Lounge strategy is an interesting game for the airlines. They charge for access to a big chunk of customers, but there’s a chunk that’s equally as big who gain access for free due to alliance status, etc. A few years ago, American Airlines charted a different path from United and Delta. Their competitors had made small improvements to their club’s complimentary offerings, but nothing very exciting. But, hey, you’re getting something for free, right?
American chose the path of rolling out food for purchase that was considerably better than any free or paid offerings that Delta or United (or US Airways, independent back then) had rolled out. I personally valued this much more so than the free upgrades. When I’m traveling, I want *good* food, and sometimes even healthy food if my head is screwed on straight. I was fine paying a few dollars for food that was, in some cases, better than close by options in the terminal.
Fast forward to present day where United and Delta have again upped the ante on the quality of free food they’re offering. American is joining the fray, rolling out new offerings this fall. This will be the second rollout this year, with soups and Chobani greek yogurt joining the mix earlier this year. Here’s what you can expect to see this fall in a gradual rollout:
While I don’t have images, the Flagship Lounges are getting a revamped menu as well. Here are some examples of what they’ve started serving:
- Strawberry Banana Breakfast Smoothie Shots
- Mixed Marinated Olives with Hummus
- Roasted Zucchini, Arugula and Sundried Tomato Baguette
- Grilled Chipotle Chicken with Pico de Gallo
- Poached Salmon with Lemon Yogurt Sauce
- Wheatberry Pilaf
- Lemon Tuna Finger Sandwich
- European Ricotta Whipped with Lemon and Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Ciabatta Crostini
- Asian Cool Sesame Soba Noodles Chicken Satay
There’s been a debate in the frequent travel community about whether it’s better to serve individually wrapped items of lesser quality or bulk items of higher quality and I’m sure there will be plenty of opinions expressed about the new Admirals Club options. For my taste, I think it’s a nice plus. With the previous complimentary offerings in clubs run by United and American, I was more likely to stop for a place to plug in my laptop than to grab a snack. Where this was most apparent was traveling with family, when my wife would ask, “How much do you pay each year for this food? Can it really be worth it?”
For me, the new menu is a plus. You’ll never stumble across me in a restaurant or club with a big salad. But, I am trying to eat healthier and cranberries on my oatmeal and hummus are two things I’ve readily added to my diet.
These offerings make it a much better value to be a club member. I used to buy my membership each year directly from American Airlines but now get it through the Citi/AAdvantage Executive Card. It has a $450 annual fee, but comes with a bunch of benefits including access to the Admirals Clubs. As a side note, the sign-up bonus for that card was bumped recently to 75,000. Here’s a link on the AA site if you’re interested (note, I don’t have referral links, just bringing to your attention the solid value that a 75,000 mile sign-up bonus brings).
Where the rubber really hits the road here is on the implementation. Prior to their recent changes, United had a handful of prepackaged offerings like Tillamook cheese. I’d need more than one hand to count the number of times I grabbed one only to find them lukewarm/room temperature. Lately, with their new implementation, I’ve walked into clubs and frequently found the new trays of food empty. In my opinion, that’s worse than not offering free food. It either shows the inability or lack of desire to manage the program effectively.
I’ve got a bunch of travel scheduled this fall, so I’ll be eager to check out the new offerings and see how they’re being implemented.