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Top 10 Airport Lounges in the U.S. & How to Gain Access

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Airline travel isn’t exactly the most glamorous way to get from Point A to Point B, but there are aspects of it that can help you feel like a true high roller. One of my personal favorites is lounge access. Having an oasis from the chaos of the terminal or the infestation of gate lice can be priceless, but sometimes, lounges don’t live up to the hype. Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at those that do as we run down the best airport lounges in the U.S. (in no particular order).

American Express Centurion Lounges

Even though cardholders of the The Platinum Card from American Express lost out on Admirals Club access earlier this year, part of that pain has been eased by the opening of several Centurion Lounges across the country. These destinations have clearly raised the bar of what a domestic lounge can (and should) be, and as a result, all four (a fifth is scheduled to open in Miami in 2015) earn spots on this list. While each provides similar amenities, like free Wi-Fi, complimentary food and drinks, computer/tablet workstations and shower suites, each one also has unique features, including food menus created by renowned local chefs, cocktails crafted by top mixologist Jim Meehan and wine lists curated by expert Anthony Giglio.

Our winner's vision sounds a little like the style-conscious Amex Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas McCarran.
The uniquely appointed bar at the Las Vegas Centurion Lounge.

Centurion Lounge: Las Vegas (LAS)
The first Centurion Lounge opened in February 2013, in Concourse D of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, and TPG Points & Miles Editor Peter Rothbart reviewed the lounge back in June. With a variety of seating options including recessed, cushioned benches, computer work stations, and three comfortable chaise lounges, you can be productive or simply relax the time away before your flight. The food options by chef Scott Conant are varied and plentiful, and served buffet-style with breakfast from 6:30 – 11:30 a.m. and lunch/dinner from 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Peter also gave high marks to the bar area and its kitschy travel decor. Given the fact that all these items are complimentary, a visit to the lounge is a great way to fill up or freshen up before your flight out.
How to get in: Access to all Centurion Lounges is complimentary if you have an American Express Centurion Card or Platinum Card (either personal or business version, The Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN). This includes up to two guests or your immediate family. If you hold a regular American Express card, you can purchase a one-day pass for $50, though these are only available at the club on the day of travel. The day pass includes children under 18; other guests must purchase their own passes.

Killing time is a joy at the Dallas Centurion lounge.. enoying a micro brew after my spa treatment on my last visit in December
Killing time is a joy at the Dallas Centurion lounge. TPG enoying a micro brew after his spa treatment last December

Centurion Lounge: Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
The second Centurion Lounge opened at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on October 15, 2013. Located in Terminal D across from Gate D17 (accessible from any terminal through the airport’s convenient Skylink train), the lounge includes many of the same amenities as its Las Vegas brethren, though with a Texas twist. Executive Chef Dean Fearing designed a Southwestern-themed menu with separate options for breakfast (6:30-11:00 a.m.) and lunch/dinner (11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.). The drink menu also includes a Southwestern flair, with options like the jalapeno cornbread-inspired Tex/Mex cocktail. Like the Las Vegas location, you can choose from a variety of seating options in which to enjoy your food & beverages. However, what really sets this lounge apart is the Exhale Spa. Any and all guests can schedule a complimentary 15-minute spa treatment (subject to availability), including massages, facials or manicures. Talk about a perfect way to relax before hopping on a flight!
How to get in: Access to all Centurion Lounges is complimentary if you have an American Express Centurion Card or Platinum Card (either personal or business). This includes up to two guests or your immediate family. If you hold a regular American Express card, you can purchase a one-day pass for $50, though these are only available at the club on the day of travel. The day pass includes children under 18; other guests must purchase their own passes.

Bar area at the Centurion Lounge LaGuardia
Bar area at the Centurion Lounge LaGuardia

Centurion Lounge: New York (LGA)
The third Centurion Lounge opened its doors in LaGuardia’s Terminal B on August 12th, and TPG got an early preview a week earlier. Though smaller than the Las Vegas and Dallas locations, the lounge still offers a varied decor to go along with the complimentary food and drink items. The menus here are the brainchild of Chef Cedric Vongerichten and include items such as crispy french toast with caramelized apples and udon noodles with green chili. The drink list includes Manhattan-themed cocktails (such as the Big Apple with Bison Grass Vodka, Hard Apple Cider, Yellow Chartreuse, and celery bitters), as well as local New York State wines that rotate regularly. The one drawback of this lounge is its pre-security location. However, this does allow all LaGuardia passengers to access it, as complimentary shuttle buses link all terminals. Just be sure to allow enough time to travel to and clear security in your departing terminal!
How to get in: Access to all Centurion Lounges is complimentary if you have an American Express Centurion Card or Platinum Card (either personal or business). This includes up to two guests or your immediate family. If you hold a regular American Express card, you can purchase a one-day pass for $50, though these are only available at the club on the day of travel. The day pass includes children under 18; other guests must purchase their own passes.

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The automatic wine tasting machines at the brand new Centurion Lounge in San Francisco

Centurion Lounge: San Francisco (SFO)
As of now, this is the newest lounge in the U.S., having just opened last week (TPG got a sneak peek two days prior). Located after security in Terminal 3, the lounge puts a California spin on wining and dining. The food menu, designed by Chef Christopher Kostow, brings Napa Valley to the airport and includes a number of healthy options to boot! Not surprisingly, the drink menu also infuses the flavor of the city, and the wine list consists solely of selections from the Napa Valley. You can try these out in the designating tasting area or use the automatic tasting machines in the lounge (see TPG’s video in his sneak peek). Note that the showers were not yet completed as of last week’s preview, but even without them, the food, drinks, and other amenities make this a top-notch lounge.
How to get in: Access to all Centurion Lounges is complimentary if you have an American Express Centurion Card or Platinum Card (either personal or business). This includes up to two guests or your immediate family. If you hold a regular American Express card, you can purchase a one-day pass for $50, though these are only available at the club on the day of travel. The day pass includes children under 18; other guests must purchase their own passes.

The funky Virgin America Loft at LAX
The funky Virgin America Loft at LAX

Virgin America Loft: Los Angeles (LAX)
As an airline, Virgin America is known as a hip upstart, and their lounge at LAX is no exception. Opened in 2012 in Terminal 3, the lounge includes complimentary light snacks all day and a variety of “Lofty Libations” from a contemporary mood-lit bar. The variety of seating options and decor make you feel like you are in a trendy club, not an airport lounge, though complimentary WiFi and extensive power outlets certainly enable your productivity. Another feature that may appeal to solo or couple travelers? No children under 12 are allowed in the lounge.
How to get in: Travelers on a full fare, long haul first class ticket can access the lounge free of charge; Elevate Silver members receive two free passes a year, while Gold members get three. You can also purchase a day pass; regular travelers are $40, Silver members (and travel companions) are $25, and Gold members (and companions) are $20. Finally, this lounge participates in both the Priority Pass and Lounge Club programs, so if you hold a card, like the Visa Black Card or Citi Prestige, you and your immediate family (or up to two guests) can also access the lounge.

The swanky Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK gives you numerous amenities, including a pool table!
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK gives you numerous amenities, including a pool table!

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse: New York (JFK)
If you value style and substance in an airport lounge, Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse in JFK’s Terminal 4 is right up your alley. Another relatively new location (opened in 2012), the club spans over 10,000-square-feet and gives guests numerous amenities in a contemporary, yet comfortable setting. Free Wi-Fi? Check. Complimentary food cooked-to-order? Check. Unique cocktails and a stylish bar? Check. Pool table? Check! TPG visited this lounge earlier in the year before an Upper Class flight to London-Heathrow, and I think it’s safe to say that his favorite part was the Clubhouse Spa. Guests can indulge in a mini complimentary massage, facial, or salon treatment before a flight (with longer treatments available for a very reasonable up-charge).
How to get in: Access is complimentary for all Virgin Atlantic Upper Class passengers as well as Delta Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallion members with same-day nonstop flights to the U.K. (operated by Virgin Atlantic or Delta). The club can also be accessed by Flying Club Gold members, first or suites class passengers on Singapore Airlines, and first or business class passengers on TAM. Finally, first class, Main Cabin Select, and Elevate Gold passengers on Virgin America can pay $75 per adult and $40 per child (ages 5-12) for entry.

The SkyDeck at JFK's Terminal 4 Sky Club
The SkyDeck at JFK’s Terminal 4 Sky Club

Delta Sky Club (and SkyDeck): New York (JFK)
Joining the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in JFK’s Terminal 4 is Delta’s flagship Sky Club. Now, before you start flaming me for daring to include a Sky Club on this list, I did so not because of the luxurious amenities (though this is the largest Sky Club in the system and was given a complete makeover as part of T4’s renovation). It is here for one reason: the SkyDeck. As a huge aviation geek, I love being able to watch activity on the tarmac, and this unique feature (also available in the Sky Club in Atlanta’s Terminal F) allows you to plane watch while enjoying the amenities of the club, including Wi-Fi and the recently upgraded food selection. TPG visited this lounge last July before his flight to Iceland, and though only “house” drinks are complimentary (with more premium selections available through purchase at the Luxury Bar), this is still a great option for flyers without access to the Clubhouse.
How to get in: All SkyClub members as well as Delta Reserve and American Express Platinum credit cardholders can access this lounge (though guests are now $29 each). It is also available to Delta or SkyTeam international or transcontinental business class passengers, as well as SkyTeam Elite Plus passengers (which include Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallions) traveling in any class. Alaska Board Room members also have access (though guests are $29). Finally, you can purchase a day pass for $50 (or $25 for non-reserve Delta credit cardholders).

The "fire" pit in the new oneworld Business Lounge at LAX
The “fire” pit in the new oneworld Business Lounge at LAX

oneworld Lounge: Los Angeles (LAX)
If you’re flying on a oneworld airline out of the sparkling, newly-renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX, you have a terrific new lounge option as of this past summer: the oneworld Business Lounge. TPG Assistant Editor Melanie Wynne gave us a sneak peek in June, and by all accounts, it’s a winner. Jointly opened and operated by Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and British Airways (though other oneworld airlines in the terminal also have access), it currently fits up to 400 passengers and will expand by 50% with a new first class section in early 2015. The lounge is spacious and luxurious, with numerous types of seating, a variety of California-inspired food options, and nine shower suites to freshen up before (or after) a long-haul flight.
How to get in: Book a first or business class ticket on a oneworld airline departing from the Bradley Terminal (in addition to Qantas, Cathay, and BA, this includes Japan Airlines, Iberia, airberlin, and LAN). Access is also granted to oneworld Emerald and Sapphire status holders flying in any class on a oneworld airline.

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The spacious bar at the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX

Star Alliance Lounge: Los Angeles (LAX)
In addition to the oneworld lounge, passengers departing from TBIT now have access to a new Star Alliance Lounge. With capacity for 375 business class and 40 first class guests, the lounge boasts an outdoor terrace (complete with a waterfall!), complimentary snacks and drinks, a media room, library and loaner iPads. While free & fast Wi-Fi, power and USB outlets allow you to stay on top of work, eight shower suites and numerous seating options also make this a great place to relax before your flight.
How to get in: Access is limited to Star Alliance first and business class passengers plus Star Alliance Gold passengers traveling in economy.

The spacious Air New Zealand lounge at LAX
The spacious Air New Zealand lounge at LAX

Air New Zealand Lounge: Los Angeles (LAX)
If you’re traveling out of Terminal 2 at LAX, you won’t find much on the concourse, but just above is this terrific lounge. The open floor plan is enhanced by panoramic views of the tarmac, and the ambiance and decor match the amiable Kiwi culture. The lounge is divided into several zones, allowing you to choose a particular area suited to your needs. With a variety of New Zealand-inspired foods, complimentary self-serve beverages and six shower suites, you can leave the lounge full and refreshed prior to boarding your flight.
How to get in: Business class travelers on Air New Zealand and Star Alliance partners are able to access the lounge, as are Koru members and Star Alliance Gold members. Day passes can be purchased for $60.

Which airport lounges make your list?

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