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Are Airport Lounges the New Airline Ancillary Fee Center?

Once a haven for business and luxury travelers, access to airport lounges could provide a new way for airlines to make money.
There was a point in time where smart travelers had multiple travel hacks to get into airport lounges. With the right credit cards and crediting to the right programs, frequent flyers could often find at least one haven in any airport they traveled to.


But the pandemic changed everything, forcing airports and carriers to close common spaces in the name of safety. As travel slowly returns to normal, airlines may be rethinking how lounges can play into their bottom line. Reuters reports lounge access could soon become part of the larger ancillary fee strategy.


Lounges Could Turn Into “Pay Your Way” In Through Fare Unbundling

Airlines began the process of unbundling prior to the COVID-19 pandemic with the launch of basic economy fares. As airlines look for more ancillary fee options, the next step could be offering expanded access to certain airport lounges.


For example, luxury Middle East carrier Qatar Airways started selling tickets for their newest product, Business Lite. While flyers on this discounted ticket get in Qatar’s well-known premium cabins, it doesn’t include access to their airport lounges.


Meanwhile, American Airlines is selling passes for their Flagship lounges, costing $150 per person. The carrier expects flyers will pay for this product to celebrate a special occasion, instead of being a regular part of their experience.


“We’re seeing more of the ‘paying their way’ as a way of generating revenues,” Michael Di Corpo, managing director of airport lounge management software IEG, told Reuters. “Assuming they’re not at capacity.”


Even American Express is putting a price tag on getting into the Centurion Lounge. Starting in 2023, flyers will have to spend at least $75,000 on their Platinum Cards to bring a guest in with them for free. Otherwise, they will have to pay $50 per adult companion or $30 per child between 2 and 17 years old.


Other carriers are split about how to approach the “pay your way” situation. While United Airlines will not open their premium international Polaris lounges to the flying public, Star Alliance partner Air Canada will open three Maple Leaf Lounges to paying customers.


Ancillary Revenue is Becoming Critically Important to Airline Bottom Lines

Even with a slow recovery in airfare sales, carriers are relying more on ancillary fees to boost their bottom line, including credit card partnerships and upselling travelers at the point-of-sale. A 2021 study discovered North American flyers paid the most in ancillary fees, giving up $19.5 billion in sales to airlines.

8MiHi November 4, 2021

I have long thought that United should make the Polaris Lounges available to non-Polaris premium fare customers for a significant fee. A fee high enough to discourage all but a handful
of travelers. 

edgewood49 November 4, 2021

True the airlines are like the hotel ownership group sucking every dime  they can out of travlers it's something we have to get use to and deal with it