What’s The Deal With Delta’s Partner Lounge Access?

Okay, deep breaths, Delta flyers. Between the frantic two-day Delta One award sale to Europe, the changes to Sky Club policies, and the new monthly SkyMiles statement email (which totally doesn’t merit a blog post but is kind of fun, I guess?), we’ve had quite the week.

Weak October, for sure, but still looks kind of cool?

The biggest news by far – and the announcement that has the internet in a frenzy – came from the recent changes to Sky Club access policies. Delta announced two major changes on November 15th:

  • Effective immediately, single-visit passes, previously sold for $59 or 5,000 SkyMiles, will no longer be available
  • Effective January 1st, 2019, annual individual memberships will increase in cost from $495 to $545 (or 54,500 SkyMiles), and annual executive memberships will increase in cost from $745 to $845, or 84,500 SkyMiles

Delta announced these changes in a pretty opaque way – some SkyMiles members got an email, and they embedded the announcement pretty deeply into their website – but the news was mostly spread via message boards and blogs.

And from a PR perspective, that never helps.

Other upcoming policy changes

Here’s where things really went sideways. Almost exactly one year ago, Delta announced another set of policy changes, effective January 1st, 2019. This was a pretty un-Delta move on their part, given how they often change policies or quietly remove their award chart with little to no notice.

Ben wrote about this policy change immediately after it was first released. But if you’re anything like pre-blogging me (and present-day me, if we’re being honest), you probably don’t keep a rolling tab of every major policy change made by every airline that you’ve ever flown. So many of us, present company included, probably saw the news, read it, and promptly forgot about it.

As a reminder, here are the changes that were announced in late 2017:

  • Sky Club members will only have access to Sky Clubs when flying Delta or their partners (currently they can access Sky Clubs regardless of which airline they fly)
  • American Express Delta Reserve cardmembers will only be able to bring guests in for $29 each if that guest is flying with Delta (currently they can be flying any airline)
  • American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum & Gold cardmembers will only be able to pay $29 to access a Sky Club when flying Delta or their partners (currently they can pay $29 to access the Sky Club regardless of which airline they’re flying)
  • Sky Club members will no longer have access to partner airline lounges (currently they can access select Air France, KLM, and Virgin Australia lounges)

And that last bullet point is where Delta really missed the mark this week.

Because rather than saying something like “hey guys, friendly reminder that you can’t access partner lounges any more with your Sky Club membership, but here are some other ways to gain access,” they dropped this last line into their most recent email like it was brand-new information, basically implying that partner lounges are closing their doors to all Delta Medallions.

And, understandably, people are. Freaking. Out.

There’s more than one way to gain partner lounge access

Historically, Sky Club membership included access to select partner lounges, regardless of which airline you were flying. Per last year’s announcement, that is going away as of January 1st.

Realistically, though, the majority of people who have Sky Club memberships probably have partner lounge access anyway, whether they realize it or not.

And those policies are remaining the same. Let’s take a look at a couple of those scenarios.

SkyTeam Elite Plus members will continue to have partner lounge access on international itineraries

If you are a Gold, Platinum, or Diamond Medallion SkyMiles member, you automatically have SkyTeam Elite Plus status, granting you access to SkyTeam lounges on international itineraries.

Yes, even as an economy passenger.

Schiphol Airport Schengen-side Crown Lounge

I’ve accessed SkyTeam lounges while transiting through Europe, Africa, and Asia more times than I can count, and it’s never been a problem on economy tickets. Delta has reinforced that this policy will remain in place. So if you’re Gold Medallion or above, don’t worry – your access to nap rooms and Parisian fromage is ironclad.

You can even bring a guest at no additional cost.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t always apply to contract lounges outside of the SkyTeam network. For example, Lima, Peru gives its business class passengers access to a contract lounge, since they don’t have a Sky Club or other SkyTeam lounge available. Delta One passengers get a complimentary day pass, but regular lowly SkyTeam Elite Plus members don’t have such privileges.

(Don’t worry, you’re not missing out on much, and oftentimes those contract lounges also take Priority Pass.)

This policy is consistent with those offered by Star Alliance and oneworld, so I doubt it will go away anytime soon.

Delta One passengers will continue to have access to international lounges upon their departure or connecting flight

The language above is verbatim from Delta’s website, so there’s not much room for interpretation there. Basically, the international standard that business class passengers have some sort of lounge access remains true. If you’re departing from a domestic airport, or one of the few international airports that has a Delta-branded Sky Club, this is pretty straightforward.

But if you’re departing from an airport that doesn’t have a Sky Club, you should still have SkyTeam lounge access on an international Delta One ticket. And given that Delta plans to continue to extend Sky Club access to business class passengers on partner airlines, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Assuming the Sky Club check-in agent knows who Delta’s partners are. 😉

Finally, if you’re flying paid Delta One with any sort of regularity, there’s probably a pretty good chance that you have at least Gold Medallion status, so the point is moot. But this is good to keep in mind if you are flying on a one-off or award ticket as a non-Medallion or Silver Medallion member.

So, who does this new partner lounge policy really impact?

The people really impacted by Delta’s new limitations on partner lounge access are Sky Club members. Right now, there are two ways to get Delta Sky Club membership (not to be confused with Sky Club access):

If you’re a Diamond Medallion, you already have SkyTeam Elite Plus status, so this shouldn’t impact you too much for long-haul itineraries. I imagine a lot of paid Sky Club members also have SkyTeam Elite Plus status and fall into the same boat (although with paid membership rates increasing next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a big shift toward credit cards for Sky Club access).

Really, those taking the biggest hit will be the following:

  • Sky Club members flying internationally who are not SkyTeam Elite Plus and are not flying in Delta One
  • Sky Club members who do a lot of short-haul international itineraries and have relied on their membership rather than status for access to KLM, Air France or Virgin Australia lounges
  • Sky Club members flying on non-SkyTeam airlines

Bottom line

While this isn’t welcome news, it’s probably not Delta doomsday either. I imagine that a lot of us won’t even notice the changes 99% of the time, particularly if we get Sky Club access through Medallion status or a credit card.

The real issue here, and one that we’ve seen before, is Delta’s poor PR move on this part. The language was unclear, the “announcement” felt out of left field, and I’m still scratching my head at the increased fees for fewer perks.

So, Ed Bastian, if you have any interest in the opinion of a very part-time travel blogger, please provide a little more transparency and try not to break the internet next time.

What do you make of these partner lounge access changes? 

Comments

  1. under these rules, why would anyone pay that much for sky club access if an Amex Platinun AF is basically the same cost?

  2. If Delta improves the food and drink offerings in the skyclub even more (not that they’re bad; in fact they’re good imo for domestic lounges), then I can see skyclubs compete with AA flagship lounges and limiting access would be worth it.

    This is my hope tho, it’s probably not going to happen

  3. As a card carrying member of the AMEX Platinum Delta SkyMiles, I am entitled to pay a reduced rate of $29 to access Delta Club and can bring up to 2 guests with the same reduced rate of $29 per person.

    But but are the offerings/ambiance worth shelling that much cash to access the Delta Club? For 3 passengers, that is $87 which can get us lots of food & drinks at many airports.

  4. Who would ever pay $29 to go to a SkyClub?

    Plastic chicken , Hidden valley ranch , wilted lettuce and cheap liquor. No thanks!

  5. 3 round trip to Italy, 1 round trip to Panama , several internal trip with partener Alitalia, one round trip to LAX and one to Boston and have a Platinum AA. Still declased to Silver elite. Uhm Delta trading me poorly

  6. I am a amex platinum card holder
    ( it’s not amex platinum delta. But a regular amex platinum) and access to delta lounge is free. Will this go away or will I have to pay in 2019 ?

  7. I just feel like we already paid so much $$$ for the tickets and the lounge access itself. Why are they punishing the Sky card members for more $$$???

    I think I will switch cards and go fly with United or AA. This is too much. At least with the other airlines card holders, they give more perks, better quality food, and amenities…

  8. I’m now even more confused about air France / KLM club access with my delta diamond status. I just asked delta rep in sky club in Cincinnati if I can get in air France sky team club in Paris when I connect as a delta diamond. She said “no sir not any more”.

  9. To clarify the “SkyTeam Elite Plus” comment. What if I am flying Delta One across the ocean, but I booked my own connecting flights here in the US and/or in Europe? An example is worth a thousand words, so here is one I have coming up. I bought KLM coach from Zurich to AMS. I am on a Delta One miles ticket booked through Virgin Atlantic AMS-SEA. I am buying a Delta or an Alaska Air coach ticket from SEA-SUN.
    – I would definitely get lounge accss in AMS regardless of status. But…
    – Would I get lounge access in Zurich as gold? silver? no status? Would that answer be different if it was all on one ticket?
    – Would I get lounge access in SEA? Would the answer be different if it was all on one ticket?

    Thanks!

    @Ryan I do it often. Totally worth it when you’ve got hours to kill to be away from the hoardes of people and relax.

  10. Sorry, I’m EU-based, so this is kind of confusing for me. I often fly to US, I am a Gold Medallion. My question is the following: The post constantly refers “international itineraries”. What does this exactly means? ie. my latest flight was: BUD-AMS-ATL-SFO//SFO-JFK-FCO-BUD. In this case, ATL-SFO and SFO-JFK are US domestic flights, but its part of a ticket, including international segments. So will I still have access at SFO and ATL? Or I’ll have only access before actual international segments?

  11. Ok Steph, I get it… it won’t affect too many people, BUT then why do it? Just makes Delta and partners look cheap.

    Having said that, they do need to do something to reduce the crowd at AMS lounge… wait for shower is 2 hrs., it’s hard to find a place to sit, coffee is good but breakfast is yucky… thankfully a McDonald’s is nearby.

  12. You mentioned that the SkyTeam third-party lounge access policy is consistent with that of oneworld — I don’t think this is necessarily true. As a oneworld Emerald member travelling in Y on partner oneworld flights, I have always been given access to the third-party lounge that’s normally reserved for F/J passengers. SkyTeam appears to be the most restrictive in this regard, since it requires a SkyTeam-operated or SkyTeam airline-operated lounge for Elite Plus members to access when travelling in Y. But oneworld doesn’t appear to be as restrictive since it allows Emerald and Sapphire members to access third-party lounges even in Y.

  13. Delta needs a flagship Delta One lounge at LAX, JFK, DTW and ATL. The fact is they have been changing access for the last several years and the clubs are still overcrowded. Good luck finding a seat in DTW at 6pm any day of the week.

  14. Lounges are overcorwded. Delta and others need to revisit the “why” and “who” this perk is for and more aggressive tightening is very welcome and overdue in my humble opinion. Im

  15. Basically, a Delta flier with Gold or higher status and an Amex Platinum credit card should have lounge access almost all of the time.

    In general, Delta lounges are crowded due to the Amex Platinum (which is one of the easiest credit cards to qualify for), Amex Delta Reserve and one-day passes (both with and without an amex card). I don’t see Delta really limiting any of those means of access.

  16. @endre
    This affects Sky Club members only – zero changes to SkyTeam Elite partner benefits. As the post says (too far down) – this would only affect you were paying Delta (either directly or using a Diamond choice benefit) and also did not have SkyTeam Elite Plus status

    @CSu
    To answer your hypotheticals:
    -As both a Delta Gold Medallion or D1 passenger, yes you’d get lounge access in AMS.
    -In Zurich, as a Delta Gold you would get lounge access provided there’s a KLM lounge. Silver would not. Had you booked this segment as part of the itinerary with Delta One I believe you would have access regardless of status. If you’re connecting to/from a D1 segment, you should have access.
    -In Seattle, no you would not have access if booked separately. If booked on the same itinerary, then I believe the above would also apply

  17. I use the lounge at SEA often as an arrival lounge.

    If I have the reserve card and am gold or higher. Arriving from Europe. Can I use the Sky Club as arrival lounge in SEA? I’ve had no issues to date. Will this change in January?

  18. To get access the tickets need to be same day but do not need to be on the same itinerary

    I just flew MSP-JFK economy
    JFK-ZRH Delta One
    On two different tickets but both on same day

    I was obviously able to use lounge in JFK, but was also able to use lounge in MSP as I had same day Delta J ticket

    They simply scanned my JFK-ZRH ticket in MSP

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