American Express is limiting entry to select Centurion Lounges

As credit card companies are doing more and more to win wallet share and get clients to use their cards, lounge access is one easy way to offer an add-on and make your card more valuable. As we wrote about last week, Priority Pass membership is now available with many cards and is leading to overcrowding.

American Express has their own lounge, the Centurion Studios and Lounges, which are only available with the American Express Platinum or Centurion card and their authorized users. The Platinum Card is also available to active duty military members, their families, and authorized users free of charge.

These last two points combined with huge signup offers (60k, 100k, and 150k) have ballooned memberships to a point where overcrowding is becoming more and more of a problem.
I can only think of a handful of times that I have headed to the Centurion Lounge in Seattle and found a space to sit without a problem. More often than not, upon check-in, the phrase “we’re pretty crowded FYI” has been uttered, with a look of pain and anguish on the faces of the beleaguered employees.

Breaking point

As of yesterday, American Express has begun to limit access to certain Centurion Lounges for their members. This is a pilot program in the two most crowded lounges, Seattle and Miami. Changes go into effect today and will continue throughout the next several months.


Lounge Access

The full text of the photo reads:

Attention Platinum Card Members: Due to peak travel periods, access to the lounge is LIMITED TO 2 HOURS PRIOR to the SCHEDULED DEPARTURE TIME. Guests must have confirmed same day departure/connecting boarding passes. INBOUND BOARDING PASSES WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED. If you are traveling on Delta, you may access the Delta Sky Club located at gates A1 and S10. If you have a Priority Pass Card, you may access The Club at SEA at Gates A11 and S9. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your support.

And note the fine print:
Use of the Centurion Lounge is subject to all rules and conditions set by American Express. American Express reserves the right to revise the rules at any time without notice.

So, what does this mean?

The biggest change for me, and the one that might affect me the most, is the 2 hours BEFORE DEPARTURE. Note that if your flight leaves at 7pm, you can’t enter until 5pm. In my opinion, it would have been better to have 2 hours BEFORE BOARDING or 3 hours before departure, considering that most international airlines start their official boarding 1 hour before and even Alaska airlines starts boarding 40 minutes before departure. At most you’ll have 1 hour and 20 minutes in the lounge before you have to head out to your flight.

American Express Centurion Lounge Seattle

New Bar area in Centurion Lounge – very empty

Also, what about a long connection? If you’re flying into Seattle and you have a 3 and a half hour layover (which can happen often) you will have to hang out in the muggle area (also known as the general boarding area) for 90 minutes before you’re allowed into the Amex lounge. While I can appreciate the need to do this to fight overcrowding, I can also see how this will impact many people who have long layovers and were looking for a place of respite while they were awaiting their flight.

If you’re arriving into Seattle or Miami and not connecting out, you will no longer be allowed to use the lounge. This change will affect people who perhaps arrive before their friends or coworkers do and wanted to hang out in the lounge for a few minutes or hours while waiting for their arrival. If you want to go down that route, you’ll need to use your Priority Pass membership at another lounge (if you can get in, that is…). Luckily Miami has a ton of restaurants that you can go to and get free food and drink. Check out our post here to learn about the plethora of good options in MIA airport.

Amex’s point of view

I had a chance to speak to some of the employees at the lounge to get their opinion. As there is always another side to the story, it’s important to hear their perspective.

According to the people that I’ve spoken to at the lounge, many people would show up at 9am for a 5pm flight and hang out in the lounge. They would sleep in the lounge and effectively camp out in a corner and make it their personal home for hours on end. This especially happens in the high summer cruise season when many people would get off the cruise ships at 7/8am, head to the airport, and hang out in the lounge for multiple hours waiting for their return flight home.

This limits their space available to people who want to use the lounge as a quick stop off before a flight (who only intended to spend 30-40 minutes in the lounge) which I believe was the original intent of the lounges.
The other potential change was to go back to limiting the entry to cardholder plus 1 guest, but they wanted to make sure they kept the 2 guest rule in place. Limiting hours of access was their compromise.

This isn’t a bad change

While I know that many people will moan and groan, this isn’t a horrible change. If you have TSA PreCheck and you live in Seattle or Miami, you shouldn’t be getting to the lounge 4 hours before your flight anyway. Many times, we get to the airport with only 30-40 minutes to spend in the lounge. We get a sandwich, a drink, and we are on our way. That should be plenty for almost everyone.

I know that many people will find this change a negative one, especially those on long layovers, but it’s also important to know that currently this is a test for Miami and Seattle only. The rest of the lounges (including the ridiculously crowded DFW lounge) are still with their original rules.

American Express Centurion Lounge

American Express Centurion Lounge

We’ve seen the camping out in the lounges ourselves, so I for one hope that this will clamp down on the people using the lounge as their personal homes-away-from-home.

What do you think? Are you happy, angry, or indifferent to the lounge changes?

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. One guest and a four-hour in advance of flight should be the policy.

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  2. It is a bad change. The point of having a lounge is precisely that you do show up earlier. It gets rid of the stress of a typical last-minute airport run by making one’s time at the airport actually useful.

    I see where you’re coming from, and certainly staying for 8 hours seems extreme, but Amex is removing a fundamental part of the perk of having a lounge by adding a D-120 limit.

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  3. The main reason I signed up for the AMEX Platinum was for Centurion lounge acces in SEA-TAC during long layovers, since Priority Pass access to Alaska lounges is usually cut off.

    The 2 hour rule violates the terms with which I and many others signed up for an astronomical fee. I, for one, suggest sitting in front of the centurion counter until it’s 2 hours before flight time. And sending out tweets ever 5 minutes until we’re admitted.

    Any takers?

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  4. Be careful of people using the 24 hr cancel rule to get a boarding pass that would allow entry then just cancel and remain until the intended flight begins to board.

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  5. Horrible Change. I agree that something needs to happen. However, they are denying actual card holders, while still allowing non card holding guests in?! That’s just not right. Guests need to the be the first thing restricted. This would also eliminate most of the “camping groups”, because usually they are not all card holders and probably not willing to pay the $50 per person fee. On the other hand, if you have a group of 8 people that are each paying a separate $500/year for the AMEX Platinum card, they should be able to stay for several hours if they want.

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  6. Wait! So, I’m paying $550 a year primarily to gain entrance to the Centurion Lounge whenever I want, and now I’m not able to? It was bad enough when they limited guests to 2, so I had to pay an extra $175 a year for my wife to get an authorized user card to allow our family of 4 into the Centurion Lounges. Now, this? Come on, Amex. It’s like you’re begging me to cancel the card.

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