A few weeks ago I wrote about how something strange was going on with Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses outside of the UK. We now have a better sense of what’s going on.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses change management
In August 2021, Plaza Premium started managing Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses outside of the United States. The logic was presumably that Plaza Premium specializes in managing lounges, so not only could the company probably staff and manage these lounges more efficiently, but it could also help with monetizing these lounges among those not flying on Virgin Atlantic.
That will now be changing. It has been revealed that several Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses will now be managed by Sodexo. The company already manages the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London (LHR), and is taking over day-to-day operations at the lounges in Boston (BOS), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), and Washington (IAD).
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Newark (EWR) will continue to be run by Plaza Premium, since at this point that’s exclusively a contract lounge, as Virgin Atlantic doesn’t fly to Newark.
Interestingly the timing of this coincides with Virgin Atlantic joining SkyTeam, as that’s happening as of March 2, 2023. This will allow more travelers to access Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses, in line with SkyTeam’s lounge access policies.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses closing temporarily
In light of this transition, select Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses will be closing temporarily. This is because with management companies changing, there are also changes to staffing, service, etc. The following three Clubhouses will be closing temporarily:
- The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Boston will be closed March 1-April 14, 2023, and customers will be directed to the Delta Sky Club Express
- The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse San Francisco will be closed March 1-25, 2023, and customers will be directed to the China Airlines Lounge
- The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Washington will be closed March 1-3, 2023, and customers will be directed to the Turkish Airlines Lounge
- The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Johannesburg will be closed March 1-13, 2023, and customers will be directed to the SLOW Lounge
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse New York has already transitioned management teams, so there won’t be any closure there.
What does this mean for Amex and Capital One lounge access?
Up until now, Plaza Premium has had a partnership with American Express and Capital One, meaning that those with The Platinum Card® from American Express (review) and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (review) could access Plaza Premium Lounges. Up until now, that has included Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses outside of the UK.
A few weeks back I wrote about the odd update that Plaza Premium posted about Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses, suggesting they may leave the Plaza Premium network as of the end of February. I was assured by a representative from Plaza Premium that this wasn’t the case.
I’ve followed up once again with this latest update, to make sure that continues to be the case (if it isn’t, I’ll be sure to provide an update). Of course it’s possible that Plaza Premium still has an agreement to monetize these lounges for its cardmembers, even if the company no longer manages the lounges.
Anyway, this update certainly provides a bit more perspective on why there has been some weird stuff going on with access to Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses.
Management of most Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses is being transitioned from Plaza Premium to Sodexo. This is the same company that manages the lounge in London, and it comes at a time when Virgin Atlantic is joining SkyTeam.
Not only has Plaza Premium managed the operations of Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses, but the company has also monetized these lounges, including offering access to those with premium American Express and Capital One cards. While I’ve been assured that nothing is changing, I’ve followed up just to double check.
What do you make of Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses transitioning from Plaza Premium to Sodexo?
Access to Clubhouse is officially dead for AMEX cardholders. AMEX removed them from the app. Apparently access with Capital One is still on, Plaza Premium released a statement stating Capital One (no mention of AMEX) cardholders would not loose access.
If I am flying into San Francisco business class on March 29 and the Virgin lounge is not reopen on time, which is the best other one to use - United Polaris? I am only silver on Virgin. We are flying out of SF on Virgin codeshare on Air New Zealand.
The United Polaris lounge is very nice and in the same terminal G from which Air New Zealand departs. They do have a good sit down dinner area where you will be served. However the kitchen closes at 9 pm and likely the dining area will have a waiting list.
Overall the Polaris lounge is quite nice and if you miss the sit down dining there is a fairly good buffet too. You need to be booked in business class on Air New Zealand to enter the lounge.
There is no Virgin Clubhouse at Newark as you mentioned. Plaza premium erroneously refer to it as a virgin club on their website.
The only SkyTeam lounge at EWR is the Delta SkyClub which is presently closed
Oh, is the former VS Clubhouse totally closed at EWR then? Or is it still open but just as a contract lounge? I ask because I have a flight out of EWR Terminal B in a few weeks.
For the VS Boston clubhouse, there's still the Air France KLM lounge for priority pass. It will also be interesting to see what happens with both the AFKL and VS lounges when the new Terminal E full SkyClub opens (e.g. whether DL moves the LAX D1 flights to Terminal E which would facilitate making at least part of the new club a Delta One lounge).
I stopped by the IAD lounge last night brandishing my AmEx Plat card and was turned away. The messaging was "this lounge is currently only accepting Virgin Atlantic passengers." I did not press the issue as I could access the Turkish Air lounge down the hall using PP. The Turkish Air lounge is somewhat infamously crowded already, so it may be unpleasant for additional passengers to be diverted there.
Sodexo is the largest private prison operator in the world. Who better to run an airline lounge.
To be fair, Sodexo is also responsible for F&B at Cathay's excellent Hong Kong lounges.
Like most things, what they cater is simply a function of what the airline is willing to pay.
@rrapynot - check your sources and facts. They do not operate any prisons and have not for quite some time (5+ years).
Focusing on JFK only here - once Delta actually opens the new new clubs (A Gates, Delta One) and adds them to the current club, it should relieve some pressure on the Amex Centurion Lounge, which should create less of a sting if Amex loses access.
I would bet that once the change happens, access based on Plaza Premium lounge network is going to get dropped off. AmEx has technically already been cut off in JFK (based on numerous DP's on FT and likely C1 VX will also get dropped because C1's contract was with Plaza Premium and if these lounges are out of the Plaza Premum network, i don't see a viable way where access can be provided to C1 or AmEx cardholders.
I thought before Plaza Premium came in, the Clubhouses was already managed by Sodexo.
No disrespect to San Fran or Boston. But why doesn’t their second U.K. Airport Manchester, merit a club house lounge. Strange how a British airline has a few abroad yet only has its own domestic lounge at Heathrow.
Possibly it’s because Manchester is a very leisure based market and so fewer premium passengers.
I assume Sodexo will only be managing the F&B operation, meaning there will still be real Virgin Atlantic staff there to assist with airline issues. That aside, Sodexo runs many or most of the Delta Sky Clubs. And given Delta's minority stake in Virgin Atlantic, it's not surprising that Sodexo would get the contract. I imagine Sodexo is significantly cheaper if you look at the quality of food and booze offered in Sky Club lounges operated by Sodexo.
It is certain that Virgin Atlantic did its own bid process; they are not a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta which is the only way that DL could dictate everything about how VS operates. Sodexo undoubtedly won the bid on its own merits and provides whatever F&B that the contracting company wants.