Air New Zealand plans to restrict access into premium lounges are a short-term solution and the airline needs to look at more ways of catering for business travellers, say agents.
Air New Zealand will cut the number of guests that Elite flyers can take into lounges, although it has increased the age of children allowed to accompany them.
From August 1, the number of guests top-tier Elite members can get into a lounge will fall from five to three in a bid to cut overcrowding.
The airline is already raising what some credit card holders must earn for free entry passes as part of a package of measures aimed at ensuring its most high-value customers get a better deal.
''Members have told us that improving the lounge experience, and making it an even more comfortable space, is a priority. In response to this, we're limiting the number of lounge eVouchers credit card holders can earn,'' regional general manager of loyalty and customer direct, Jeremy O'Brien, said in an email to a top-status member.
The airline is also raising the age at which children can join members in lounges, from 11 to 17 years. This is available if they are travelling with an Airpoints Elite, Gold, Elite Partner or Koru member, subject to space availability.
Infants up to two years ''are always welcome''.
Elite members appear to be the only ones whose guest allowance is falling. A Koru member was told that membership privileges would not be changing, besides the admission of teens to the lounge.
The airline is also sweetening the offer for Elite customers with a ''frequent flyer status boost'' which will see them earn an additional 30 bonus status points for every 10 eligible journeys on Air New Zealand.
The airline is also making it easier for new parents who have to put off travelling.
''We understand that when you become a new parent, your circumstances may change and you might travel less. Elite members will now be able to apply to put their membership on hold for 12 months and take some time out while maintaining their current tier status.''
House of Travel's commercial director Brent Thomas said the steps had to be taken.
''They had to do something. This is a short-term solution and the longer-term solution is to build right-size lounges - that's something they need to address with the airports.''
The airline and Auckland Airport - where lounge congestion can be worst - are in talks about more space being allocated for international and domestic facilities.
''They are going to have to keep addressing those issues and plan ahead instead of building it for the capacity they have today. It's one of those situations where people need to invest well ahead of the curve,'' said Thomas.
Executive general manager of Helloworld, Simon McKearney, said the overcrowding problem due to popularity was better than a problem created by lack of demand.
''One element that they have not addressed is segmentation for the higher-use traveller, and this is predominately business travellers.''
McKearney said there needs to be bigger separate areas or lounges specifically for business people to work before they catch their flights.
While the new measures will be welcomed by the airline's Elite clients, some who have had a taste of lounge comfort through credit card points face a let down.
Last week more problems emerged at its Auckland international lounge when ''exceptionally heavy demand'' meant some passengers were diverted away from its lounge into the airport company's Strata Lounge.
While many passengers don't mind the switch, others say they have paid for Koru privileges and want to use them.
Peak travel times in the morning are the worst for overcrowding in the lounges.
Angry passengers have complained that the airline's lounges can at times resemble crowded food courts in shopping malls, packed with screaming children.
The airline and airport are still working with each other to find more space for the long-awaited expansion of Air New Zealand lounges but have no details on when this could happen.
ANZ has already warned it will make it harder for some of its customers to get free passes to Air New Zealand lounges.
From July 10, Platinum Visa card holders will have to spend $30,000 on their card for two single entry passes, up from $20,000 now.
''Sometimes changes in costs, external partnerships and market conditions means we have to make changes to our products. We are making this change due to new requirements from our partner, Air New Zealand,'' an ANZ spokeswoman said.
KiwiBank will follow suit with its Platinum Visas from August 1, putting up the spending for two entries to $30,000 and capping the number of passes to four a year.
Overcrowding has been exacerbated by growing numbers of Air New Zealand's 17 million passengers a year rising through the ranks of its Airpoints scheme which rewards
frequent flyers at certain levels with lounge access.
You can buy Koru membership for $629 a year (plus a $255 joining fee) and some credit cards offer discounts on this.
Business cabin passengers on Air New Zealand and its partner airlines, including Singapore Airlines, United and Cathay Pacific, also have access to its international lounge and the number of those travelling at the front of the plane has increased.
This includes growing numbers of leisure travellers and families, increasing pressure on international lounges which have on tap substantial food, a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, TV lounges and showers.
Flight Centre product general manager Victoria Courtney said the lounges had proved too popular and once passengers had a taste of them they didn't want to give them up.
She had heard of customers taking a quick turnaround flight to Sydney just to keep up their status.