AA lounge-access restrictions

By Frank L. Schneider
This item appears on page 24 of the August 2016 issue.

My wife and I take frequent trips to foreign locations. We regularly travel business class because the additional room and services we receive are worth the extra cost. We also value the fact that, when taking an international flight in business class, we can use the business-class lounge before departure.  

It was therefore a considerable surprise to learn, when we checked in at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for a flight to Fiji via Los Angeles in January 2016, that we would not be allowed to use the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge there. 

On the initial leg of our flight, from Chicago to Los Angeles on American, we were in first class, and on the second leg, on Fiji Airways, we were in business class. 

We learned many years ago that, even if you have a first- or business-class ticket, you’re not allowed admission to the Admirals Club if all you’re taking is a domestic flight.*** But we have previously traveled in business class on international flights on other airlines connecting from American Airlines (AA) flights, and we routinely used the AA business-class lounge.

In this case, the Admirals Club lounge receptionist said that we were being denied access because our route was similar to going to the Caribbean* (even though Fiji is thousands of miles farther away). 

She added that, even though our ticket had us continuing on an international flight with AA flight numbers, the actual international carrier was Fiji Airways, which is “only” a code-share airline. I was given to understand that there are gradations in airline-partnership status, with passengers on code-share airlines not being given the same lounge privileges as AA passengers.**

We subsequently checked with one of American’s reservations agents, and it was confirmed that we could not use the business-class lounge in Chicago prior to the flight we were taking.

When we got to Los Angeles, Fiji Airways allowed us to use their business-class lounge with no hassle.

We are very disappointed that American Airlines chose to bar us from using a perk which we feel is valuable and which is one of the reasons we choose to fly business class.


Chicago, IL

ITN emailed a copy of Mr. Schneider’s letter to American Airlines (4255 Amon Carter Blvd., MD 2400, Forth Worth, TX 76155) and was sent a link to their “Club and lounge access” webpage: www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/airportAmenities/lounge-access.jsp.

*American Airlines’ policy states that, even for business- or first-class ticket holders, “Lounge access is not available if you’re traveling on American Airlines solely within the United States or between the United States and the Caribbean, Canada, or Mexico (except Mexico City).”

However, when the receptionist told Mr. Schneider that he and his wife did not qualify to use the lounge because their destination was “similar to going to the Caribbean,” she was incorrect, as, in this case, the destination happened to be irrelevant. (See next note.)

**AA’s lounge-access policy also states, “Your access is determined by showing your boarding pass departing on an international flight marketed and operated by a oneworld carrier that is five hours or longer, or connecting to one on the same day or before 6 a.m. the following day.”

Consequently, the reason Mr. Schneider and his wife were not allowed to use the Admirals Club lounge in Chicago prior to the first leg of their international flight was because Fiji Airways is not a member of the oneworld alliance of airlines.

***Travelers who are members of the American Airlines Admirals Club have lounge access regardless of ticket class or destination. A year’s membership to the club costs $400-$500 for an individual, based on AAdvantage status. (Enrollment in the AAdvantage® program is a prerequisite; visit www.aa.com/aadvantage.) A traveler ticketed with any airline can also purchase a 30-day ($99) or one-day ($50) Admirals Club Pass on site. He’ll need a same-day ticket to get through security, and at the lounge entrance he will present his pass.