An airport lounge needs a lot of logistical heavy-lifting and finesse to get it right. But Amex has had some success executing on this mission, and is expanding internationally to Hong Kong.
Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. “On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond.
American Express Centurion Collection announced the opening of two new lounges in Philadelphia and Hong Kong as a benefit for Platinum and Centurion card holders. The Centurion card is also widely known as the Amex Black Card.
As the credit card wars heat up in terms of incentives and glitz for memberships, the budding American Express lounge network, with locations across the United States and internationally, proves to be a very tangible and physical differentiator.
From the start, the building of a lounge experience from the ground up has been a complex logistical undertaking: finding available space in airports, fine-tuning the experience, and coordinating marketing to let qualifying American Express members actually know it exists.
Other brands, like MasterCard, have arranged for third-party lounge access for their members, but having an end-to-end experience that is controlled all the way is a distinguishing factor.
The American Express experiment has been a success — barring some initial overcrowding issues — leading to some access policy changes as well as the need for a new space in Dallas.
The new Hong Kong location is significant because if you aren’t flying Cathay Pacific, some of the alliance lounge offerings in Hong Kong, such as from Skyteam, are mediocre. The new location promises a premium buffet, custom cocktails, private shower suites, and a private area for member services requests. Notably, there is an a la carte dining experience with Cantonese dishes.
Overall, here’s what the American Express lounges are getting right, and wrong:
The service level, from check-in to bar and general attendants, is crisp and professional. Also, the lounges are incredibly clean and devoid of any of the chaotic mess that comes with a crowded carrier lounge at peak times. Dishes are promptly collected and the overall spaces feel new and fresh.
Food and Beverage
Food offerings are above and beyond other domestic carrier offerings. The LaGuardia Airport location has a wide range of offerings, all with some thinking and consideration behind them. Far beyond a sad breakfast buffet with re-heated eggs and limp bacon.
The spaces are nicely designed, featuring clean, minimal bar areas, some subtle Amex touches nodding to the history of the brand, with ample lounge areas and different types of seating for working or lounging.
Though the LaGuardia Airport location is before security, this doesn’t present too much of a problem for TSA Pre-Check passengers. Other locations are convenient, behind security, and offered in cities where there isn’t always an incredible lounge option. Of course, this will change as American finishes the refurbishment of its Admiral’s Club lounges in Dallas. But the real benefit here is if you are flying through a hub with another carrier where there’s not a solid home team lounge.
Of course, all of this thinking and consideration can be worthless if you can’t get a seat, or don’t have time to move around. This was a major problem in the early phases of the lounges, and sometimes detracted from the experience. It led some passengers to just up and leave.
Over the past year, Amex has taken steps to fix the overcrowding factor: limiting guests per cardholder to two, eliminating day passes, and expanding the Dallas location, which was often the worst perpetrator in terms of crowds.
The brand promptly made changes when American Express realized that this factor was destroying its hard work in creating a differentiated experience, and hopefully will further remedy the issue.
At a macro level, having an external — meaning non-airline — competitor in the lounge space will hopefully be a positive force to make other carriers raise their standards in terms of customer experience and will expedite some much-needed re-touches to their own facilities.
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Photo credit: The Centurion Lounge by American Express at LaGuardia Airport. American Express Centurion Collection announced the opening of two new lounges in Philadelphia and Hong Kong. Angela Pham / BFAnyc.com