Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Lounges for Less-Frequent Fliers ; Independent of Airlines, Travel Clubs Offer Facilities without Steep Annual Fees

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Lounges for Less-Frequent Fliers ; Independent of Airlines, Travel Clubs Offer Facilities without Steep Annual Fees

Article excerpt

What distinguishes the Club at ATL and other similar facilities across the globe is that they largely operate independently from the carriers.

The new Club at ATL is hardly the latest hangout at Midtown or Buckhead or other night-life magnets in Atlanta. It usually borders on library-quiet and closes at 9:30 p.m. The $35 cover charge may seem steep, but food and drink are included. The drinks are dished out at a long, curved bar by an actual barkeeper.

And patrons pass through security that is probably tighter than at any club they have ever frequented.

The venue, which opened six weeks ago, sits just beyond the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at an international concourse at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. It is a passenger lounge that appears on the surface to be little different from the lounges of major international airlines that are geared toward their frequent business fliers.

But what distinguishes the Club at ATL and a handful of others around the world is that they operate independently from any specific airline. The clientele they aim to attract is anyone willing to pay for a day pass.

"It's a democratization of the lounge," said Chris McGinnis, the editor of The Ticket, a blog that caters to frequent travelers. "It opens up the lounge to someone of lesser means."

The two club concepts, however, are not completely distinct. The Club at ATL maintains an arrangement with Lufthansa and British Airways to admit their passengers with business- or first-class tickets. Also, some clubs run by airlines offer day passes to nonmembers of their frequent flier programs or even to those without a ticket on one of their planes. Delta, whose newest of several lounges at Hartsfield-Jackson is next door to the Club at ATL, charges $50 to all comers.

Still, most customers at the airline-run clubs pay an annual fee. "For folks who don't travel that frequently, it's a big investment to make," Mr. McGinnis said. He views the unaffiliated sites as "a great idea for someone who doesn't want to make the investment in membership for lounge access."

The autonomous club at Atlanta is administered by Airport Lounge Development, a Texas-based company created in 2006 to run a club at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Four years later, partly inspired by similar lounges in Europe and Asia, where they are far more common, the company looked to grow beyond Texas. It now has clubs at airports in Las Vegas; San Jose, California; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Graham Richards, Airport Lounge Development's director of operations, said the market for independent clubs was ripe. Major airline mergers have curbed the growth of traditional lounges, and airports are seeking new ways to generate revenue. Airports build the clubs and collect rent from the lounge company along with a portion of the fees. …

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