Alaska Airlines announced today that it is expanding its relationship with American Airlines to provide full reciprocal lounge access between its Board Room locations and the entire Admirals Club network. These benefits will take effect just over a week from now, on August 15. Members of either lounge network will be able to access any Board Room or Admirals Club location by showing a boarding pass for same-day travel on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, or US Airways. I think this is a great value opportunity for purchasing a Board Room membership.
Previously Admirals Club members had access to all four Board Room locations in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Anchorage (San Francisco was closed last year). But Board Room members had access to just four of the Admirals Clubs — a small portion of the 50+ locations. This expanded agreement definitely tilts in favor of providing greater access to Board Room members. It doesn’t hurt that American is in the midst of a major renovation plan.
I think American Airlines is still benefitting if this is what it took to keep their members’ access to the Board Room. American’s network on the West Coast is pretty poor, and it’s likely that many of those customers are flying Alaska from time to time. And just how often are Board Room members using their benefits at the Admirals Club? Alaska may be growing but is still a smaller airline. Personally, I think together they’re very complementary airlines. Anything to create a more seamless travel experience when I switch between them will help maintain my loyalty — and I do have elite status with both of them. 😉
Why I Didn’t Buy a Lounge Membership Before
For as long as I’ve been a frequent flyer, I’ve argued against buying an airport lounge membership. It’s not that they’re too expensive. I can definitely see the value in having regular access to an airport lounge if you’re on the road every other week. Rather, there are often better and cheaper ways of getting access by using a premium credit card.
Board Room membership starts at $450 for the first year and $400 for renewals; the Admirals Club is $500 and drops to $450. Both offer discounts if you have elite status with the carrier. In my case I would be paying $295 to renew a Board Room membership or $350 to renew an Admirals Club membership.
I chose not to buy either because I was getting along just fine with my American Express Platinum Card. The card’s $450 annual fee dropped to $250 after accounting for the annual $200 airline credit. It offered access to both the Board Room (but charged a fee to bring my wife) and the Admirals Club (free guest). When Amex lost their relationship with the Admirals Club, I switched to the Citi Executive AAdvantage MasterCard. It also has a $450 annual fee but includes other benefits like a rebate on award bookings and the opportunity to earn elite qualifying miles that I value at about $200.
A net cost of $250 for a credit card each year that comes with additional benefits has generally been a better deal than paying for a lounge membership by itself. (See my earlier review of the major airport lounge memberships.)
Board Room Membership Is Now a Great Value
Now I’m thinking it might be time to ditch the credit card and buy a real membership. One Board Room membership would get me access to both the Board Room locations and all the Admirals Clubs. If I fly on Delta, it also gets me access to all of their Sky Clubs (though a guest costs extra). That’s not just the four lounges Alaska operates but also the networks of the world’s first and second largest airlines.
Don’t forget Board Room membership includes access to a variety of other lounges in different airports around the country. These include the United Club in Phoenix, the Plaza Premium Lounge in Vancouver, and the Cathay Pacific Lounge in San Francisco. I’ve argued before that Alaska’s loyalty program, Mileage Plan, lets you pick and choose from some great partners to earn and redeem miles. Now you can pick and choose from a large collection of airport lounges, too.
Finally, Alaska offers additional savings if you buy a multi-year membership. Remember I said I get a discounted price of $295 per year as a MVP Gold member? But I can pre-pay for three years at a total of $785 or $261 per year. For about the same cost as a credit card, I’m getting a lot of value from one lounge membership.
The caveat is that partnerships can change at any time. Delta used to give free access to Board Room members and a free guest. Now it’s just the member, and guests are $29 each. Things could devolve further if tensions between Alaska and Delta remain high.
But for someone like me who frequently travels on both Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, and who lives near Alaska’s largest hub in Seattle, I think there’s a lot of potential here for me. Even if you don’t fly Alaska, those who currently have an Admirals Club membership might be able to save money by switching and get access to a few additional lounges along the way.