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Delta Air Lines says it saw a record number of visitors to its Delta Sky Club airport lounges in 2022, prompting the airline to cut back on how many people can enter in the coming year.
The news will make it tougher (and more expensive) for most travelers to get into its lounges. It also cuts back on some value of holding Delta elite status.
But there is still a way to get into Delta lounges that is likely appealing for people who still want to gain access to one of the best lounge networks out there. Here are some of the big changes happening over at the Delta Sky Clubs (and how you can still get into Delta’s posh airport retreats).
Making it more exclusive (and expensive) to enter
In November, Delta announced a slew of changes that will make it more expensive to enter, and cut back on who is eligible for the privilege.
Raised fees and status requirement to buy membership
Previously, Delta allowed anyone to purchase an annual pass to its lounges for $545. As of Jan. 1, 2023, only members with Diamond, Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion elite status are able to purchase lounge access.
And even if elite status holders opt to purchase it, it’s going to be more expensive. As of Jan. 1, 2023, here’s what the new cost will be (able to be purchased in cash or as a Delta SkyMile redemption):
Individual: $695 or 69,500 miles (was $545 or 54,500 miles).
Executive: $1,495 or 149,500 miles (was $845 or 84,500 miles).
Guest access price increase
And while members can bring guests, the guest fee will also go up, effective Feb. 2, 2023. Then, the formerly $39 fee becomes $50 (or 5,000 miles).
Premium ticket requirement
It’s always been the case that Delta Sky Club Members can only enter if they have a same-day ticketed air travel on Delta or its partner airlines. So, you couldn’t be flying on, say, Southwest Airlines, and still be able to enter just because you paid for membership.
But soon, you must buy pricier tickets to get into the lounge, even with membership. As of Feb. 2, 2023, Delta Sky Club members flying on basic economy tickets cannot enter. (There is an exception for if you have a lounge access benefit through an eligible American Express Card. More on that later.)
Revoking membership as a Choice Benefit option
Delta offers its Diamond and Platinum Medallion members what’s called a Choice Benefit, which is the opportunity to put their hands in a goodie box to choose a Delta perk of their choice. In October 2022, Delta said that Diamond members could select Individual Sky Club membership as one of their goodies of choice.
Now, Delta is walking back on that. Individual membership will no longer be offered via Choice Benefits for the 2024 Medallion Year and beyond.
Delta also offered the opportunity to exchange two Choice Benefits for Executive membership to Delta Sky Clubs. But now, Delta has upped the cost, requiring you to exchange three benefits for the same goodie, also effective as of the 2024 Medallion Year.
» Learn more: What credit cards get me into Delta Sky Clubs?
Cutting back on entry for international flights
Previously, Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion elite status holders could enter Delta Sky Clubs ahead of an international flight, even if their fare was simply a main cabin or Delta Comfort Plus fare.
As of Feb. 2, 2023, even international flyers will need a Delta Premium Select or Delta One fare to receive complimentary access (unless you otherwise hold a Delta Sky Club membership or can enter through a different method, such as credit card membership).
The best way to enter Delta Sky Clubs now
If you don’t already buy premium airfares and hold Delta elite status, then the next best way to enter Delta Sky Clubs going forward is through holding certain credit cards.
Many American Express credit cards offer Delta Sky Club lounge as a benefit, allowing cardholders to enter as long as they have a flight that day with Delta (even if the fare is an ultra-cheap basic economy fare).
Exact terms vary by card, but cards that offer up lounge access include:
The Platinum Card® from American Express ($695 annual fee).
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card ($550 annual fee).
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card ($550 annual fee).
Given that many of the credit card annual fees are less than the actual cost of individual membership, gaining access through one of the aforementioned credit cards is likely the best route, assuming you can get approved for those cards.
One note: Delta is raising the fee for companion guests of customers entering via eligible American Express credit cards from $39 to $50 (also effective Feb. 2, 2023).
Growing (and improving) the Delta Sky Club Lounge network
But for all the bad news, it does seem that Delta is investing in improving the lounges while also growing its network, allowing for more opportunities to access lounges wherever you fly.
Since April, Delta Sky Club has opened four new Sky Clubs at the following airports:
New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
Los Angeles International Airport.
Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
Chicago-O’Hare International Airport.
And next February, Delta Sky Club will open its first-ever location at Kansas City International Airport, which entails an 11,000-square-foot space with two decks.
Delta also completed big expansions at its lounges in Nashville and Boston to increase capacity. About a half dozen other lounges around the country are also undergoing renovations or expansions that are set to be completed sometime in 2023.
Throughout the first half of 2023, Delta says it intends to roll out a feature in its Fly Delta app that lets you monitor crowd levels in the lounge, and will notify you if the lounge isn’t admitting more guests at the moment.
Delta is also adding a dedicated entry lane for Diamond Medallion and Delta 360 members and Delta One customers when lounges are at capacity.
Addressing airport lounge crowds
Delta acknowledges that the move is to cut back on overcrowding at airport lounges.
Before the pandemic and still today, lounges are increasingly suffering from overcrowding, which detracts from the supposedly relaxing, calm intent behind them. Lounges promise a seat and power outlet that the chaos of the general airport terminal often doesn’t typically provide. But sometimes even lounges become standing room only. They usually provide free food and beverages, but sometimes crowds make the buffet trays empty as quickly as they appear.
A statement issued in November 2022 from Delta acknowledged the “record number of visits,” and that the changes are intended to “preserve a best-in-class experience.” Delta also cited “frustration for some customers who find themselves waiting in lines or searching for seating once inside.”
Lounge overcrowding has become a significant news story in the travel space this year. Much of it is due to the ever-growing crop of credit cards that offer airport lounge access as a benefit. Credit cards made lounges accessible to people who’d otherwise never earn elite status or wouldn't choose to buy first class tickets that grant them access, but credit cards also clogged many lounges. NerdWallet has an entire article titled, “Are Priority Pass Lounges Usually Crowded?” and the TL;DR is “often, yes.”
Delta’s news, it seems, is an attempt to mitigate that.
Featured image by Meghan Coyle.
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