The new Delta SkyClub at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminals 2 and 3 where reimagined modern facilities will soon welcome millions of guests each year.
Media News Group | Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images
when United Airlines Gate agents call the first boarding group Ted Cohen notices something he’s never seen in the decades he’s spent traversing the world as a music industry executive: crowds.
The “pre-boarding” group includes members of United Global Services, an invitation-only status for VIP customers, and United Premier 1K, a higher-level tier in the airline’s Millennial Plus frequent flyer program.
“It was by two or three people, and you’d say, ‘Who is this?’ said Cohen, who leads a digital entertainment consulting firm and has elite status for life at United and American Airlines.
Welcome to the age of mass luxury in air travel.
Travelers willing to pay more for tickets and popular rewards credit cards swell their ranks at forward cabins and airport lounges. Airlines are now trying to deal with the surge in big spenders – without compromising the appeal of lucrative loyalty programs and more expensive seats. This year, not everyone will cut.
The largest US airlines – Delta AirlinesAmerican and United – increasing spending requirements to earn some elite frequent flyer classes that award free upgrades, early rides, discounted or free lounge memberships and other perks.
Richer requirements, executives say, are a product of the pandemic. Airlines have extended frequent flyer status without requiring travelers to meet the usual annual limits due to sidelining potential passengers. Meanwhile, customers kept spending on rewards credit cards, racking up points and perks along the way.
“We feel like royalty even though we’re not rich at all,” said Damaris Osorio, a 27-year-old New York resident who runs a vintage clothing company.
Osorio frequents airport lounges on flights booked with rewards points earned through the use of strategic credit cards and check-in rewards. In the past year, she and her fiancé have traveled to Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Italy, all on flights she paid for with points.
She said she couldn’t care less about sitting at the front of the plane, but preferred the American Express Centurion lounges, which she enters with one of her Amex cards. Osorio realizes she is not alone.
“I noticed how crowded it was in the halls,” she said. “I go as soon as possible to maximize what I am going to kill.”
Next month, Amex Platinum cardholders will be charged $50 for every guest they bring to the Centurion Lounge. These cardholders can currently bring two guests for free.
For airlines, legions of spenders are a problem after two years epidemic drive them to $35 billion holeBillions though Taxpayer assistance. Airlines are profitable again, with The return of the travel roar and flyers willing to pay for more space or more privacy on their trip.
Lucrative airline credit card partnerships helped them stay afloat in the epidemic. They’re selling miles to credit card companies, and they’ve brought in billions of dollars.
Now they have a lot of travelers eager to earn rewards.
Delta said in an investor presentation last month that premium products and non-ticket revenue will account for 57% of its sales this year, up from 44% in 2014 and 53% in 2019, before the pandemic. This category includes revenue from upscale international business class seats, extra legroom seats and other sources, such as its partnership with American Express.
After some customers complained about crowds and long lines at Skyclub airport lounges, Delta said late last year it would do so. Raising prices and requirements to access these facilities. Earlier in 2022, it also instituted a three-hour time limit for lounge use and created a VIP line for high-status people.
CEO Ed Bastian said the recent policy changes are aimed at addressing pandemic-era state extensions and driving customers to spend more on travel.
“We have to address that in some way to be fair to everyone, because as they say, if everyone is special, then no one feels special,” Bastien said in an interview last month. “We’re trying to do it in a fair way.”
Linda Gogo, United’s chief customer officer, put it similarly at a recent industry conference. “If everyone has a status, then no one has a status,” she said.
In November, United said it had raised the requirements to earn prestige and perks.
United too Opened a new small lounge At its hub at Denver International Airport, it caters to on-the-go customers who fly on regional feeder planes, a move that could help free up space in larger facilities for longer-stay travelers.
The United Airlines Polaris Lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport
Leslie Josephs | CNBC
Last month, American Airlines said customers should do just that spend or fly over To reach the lowest elite level of the AAdvantage Frequent Flyer Program. Customers will soon need the claimed 40,000 loyalty points instead of the usual 30,000 to get Gold status.
Delta, American, United and American Express have opened larger airport terminals to accommodate more passengers.
American and its transatlantic partner British Airways in November opened upscale new lounges at John F. Kennedy International Airport with showers, bars and plenty of work space. A spokeswoman for the airline said the three terminals nearly double the space previously offered by Americans at JFK, to about 65,000 square feet.
“There is an enormous demand for it, and we have to make sure that we take care of customers the way they want to be taken care of,” American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said at the opening of the JFK lounge.
Many full service companies have also moved away from long haul flights First grade Cabin favors more premium economy seating—between Business Class and standard coach seats—and larger Business Class cabins fit large numbers of passengers, particularly on long haul flights.
Many of the new business class seats are roomier and come with more amenities than the first class seats of the past.
New lounge for American Airlines and British Airways at John F. Kennedy International Airport, November 29, 2022.
Leslie Josephs | CNBC
American Airlines plans to Get rid of a separate first class class On some older aircraft it was used to fly longer routes in favor of a single expanded Business Class featuring new door wings.
The airline said premium seats on its long-haul fleet will increase by more than 45% by 2026.
Expanding that cabin comes with the risk of diluting the luxury feel, said Henry Hartveldt, a former airline executive and founder of research group Atmosphere.
“If they call a base class and it’s like the start of the Indy 500 and you have 70 people scrambling to get off the jet bridge, it’s not going to be a fun experience,” he said.
With demand still strong, redeeming miles for flights this year could cost more.
Michael Calarco, a part-time consultant who helps travelers book flights with their reward points, said it’s been difficult to find seats recently because planes are flying at full capacity after travel restrictions were lifted, including to international destinations.
He recommends flyers be as flexible as possible with their dates if they want to cash in their points for a flight, and avoid major holidays.
“There’s not much I can do if someone wants to go to the Maldives a couple of months away,” he said.
Some travelers say the comfort is worth the money in portions of the points they were sitting at.
“I don’t sit behind the wing,” said Mark Uhaug, 40, who works for an educational technology company and has a high-profile position on United’s Mailage Plus programme. He and his husband plan to visit his in-laws in Buenos Aires this year and plan to use United Plus points To upgrade to flat seats.
“It’s a long drive,” Ovage said, “and I want to lie down.”
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”