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Not all airport lounges live up to the hype, but the Amex Centurion Lounges continue to impress me. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explores these lounges both domestically and abroad to help you get a better sense of the value they offer.
Airport lounge access can be incredibly valuable. However, you don’t need to pay for premium class tickets or be a top-tier elite in order to gain entrance. You can also get lounge access as a benefit on certain credit cards. Today I want to highlight the American Express Centurion Lounge network, and discuss not only how to get in, but also what to expect once you’re inside.
The jewels of the Centurion Lounge network are its US locations, none of which is more than 2 years old. The first one opened at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport at the beginning of 2013, and Amex has since added locations in Dallas-Fort Worth, New York-LaGuardia, and San Franciso. Another full Centurion lounge is slated to open in Miami in the next few months, with a smaller Centurion Studio also planned for Seattle this year. While all locations include standard amenities like complimentary Wi-Fi, showers, complimentary food & drinks, and a variety of seating, each has its own unique characteristics that allow for a comfortable (dare I say enjoyable?) pre-flight or layover experience.
Access to all domestic Centurion Lounges is complimentary if you have an American Express Centurion Card, The Platinum Card from American Express, or The Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN. Admission with one of these cards includes up to two guests or your immediate family. If you hold another American Express card (including those issued by other banks), 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.
This first Centurion Lounge opened in February 2013, in Concourse D of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. TPG Points & Miles Editor Peter Rothbart reviewed the lounge last year. With a variety of seating options including recessed, cushioned benches, computer work stations, and comfortable chaise lounges, you can be productive or simply relax 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 am and lunch/dinner from 11:30 am – 10:00 pm The bar area and its kitschy travel decor get high marks, especially the house cocktails. Given that all these amenities are complimentary, a visit to the lounge is a great way to fill up or freshen up before your flight out.
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 Skylink train), the lounge includes many of the same amenities as its Las Vegas cousin, but with a Texas twist. Executive Chef Dean Fearing designed a Southwestern-themed menu with separate options for breakfast (6:30-11:00 am) and lunch/dinner (11:30 am – 10 pm). The drink menu includes a similar 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. However, what really sets this lounge apart is the Exhale Spa. 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!
The third Centurion Lounge opened its doors in LaGuardia’s Terminal B on August 12, 2014, 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 are the brainchild of Chef Cedric Vongerichten, and include items like 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 that it’s located before security. 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!
As of now, this is the newest Centurion Lounge in the US, having just opened last November (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 designated tasting area, or use the automatic tasting machines in the lounge (see TPG’s video in the preview above).
Though not nearly as widely publicized as the new US locations, Amex actually has a small number of lounge locations abroad. Many have been open for years, and just about all of them give you additional lounge access beyond the Priority Pass Select coverage (also included on the Platinum card). Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll find at these locations:
As the newest international Centurion Lounge, the location in Buenos Aires is more similar to those in the US, but still not on par. The lounge website is in Spanish, but you can use Google Translate if (like me) you need some brushing up on your foreign languages. The lounge itself is located in Terminal C, the newest in the airport and the arrival and departure terminal for most SkyTeam flights (including Delta and Air France/KLM). The lounge boasts a variety of complimentary snacks & drinks, free Wi-Fi, and a special kids area to keep the whole family entertained.
The website above indicates that the lounge is open only to cardholders with eligible American Express cards issued in Argentina. However, the FAQ page clarifies that Platinum and Centurion cardmembers from other countries are also welcome. Children under the age of 16 can accompany the cardholder for free, but other companions are subject to a $50 per person charge. You can also pay $50 if you hold any other American Express product.
Sao Paulo (GRU)
Unfortunately, the Centurion Lounge in Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport is a significant step down from the US and Argentina locations. Located in Terminal 1 before security, the lounge is relatively small and provides a modest spread of snacks and beverages, but no alcohol and no WiFi. For a large international airport and a well-known financial services company like American Express, this location is really a poor excuse for a lounge.
Despite the lack of amenities, you still must hold a Platinum or Centurion American Express to enter this lounge, and you’re allowed to bring in two guests or your immediate family. I’ve read reports of Gold cardholders gaining access as well, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Mexico City (MEX)
If your travels take you through Benito Juarez International Airport, you’ll actually have two American Express lounges to choose from: one is located in Terminal 1 before security, and the other is located in Terminal 2 after security next to Gate 18. Unfortunately, there’s very little official information online, as neither lounge appears to have an actual website. Based on TripAdvisor and other reviews, the Terminal 2 location appears to be far superior, with complimentary snacks and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), a spa and shower facilities. However, more substantial food items are ordered off a menu in both locations and are subject to an additional charge.
Both of the Mexico City lounges grant access to Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders. However, you can also access these clubs with a Gold American Express card (like the Premier Rewards Gold or the Business Gold Rewards). There are exclusive areas for Platinum and Centurion members, but it’s still a nice option if you don’t want to pony up hundreds of dollars in annual fees.
I grouped these last two lounges together because they’re both listed as a benefit for Indian-issued American Express Platinum cards, and thus share a lot of similarities. Both are in the respective airports’ domestic terminals: the first floor of Terminal 1C in Mumbai, and near Gates 27 and 28 in Terminal 3 in New Delhi. Details on the services provided are scant, but you can order complimentary food off the menu throughout the day, and non-alcoholic drinks are also free of charge (you need to pay for beer, wine, and liquor). Both locations are quite small, and since they’re also open to Jet Airways Platinum cardholders, they tend to be crowded.
Like the others, Platinum and Centurion cardholders can enter these lounges free of charge, along with one guest and/or children under the age of 12.
The latest addition to this network is the new American Express Lounge (which isn’t considered a true Centurion Lounge) at Sydney International Airport in Australia. This lounge is located near Gate 24, and (similar to the US Centurion Lounges) provides complimentary access to both American Express Platinum and Centurion cardholders.
The new lounge is operated by global airport service specialists Plaza Premium, and offers cardmembers the following benefits:
- Complimentary food and beverage featuring Australian producers
- Shower suites
- High-speed Wi-Fi
- Computer and copy facilities
- Flight information screens
- A selection of local and international magazines and newspapers
The $450 annual fee on the American Express Platinum is pretty high, but the Centurion Lounge network can be a really nice benefit with some significant value, depending on your typical travel patterns. It’s a shame that there aren’t additional locations, and I would love to see international lounges match the luxurious standards of the new ones in the US. Still, American Express has shown a willingness to make up for the loss of Admirals Club and US Airways Club access, so hopefully more improvements and lounge openings are on the horizon.
What do you think about the Centurion Lounges?