No, AmEx Shouldn’t (and Won’t) Limit the Entries of Platinum Card Holders into the Centurion Lounge

Fellow BoardingArea blogger, Matt of Live and Let Fly, ran into a common problem frequent travelers have–no room in the lounge.

His solution is to limit the number of times a Platinum Cardholder and her guests can access the lounge.  After all, this is a quick and easy way to reduce the number of people in the lounge while still allowing unlimited access to Centurion Cardholders–those paying a lot more than the Platinum Cardholders–and also giving their higher-paying customers access to more seating.

This would make sense if you were purchasing different levels of an airline lounge membership.  Or if the purpose of the card was primarily lounge access (a la the American Airlines Admiral’s Club Card — the Citi Executive).

But the primary purpose of the American Express premium cards is status.

I remember my first experience with the American Express Platinum Card.  I was in my final year of law school (cough cough) years ago and my friend, a year above me, got his first job.

We met up for drinks so we could catch up.  I asked him how his job was going and, after telling me some benign things about the workplace, he said, “and, they gave me this!”

His eyes lit up as he slid an AmEx Platinum Business Card across the table.  I didn’t really know what a Platinum Card offered, but I did know that it was really cool to be given one at your first job out of law school.

I don’t remember if he paid for the drinks, but I’d like to think he did so with the Platinum Card.  Just to be cool.

When you look at the benefits of the American Express Platinum Card, the Centurion Lounge isn’t first. (Click to expand).

a screenshot of a credit card

There are a whole bunch of ways you can boost your status with the American Express.

a screenshot of a cell phone

The Centurion Lounge is just another perk within their Lounge Collection.  If they switched over to lounge passes, they would turn this status into a transaction.  Access becomes merely something someone paid for rather than an elite status you “earned” through the card.  And the card loses its luster.

The Centurion Lounge access is also marketing for the American Express Platinum/Centurion cards.  Users can bring two people in–perfect for introducing two colleagues to the card.  The cardholder has access to this elite area for “free” that no one without the card can get into.

If you have a Centurion Card, you have access to the elite expensive champagne or whiskey.  Not because you’ll drink enough of this expensive champagne or whiskey to make up the difference in cost of your annual fee, but to show you (and your colleagues) that you are elite plus.  Everyone in the lounge is special, but you are even more special.

(See the episode of Modern Family where Jay is really excited to have Excelsior floor access until he realizes there is an Excelsior Plus).

a woman holding a card

You may argue that with some of the recent changes, the card has lost its luster.  It may have within the miles and points community, but I would argue that all of its changes have been done in ways to reduce the overall impact on the status aspect.

For example, people entering the lounge via the Platinum Card are limited to two guests.  American Express used to allow entire families in, as long as they were related.  Now, the two guest rule applies to the family as well.

This forced families to pay for their addition children over the age of two, or–more likely, forgo the lounge that trip.

At the time, I wondered why they didn’t reduce the guest policy to one person and allow whole families in.  After all, when I’m traveling, do I really need to take two of my colleagues in with me?  I could leave them to suffer in the gate area.

Then it occurred to me that they may want me taking my two colleagues in–to create an experience like when my friend excitedly slid his new American Express Platinum Card across the table to me at the bar.

They want them to be taken by the status of entering this exclusive lounge.  Getting “free” cocktails off a list created by the famous Jim Meehan of the Pegu Club.  And having something you can’t have unless you have this card.

Switching the card over to “lounge passes” just turns the access into something else I’ve bought.


Disclaimer: I link to some cards here but do not earn any affiliate credit.  I may have affiliate links but I’m too lazy to look.

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. Amex needs to keep a lid on number of guest allowed in on a single card. As someone that knocks down 100K + a year in business travel there is nothing worse then walking into a lounge and someone has their whole family there and t he kids are running around touching everything on the food bar. That is disgusting and no my kids were taught some decorum when traveling or in a restaurant. I long for the days when it was a privilege to be in an airline private lounge not as today “Entitlement”

  2. So here’s the thing, there is no cachet in bringing in your colleagues into a packed lounge with no available seats (much less three together) a packed bar, and picked over food. The issue here is that the food and drink offerings are too good. I really want to be able to sit down somewhere before a flight/between flights that is quiet and comfortable. Having something to eat/drink is great but I think the mistake American Express made with the Centurion lounges was to try and match the food and drink (or at least come close) of international business class lounges. Remember, outside the USA there are no lounge membership programs (with the exception of maybe Air Canada), the only time you get into a business class lounge is by flying business class or with elite frequent flyer status. That’s why the food and beverage an be an upgrade to USA domestic lounges, access is tightly controlled and you can’t just buy access through an annual membership. I think people forget, why lounges outside the USA are better than in the USA sometimes when commenting.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      Those are fair points! I do think AmEx needs to do more for the crowding–but I don’t think they’ll do it through limiting plats to guest passes.

      Your comments made me think of an idea off the cuff — maybe keep the premium bar and limit the buffet to snacks. There’s a menu people can purchase from, but Centurions get it for free?

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