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There was a post the other day over on Award Travel 101 (formerly Travel Hacking 101) about the American Express Centurion lounge guest policy.  Since I seem to be a lightning rod for these types of discussions (given my family of 8), I got dragged in to the discussion and thought it was worth a post on it.  Call it a “Friday Firestorm” :-D, since nothing generates angry comments like families traveling with children!

What are people’s views on the Amex Centurion guest policy (ie, 2 free guests)? My family of 4 needed to pay $50 for the extra person. I understand they’re trying to stop the world from coming in, but why penalize a family flying on the same ticket? The lounge agent told me she recently had to charge a lady $50 for her 7 month old baby. Fair or not?

American Express Centurion Lounge guest policy

I have written before about the changes that American Express made to its Centurion Lounge guest policy.

(SEE: Amex devalues Centurion lounge access; sticks it to families )

Previously, you were allowed 2 guests or your immediate family (spouse and children) – now, you are allowed only 2 guests total, with no exceptions for family.  So, as mentioned above, if you have a family of 4, your 7 month old baby will be charged $50.

Lounge overcrowding

I do understand the problem with lounge overcrowding.  Nobody likes having a crowded lounge or nowhere to sit once you enter.  I would imagine that Centurion lounges face this even more than other lounges since they are head and shoulders better than other domestic lounges.  I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hang out in an Admiral’s Club or United Club if you’ve got access to a Centurion lounge.

I often hear people complaining about two different problems that are similar but not the same

  • Lounges are too crowded
  • Kids are running around like crazy ruining the vibe for everyone else.

I personally have never seem kids running around like crazy in an airport lounge and totally agree that this is inappropriate behavior.  My kids typically either sit down or go into the kids room if the lounge has one.

Are families really the cause of the overcrowding problem?

I maintain that the current implementation is a heavy handed solution that does not address the stated problem.  Yes, I do have a family of 8, and so on the extremely rare times that we are all traveling together and happen to be at an airport that happens to have a Centurion lounge, then yes, we receive outsized value compared to most other traveling groups.  In the 2 or so years that I’ve had a Platinum card, our family of 8 has visited a Centurion lounge exactly ONCE (at Seattle, before they expanded, and it was crowded).  And we would have used it at SFO except Amex changed the rules on us one week before our trip there 🙂  I have also used the Centurion lounges with one guest a few other times – with my wife in the Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas and with my son in Dallas on our trip to Texas.

(SEE ALSO: I am the King of Texas!!)

But who uses the lounge more:

  • My family of 8 visiting say 3 times a year – total of 24 person-visits (and again, this is more than we have historically visited)
  • The road warrior who travels for work each week and visits the lounge each week on Sunday and Thursday/Friday nights on his or her way to and from work?  Say 45 weeks a year * 2 visits = 90 person-visits and that’s assuming no guesting.

I understand that when my family of 8 goes to the lounge, we take up 8 seats.  But my 6 kids also don’t eat as much food as 6 adults, and they CERTAINLY don’t drink as much alcohol as 6 adults (I hope? 😀 ).  Plus, why do the Centurion lounges even have these kid rooms if not for kids?

That’s also setting aside the fact that while you can tell your buddy – “Sorry, I can’t guest you into this lounge” and leave him to fend for himself in the terminal, most families can’t or won’t do that with their small children!  It is galling to me that, as an annual-fee paying ($550 / year!) Platinum cardholder, even a family of 4 literally CANNOT use their Centurion Lounge benefit when traveling together without either a) deciding which of their kids (or spouse!) they like better, or paying an extra $50 per visit.

The Centurion lounges are nice but they’re not THAT nice.  Adding authorized users is a possibility but the $175 annual fee on (most) Platinum cards means that you’ll need to have at least 4 lounge visits a year to recoup that, which seems unlikely for most families.

What’s the solution?

I think the clear solution would be to provide either a limited number of guest passes or a limited number of annual visits.  To me that solves both situations.

My personal opinion is that Amex took the easy way out and catered to business travelers traveling by themselves, which is fine, since that’s probably their core clientele.  My guess, knowing the state of most large company’s IT departments is that although limiting number of visits seems straightforward but would be time consuming to implement and with limited ROI on Amex’s side.

While I think the solution I suggested is reasonable, I’m not holding my breath that it’s implemented.  Plus, it’s all but impossible to separate your suggestions for lounge access from your personal situation.

  • People with large families infrequently visiting the lounge like mine would prefer the old policy
  • The single guy or couple with no kids laments the “breeders” and doesn’t want to pay for people who “choose to procreate” (seriously this is the language I often see from some people)
  • The family of 4 thinks this policy is fine but wants it changed so you can include a spouse and 2 children
  • The woman with young kids thinks children under a certain age should be allowed in for free

I get that

Dare I ask you to leave your thoughts in the comments? Donning my flame-retardant suit in 3… 2… 1… 🙂

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