I’ve always found this is a hallmark of, I cannot go so far as to use the word “scam” or “ripoff”, but maybe “unbalanced value deal”. It is a part of natural capitalism that when you pay something you get something in return. Paying in return for being promoted to a position where I am allowed to start really paying just does not do it for me.
A really good example is (or was, maybe it’s changed) is the USA “activation fee” for SIM cards. I once went into a US mobile phone shop and said how much for a local SIM. They told me the various “plans” which they had available but then said there was a USD60 “activation fee”. I asked what I got for my 60 and they gave me a funny look and pretended not to understand. I didn’t really want the SIM anyway so said thanks and left, but guess what they followed me to the door saying maybe they could do a deal on the the activation fee.
Gyms are the same - “Joining Fees” exist purely so they can be reduced or eliminated to give the impression of a special offer.
Anyway back on topic - too lazy to look but I am fairly sure there must be credit cards with lounge access that works out at cheaper cost than 55/yr. Diners Club used to do fee-free one which had lounge access at flat fee per visit but they now seem to have left the consumer market altogether to focus on business cards only. Also www.loungebuddy.com if you just want pay-as-you-go lounge access.
I would certainly be interested in lounge access although you could not realistically expect it to be free.