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This Scam Reveals Why First-Class Tickets Don't Come With Lounge Access


Here’s one reason a first-class airline ticket won’t automatically get you into the swank airport lounge. A man of infinite gall feasted for free 35 times in a year at Lufthansa’s (LHA:GR) Munich airport lounge without actually taking a flight, exploiting the change rules on a business-class ticket he had bought.

A German court ordered the man to repay Lufthansa €1,980 ($2,710), or about €55 for each time he visited the lounge. The man had bought a single ticket for about €744 and changed the date of travel repeatedly, exploiting the flexibility offered by that fare class. The airline canceled the ticket after more than a year and refunded the money. “Lufthansa pursued a prosecution only after the man bought the second ticket with the intention of resuming his foraging raids,” Bloomberg News reporter Richard Weiss wrote on Wednesday.

The Big Three U.S. global airlines avoid such malfeasance by separating club access from tickets on domestic flights. Save for a handful of flights among New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco, Delta (DAL), American (AAL), and United (UAL) don’t let domestic business and first-class passengers into their airport lounges. The airport clubs represent a revenue opportunity, with fees as high as $500 per year for an individual member and generally $50 for a one-day pass.

At Delta’s annual meeting last week, one shareholder from Seattle quizzed Delta Chief Executive Richard Anderson on the club-access policy, suggesting it was time that domestic first-class ticket buyers got into Delta’s Sky Clubs. Anderson chuckled and ducked the question: “I take orders from Glen,” he said, referring to Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s chief revenue officer.

Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.

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