Alaska Airlines is making major changes to lounge access

As airport lounges continue to suffer from overcrowding, Alaska Airlines is restricting access for many premium passengers.

As of early next year, the Seattle-based airline will no longer welcome most first-class flyers into its lounges.

Alaska is introducing a distance-based restriction for passengers booked in first class who wish to use the lounge. As of February 15, 2023, you must be booked first class on a flight longer than 2,100 miles to qualify for free lounge access, an update from Alaska’s website first reported by One Mile at a Time .

The 2,100-mile restriction excludes much of Alaska’s network, but does include coast-to-coast, Hawaii, and most international routes, as you can see in the map below.

Alaska itineraries longer than 2100 miles for February 2023. COURTESY CIRIUM

Lounge access is only granted on the day of the flight to all lounges in that day’s itinerary, including connecting flights of less than 2100 miles. You are not allowed to bring guests or family members unless their ticket also qualifies them for access to the lounge.

If you don’t meet these updated guidelines, you can purchase a discounted day pass for $30, depending on space availability.

Only first class tickets purchased with cash or miles are eligible for lounge access. Premium upgrades — free, paid or with miles — do not include access.

COURTESY ALASKA AIRLINES

Please note that this change does not apply to Club 49 members, the airline’s free program for Alaska residents. They will still have lounge access when traveling on a first class ticket to, through or from Alaska, regardless of flight distance.

Alaska gives flyers approximately three months’ notice before this change is implemented. All bookings made through November 17, 2022 will be subject to the old policy, regardless of the flight date.

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In addition to the stricter access restrictions, Alaska is also increasing the cost of an annual lounge membership. Beginning January 1, 2023, Alaska Lounge memberships will go from $450 to $500 and the Lounge+ membership will go from $600 to $650. Mileage Plan elites will continue to receive a $100 discount on both membership options.

Alaska shared that it is making these changes to combat lounge overcrowding, as you can see in the statement below.

Our lounges have become so popular at certain times of the day that we are amending our Free First Class access policy to allow for a little more leeway. We know change can be difficult, but we need to adapt the way we serve our lounges to ensure our guests have the best experience possible during their visit.

Even with this change, our First Class entry policy remains the most generous in the industry for domestic travel. Most airlines do not allow lounge access when traveling on a domestic First Class route, except for certain markets.

It seems logical for Alaska to make these changes. With more premium travelers than ever vying for a steady resource – space in a lounge – the result is an overcrowded lounge.

Even if you can find a seat in the lounge, these spaces aren’t nearly as relaxing as they used to be. Buffets are not replenished fast enough to meet demand, nor are airlines able to quickly expand their lounge area. You can’t just create more space at airports, and even if you could, expanding existing lounges would take months, if not years.

It’s probably the same reason Alaska cut ties with Priority Pass for all of its lounges except the one in New York.

COURTESY ALASKA AIRLINES

That said, some loyal Alaska flyers are likely to get frustrated. Alaska has always been unique among U.S. airlines to offer lounge access to first-class passengers, and this point of differentiation won’t be as exciting as it once was.

Alaska operates nine lounges across the country, mostly in its hubs and key focus cities, including:

While the airline is making changes to its access policy, Alaska continues to invest in expanding and modernizing its network. Next week, the airline’s expanded C Concourse lounge in Seattle will open with an additional 3,000 square feet of space for an additional 60 guests.

The D Concourse lounge in Seattle will be under renovation starting January 7, 2023 and will reopen for next summer’s travel season.

Finally, Alaska invested $1.5 million this year in Portland lounge upgrades. The carrier added a 1,000-square-foot enclosed patio to the current lounge and also introduced a new “Express Lounge” concept in Concourse B to give flyers more room to spread out.

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