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HOW DO I GET IN THE SMART-GUY CLUB?
By Joe Brancatelli
July 5, 2012 -- I like to think I'm a reasonably smart guy, but the only time I can be sure of that supposition is when I'm ensconced in an airport club.

My theory is that avoiding the madding crowds at airports by having a club to duck into is the smartest thing I can do. I mean, what's the downside? I'm relaxed, comfortable and productive before or between flights or during a trip disruption while the rest of the flyers are in varying states of chaos. Anywhere in the world, at airports great and small, the scorecard always reads something like Me: Smart. Everyone Else: Not so much.

So you can imagine my delight when Chase Bank and Visa last week announced the VIP Lounge in the heart of London during the upcoming Summer Olympics. Located at 116 Pall Mall, the lounge will be open from July 26 through August 12 from 10 a.m. to midnight. All you have to do to gain entry is flash a Chase Visa card. And when you consider that Chase issues Visa cards tied to a clutch of hotels and airlines--including United, Marriott, Hyatt, InterContinental, Southwest and British Airways--the VIP Lounge will surely be the smarter-than-the-madding-crowd hangout for frequent travelers.

"It's going to be even better than an airline club," says David Gold, general manager of Chase Card Services. "How many airline clubs have food by Morimoto, visiting Olympic athletes and all sorts of by-reservation-only special experiences? The food selection and the ambiance really will make it feel more like a private club."

Gold knows airport clubs, by the way. When he's not riding herd on brilliant ideas like this pop-up city club, he rides herd on Chase's massively profitable United Airlines credit card portfolio. He's on the road all of the time. In fact, I had to catch up with him via telephone in Bordeaux, France, to get some of the juiciest details on the VIP Lounge.

The club will offer all Chase cardholders complimentary continental breakfast and lunch, tea, snacks and beverages throughout the day. Located on the lower level of the Institute of Directors building, the lounge will have a sophisticated bar area. There'll be plenty of televisions around--all tuned to Olympic coverage, I presume. There'll also be computer access and free WiFi, no inconsiderable perk when you consider the insanely high price of Internet access at London hotels.

"I have no idea" how many Chase cardholders will visit during the Games, Gold admits, "but our goal is to have people there." He's also quite confident that the VIP Lounge will be hopping because of the popularity of the pop-up lounges that Chase has operated during the Christmas holidays at the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey and the Galleria Mall in Houston.

And he says "several thousand customers" have already confirmed their attendance at the "culinary experience" that Chef Morimoto himself will host each evening during the lounge's run. "You'll get everything you'd get at one of his restaurants," Gold says proudly.

Of course, members-only clubs and lounges were a staple of London life when the British capital was the seat of the British Empire. Some are still around. But club life isn't what it was--in London or in any major city--and business travelers are often in need of a cool place to hang during the work day.

Regus, the short-term office-rental chain, claims to have Business Lounges in hundreds of cities around the world. But I've never thought Regus was serious when it came to courting business travelers. The payment plans, terminology, perks, prices and membership levels and schemes change so frequently that most road warriors I know gave up on Regus years ago.

A start-up firm called Dayuse Hotels has forged agreements with hundreds of properties in Europe to rent lodgings for business-day use. It recently premiered in New York, offering day-use prices at more than a dozen Manhattan properties. But rates are way too high and the company now sells itself more to "romantic lovers" than business travelers. We road warriors are big spenders, but folks looking for discreet nooners probably are a more profitable market.

So even if it's just for 18 days during a worldwide sporting event, I think Gold, Chase and Visa are on to something here. They may not have plans to roll out in-city lounges on a permanent basis, but they should think about it.

After all, Gold says the goal of the VIP Lounge in London is about "want[ing] people to know that Chase cards are about more than spending and earning points."

I know I'd take any credit card that came with access to a network of in-city clubs that offered a place to perch for a few minutes or a few hours and check E-mail, catch up on work between meetings and have a beverage in a relaxing atmosphere.

Besides, then I'd also have one other place where I'm a provably smart guy. Can't put a price tag on that...

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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.