On a recent trip to Las Vegas, TPG Points and Miles editor Peter Rothbart visited the American Express Centurion Lounge at McCarran Airport (LAS). Here’s what he found.
For several years American Express has operated Centurion Clubs and Platinum Lounges in various airports abroad, including Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Mumbai and elsewhere. Their recent (and welcome) expansion into the U.S. so far includes lounges in Las Vegas and Dallas (DFW), with more to come (reportedly later this year) in San Francisco, New York (LaGuardia), and Miami. While I’ve heard others sing high praises of the Amex lounges, I hadn’t had an opportunity to visit one myself until my most recent Vegas jaunt brought me to the Centurion Lounge at McCarran Airport.
I’ll spare you the suspense: this lounge was remarkably comfortable, relaxing, and refreshing. I’m typically unmoved by airport lounges, but I would go out of my way to come back to this one. Read on to find out why.
Location and Admission
The Las Vegas Amex Centurion Lounge is located in the relatively sedate D concourse of Terminal 1, which is accessible only by tram. While this makes the lounge less convenient to those who are flying out of another concourse (or the international gates in Terminal 3), it augments the oasis-like vibe, as foot traffic and noise are sparse even outside the lounge. Just across from gate D-1 you’ll find the wide, blue double doors leading into the foyer.
Upon arrival (daily between 5 am and midnight), the receptionist will ask to see your valid American Express card, ID, and a boarding pass for same-day travel. The representative I spoke to was iffy on what qualified as “same-day travel”, but it seemed like any itinerary that put you through McCarran within close proximity of your lounge visit was a safe bet (e.g., if you got to the lounge at 5 pm and weren’t flying out until 1 am the following morning, I doubt they would deny you admission).
Admission is free for Amex Centurion and Platinum cardholders, as well as their immediate families (spouse or domestic partner and children under 18) OR up to two companions. (This is pertinent since those cardholders recently lost access to other airline lounges.) Amex also sometimes sends out promotional mailings or emails offering complimentary access. Other Amex cardholders (including those who have American Express cards issued by other banks), can get a one-day lounge pass for $50, which also grants admission to children under 18. This price is pretty level with that of most airline lounges, but as you’ll see, I think the Amex lounge offers much more bang for your buck.
Accommodations and Ambience
The lounge comprises a quarter circle wedged into two outstretched arms of the D concourse, with a cafeteria and bar at its center, and a long, arcing corridor dashed with ample but well-spaced seating tracing the outer rim. Shaded windows run floor to ceiling along the wall, providing tarmac and mountain views to the north and east, and letting in just the right amount of natural light.
Whoever designed the lounge did an impressive job balancing capacity with privacy. Unlike the shoulder to shoulder rows of seating you’ll find in most airport lounges, the Amex Centurion Lounge features dozens of petite nooks and enclaves suitable for up to 8 people and furnished for a variety of purposes (such as meeting, napping, eating and working).
High-definition flat-screen TVs are placed inconspicuously along the walls at regular intervals. Unlike the TVs in most airport terminals, which typically blare CNN at concussive volumes, the sound was set at a reasonable, conversational level. The NBA finals were on during my visit and a lot of other patrons were watching, but when the game turned lopsided and I lost interest, it was easy to ignore. The walls are also discretely hung with panels relaying flight information for upcoming departures, including gate changes and delays. While that information is readily available online, the extra convenience remains a nice touch.
The aft section of the lounge is the most private. Apart from two public computer workstations and a printer, there are several even more secluded nooks, a large work table, and three luxurious chaise lounges that will make the sleep-deprived traveler tearful in appreciation. This area is also television free, providing refuge to those who want to escape the sound altogether.
Overall the lounge was very comfortable. My one complaint was that the thermostat seemed to have been dialed down too far. While the temperature hadn’t quite reached the meat locker chill of a mid-summer movie theater, it was low enough that some guests were pulling out long-sleeve shirts or jackets (which not many people bring to Vegas in June), and I even saw one couple napping under a blanket to stay warm. Otherwise the surroundings were exceptionally pleasant, and my time there felt like hanging out in a giant living room.
Food and Drinks
The lounge’s creamy center is where you’ll find its complimentary buffet (with separate breakfast and lunch/dinner menus) and full service bar, along with tables for dining and carousing. This section is less private (and somewhat more chatty) than the rest, but remains fairly tranquil.
After staking my claim to a cushy armchair, I ditched my bags and sought out a drink. Stationed at one end of the dining area, the bar is like a fulcrum around which the rest of the lounge pivots. The counter itself is an immaculate marble slab. A selection of quality liquors sits on warm-toned wooden shelves, decorated with an acceptably tacky assortment of luggage and other travel paraphernalia.
The Centurion Lounge has its own signature cocktail menu drafted by resident mixologist Jim Meehan, and a selection of wines from house wine director Anthony Giglio. The bar also offers beer and soda, and tea, coffee and juice are available near the buffet. Since I like drinks on the sweet side, at the bartender’s suggestion I tried the Gold Rush, a mix of Bulleit bourbon, lemon, and honey syrup. With no other guests in line, I had my drink in roughly a minute. Later on (for the sake of, you know, journalistic thoroughness) I also tried the Airmail, a hand-shaken daiquiri with honey and sparkling wine. Both drinks were well crafted.
Food is served buffet style from a fixed menu. Breakfast (served from 6-11 am) includes pancakes, eggs and potatoes, along with yogurt, cereals, breads and fresh fruit. I arrived in the evening and didn’t have a chance to sample the early menu, but the lunch/dinner meal (served from 11:30 am-10 pm) was in full swing.
The main dishes included a vegan cauliflower soup, cavatelli with escarole mushrooms and roasted garlic, and lamb and beef burek with Sicilian spices and lemon yogurt sauce. I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to food (so take the opinion of my undiscerning palate with a healthy dose of skepticism), but I thought everything tasted great (with the one exception that the first piece of burek I chose was dry and chewy from baking too long). There was also a spread of comparatively mundane but very fresh ham and Swiss sandwiches.
The other end of the buffet offered an array of salads, greens, olives and cut vegetables. I glanced over the farro and lentil salad, and instead went for the kale and escarole bacon salad with parmigiano Caesar dressing and hard-boiled eggs. This dish had no subtlety, and detecting any other flavor through the apocalyptic flood of dressing was like trying to catch a Frisbee in a blizzard at night. While I view not wasting bacon as close to a moral imperative, I was content to put it aside and save room for my favorite course …
The sweets did not disappoint. Apart from two varieties of chocolate chip cookies (one chewy and one crispy) and a perfectly baked brownie with a light dusting of powdered sugar, the real star of the show was a smoked chocolate budino with cinnamon ash and sea salt. This was a dessert I would happily have paid good money for in a ritzy restaurant. Fortunately I didn’t have to, because I had three servings.
While I didn’t try every last dish, and despite the disappointing kale salad, the food service overall was excellent. It surpassed anything I’ve had at airport lounges elsewhere, and was probably better than most (if not all) of the restaurant options available in the terminal. My only other criticism is that I wish there were some form of takeout box available for travelers with a short visitation window. The house rules forbid guests bringing food in or taking food out of the lounge, which seems unnecessarily restrictive to me.
The Centurion Lounge offers the usual amenities one would expect from an airport club. Free Hi-speed Wifi is advertised, but it seemed more like low-speed – it was adequate for email and web browsing, but neither Netflix nor YouTube could load fast enough to be watchable. There was an abundance of electrical outlets in reach of nearly every seat in the house, so charging phones and powering computers wasn’t an issue.
The aforementioned computing stations and printer are an afterthought until you need them, and then they’re life savers. The lounge also offers the Las Vegas Times, Wall Street Journal, and a variety of magazines.
There’s a separate family room that’s thoughtfully located near the front desk and cafeteria, away from the rest of the lounge. The fully enclosed space offers a few books and toys along with movies and video games, and has one glass wall so parents can keep an eye on their kids from outside. Children are welcome anywhere in the lounge, but it’s nice to have a space where they (or you) can let loose.
The lounge bathrooms are clean and well maintained, if a little small. The stalls are fully enclosed with wood-paneled doors. There’s an automatic shoe buffer next to the sink, and a forced air hand dryer that is quieter than most.
Finally, the Centurion Lounge offers both a shower suite and private meeting room that are available on a first-come, first-served basis (with a one hour limit if others are waiting). Any guest can use either room at no extra cost so long as it isn’t already in use. The meeting room is unassuming, with a work table and chairs, a phone, and a screen for video conferencing. The shower suite is a well-kept, oversized bathroom with space for luggage and a large waterfall shower. I didn’t have time or cause to make use of either of these amenities, but I can imagine how grateful I’d be to have them if needed.
While the Las Vegas Centurion Lounge wasn’t perfect down to the last detail, it offered much more than just an alternative to the airport terminal. Good food, free drinks, and a thoroughly relaxing atmosphere make this lounge one that I’ll be sure to visit again. I look forward to seeing how the menu varies in the future, and to snagging one of those chaise lounges if I’m ever there on a long layover. Hopefully Amex will continue to return value to the Platinum cards by opening more of these lounges across the country.
Please share your experiences at this or any of the Amex airport lounges in the comments below!
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