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Will Delta Change Sky Clubs to Match 3 Hours Before Flight Like Centurion and “The Club” Lounges? What Else may Change Before Year end?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


A view from the balcony inside the Seattle Airport Delta Sky Club in Terminal A at SeaTac.
The Flagship Delta Sky Club in SEA

The past year has been brutal. It started with the wildly popular and successful American Express Centurion lounges gutting the value of the clubs by limiting the access to only 3 hours before flight for holders of the Amex Platinum personal (learn more and compare) or business cards (learn more and compare). They also dumped access upon arrival and limited spa access to 1x per visit from unlimited based on availability. The latter two really are the biggest impact and reduction in value for the sizable annual fees the cards charge. Amex really could have made better choices and I feel many have chosen not to renew their cards due to these harsh changes. A mistake IMO because the cards still offer huge value to those who know how to utilize them.

Last week we learned that “The Club” Lounges, that are part of the Priority Pass network, have chosen to copy the horrid Amex Centurion lounge access rules starting 1 September 2019. This is a huge mistake. These third-party lounges are a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the airline gate areas — but nothing like the Amex Centurion experience nor other airline lounges. While I would never seek out spending more than 3 hours at these lounges, I have used the showers on arrival and there have been times I have had long layovers and used them for a quiet place to work. This is yet another cut to the value of the Amex Platinum personal (learn more and compare) or business cards (learn more and compare) via the Priority Pass perk.

Let’s not forget that Amex Platinum personal (learn more and compare) or business cards (learn more and compare) also, unlike other cards, are also cutting from Priority Pass the restaurant credits for up to two people (places like this one in JFK).

This test did not last!

One thing constant in the travel industry is the “monkey see monkey do” attitude, that is, when one does it the others tend to follow – even when the ideas are dumb and have negative results. Delta was the first US airline to decimate the SkyMiles program by hiding the award charts and moving to a majority 1 cent per point value baseline. Other than the year after year US NEWS real award winning program Alaska Airlines, all of the other airlines are on the way to clone what Delta has done.

Delta, as of January 1st this year, completely obliterated the value of paying for club membership because, in reality, membership is totally pointless. By simply holding the Amex Platinum personal (learn more and compare) or business cards (learn more and compare) you have every single perk that a real club “member” holds for so much less (plus a ton of perks members don’t get). This change is unsustainable. Something has to give — and my guess is more negative changes will hit us soon (they tend to hit about this time of the year, FYI). So what do I see happening? Take a look.

Moving customer service added seats in DTW A club – well, a few anyway.

Delta Sky Clubs, despite so many attempts to reduce overcrowding, are still packed. Limiting access to only those flying Delta or SkyTeam partners even for those with full membership has had little effect (other than upsetting paying club members, that is). I see Delta taking the next step by also implementing the 3-hour rule other lounges have put in place. That is, you can say goodbye to club access upon arrival much like already in place with partners when flying business class.

This change could also work to give a tiny bit of value “back” if you will, to club membership by allowing those members to have access upon arrival to the Sky Clubs. They can even spin this that “we have heard you” and are adding value back (when they really took something away).

Delta Gold, Delta Platinum, and Delta Reserve personal and business American Express cards.

So just what else do I possibly see being cut by year-end? My sources tell me that the now two year running 1x lifetime waiver for the ¼ million dollar Delta Amex card spend for MQD Diamond waiver (i.e. you only have to spend 25k to be MQD exempt) will not return for 2020. Delta seems to have ridden out the anger over this crazy spend change and those who tossed in the towel and moved on were not enough of an impact to change course for the airline. Sad.

Another test that I do not see returning is the third Delta Amex Reserve card personal (learn more and compare) or business card (learn more and compare) as well as the Delta Platinum cards MQD spend bonus. With Delta nearing 90% sold flights, they have reached the razor’s edge when it comes to dealing with major IROPS or irregular operations. Pair this with cheap 1st class up-sells and Delta needs fewer top elites — not more. Is it better to reward a now and then flyer with a cheap $2 first class flight upgrade or a day in and day out elite with more 1st class upgrades? I guess we have our answer. But what else? What else could Delta be thinking about cutting?

I promise you that Delta hates Global Upgrade certs. The person who worked so hard to get them added as a program perk faced major push back to get it done. While I know many would like more of these and even the chance for Platinum Medallion to get them, I can see these going away soon. They really are now the single most valuable perk of reaching Diamond medallion status and that simply can not remain in the cut-cut-cut world of Delta 2020.

Up next, SkyMiles changes. Before you yell at me in the comments below, I get that the program has already been reduced to a new 1 cent per point rebate program so how much worse could it get? Just wait – you will see. In August many years ago now Delta implemented the 72-hour rule, that is, you can only cancel and re-deposit an award ticket if it is more than 72 hours from the first flight (free for Platinum and Diamond medallions). I can see this rule expanding to 1 week or more. Beyond that I can see the free re-deposit, that now applies to the account holder not the persons flying, expanding to only those who are on the same reservations as the elite whose account the points come out of. Again, don’t yell at me, I know Delta is already considering these and many other nasty changes you will hate.

No Delta, SkyPennies mean 1 cent it seems.

Well, all of this is depressing and frustrating… is there anything good on the way for 2020? Yes, Delta is going to offer free “SlowGo” but will still charge you for “real” speed. Delta is slowly replacing all the outdated Delta One seats but on peak travel dates you can drain your total SkyMiles account with just one trip. Bottom line, don’t expect anything to get too excited about beyond what is already in place for the following travel year! – René

 

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.

19 Comments

  1. SkyTeamFlyer

    Downturn/Recession may mean less travellers. Hotels already feeling the pinch. Bad ideas for Delta to implement anytime soon.

  2. Billy Mumphrey

    So can I use the 1x lifetime exception to the 250k spend waiver now (for 2020 DM status) or is it already too late? I had 15k MQDs last year so I didn’t need the exception for 2019 DM status.

  3. René

    @Billy – Data points are showing for this year i.e. for use with the 2020 DM year yes still working.

  4. I got up this morning in a good mood but this article really ruined my day. It is so depressing to hear of all the potential cuts to the benefits we all work so hard on maintaining every year. How many times we fly DL even if the price is higher or it involves inconvenient times and connections. I really hope Rene is wrong about some of these cuts.

  5. Billy Mumphrey

    I just tried and the representative said it was only for the 2019 DM year, so no luck. They did check with the service desk to confirm.

  6. René

    @Billy – HUCB later on. I have confirmed reports of those getting it this year for 2020.

  7. TravelingTiffani

    The three hour thing would be bad for me since I sometimes have 5 hour layovers between flights at JFK. It’s either that or 1.5, and that is too tight for comfort for an international connection for me.

  8. Just got to airport. Knew I’d have to sign release for my clubs but it still frustrates me. (You ever cart around hard side case? and I use top brand travel case). You’re article was a bit tough to read. I imagine you know. If AA ever got customer service and operations executive team, we could get back to customer first mentality with serious competition, but Delta knows they don’t have to worry at this point. Fingers crossed for AA board.

  9. René I’ve been a DM since Delta originating it, but you are correct GU’s even as difficult as they often are to use are the best thing about being DM. If Delta makes it harder to use or kills that one, I’m done.

  10. I could see (and even understand) having a 3 hour restriction on your first flight. A layover is a different situation and time restrictions shouldn’t apply there.

    Any then there is the issue of delayed flights. If you have a 5PM flight which is delayed until 9PM can you still enter club at 3PM?

  11. Limit access to SC for only flying DL or ST is a no brainer and actually have very minimal impact to reduce crowding. SCs are in DL terminals and there are only a very small handful of those cities where the terminal is shared with other airlines, i.e., ORD, RDU. If you fly with another airline, it’s very time consuming and inconvenient to get all the way to SC and back to the other airline’s terminal. I didn’t think many people were doing that anyways.

    The 3-hour rule does make sense in the US. I can check-in any time before the flight, so it can open to abuse and I rarely see a DL connection flight with more than 3-hour connection. Of those that are way more than 3-hour, I would definitely leave the airport to do something. The 3-hour rule is not necessary oversea’s because you can never check-in before the 3-hour.

  12. Really depressing possibilities. Being able to use a lounge on arrival can be a lifesaver at times and for me is a big part of justifying the cost of lounge access. Here’s an anecdote from a trip I got back from two days ago. Being able to access The Club at SEA (S9) on a night arrival from Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (another story) provided great value. You’ve reviewed this lounge and I’ve been there a couple of times even though the SkyClub upstairs is nicer when access is possible. I was connecting to an AA flight at 05:55 the next morning.

    Rather than get a hotel for four hours or so, I decided to spend the night in the airport. First, I stopped by the new and very nice Alaska Airlines lounge at the N Gates. I visited and reviewed this lounge on the outbound. Returning, I was granted access as an AA Admirals Club member even though my AA flight departed the next morning. Alaska Lounge members not only have access on arrival, but a boarding pass on any airline gets them in. Alaska lounge rules are another reason I wish I could make Alaska my primary airline.

    When the Alaska N lounge closed at 23:00, I went to The Club at SEA (S9). (SEA is a great airport but it takes three trains to get from N Gates to S Gates.) The Club is not much for looks but the food and beverages were much better than I recalled, and I had a comfortable chair to sit in until closing at 00:30. The Club was really convenient because my AA flight was leaving from S9. In short, arrival access saved me the cost of a hotel and the hassle of leaving the airport and returning a few hours later.

    I agree with your SkyClub evaluation and that getting rid of GUCs would gut the value of DM. I’m hoping Delta would think long and hard before doing that. Spend waiver is not a big issue for those who can take advantage of the cheap business class tickets on partners that you find. One benefit that I’m surprised Delta has not yet eliminated is rollover MQMs. Any thoughts on that one? Thanks.

  13. Billy Mumprey

    Rene, how many data points do you have on the DM exception to 250,000 spending still working? I tried twice more and the reps have insisted it was only offered in 2018 for the 2019 status year. They said it’s never been offered this year for next year’s status.

  14. René

    @Billy – A few. But do note they were early in the year ie Feb & March. They may have changed their minds by now.

  15. The sky club 3 hour limit would be fine with me on the first flight. But, on layover stops they need to take that into consideration… especially if THEY extend your stay with a delayed flight. As far as GUC and RUC, they are difficult enough to use, but they are THE reason I strive to get DM each year. If they make it more difficult to use or eliminate the up grade certificates …. I will be a free agent that next second. I will also dump a few Amex cards in the process.

  16. Not sure it’s going to matter but I just wanted to voice my thoughts regarding the 3-hour rule for clubs. I frequently use the clubs on arrival and to eliminate that benefit would be huge. I typically don’t spend more than 10-15 minutes in the clubs on arrival but it’s a great place to freshen up and grab a coffee before I hit the road.

    I always wondered what would happen with the US travel industry’s “race to the bottom” when they hit bottom. I guess we’ll find out soon.

  17. Barry Graham

    I never find it a good idea to put ideas into the minds of those that could make them happen. The clubs with the three hour rules are completely different programs. I don’t see this happening with Delta Skyclub members. I have had good success using all my global upgrades, mostly between New York and London, the most recent time with only a couple of weeks’ notice and for two people, I confirmed the same day I booked the flights. The only time I have had trouble using them is with Virgin Flights marketed by Delta. My main issue with GUCs is that I use them all up and want more! They probably hadn’t even considered the thought of taking them away completely until they read this article but I still don’t think it will happen.

  18. Don in ATL

    The GUC’s are the ONLY reason I remain DM – and have been so for many years.

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