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.
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.
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):
- Select it as a Diamond Medallion Choice Benefit
- Pay for Sky Club membership out of pocket, or with miles
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
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?