Is American Express Taking Aim at Kids With Latest Changes?

While this isn't strictly Disney-related, we're mindful that people most often interested in Disney travel are family travelers. A huge part of family travel is trying to create a smooth airport experience for your children. I remember going to the United lounges as a kid, and I'm sure my parents had a much easier time keeping me corralled there than they did in the open airport. And I was an only child!

American Express has dominated the travel blogosphere recently because of ongoing changes to their Platinum and Business Platinum cards. We're not Platinum cardholders, but we've considered it. The recent changes, however, have been a bit disappointing. Most notably, the annual fee for the personal card went up $100, seemingly offset by a bizarre $200 annual Uber credit that is actually $15 monthly credit except in December when it is $35 (???).

Now, American Express is allegedly responding to crowding issues in its Centurion lounges by imposing tighter restrictions on how many guests you can bring in. I'll say right off the bat that the Centurion lounges are the single thing that appeals to me most about the Platinum cards. And I definitely understand that crowded lounges are really frustrating. All of that said, American Express's changes seem targeted at family travelers.

Are Kids Really Filling Up The Lounges??

Credit: USDA

Credit: USDA

Prior to the change, which takes effect at the end of March, American Express allowed you to bring your immediate family or up to two guests. For families, this meant your immediate family, regardless of size, would be able to access the lounge. Now, American Express will allow you up to two guests, and that two includes immediately family. So a family of four now needs to pay $50 to bring in the second child. Tip of the hat to Gary Leff at View from the Wing for this analysis. If you travel twice a year with your family of four, the recent changes to the American Express Platinum Card are costing you an additional $200 per year! That means you need all of the Uber credit to offset the changes.

What strikes me is that Gary (a much more frequent flyer than us) suggests limiting people to 20 visits a year as his preferred solution to the crowding. Given that incredibly few families are flying more than 20 times a year through Centurion hubs, there's a clear disconnect between these two solutions. A consumer's proposed solution is aimed at the most frequent of flyers (e.g. single business travelers). The company's proposed solution addresses this exactly not at all.

The cynic in me thinks American Express is targeting families because many American Express cardholders just don't like kids in their lounges. Some people find kids to be annoying. It is entirely reasonable to think that American Express has gotten lots of feedback in that direction. Yes, the Centurion lounges have kids' rooms, but that doesn't mean those who pass through them are generally kid-friendly people.

Kids are people, too

I'm reminded at this moment of a recent post by Angelina Aucello about parents apologizing for traveling with their children. We don't have kids. We wisecrack about kids all the time. Despite being Disney travelers, and despite our frequent use of the hashtag "#familytravel," we often prefer some adult-only space. But Angelina is completely right:

As a mom of two, I always encourage people to travel with their children, and I don’t feel sorry for bringing them out in public — you know, into the real world — and that includes flying. Because newsflash: babies and children are pivotal to society. And it’s time for everyone to get over it and accept that children share the planet with us, too.

This doesn't mean that American Express couldn't or shouldn't move toward a less family-friendly atmosphere. Adult-only spaces are part of the balance. Even Disney Cruise Line has adult-only spaces. What's frustrating about this is that while I suspect it is about kids, American Express is selling it as crowd control.

If I'm right, and maybe I'm wrong, American Express is probably afraid of exactly the sort of backlash I'm giving them right now. And that's a bummer. It's a bummer because it costs us transparency, and it necessitates we spend time and energy dissecting the details of an alleged "crowd control" solution. At the heart of it, this is what American Express is really messing up lately. Their perks and changes are looking, as one twitter user recently put it, more and more like the tax code, and that's no good for anyone.