or Dallas family rooms with anyone. (To be fair, the one time we visited the lounge in Houston the family room was busy.) And I haven’t really observed many other families in the club outside the family room despite typically having an eye for these things.

Ben’s experiences mostly matched mine, and has said he doesn’t expect this new policy to make much of a difference.

Authorized users to the rescue

The guesting policy allows each member to bring in two guests. So a family of three is fine, but a family of four, five, or six is not.

But Amex has an interesting authorized user policy where you can add up to three authorized users on the personal version of the card for a flat $175 fee. And each authorized user gets full lounge access and guesting privileges.

That means that if one parent has the card, they can add the other for a $175 fee. Then they’ll be able to bring in two guests, and their partner can bring in two more. Assuming they are traveling together as a family, they can now bring up to four kids with them into the lounge.

Sure, the $175 fee seems a bit onerous and some might argue that it will discourage one spouse from adding the other. But it doesn’t take too many trips to the lounge instead of an airport restaurant to recoup the investment, particularly for those with bigger kids.

AMEXLoungeSFOFamilyRoom
Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco family room

Three authorized users for the price of one!

The interesting thing about Amex’s policy is that it costs the same $175 to add one user as it does to add three. So if you’ve decided that adding your spouse makes sense, you might as well go ahead and add a grandparent as well so that when they are traveling they too can enjoy the lounge.

But of course, many of us have two sets of grandparents (or more!) so why stop there? We’ve got another authorized user slot available, so while we’re at it, we might as well add one of the grandparents on the other side of the family.

So let’s see, we’ve gone from a family of five using the lounge to a family of five, and two sets of grandparents — now nine people all using the lounge based off of one primary card holder.

Still believe that kicking out families is going to alleviate lounge overcrowding?

Amex-Centurion-Lounge-Houston - 5

Maybe the grandparents don’t travel much? Not a problem. Amex does not list any restrictions as to who can be an authorized user on your card. You could add your sister. Or your nanny. Or a favorite teacher at school. Pretty much anyone you trust not to go wild with a copy of your credit card.

Will people actually do this?

Obviously, we don’t really know.

Ben thinks that only the hardcore folks like me will actually try to maximize their benefits like this. I sort of disagree. If you believe — and I’m not sure I do — that the overcrowding problem is caused by a few “families” bringing in 7, 8, or a busload of kids, then you must also believe that these same people are going to continue to maximize their benefits.

I figure that anyone who holds a card with a hefty annual fee like The Platinum Card® from American Express must be pretty good at at crunching the numbers and doing a cost-benefit analysis. If you’ve already determined that holding the card is a good value, then it’s probably not going to be too hard to justify adding an authorized user for $175. And once you add one, well….

At least that’s my plan.

Bottom line

Amex is instituting a very family-unfriendly change to their Centurion Lounge guest policy by restricting guests to two, rather than two or immediate family as of March 30.

To me, this seems more about optics rather than an actual solution. In fact, I’m convinced the overcrowding problem will actually get worse as members with families realize that if they are going to add their spouse as an authorized user, they might as well add two more folks for the same price.

So in the end, I actually expect more people in the lounges, not less. And a bit more revenue for American Express.

What do you think about the family-unfriendly Amex lounge guesting policy?

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Comments

  1. Raising the annual fee is the real attempt at crowd thinning.

    And who really trusts extended family with a credit line?

  2. I really believe that Amex’s real motivation behind this change is to increase their fee revenue by pushing people to add authorized users, under the optics of alleviating crowding.

  3. @greg you can set a cap on spending power of supp cards at I think as low as $100.

    The guest policy change is unquestionably stupid, but I don’t think it will increase crowding, just alienate families for no net benefit.

  4. Overheard an attendant at the LGA lounge advising a family of 6 who was checking in to do just this.

  5. Of you have a Morgan Stanley account, Get the Morgan Stablet Platinum Amex and the first AU is free.

  6. Only hardcore users will add authorized users to take advantage of this and Amex still comes out ahead because now you’re paying a higher annual fee + $175 which brings you to a grand total of $725 to hold this card.

    You say it’s a silly policy to institute. But other than this limitation and raising the annual fee, what other possible recourse could Amex take?

  7. If Amex was serious about thinning the crowds and not alienating the occasional family visiting, they would drop the guesting privilege to one guest but offer 4 or 6 or 8 single-use guest passes per year. They could even market it as a $200-$300-$400 value perk.

  8. There’s been a lot of whining on here about families…and I’m guilty of doing some of that, too, because I *often* see families at the SFO club and my anecdotal evidence is just as valid as Travis’, albeit in direct opposition. And remember that families aren’t just about children…I just had a delightful convo with a gentleman (cardholder) who was there with his wife and her parents. Three adults consuming space and resources in the club at no benefit to AmEx and a creating a scarcity (hyperbolic, yes) for actual cardholders. Regardless, I think the family issue is still a huge loophole that should be closed to maintain the exclusivity of the club in general if not alleviate crowding.

    What hasn’t been really addressed are business travelers that bring in colleagues who’re travelling together. I see a lot of that, too. And I’m guilty of it. While it’s good advertisement, in theory, for the club and the card, there’s still an immediate impact on paying cardholders. The guest policy also allows for this and reduces the positive experience in the club.

  9. I don’t think this will address the overcrowding issue. They can either only allow the primary account holders with guesting privileges only or they can allow a limited number of visits per year per card member may help. As of now, you have unlimited visits. I can see Amex allowing unlimited visits for Centurion holders but set a limit to the number of visits for platinum members.

  10. @Seen, possible solutions is limiting number of visits per year, or limiting to one guest for everyone, or even stop allowing non-Platinum users to buy day passes.

  11. Punishing the authorized users [who actually PAY American Express money vs family members who pay ZERO] is not the answer…Why not just limit guesting period…If they are in a situation where the lounge is filling up, only card members are allowed in…Centurion cardholders could continue to have access as it is today, but it would severely curtail the Platinum guests…Or, as has been suggested, only have a certain amount of guest passes, after that there would be a charge…

    The bottom line here is cardholders who travel with their brood in tow will come up with ANY argument against this new policy, and those who travel solo obviously only benefit from it…

  12. As Amex is not an airline, their goal is to get as many people to use their card, not to provide a spacious lounge environment. The only real solution to overcrowding is reducing access (by limiting authorized users or charging more) or building more lounges. For Amex, this either means less revenue (people will cancel their cards if they can’t visit) or costs (they have to rent space and build out the lounges). Amex doesn’t really want to reduce crowding in the lounge because crowding is a measure of success for them.

  13. Off topic but your thought process is singles unfriendly. Keep the kids at home. They are nuisances on planes no matter how precious and innocent they are perceived to be at home.

  14. I think your analysis is way off base…I’d be very surprised if this causes there to be more family members and not less…maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I don’t see people recruiting more family members to really maximize their access/stick it to AMEX. It’ll be at worst, the same number of family members but now paying $175 extra per year. More likely, it’ll mean less kids running around.

  15. For some cards you can make kids authorized users. So if you’re traveling alone with three kids, make one of them a card user!

  16. Amex is basically trying to figure out how to ration a limited resource (Centurion lounge access) while maximizing revenues. Jason’s idea to limit access to only one guest, while providing a certain allotment of (expiring) single-use guest passes, makes the most sense. It would allow Amex to grant lounge access to more paying cardholders. The main headache occurs during the initial phase as access benefits are scaled back and Amex has to deal with unhappy customers impacted by the change.

    I highly doubt Travis’ fears of too many authorized grandparents will be a problem.

  17. I’ve been to 4 Centurion Lounges (SFO, LAS, MIA, IAH) as guest either of my husband or a client…and they’ve all disappointed me. Usually way too crowded. Beyond belief in a few instances (SFO).

  18. Start charging the breeders for hauling their offspring everywhere. Responsible solo travelers are having to endure misery for your senseless spawning. If you can afford to haul kids around, you can afford a nanny, so leave them at home.

  19. You don’t have to look very hard to see the hardcore biz travelers who use the lounges all the time. And there are probably a few families that are able to travel that much too. But I’d guess that most travelers don’t spend all that much time in the lounges. I have 4 biz trips a year and I happen to pass through DFW on all of them. Still a struggle for me to justify the Plat cost. But my family used the SFO lounge once nearly 2 years ago, they still talk about that trip. Now I can easily justify the cost of the annual fee with my wife because we liked that one trip…2 years ago. I’d guess that AMEX will push away a few customers in my shoes, it’s no longer a benefit to my family and hard to justify for 4 biz trips per year. All for a card I NEVER use otherwise. And AMEX isn’t going to see much benefit to the overcrowding problem, in my opinion, by cutting out family use…

    Seems like AMEX is willing to lose me…I actually use my CSR and get a Priority Pass out of it that allows guests. OK, at least the Priority Pass lounge at DFW isn’t nearly as nice as the AMEX lounge but at least I can grab a bottle of water from it.

  20. Amex might lose a lot of profit off me. Lounge access 1-5 times a year as a family traveler vs. 5-200 for a businessman. Plus his cheap colleagues guested in. But, keep the families out. There are soooo many huge families these days.

  21. Why not give a set amount of passes per year to each primary cardholder? How they use it is up to them. Make it a condition of use that the primary must be present (if using for guest).

  22. Centurion lounges are just overrated by folks wanting to sell credit cards. Overcrowding will cease as people realize this and as airlines improve their domestic lounges. $500 per year can buy a lot of premium drinks and massages.

  23. It may or may not improve overcrowding or revenues, but the new policy will certainly help take the burden off the front desk agents who undoubtedly are lied to often about who the size of cardholders’ immediate families upon check-in. This way there’s no “this is my mom, this is my dad, this is my partner and this is my sister”, it’s just 2 people in the door with each cardholder, no questions asked.

  24. The credit card churn has now entered the phase that those that cannot connect the dots are financially condemned to be perpetual pawns of the large financial institutions for a basic drink and a snack at the very basic.
    The masses are being urged to apply for quick gratification.
    It has become the shopping for the unsophisticated and the mentally bankrupt.
    Time for many to smarten up.
    Small time frames in transport around the planet are being stretched into something that is not a single grain of sand. Money buys freedom.
    A bottle of dated bubbly does not

  25. I think Amex is plain stupid. I never brought a guest to their lounges but I brought my wife and 2 kids when we travelled on vacation. Now with the new stupid policy I cannot bring my wife and 2 kids because I can only bring 2 guests so maybe they want me to leave my 7 year old outside the door. Well, this is why this is very stupid. My 7 year old will not apply for a Amex credit card. First, I don’t think he has a credit score that Amex would be comfortable. Second, he does not make enough money to pay the $550 annual fee. However, those 2 guests that people bring for free are usually co-workers or friends that are old enough to have their own Amex card. So, why block my 7 year old from be with me but not someone that if they like the lounge so much to enter as a guest why not have them apply for their own card? Amex is getting me almost at the edge to just dump this card. MY main use is to access Delta lounges and that is now cheaper by just buying the membership than holding the Amex Platinum.

  26. I completely agree with @Santastico. This change is going to make me reconsider renewing. My family only travels with me 1-2 times a year, but when they do it is nice to have the lounge as an option and especially the family room. Every time we’ve ever gone that room is empty too!

  27. You are completely biased because you travel with a large family in tow. Many of us, including your own boss Lucky, probably complains when there are children in lounges. I actually would agree – I don’t like seeing kids in lounges, and I hope AMEX cracks down even further.

  28. My bias: I travel alone 10+ times a year, with wife and 2 kids two times per year.

    What I see in DFW, SEA, and LAS is just a ton of ADULTS. I’ve never, not one time after dozens of visits, had a Centurion feel like it was a kid’s day care. (Now, I’ve had multiple people tell me Miami is different, but I’ve never been.)

    Every business person who brings in 1 or 2 companions isn’t affected at all. The irony is that those companions cost a lot more than kids, they drink the free booze.

    Truth is they needed a compete revamp, not a tiny policy chance that will affect a few, yet change little. 8 free guests per year, $25 each additional would have been perfectly fair. It’d make business people rethink bringing in their 2 work associates. They’d have to make a choice between them and their family when they have a summer trip planned. I think that’s fair. (And sorry to my business mates, my family is going.)

  29. I usually love what you write, Travis, but this comes across as unbelievably self-centered.

    I understand parents have to travel with their kids, I really do. But you’re not showing an inch of consideration towards those of us who travel for work. These places exist so people like me can get a quiet place to write a few emails, get a snack and be on my merry way.

    Keeping in mind we both pay the same for this card, I’d like to see just a bit of humility. You’re tagging the whole family along, eating the entire menu while spreading out across several tables (there was a post about this very phenomenon, even).

    No matter how hard you guys try, you’re giving the rest of the lounge a worse experience with noise, crowding and taking resources from other (paying) travelers.

    At least keep that in mind when you decide to complain about getting less free stuff than before. Please.

  30. Everyone who has more than one kid should have to pay more taxes because they consume disproportionately more resources of the earth. Amex promotes good environmental stewardship by putting families on display in transparent “so called family rooms” so we all can curse at the free loaders under our breath. But, in the Era of trump we need to be more vocal about our displeasure.

  31. William Y:

    First, I appreciate your kind words about usually liking my posts.

    But saying “These places exist so people like me can get a quiet place to write a few emails, get a snack and be on my merry way” is obviously your opinion. I don’t agree with you, and neither does Amex. How do we know Amex doesn’t agree? Well, they could just outright ban kids in the lounge. But they don’t. And instead, they have kids rooms for goodness sake!

    Then you go further by bringing up my recent post on the United Polaris Lounge: “You’re tagging the whole family along, eating the entire menu while spreading out across several tables.”

    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2017/03/23/polaris-lounge-dining-review/

    You do realize that there are ZERO guesting privileges at the Polaris Lounge right? Therefore every one of my family members entered on their own credentials. Every one of them was just as entitled to be there as you the business traveler. So yes, there were 5 of us. And we used two tables. But guess what? FIVE business travelers would have occupied FIVE tables (Have you as a solo business traveler ever shared a table with anyone? I doubt it.) So in fact, my family consumed 40% of the space that an equivalent number of business travelers would have.

    And finally, you are totally missing the point of the post. It’s not about whether kids should be allowed in clubs, but rather whether the new guesting policy, coupled with the AU policy, is going to lead to even more passengers have access to the lounge. You can disagree with that if you want — and some readers have — but instead you want to make this about whether kids belong in clubs or not.

  32. Isn’t the primary cardholder responsible for the charges of the AU? For a spouse that obviously isn’t an issue but I don’t see people adding their extended family to their cards or at least I doubt there will be many that would do this.

  33. For me, the most important thing when flying, is a quiet and comfortable place to relax, and maybe get some work done, in between the madness of the checkin/security/boarding/flying.

    If I was Amex I would kick out all the bean-counters and stop providing all the food and drinks for free.

    Centurion card holders get free access, Platinum card holders $20 per visit. 1 guest allowed, for primary holder only, at $50 per visit. Overcrowding solved.

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