Major Card Issuers Take Elite Airline Rewards to New Heights | PaymentsSource

The post-pandemic travel wave has produced unprecedented crowds and delayed many flights, making a certain credit card perk — access to luxury airport lounges — more important for affluent travelers.

And for some of the larger issuers targeting premium customers, the fine print outlining who is entitled to free access to food, drink and amenities has become a crucial part of premium card marketing.

Competition is fierce for premium status among elite credit card issuers as spending volumes have been exceptionally high as many affluent travelers catch up on pent-up plans. US travelers reportedly spent 56% more in Europe in June than they did in the same period in 2019 – before coronavirus wreaked havoc on air travel – partly benefiting from parity euro current with the dollar.

JPMorgan Chase said last week travel and restaurant spending rose 34% during the second trimester from a year earlier, and American Express and Capital One Financial are expected to report similar trends this week, particularly among card customers paying premium annual fees.

American Express has long touted unlimited access to its exclusive Centurion airport lounges for customers using its $695-a-year Platinum card or an elite-level co-branded travel card, among many other perks. But during this year’s travel crisis, some visitors to these airport oases are reporting long queues and waiting lists to enter.

To ensure its elite cardholders can access lounges at Centurion Airport, American Express is ending a policy that allows them to bring guests for free.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

To narrow the funnel a bit, Amex is ending a long-standing policy of allowing Platinum Card customers to bring guests for free. Starting Feb. 1, 2023, Centurion Lounge visitors will be charged $50 per guest ($30 for children), but the fee is waived for those who spend at least $75,000 annually on their card.

Capital One recently decided to make airport lounge access a strategic cornerstone for its high-end travel credit cards, anchored by the fast-growing $395-per-year Venture X card. launched last fall.

The first Capital One lounge opened last year in Dallas, and two more slated to open next year in Denver and Washington, DC, offering unlimited free visits to Venture X customers, while those with the $95-per-year Venture Card get two free annual visits. Other travelers must pay $65 to enter Capital One lounges.

To make up for the delay in opening its own lounges, Capital One last month rolled out expanded access for Venture customers to the McLean, Va.-based issuer’s Partner Lounge Network. Included are over 100 premium lounges as well as all of Virgin Atlantic’s national pavilions and the Air France lounge in Quebec.

Venture X customers get unlimited access to these premium lounges plus 1,300 more in the Priority Pass lounge network, while customers with $95-a-year Venture Cards and Spark Miles get two visits to top-of-the-range trade fairs per year.

JPMorgan Chase said last month it was entering the race for exclusive airport lounges, with plans to roll out half a dozen Chase Sapphire Lounge by The Club. Consumers with JPMorgan Chase’s Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, with benefits of $550 per year, currently receive free membership in Priority Pass Select, which operates more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide . Several other elite credit card brands also offer varying levels of access to Priority Pass and other airport lounge networks.

In response to growing user demand, Amex is adding Centurion lounges in Washington DC (National) and Atlanta and expanding existing lounges in Seattle and San Francisco. Amex’s Global Lounge Collection also offers access to more than 1,400 other airport lounges in 140 countries.

An Amex spokesperson said a feature of the Amex mobile app also displays real-time capacity for Centurion lounges in the United States, London and Hong Kong, noting that when Centurion lounges are busy, the average waiting time is 10 to 15 minutes.

Maintaining premium status with high-end customers will require careful engineering amid inflation and a potential economic downturn, observers say.

Although premium credit cards have suffered some of the biggest losses during previous economic downturns, premium credit card programs are currently on track to grow in 2023 due to their resilience during the pandemic. , according to David Shipper, strategic advisor in banking and payments at Aite-Novarica.

“For affluent cardholders less affected by a recession and spending more on travel this year, bonus points and travel benefits will continue to be very attractive,” Shipper said.

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