Capital One Lounges
Like many of you, I’m enjoying the airport lounge arms race. Whether from an airline, bank, or other lounge operator, it’s seems there’s always something new, and more around the corner. Active points and travel hobbyists are often faced with which lounge to visit, or maybe they’ll shove a ton into one pass through an airport. But with more lounges, there’s more of that shiny veneer to wear off. What’s impressive one year, month, or week can drastically degrade the next. I fear Capital One Lounges are headed that way. Based on my recent experience, the limitations of Capital One Lounges are harder to ignore.
A Second Visit to Dulles
Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) is probably my least favorite big airport in the States, and I’ve purposely avoided it for years – until recently. I ended up back there a second time in a matter of weeks due to some flight changes. I decided to make a second visit to the Capital One Lounge within a few weeks after my first visit, which was soon after the grand opening.
As with my first visit, the perky front desk attendant immediately granted me access. But the similarities pretty much ended there. I made a couple deliberate laps around the lounge, hoping to find a seat – anywhere. No dice. Finding a place to deposit myself while waiting was even a challenge. About 15 minutes in, I finally found a table on the lounge’s western side. The crowd size was remarkable, worse than anything I’ve ever experienced at a Centurion lounge. I felt like I was in the way everywhere. But one area was the worst.
Shocker, it was the bar area. The line for drinks snaked through the bar and surrounding seating area and onto the main walkway around the lounge. The line for alcohol rivaled ones I haven’t seen since college. I wasn’t drinking on this short visit, anyway, but the chaos carrying over to other areas of the lounge was off putting, nonetheless. Regardless, I was happy not to sit in the bar area with line waiters’ rear ends in my face. The restroom lines were backed up. I could go on, but I think you get it. After about 45 minutes in the lounge, I sighed in relief after leaving.
Wide Open Doors
I usually think of those three words above positively. But when they apply to a lounge, said club just becomes an extension of a miserable airport terminal. In my opinion, the access policy for Capital One Lounges is out of control. Let’s review it again.
Primary cardholders of the Capital One Venture X or Venture X Business have unlimited access to the lounge, plus complimentary entry for two guests and the ability to pay $45 each for additional ones. Venture X authorized users also have complimentary access. Venture and Spark Miles cardholders get two free visits annually and pay $45 per additional visit. If this isn’t enough, any random traveler can buy into the lounge for $65 per visit. Children two and under are free with a parent or guardian.
That’s quite a wide swath of Capital One customers and hangers-on, plus anyone willing to blow a few bucks. Skeptically, it seems the $65 is the cost of admission to what some may view as an all you can drink and eat buffet. But hey, that’s a better deal for certain travelers than what they would receive at airport terminal restaurants and bars. So that serpentine line I saw stretching to the bar in the sardine can of a lounge wasn’t surprising at all.
Currently, three total Capital One Lounges are open for business: one each at DFW, IAD, and most recently DEN. None of the lounges are tiny, but they’re all relatively small compared to their competition, notably many Centurion lounges and domestic airline lounges at hubs. The IAD lounge size comes in at approximately 8.5k square feet, smaller than the around-10k and 11.2k square feet DFW and DEN lounges, respectively. Marry these size limitations up with allowing pretty much anyone in can easily lead to an unpleasant, crowded mix.
I use that second word loosely, as three lounges isn’t much of one. Beyond the three existing Capital One Lounges, the bank has officially promised one other future lounge at this point, in LAS. Regardless, it’s no surprise Capital One doesn’t exactly tout their lounge footprint in all those Taylor Swift-fueled commercials.
Naturally, Capital One tries to Band-aid this by advertising cardholders’ access to partner lounges with Priority Pass and Plaza Premium. Nice try – many of us have access to those lounges already thanks to benefits from other cards.
In my view, Capital One wants the prestige of offering a network of exclusive lounges, but it rings hollow. From what I see, it’s a few quickly-crowded lounges which no clever menu or drink name can make up for. I feel many cardholders will catch on, if they haven’t already. I’ve been through the DFW location a couple times and enjoyed those visits, but I’ve heard of long lines for access and crowding issues since. Trekking back to the IAD property isn’t high on my list after my last visit. I must say I’m intrigued to see how the DEN location ages by the time I make it there.
I know some of the issues I’m mentioning aren’t unique to Capital One. And I’d love Capital One to prove me wrong in the future. Tighten up that access policy, raise the annual fees on the Venture X cards, and steadily build out the network with a few bigger lounges. I look forward to seeing how Capital One Lounges evolve, hopefully for the better.
Have you visited any of the Capital One Lounges lately? How was your experience?
Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.