EXCLUSIVE | Lounge access with SkyTeam member airlines has long been a point of contention for SkyTeam Elite Plus frequent flyers and business class travellers, with that privilege extended only to passengers travelling internationally as an alliance-wide rule.
This approach sees most SkyTeam domestic flyers excluded from lounge facilities, with their shiny frequent flyer card or business class boarding pass providing the same experience between check-in and boarding as an economy passenger taking their first-ever flight – but that could soon change, as SkyTeam looks to strengthen the importance of lounge access across its network of 19 member airlines.
Speaking to Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Seoul, SkyTeam CEO Kristin Colvile hints that “we're looking at our lounge experience as a whole.”
“While we’re looking at enhancing the look and the feel (of our SkyTeam-branded lounges),” access for passengers taking purely domestic journeys is “something that we can look at too.”
“We definitely see lounges becoming more significant in the customer journey. You see more and more investment going into lounges throughout the world for many airlines… and our overall lounge strategy is developed in conjunction with all of our members.”
The challenge for SkyTeam will be getting its member airlines to absorb the costs of providing more travellers with lounge access, as airlines and frequent flyer programs typically pay lounge operators a per-passenger fee when a traveller visits an airport lounge.
Some SkyTeam airlines already see the value in offering lounge access to domestic jetsetters, such as China Eastern, which extends lounge access to its own Eastern Miles Gold and Platinum members travelling on domestic flights in Mainland China, but not to the broader clan of SkyTeam Elite Plus members from across the alliance.
Others, like Delta, adopt more complicated rules where access is granted on flights between selected domestic city pairs – such as Los Angeles and New York – but not on other routes, while separately offering its top-tier Diamond Medallion (SkyTeam Elite Plus) cardholders the ability to choose complimentary Delta Sky Club lounge access from a list of benefits offered to them each membership year.
Extending lounge access to domestic travellers as an alliance-wide benefit would bring SkyTeam on-par with competitors Oneworld and Star Alliance, which offer this as standard: except where an individual member airline ‘opts-out’ from providing this to their own frequent flyers and business class passengers in their home market.
Even in these cases, lounge access remains available to elite members of all other alliance frequent flyer schemes taking domestic flights – such as how Qantas Platinum members enjoy unfettered domestic lounge access in the United States when travelling with American Airlines, while AA's own Platinum members do not – as part of the alliance-wide policies.
Chris Chamberlin is attending the IATA AGM in Seoul as a guest of IATA.