Capital One has been making big strides in the travel space the past few years. They started with the Venture X card, a credit card with a higher annual fee than you might normally expect from Capital One ($395). I have to imagine they knew they needed to punch above their weight to contend with the likes of American Express and Chase.
Capital One put together a pretty nice suite of benefits for the card, including a pretty easy to use $300 annual travel credit you can use on their booking portal. They also announced they would be adding airport lounges for cardholders. The first lounge to open was in Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. The Dulles lounge had been announced quite some time ago but the process has been moving very slow.
The construction barriers came down recently and we could tell things were getting close. Last week, my friend Gary Leff was invited for a preview of the lounge prior to opening. He was happy to discuss it with me.
Yesterday, I got my first chance to try out the lounge. This was day 3 of the lounge being open to the public so I went it with low expectations. After all, it can take some time to work out the kinks and achieve great service. What I found was a mostly mixed experience.
The Capital One Lounge is located in the main terminal just past the TSA PreCheck security area. Connecting passengers will have to take the train back to the main terminal and either take an elevator or escalator up to the main level. Neither are marked and there is no signage on the lower levels directing you to the lounge (yet).
I was greeted at the door by a friendly agent who scanned my credit card and asked to check my boarding pass. There were no customary cake pops similar to what they serve in Dallas, just some chocolates. The cake pops are quite a beloved item (by me and others). As you enter, you’ll find some storage lockers to your right where you can set your own combination to lock up your bags.
The important thing to know about this lounge is that you want to GO LEFT even though it looks really easy to go right. The reason for that is the right hand side requires navigating a set of stairs. Since you’re in an airport you’re likely to have luggage. Luggage and stairs…..don’t mix. As well, the small cluster of tables at the top of the stairs are some of the only ones without power.
To your left you’ll find a grab and go case, something that has come in handy for travelers who visit the DFW version of the Capital One Lounge. There you’ll find canned soda, boxes of water and a variety of sandwiches and small salads you can take with you on your flight. Dulles Airport has an exclusive arrangement with Pepsi for the sale of bottled beverages which means you can only purchase Aquafina and Life Water in the terminal. The box water is a nice change from that.
If you keep heading left you’ll find a self-service cold brew station. While I’m not personally a fan this seems like a pretty cool addition to a lounge.
Beyond that you’ll find a full service barista station where they make specialty coffees to order. Keeping with the grab and go theme you’ll find pastries and fresh fruit to take with you. If you squeeze by the barista bar (much of the lounge is narrow hallways to accommodate as much seating as possible) you’ll find a ramp that you can take to the rest of the seating areas. Ramps + luggage are a much better combination.
Along these ramps you’ll find individual restrooms. They are spacious though they posed two problems during my visit. First, the trash can was overflowing. Second, the toilet seat doesn’t stay up due to the installation of the safety bars. This presents quite the challenge for those who stand to use the restroom.
Once I reached the main seating areas essentially every seat in the lounge was taken. I found a corner next to the trash bin to park my suitcase where I could see it while I sampled the available food items.
Capital One Lounge Food & Beverage
Capital One takes a novel approach to cold beverages. There is a small nugget ice machine (love nugget ice) next to a series of taps. On tap were a variety of Capital One branded sodas as well as iced tea, lemonade and water. While you’ll find “cola” you’ll also find Agave Vanilla Cream soda.
In lieu of a traditional buffet the Capital One Lounge offers a variety of small plates. There was Thai shrimp curry bao, cheesy tater tots, asparagus guacamole (pass on that one), truffle corn pudding and chicken sausage with mashed potatoes. There was also a separate dessert station. The corn bread with honey butter was the star there.
Everything I tried was tasty with the exception of the asparagus guacamole. Admittedly, I’m not an asparagus fan but I did try it in the spirit of offering a full report. My favorite was the chicken sausage with mashed potatoes.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that virtually every seat was taken the food also disappeared from the serving area quite quickly. The staff was slow to bring out new items, though I suspect that was due to production times in the kitchen. Every time I had an empty plate in front of me a staff member came by to ask if I was done and if there was anything else I needed. That level of service certainly made me feel more welcome than virtually any other domestic lounge I’ve visited.
Where To Sit In The Capital One Lounge
Seating is absolutely at a premium in the lounge. I ate my first plates on top of a trash can before hustling my bags up a small flight of stairs to grab a table that emptied out near the lounge entrance.
In a perfect world, you’d go to the corner of the lounge furthest away from the front door where there are “nooks”, small, semi-private desk areas with 2 or 3 chairs. There are only 3 of them and they are, by far, the most private seating options available.
Those will likely fill up quickly. The only other somewhat private area is a set of four stools at the opposite end past the food stations. These stools have the added benefit of a great view of the planes passing by.
The bar was packed when I was there. It was a Saturday afternoon before the bank of international flight departures start crowding the airport. I spent almost two hours in the lounge. While there never appeared to be a line to get in there was also really never any semblance of open seating.
The Final Two Pennies
The opening of this lounge has been anticipated for some time now. My initial pictures from a few weeks ago seemed to indicate there wouldn’t be a lot of seating. Gary’s recent visit confirmed that and helped lower my expectations.
After experiencing the lounge first-hand, I just can’t see how it won’t be overrun. Two days after opening the lounge was essentially operating at capacity. While it’s tough to get to from a connecting flight there was still a steady flow of folks entering the lounge as others exited. The crowds only stand to increase as word gets out.
On the other hand the staff were very attentive. While food wasn’t quick at all times at the hot food stations the team did appear to be working hard to clear plates and help folks. And, I did see servers bringing new small plates out to the food stations repeatedly. They just couldn’t keep up with demand.
The same seemed to be the trend at the bar. At capacity it felt like the team was a bit under-staffed, something that I’m sure they can work out in the future. Every seat (and standing room) around the bar stayed virtually full during my entire visit.
This lounge is free for Venture X cardholders and access can be purchased (for $X per visit). I don’t suspect there will be much availability for paid access as Capital One continues to grow their cardholder base.
This is one of the very few undeveloped spaces at Dulles Airport and Capital One has done an admirable job making use of the space. It almost seems a shame that they don’t have a few thousand more square feet to work their magic. I suspect access to the lounge will be a tough ticket.
Did you enjoy this post? Please share it! There’s plenty of ways to do that below.
And, I hope you’ll check out my podcast, Miles To Go. We cover the latest travel news, tips and tricks every week so you can save money while you travel better. From Disney to Dubai, San Francisco to Sydney, American Airlines to WestJet, we’ve got you covered!