Should Virgin Atlantic Lounges Exclude Credit Card Guests From Eating?

The Virgin Atlantic lounge at Washington Dulles uses a QR code for ordering plated meals, and that code is given only to Virgin’s own passengers – and not to guests entering the lounge via American Express or Capital One credit card – creating two levels of service for passengers who are visiting. Is that acceptable? And is there a better way to handle the economics?

If an IHG Rewards elite member gets upgraded to club level at Intercontinental, the hotel isn’t required to also let them have club lounge access unless they’ve selected that as an elite choice benefit. The room type doesn’t necessarily confer all of its benefits. And, separately, some hotels have created separate clubs to fulfill the club lounge benefit while retaining their nicer spaces for paying guests. Both of these practices seem, to me, to be in poor taste.

  • A club level room on the club floor should come with club access
  • An elite member that has opted for club access as their prized benefit should be given access to the hotel’s club, not a stripped down room with coffee, tea and cold snacks meant just for elites and not ‘real’ club guests of the hotel.

Matthew Klint observed a similar practice at the Washington Dulles Virgin Atlantic lounge and was bothered by the ‘separate but equal’ nature of welcoming credit card customers into the lounge but refusing to serve them food that he referred to the situation as apartheid. He’s since apologized for that, realizing that complaining about unequal treatment based on the airline one is flying isn’t quite the same as Jim Crow in the U.S. or racial segregation in South Africa.

Nonetheless, I thought it how Virgin Atlantic lounges are handling monetizing the space and treating guests was an interesting topic.

  • Historically when Virgin first started accepting Priority Pass it was for limited hours, when Virgin didn’t have their own flights. They were paying for the space and the lounge was empty. So why not pick up some incremental revenue?
  • But they didn’t cater the lounges the way they would when their own passengers were inside (and when the lounges would be off limits to Priority Pass customers).
  • During the pandemic Virgin Atlantic went through a number of changes (even a bankruptcy!). One thing they’ve done is outsource outstation lounges to Plaza Premium group. Those lounges now accept a wider variety of guests without time restriction.
  • Plaza Premium lounges are accessible to American Express Platinum and now Capital One Venture X cardmembers.

The Virgin Clubhouse at Washington Dulles isn’t accessible via Priority Pass, but the Priority Pass model is instructive. The ~ $23 that Priority Pass pays when their card is swiped isn’t going to cover plated meals.

Here’s what you normally expect from a Priority Pass lounge in terms of food – scrambled eggs from egg mixture, potatoes, and cold pastries, from ‘The Club’ in Charleston:

In contrast at the Virgin Atlantic lounge, Matthew had 4 plated courses, a nice looking salad, grilled cheese, a burger, and cheese plate.

I’d love it if a credit card swipe with a third party lounge got me this at the airport. All you get at American Express’ own Centurion lounges is a buffet, and I haven’t seen beef in one of those in a long time. The food is quite good in Capital One’s only lounge (so far) at Dallas – Fort Worth. But on a pay-per-swipe basis it’s really too much to expect.

It’s nice that the lounge is accessible to credit card customers at all (for those customers, not for Virgin’s customers who would prefer more exclusivity). And it’s nice that the lounge is accessible for the entire time that it’s open, from 2 p.m – 9 p.m.

I don’t like having two levels of service for people, once they’re inside the lounge. I’d much prefer that everyone inside is treated to the same level of hospitality. But credit card companies aren’t paying enough to make that work. So what I’d love to see is the offer of a modest upcharge, like $20 for meal service on top of the payment the lounge is already getting for access.

An upcharge is hardly unprecedented. Priority Pass guests who want to use an airport Minute Suites for more than an hour pay extra for that additional time, and are given a discounted rate. Those swiping a Priority Pass card at an airport restaurant get a $28 credit towards food, and pay for whatever else they want to order above that. Those who want a more robust experience from the Virgin lounge might enjoy the same sort of offer – the card gets them in the door, and then they have the option to spend more for a plated meal.

By TerBaru