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Supply and demand baby.

With air carriers back to operating at full steam and passengers filling up a record number of seats, airlines are looking to new ways to cut back on crowding in airport lounges.

The congestion stems from the high volume of passengers returning to the skies and in the generous rules set by the airlines to gain access into their clubs. Typically, lounge visitors get access either by paying several hundred dollars annually or by qualifying through a combination of elite status and specific travel routing. With record volumes of travelers on the road though, lounges have become so crowded that they’re often barely useable.

To stem that crowding, airlines are now looking at both increasing the cost of lounge access and tightening the rules for elite passengers who get a free pass. Last year, Delta did both — ratcheting up their fees by up to 54%  and also cutting back on partner access benefits.

Next year, it looks like United is starting their own belt tightening. According to multiple bloggers last week, starting in 2016 United Clubs will be restricted to only passengers flying with a same-day boarding pass versus those perhaps connecting overnight or on a redeye flight. It’s a small refinement to a fairly generous access policy, but it’s also a move towards clamping down on excessive visitors and an indication of the general direction in which lounge access is moving.

So far, the airline has kept the cost of an annual membership unchanged.

As passengers continue to clog airport lounges, though, look for more belt tightening and higher fees to come — especially at American Airlines, which hasn’t made any serious access policy changes to its AAdmiral’s club in quite some time.

Passengers that continue to fit into the access requirements (or who are willing to pay a bit more of access) can now also look forward to slightly less congestion at lounges and a shorter wait for the new and fancy snacks. For the budget travelers around the world though, prepare for leaner times.

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Tags: airport lounges, lounges

Photo credit: The United Global First Lounge, for customers travelling in United Global First. United Airlines

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