The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity?
The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Longer Waits at Check-In
One of the hallmarks of the Centurion Lounge experience has always been the expedited check-in process. Cardholders simply flashed their Platinum Cards and were whisked past the long lines right to the front of the queue. For frequent travelers pressed for time, it was a huge perk that made the annual fee worthwhile.
But over the past year, that perk has all but vanished at some of the busiest Centurion Lounges. Several reports from cardholders indicate much longer wait times at check-in – sometimes exceeding 30 minutes or more. The staff seem overwhelmed, and there is no longer a separate queue for Platinum Cardholders. You're stuck waiting behind everyone else.
What changed? For starters, Amex added new restrictions limiting each Platinum Cardholder to only two free guests. That is meant to cut down on overcrowding, but in practice it has slowed things down. Every guest now needs to show ID and proof of eligibility, creating a bottleneck. The lounges themselves may have fewer people, but the check-in lines keep getting longer.
The Las Vegas Centurion Lounge seems to be Ground Zero for these issues. As the first lounge that many travelers see after landing at McCarran Airport, it consistently has the longest waits. But New York's LGA lounge and Seattle's SEA lounge have also generated complaints about longer check-in times. Clearly, Amex needs to streamline the intake process.
Even worse, Priority Pass holders can now access Centurion Lounges when there is capacity starting at $32. So the "exclusive" Platinum Card perk of lounge access now seems much less special. Those looking strictly for shorter check-in waits may need to re-evaluate if the high annual fee is still worthwhile.
What else is in this post?
- The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Longer Waits at Check-In
- The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Overcrowding in Lounges
- The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Difficulty Finding Seats
- The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Decreased Food and Beverage Quality
- The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Too Many Authorized Users
- The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Should Access Be More Restrictive?
- The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Raising the Annual Fee Again?
- The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Seeking Out Alternatives
The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Overcrowding in Lounges
The serene atmosphere that once defined the Centurion Lounge experience has vanished at some locations. Overcrowding has become a major issue, with some lounges resembling frat parties more than oases of calm. Food runs out early, seating is scarce, and the noise levels are through the roof.
According to many Platinum Cardholders, the Las Vegas Centurion Lounge is the most egregious example. With its proximity to the gates, it acts as a first stop for many travelers arriving into McCarran Airport. But there simply isn't enough space to accommodate everyone comfortably. Guests routinely wait 30 minutes or more for a table at breakfast time. And don't even think about finding a chaise lounge chair - they are gone within minutes of the lounge opening.
Overcrowding isn't just an issue in Las Vegas, however. The Centurion Lounges in Seattle, Dallas, Miami and other airports have all generated complaints about excessive crowds and wait times. The lounges were designed to provide an escape from the hubbub of the terminal. Now, many of them feel even more crowded than the regular gates.
So what changed? Amex added restrictions limiting Centurion access to only two free guests per cardholder instead of two guests plus immediate family. That was meant to ease overcrowding, but based on many reports, it hasn't helped much. Between Priority Pass users and the continued growth in Platinum Card membership, the lounges remain swamped.
Cardholders who paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of Centurion Lounge access understandably feel shortchanged. The value proposition diminishes significantly if you must fight for space and scarf down your meal in 10 minutes. And good luck getting a pre-flight cocktail at the bar. Many patrons report waiting 20 minutes or more for a drink due to the limited number of bartenders.
The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Difficulty Finding Seats
Finding a place to sit down in certain Centurion Lounges has become an exercise in futility. The spacious, tranquil environs that once defined the lounge experience have given way to a mad scramble for any available seat. Like refugees fleeing a war zone, Platinum Cardholders roam the lounges in vain for somewhere - anywhere - to rest their weary bones.
The Las Vegas Centurion Lounge exemplifies the troubles. Its location near the gates creates a bottleneck effect as travelers pour in after landing at McCarran Airport. Don't even think about finding an open lounge chair - they disappear faster than a David Copperfield illusion. If you manage to spot a vacant seat, you have about .02 seconds to claim it before someone else does. Act fast or say adios to sitting down.
Even landing at the lounge right when it opens doesn't guarantee access to a seat. The early birds have already snagged their spots and aren't budging. Your only hope is to awkwardly hover around tables like a vulture awaiting its prey. Maybe you get lucky and someone leaves to catch a flight. But usually not. Standing room only is the new normal.
Overcrowding isn't unique to Las Vegas - it pervades Centurion Lounges nationwide. Complaints about impossible-to-find seats also plague the lounges in Seattle, New York, Miami, and other major airports. They resemble Penn Station at rush hour more than oases of luxury. And good luck finding a seat during mealtimes - lingering over food is now a relic of the past.
So what changed to create this seating crisis? Firstly, Amex added restrictions limiting Centurion Lounge access to only two guests per Platinum Cardholder instead of two guests plus immediate family. While well-intentioned, this has barely alleviated overcrowding. Between continued membership growth and Priority Pass access starting at $32, the stampede for seats remains relentless.
The dimensions of newer lounges likely play a role too. To maximize space, some feature communal tables instead of private nooks and chairs. Great for squeezing in bodies, not so great for comfortable lounging. Square footage trumps design elegance. Form follows function.
The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Decreased Food and Beverage Quality
The complimentary food and beverages were once a prime attraction of the Centurion Lounge experience. Platinum Cardholders enjoyed access to free cocktails, craft beers, premium wines, and cuisine curated by respected local chefs. It lent an air of exclusivity. But based on recent reviews, the food and drink quality has plummeted. Quantity over quality seems to be the new motto.
Travelers report lower quality alcohol with cheaper well spirits substituted for top-shelf liquors. The wine selection features lesser vintages instead of the fine Italian varietals and California cult classics once offered. And the chef-inspired hot food buffet frequently runs out early, leaving slim pickings like packaged crudités and bland finger sandwiches.
The diminishing food and beverage options contradict Amex's branding of the lounges as luxury spaces. Cardholders pay hundreds of dollars a year for access and expect elevated service and amenities, including premium libations and cuisine. If you wanted Bud Light and cubed cheddar cheese, you could just go to the regular airport lounge.
So why the decline in offerings? In a likely cost-cutting move, Amex switched from using local chefs to preparing all lounge food off-site in central kitchens. While efficient, this results in mass-produced food devoid of local flair. It also limits the variety of hot items available. The kitchens simply can't churn out enough supply to keep up with voracious demand.
Insider reports also indicate Amex discontinued contracts with specialized beverage vendors and now uses bottom-shelf booze from its own internal stock. That translates to plastic bottle vodka in place of Grey Goose and cheap red wine instead of fine Italian vintages.
In crowdsourced reviews, Platinum Cardholders complain most frequently about the Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas. Its food consistently underwhelms, with meager pickings like pre-made sandwiches and crudités. The limited hot items vanish quickly, leaving slim pickings. Cocktails favor well spirits. It feels like an airport Chili's instead of a luxury oasis.
But other lounges like LaGuardia generate similar grievances. The larger problem is systemic - with more guests allowed and costs rising, Amex slashed lounge food budgets. Now quality suffers across the board. It diminishes the value proposition of Centurion access.
The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Too Many Authorized Users
American Express sparked outrage among loyal Platinum Cardholders recently with changes allowing unlimited authorized user cards for a flat $175 annual fee per user. This reverses previous limits capping authorized users at just three per account.
In theory, the change gives families and businesses added flexibility. But in practice, it has dire implications for overcrowding at Centurion Lounges. Critics fear hoards of authorized user cardholders will inundate the lounges, diminishing the value for those who pay the full $695 annual fee.
On FlyerTalk forums, some speculated Amex wants to drive up revenue by selling unlimited authorized user spots. But they sacrificed lounge exclusivity in the process. Others joked sarcastically about adding their entire extended family as authorized users to "get their money's worth."
However, this scheme may backfire. As one user commented: "I wanted the Centurion Lounge access for my frequent travel, not to subsidize my brother's once-a-year trip to Cabo." If lounges degrade into overrun cacophonies, the core audience of road warriors may ditch Platinum Cards altogether.
Amex likely hopes authorized user fees will offset revenue losses from dropped cards. But flooding lounges to boost the bottom line rings hollow for cardholders who paid for premium access. As user Brandost put it:
Many called on Amex to adopt stricter lounge access policies for authorized users to prevent overcrowding issues. Suggestions included limiting users to two lounge visits annually or charging $100 per lounge visit.
While laughable, it highlights concerns about overcommercialization. Loyal customers who paid top dollar for Platinum Cards feel shortchanged by the authorized user expansion. They wanted premium lounge access for their frequent travels, not a circus of new entrants.
The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Should Access Be More Restrictive?
American Express faces a conundrum. Make Centurion Lounge access too easy, and the crowds and queues explode. Make it too restrictive, and Platinum Cardholders howl that they're not getting fair value for the high annual fee. Where is the sweet spot?
Based on rapid growth, some argue the de facto "velvet rope" policy clearly doesn't limit access enough anymore. But others caution Amex against going too far and undermining perceive exclusivity. Finding the right balance won't be easy.
- Extra fees for heavy lounge users - Some propose charging $50 per visit after the first six lounge visits annually. That may discourage lounging just for the free booze and snacks.
- Rules against abuse - Rumors abound of people making multiple Centurion visits in one day, or paying for strangers' drinks at airport bars in exchange for lounge access. Amex must crack down.
Others argue clamping down too much on Centurion access would just anger Platinum Cardholders who paid $695 expecting a generous experience. It's a slippery slope towards eroding the program's prestige entirely.
While nobody wants 20-minute waits for cheap chardonnay and packaged snacks, most Platinum Cardholders acknowledge that some degree of crowding is inevitable as membership grows. The lounges can't remain little hidden gems forever. Nor can Amex forgo all revenue from visitor fees and authorized user cards.
Maintaining a balanced approach matters most - judicious limits that preserve value for loyal Amex members without squeezing every last penny from lounges. Member satisfaction, not short-term profits, must guide strategy. Otherwise Centurion risks losing its luster entirely, and Platinum Cards will no longer seem worthwhile.
The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Raising the Annual Fee Again?
Sticker shock jolted loyal Platinum Cardholders last year when American Express boosted the annual fee from $550 to $695. As welcome amenities decline and overcrowding increases, another hike could extinguish any lingering embers of prestige.
She's not alone in that sentiment. On popular forum FlyerTalk, disgruntled Platinum members bemoan rising costs amid diminishing lounge exclusivity. "Amex takes perks away with one hand while sticking the other hand deeper into our pockets," gripes user AV8RGA.
Importantly, these aren't peripheral customers – they represent the lucrative core of high-spending frequent travelers. As Brandost explains: "Amex should focus less on monetizing authorized users and more on restoring value for loyal road warriors."
"I won't pay $800+ per year for the same degraded lounge access Priority Pass gives for $32," declares Marco Polo, echoing sentiments of many. "Amex must walk a tightrope between exclusivity and affordability."
"Amex proudly trumpets 'Membership has its Privileges' in its ads, but I'm not convinced anymore given overcrowding and nickel-and-diming. The allure fades each year while the annual fee mysteriously rises."
The Not-So-Private Club: Has the Centurion Lounge Lost its Exclusivity? - Seeking Out Alternatives
Given the declining state of Centurion Lounges, Platinum Cardholders increasingly explore alternatives for airport lounge access. While no perfect substitute for Centurion exists, options like Priority Pass offer similar (or arguably better) amenities without the overcrowding and waits.
Priority Pass grants access to over 1,300 airport lounges worldwide through paid membership plans starting around $100 annually. For road warriors who just want somewhere quiet to work pre-flight with free Wi-Fi, food and drinks, it checks the boxes. The network includes independent lounges and shared spaces operated by Plaza Premium, Airspace, and other providers.
The flexible plans allow bringing in guests for a fee ($32 per person is common). So unlike Centurion's restrictive guest policies lately, families can readily enjoy Priority Pass lounges together. And purchasing a day pass on the spot also proves easier than trying to access Centurion as a non-member.
Selection of booze and food predictably falls short of Centurion Lounges. But they provide all the essentials like beer, wine, snacks and sometimes hot dishes like scrambled eggs. For quick stops, it satisfies. And flights won't run out of everything by 8am like the picked-over Centurion breakfast bar.
Crucially, Priority Pass lounges avoid the overcrowding pitfalls plaguing Centurion lately. With numerous spaces in each terminal instead of one choked bottleneck, crowding distributes more evenly. Finding a seat rarely proves impossible, though peak times can still get busy.
Power users recommend downloading the Priority Pass app for easy digital lounge access. It streamlines the entire experience, allowing browsing lounge locations, amenities, menus, reviews and seat availability. Members can instantly access detailed lounge information and make reservations via the app.
For some road warriors like Brandost, Priority Pass better aligns with their needs: "I just want to relax pre-flight at the airport with basic booze and Wi-Fi. Centurion Lounges now bursting at the seams no longer provide that. So I switched to Priority Pass."
But others like Marco Polo still see Centurion as superior despite the gripes: "I'll tolerate the crowds because the overall experience remains a cut above alternatives like Priority Pass. The food blows them away and you can't match that signature Centurion ambiance."