A Week in the Admirals Club — Chicago O'Hare International Airport
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
It's day one of TPG Intern Kevin Song's week-long Admirals Club tour, and he's starting things off in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after spending a fantastic weekend in the Windy City grilling and celebrating Independence Day with friends.
A little over a week ago, I applied and was instantly approved for the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, and while I applied under a 50,000 mile bonus offer (currently offering 75,000 bonus miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months), I wrote in and Citi graciously applied the more generous 75,000 mile offer to my card. I received the card scarily fast — I applied on a Thursday and received the card by 10 am on Saturday.
This week, I'll be visiting every Admirals Club that I can on my route, and at airports that have more than one, I'll be stopping by every one that I can physically get to. I think the key to enjoying your time at the Admirals Club is to set expectations appropriately, and I'll be writing with that in mind. No, it's not going to be as nice as an international business-class lounge like Cathay's fantastic lounges at Hong Kong International Airport, nor is it going to be on the level of the Centurion Lounge network stateside. But, it's certainly got to be better than waiting in a crowded and noisy terminal — right?
O'Hare is on-and-off the world's busiest airport in terms of aircraft movements, and a hub for American Airlines. American and its American Eagle partners host 168 routes from the busy airport. American operates two Admirals Clubs here, both in Terminal 3 where American dominates the majority of gates — one lounge is located in the American Eagle G concourse, and one in the crosswalk between concourses H and K.
Since the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offers a true Admirals Club membership and not simply access, you can fly any airline and still get into the Admirals Club — as long as you can physically access the location, of course. You don't need your physical card, either — any form of ID, your frequent flyer number, elite status card or (AA) boarding pass is sufficient. At O'Hare, each of the three domestic terminals are connected airside, so as long as you're not flying out of International Terminal 5, you're good to go.
Upon arriving at O'Hare and clearing security through the TSA PreCheck lanes, I made my way to the Concourse G club, primarily serving American Eagle regional flights. The Citi card does offer a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit, so be sure to take advantage of that for expedited security and immigration. Even if you don't qualify for either of the two programs, the card allows you to use the elite priority check-in and security lanes when flying on American or US Airways.
Chicago O'Hare Admirals Club — Concourse G
The concourse G club was refreshingly bright and pleasant, with friendly staff. While small, the club was fairly peaceful and quiet when I visited on a Monday morning, and the staff were cheerful and friendly. As this was the first time I'd visited an Admirals Club since gaining membership, they asked if I'd like to scan my drivers license's photo into the system to avoid having to show photo ID in the future — I happily agreed.
I believe that one of the best reasons to have a lounge membership is the generally better staff that can help you with flight issues and rebooking during irregular operations. I had done a same-day confirmed flight change to a 7:30pm flight from my original flight at 6:30am — free for Executive Platinum elite members — so I asked the staff to place me on the standby list for an earlier 5:30pm departure, which they did easily in seconds and printed out a standby voucher for me.
The lounge has recently undergone a renovation, so it features plenty of natural light and bright, comfortable seating. More importantly, power plugs are present all around, and no seat is too far from an outlet. The lounge also has a dining area, with free snacks and paid food options, a fairly large quiet room and a tiny business center with printers.
Unfortunately, since this lounge caters to regional flights, it does not offer any showers — but the bathrooms were clean and functional. There was also no luggage/coat storage, apart from a tiny closet exposed to the entrance that wasn't very convenient or large.
For food, domestic Admirals Clubs are fairly standard — for the free offerings, before 11am, they offer bagels, yogurt and muffins. After 11am, they offer soups, soft cookies and various veggies and dips. There are fruits and "snack towers" with nuts and yogurt-covered pretzels available throughout the day as well. Water, coffee and basic alcoholic drinks are complimentary, but if you want anything more, you'll have to pay for it.
Uniquely, unlike most Delta SkyClubs and United Clubs, Admirals Clubs offer paid food — at prices no cheaper than the rest of the terminal. More on that later, but — spoiler alert — it's nothing to get excited about.
Since reliable internet access is such an important staple in any airport lounge, I'm happy to report that the internet here was very quick and reliable.
After a few hours working in concourse G, I headed over to the concourse H/K Admirals Club for lunch and to wait for my flight.
Chicago O'Hare Admirals Club — Concourse H/K
Chicago's second Admirals Club is among the largest in the network, located in the connector between concourses H and K. In contrast with the lounge at concourse G, this one was packed to the brim and bustling with people.
The entrance for the Admirals Club is located on the gate level, but you need to take an elevator to the third floor after checking in. On the second floor, there's an Executive Center that members can rent for meetings and conferences.
American's not the only airline to use the lounge — while I was here, a Japan Airlines flight bound for Tokyo-Narita was boarding, so there were frequent boarding calls and pages for passengers — in Japanese. These got annoying after about 10 minutes, but once the flight departed, there were no more PA announcements for the rest of the day.
Upon arriving, I checked ExpertFlyer and saw that I had a great chance of clearing an upgrade on my confirmed 7:30pm flight as an Executive Platinum elite, so I asked the agents at the lounge to take me off the standby list for the earlier flight, which they were able to do in seconds and shared with me that I was at the top of the upgrade list for my flight, since that information doesn't show up in the American app until a few hours before departure.
This lounge offers a quiet room, a few recliner chairs, a dining area, showers and a family room. Unlike the lounge at concourse G, there was plenty of luggage storage here, with a main storage room and closed closets for storage throughout the lounge.
The lounge here is a bit older, although it was renovated with new furniture not too long ago. Unfortunately, it's already starting to show its age, with some chairs falling apart and with the stuffing coming out of others. Worse, not every seat was near a power outlet — I wandered around the lounge for a bit looking for an empty seat, but every time I saw an empty area and sat down I realized nobody was there because there were no outlets. Eventually, I found my way to the quiet room and found a nice seat, but it was a chore to find.
This lounge offers fantastic views of the tarmac and runways, and there's plenty of interesting traffic to look at if you're an "av-geek" like me.
After settling down, I ordered some lunch at the counter — I had the $12 Southwest Chipotle Chopped Salad, which was about as appetizing as it looks. In my naiveté, I had assumed that for $12, they would make it fresh for you — unfortunately that wasn't the case. They took a pre-packaged to-go box from the refrigerator and quite literally dumped it upside down onto a plate in front of me and gave me two packs of dressing with plastic faux-metal cutlery.
The taste was as you might expect from a pre-packaged salad — very disappointing. The ingredients weren't fresh, the chicken was chewy and I was only able to get halfway through it before discarding the rest. So far, I'd highly recommend eating in the terminal and coming back to the lounge, but I'll power through trying out the full Admirals Club menu this week in the name of science.
Even worse, the cups here were disposable — paper soup cups and plastic drink cups. The concourse G lounge at least had more environmentally sustainable glass cups for water. Nothing like eating a salad literally dumped on a plate with plastic cutlery and drinking from a plastic cup to signify a "premium" travel experience.
Clearly, the food options must make American a fair amount of money, since they proudly advertise the available options all over the lounge. Despite the fact that there were menus at every seat, they felt that they needed multiple giant signs that littered the lounge all over, declaring that yes, food was indeed available for sale. I felt that this was really tacky and wholly unnecessary — it certainly didn't lend well to the airport oasis feeling a lounge should have.
Finally, while not as fast as the other lounge, internet at the larger Admirals Club was still reasonably speedy and reliable. Certainly much better than the notoriously terrible Boingo airport wifi that O'Hare offers.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at the concourse G Admirals Club at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Despite being the smaller lounge, catered toward regional flights, I'd gladly spend a long layover here over the larger, noisier and often-crowded Admirals Club between concourses H and K.
The for-purchase food was rather disappointing, but hopefully I'll have better luck later this week as I try out different entrees.
Be sure to follow along as I continue my week-long Admirals Club visit. If you're looking for free access, the current Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offer is hard to beat. While I won't divulge my itinerary ahead of time, you can expect daily afternoon posts, and if you see me in an Admirals Club this week, feel free to come up and say hi!