Airport lounges are in a transition phase now, with changes to loyalty programs affecting access to them and new concepts by operators independent of airlines offering a new kind of competition.
Travelers have been left wondering where their loyalty stands, while non-loyalty members want an avenue to one-time, affordable lounge access.
LoungeBuddy, a San Francisco-based startup, launched a service last month that lets travelers search for all lounges available at their airport regardless of their loyalty status and book in 60 seconds or less. The company’s consumer-facing app enables travelers to search for and book space in lounges, while a back end system focuses on preventing overcrowding.
The need for a service taking the headaches out of booking a lounge has perhaps never been greater. The Club Airport Lounges now offer a pay-as-you-go model for travelers without lounge memberships, echoing what LoungeBuddy seeks to do, though many lounges still haven’t warmed up to the idea of flexibility.
Last year, American Airlines decided to drop American Express Platinum cardholders’ free access to its lounges due to its merger with U.S. Airways. The airline instead chose Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite Executive MasterCard cardholders for free lounge access.
Undoubtedly, shake-ups like this make it more confusing for travelers keeping track of what lounges they can and cannot access, and lounges like American Express’ Centurion Lounges took steps this past year to clear things up.
American Express Platinum Card and Centurion members get free access to its three lounges at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Members can also buy one-day passes for $50, or spend time at other lounges where they are members of airline loyalty programs.
How the Next Wave Works
LoungeBuddy asks users to enter their home airport, loyalty status, lounge memberships, and credit cards so it can find the accessible lounges in airports around the world. It also shows which lounges offer day passes for flyers without memberships. There are also reviews, a list of amenities, and photos of each lounge.
At airports, LoungeBuddy’s system runs solely on iPads, and guests can be identified and checked-in within seconds of arriving. However, this service is still limited as it’s only in 20 airports in the U.S. and U.K. so far.
“The typical training time was nine minutes for staff, and lounge staff also have the option to close access if it gets too busy because we want to avoid overcrowding,” said Tyler Dikman, LoungeBuddy’s CEO. “We want to roll out more personalization in the first half of next year as well. Besides being greeted with ‘Welcome Back Mr. Smith,’ we want you to hear ‘Welcome Back Mr. Smith, we’ll have your favorite drink ready for you soon,’ for example.”
Concur, one of the largest travel expense management companies, partnered with LoungeBuddy to bring more business travelers on board with the company’s vision. Concur customers can now sign into their accounts using LoungeBuddy as a login, a marriage Dikman calls “the perfect match” because of the volume of business travelers already using that platform.
“An airport lounge is about creating a seamless transition between arriving at the airport and getting on your flight,” said Dikman. “Most lounges are built for First Class or Elite customers in mind. But even with all these customers accessing these lounges, there’s plenty of times when these lounges are empty. Because we’ve built a platform that displays availability of lounges, we can display availability so that overcrowding is never a problem. But I should point out the only way to guarantee your space is to reserve through our app.”
Besides Concur, the other key players are Alaska Airlines and Minute Suites, who’s lounges will be used with LoungeBuddy’s management system. Dikman says each partner brings a different lounge experience to the airport, a formal setting and a more peaceful setting.
Alaska Airlines’ Board Room lounges can be accessed through fingerprint tech and provide the meeting and work spaces for business travelers squeezing in some work while traveling. Minute Suites, while also for work, angle towards the tranquil side of airport lounges, Dikman said.
“Minute Suites are more like cabanas that are about 60 square feet, and you rent these spaces by the hour,” said Dikman. “A Minute Suite is good for the traveler looking for privacy, and this is really geared towards someone who doesn’t want to feel like they’re in the airport, but still wants to be social and have a place where they can get work done.”
“These suites are all between $30 to $60, and we’re very transparent about what comes with that,” said Dikman. “When you think about it, that’s the price you’d pay to check a bag, and probably what a lot of travelers pay anyways in a terminal before their flights. You can probably even expense the cost if you’re doing work for your company.”
Minute Suites is in airports such as Atlanta, Dallas and Philadelphia. In the UK, the company works Plaza Premium, one of the largest airport lounge providers in the world.
“Right now we’re in 13 of the 15 busiest airports in the UK,” said Dikman.