Back in June I reviewed the Amex Centurion Lounge in Dallas and described the Centurion Lounge network as “an oasis in an otherwise pretty drab lounge landscape in the US” but now I’m beginning to rethink my opinion.
I recently visited the Miami Centurion lounge while on my way to Aruba (review here) and it was anything but an oasis.
Don’t get me wrong, the food was still good and still free and the staff were friendly and charming but the lounge was packed full. The guest services staff were turning people away at the door citing the fire regulations and there was absolutely nowhere comfortable to sit.
This isn’t the first time this has happened and it’s becoming more and common as the news of the lounges spreads amongst Amex cardholders. I’ve seen the Dallas lounge full to near overcrowding and the LaGuardia and Seattle lounges are both regularly too busy for anyone’s liking.
It’s all very well Amex creating lounges that consistently provide better food and beverages than any other lounge network in the US but if you can’t sit down to enjoy the food and drink what’s the point?
The primary purpose of an airport lounge is to provide a more comfortable space than you would otherwise get if you were sitting at the gate. After that the rest is details. Free WiFi, good food, good drinks, showers and all that kind of stuff is nice but is secondary to the primary purpose of a lounge’s existence – comfort. And right now the Amex Centurion lounges are getting a lot less comfortable a lot more of the time.
So what’s the issue?
Well, I don’t have any insider knowledge so I can only speculate but I’d say that the entry requirements to the lounges are too lax. Far too lax.
The current rules say:
- Amex Centurion Card and Amex Platinum Card holders get in free
- Amex Centurion Card and Platinum Card holders can each bring in two guests.
- All other Amex Card holders (from any country) can pay $50 for a one-day pass
- Children under 18 get in free when accompanied by an adult with a one-day pass.
What’s wrong with all that and what should be done?
Allowing Amex Centurion Card holders two guests is fair enough (they pay a ludicrously high annual fee and put a lot of money Amex’s way) but giving Amex Platinum Card holders (of which I am one) the same benefit is silly. They (we) should be limited to one free guest at most….but it probably should be no free guests with the option to pay a reduced fee ($25?) for a maximum of one guest.
$50 for a 1-day pass is too cheap especially when combined with the fact that it gives free access to an accompanying child. Children take up space and eat food too so I see absolutely no reason why they should get a free ride – let’s not forget that Amex is classifying anyone up to the age of 18 as a child! How about $75 for adults, $35 for children and children get classified as anyone up to the age of 13.
It’s not only Amex’s lax entry rules that are causing the overcrowding problem…it’s the attitude of the Amex cardholders in the lounge too. While I was in the Centurion lounge in Miami I overheard one guest approach another (they did not know each other) and ask him to guest someone in because they’d already used up their guest allowance. And the guy agreed! The lounge was full to capacity, the lounge was effectively operating a one in, one out policy and this genius decided it was good idea to guest a stranger into the lounge!
No doubt most, if not all, my ideas will face an enormous amount of pushback from everybody enjoying the system just as it is. But, whether you like it or not, the system is rapidly reaching breaking point and something needs to be done.
Amex will need to be brave because they’re going to annoy a lot of people if they tighten up the entry rules…..but it’s the only way they’re going to keep their lounges as highly regarded at they deserve to be. The alternative is to see them descend into the mediocrity that is every other US lounge network, and that would be a shame.