Will AMEX’s 3 Hour Limit Fix Centurion Lounge Overcrowding?

Will AMEX 3 Hour Limit Fix Centurion Lounge Overcrowding


AMEX Centurion Lounges are Notoriously Overcrowded. On our last visit to the AMEX Centurion Lounge SFO, we could barely find a place to sit in the dining area, and on our visit earlier this year to the AMEX Centurion Lounge Hong Kong, the lounge was also crowded, and far less relaxing than the Cathay Pacific lounge we visited next.

In 2017, AMEX instituted a couple measures designed to reduce crowding:

Centurion Lounge access was limited to Platinum and Centurion Cardholders (other AMEX cardholders no longer able to buy day passes), effective October 2, 2017

Centurion Lounge access limited to a maximum of 2 guests (including family members) per AMEX Platinum member, effective March 30, 2017. Additional guests, starting from the 3rd guest, are charged $50 per person.

AMEX also increased the size of its Centurion Lounges in Seattle SEA and Dallas.


No Visits for Incoming Passengers and Limited to 2-3 Hours Before Departure

In late May 2018, during Memorial Day weekend, there were reports that the Centurion Lounge Seattle and the Centurion Lounge in Miami were closed to arriving passengers, and that departing passengers were limited to the time 2 hours before their departing flight.

And more recently, on October 7, Nathan Totusek tweeted that the newly expanded Centurion Lounge DFW was already at capacity and limiting entrance for Platinum cardholders to within 3 hours of the departure time printed on their boarding pass, during peak hours:

Centurion Lounge Overcrowding-3 Hour Time Limit During Peak Hours


My Thoughts

I think that many AMEX Platinum and AMEX Business Platinum cardholders are similar to me, and only enter AMEX Centurion Lounges a handful of times a year. But I suspect there are some “power users” that use the lounges regularly, some for many hours each time and possibly with additional guests. All of those factors increase crowding: frequency of visits, duration of visits, and guests. Presumably AMEX is aware of these power users as well, since your card is provided each time you visit.

I think it would be fair to limit AMEX Platinum cardholders to a certain number of Centurion Lounge hours each year in total, over the cardmember and all guests, that could then be allocated however the cardholder wished. For example, if a cardholder had a maximum of 20 hours of lounge usage, s/he could use that for 10 visits of 2 hours each, or 5 visits of 2 hours each accompanied by a guest, or 2 visits of 3 hours each accompanied by 2 guests plus one solo visit of 2 hours, etc. Beyond those included hours, a cardholder could pay an additional amount for additional lounge visits, but this would be subject to availability and not guaranteed access.

On the other hand, perhaps I'm wrong and power users are so few as to not be the main problem; maybe it's just the sheer number of AMEX Platinum cardholders, such that even just a few visits each year per cardmember is enough to cause the overcrowding, especially during peak travel times. If the latter is the case, then unfortunately the restriction during peak times to only departing passengers, 3 hours prior to their flight, may indeed be the least onerous way of managing the overcrowding absent other unpalatable options of reducing demand, such as increasing the annual fee, causing some users to cancel their Platinum cards, or implementing a cumbersome reservation system.

I'd like to see AMEX implement restrictions proactively before lounges get to be complete zoos, to enable as many members as possible to have at least some time in the lounge. Otherwise, putting the restrictions in place only once the lounge is already full tends to reward those who come super early but stay in the lounge for many hours, causing other cardholders who were hoping to use the lounge briefly before their flight, to be turned away. Unfortunately, the new policy seems reactive, so it's unlikely to prevent overcrowding; it will just help at the margins once lounges are already in an overcrowded state.

What are your thoughts on the AMEX Centurion Lounge overcrowding? Have you been turned away from a Centurion Lounge due to the new policies?

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Arlington Traveler
Arlington Traveler
5 years ago

IMHO the problem has everything to do with the fact that Centurion lounges offer better food and booze than what is offered at other domestic airline lounges run by USA based airlines. People LOVE free or very cheap stuff, and really the only rationale way to deal with the crowding is IMHO to end the free quality booze and food. Remember, at one point I believe Amex Plat got one into many domestic airline lounges run by USA based airlines and over time with mergers and close relationships have with credit card issuers, American Express was frozen out of all… Read more »