A Week in the Admirals Club — Reagan Washington National Airport
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It’s the final day of TPG Intern Kevin Song‘s week-long Admirals Club tour with the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. He’s making a trip to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and capping off the week with an afternoon in New York LaGuardia’s Centurion Lounge for comparison.
Situated just outside our nation’s capital, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is one of three major airports that serve the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the other two being Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (what a doozy of a name!).
Of the three, Reagan is popular among business travelers because of its unique position of being a 15-minute car ride or 20-minute direct Metro ride away from downtown. It does have a 1,250-statute-mile perimeter rule, however, so apart from a few limited exemptions, most flights from the airport are short-hauls on smaller aircraft. Additionally, it doesn’t have a US Customs and Border Protection presence for commercial flights, so any international flights need to come from US pre-clearance airports.
Reagan is comprised of three terminals, A, B and C. Terminal B, the home of American Airlines, and terminal C, the home of US Airways, are connected in the same physical building landside, but there is no way to walk between them post-security. Thankfully, US Airways does operate a shuttle that goes between the two sets of gates. There’s an Admirals Club in both terminals B and C, with the one in terminal C recently renamed from being a US Airways Club.
Plus, American Airlines and US Airways together hold just over a 50-percent market share at DCA, making it a perfect airport for me to visit.
They don’t check boarding passes to board the shuttle, like at some airports, so you can easily hop on over to the other Admirals Club if you’d like — and, from my experiences, you might want to!
Non-Flying Admirals Club Access
One perk of being a full Admirals Club member is that you can actually use the Admirals Club even when you’re not flying, if you have a valid business purpose, such as meeting a business associate or using the conference room. Since the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard comes with a full membership, I decided to try this out, despite the fact that I was in fact traveling that day.
You’ll need to request this ahead of time by calling the Admirals Club customer service line, but that only took a minute or two for me. You’ll need your AAdvantage number and date of birth, so that they can forward it along to TSA ahead of time. Essentially, they’ll issue you a faux-boarding pass to nowhere. At some airports, you can check in at a kiosk when you arrive and print it out as if it were a real boarding pass, but at Reagan, they simply send it down to TSA ahead of time for you.
I had some trouble getting past the line monitors though, who are not TSA employees. Rather, they’re contractors hired to monitor the lines and make sure people are getting in the right security lane. They insisted that you needed a valid boarding pass to get past security, despite me explaining that I had a gate pass waiting for me to use the Admirals Club. Luckily, since it wasn’t busy, I was able to get the attention of one of the actual TSA agents, and as soon as I said my name, they waved me over and gave me my faux-boarding pass which was waiting for me, much to the chagrin of the employees guarding the line.
Interestingly, the boarding pass showed me “booked” on flight AA 9137, from Sabre Field SVC to Headquarters — Sabre is the name of the American Airlines reservation system. Unfortunately, they stuck me in a “middle seat” — but at least they gave me Priority AAccess!
Funnily enough, ExpertFlyer actually shows these “flights.”
Unfortunately, since your Trusted Traveler Number won’t be on the “reservation,” you’ll need to go through the regular security line — it’s been such a long time since I was last without TSA PreCheck that I had forgotten the drill. Belt, shoes, liquids, laptop, everything out of your pockets, nude-o-scope… right. Seriously, if you travel often and you’re eligible, you’re really missing out by not having Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. The Citi card gives you a statement credit for it too, so if you have the card, definitely take advantage of that.
Reagan Washington National Airport — Terminal B
I started the day in American Airline’s terminal B. Thankfully, at DCA, both clubs are able to handle both US Airways and American flight changes. This won’t be a concern much longer, as the airline announced today that starting October 17, the US Airways reservation system will be shut down.
Yet again, I asked for a MoveUp on my US Airways award ticket — and was handed a first-class boarding pass, for the third time this week. Score.
Terminal B’s lounge is located up on the level above departures — elevators are located immediately after security and legacy Admirals Club logos still adorn the entrance.
After checking into the lounge, you’re greeted by a pleasant, but small-looking club. It’s not impressively large and open, but it’s actually not too small. There’s rooms off to the side, including a quiet room that was completely empty when I visited, a business center and a room around the back.
The views are primarily of the nearby B gates, but sunlight shades were mostly down to protect against the late-morning sun that would’ve been shining straight into the lounge.
Inside, I found a good variety of seating options, including a somewhat comfortable black-and-metal-frame lounge chair I’d never encountered before.
I ordered lunch while here, and while TPG commenter DCA Frequent Flyer suggested that I order the chicken and brie sandwich, unfortunately it wasn’t on offer today. Instead, the club special was a shrimp roll, but I’d gotten my fill of seafood-filled rolls yesterday in Boston. Instead, I ordered a $12 panini from the standard Admirals Club menu, hoping that it was better than the one I had in Chicago O’Hare.
And better it was. It was heated in the back, not right in front of me, and edible enough for me to finish the whole thing. It was rather bland and not super hot in the middle, but it was acceptable. Unfortunately, this club seems to have downgraded from even the faux-metal plastic cutlery from the other clubs that I’ve grown accustomed to — this one came with a wrapped packaged of black plastic cutlery reminiscent of a mall food court. Oh well, you can’t have everything!
Internet speeds here were decent and perfectly useable, but not incredible.
Overall, I’d be happy spending some time here. There’s nothing special about the lounge, but nothing exceptionally disappointing either. It offers a decent selection of seating options, and while not that large, was still much better than the lounge in terminal C. Here’s why.
Reagan Washington National Airport — Terminal C
Located by the US Airways gates in terminal C, the former US Airways Club is accessible to American flyers only by shuttle. But, there’s little reason to come here if you aren’t flying US Airways, as this one was rather disappointing.
Also on the mezzanine level on the mirror opposite side of the two terminals, this lounge is filled with the same gray chairs that are omnipresent at all the other US Airways lounges I’ve visited this week. They were far too close together, and the lounge felt cramped, despite being in one open space.
There was, however, one bright point to this lounge. To the left of the bar, down a narrow and long corridor, past the bathrooms, there were a few carrels that were fantastic for getting work done. There’s nothing else down the hall, and it was tucked away in the corner behind the bathrooms, so despite the rest of the lounge being fairly busy, there wasn’t a single other soul here. Unlike the standard work carrels that are tucked away in a dark room, there was plenty of natural light and a good view of the US Airways gates. Pretty fantastic, and a hidden treasure in an otherwise dismal lounge.
Unfortunately, when I visited, the internet was very unreliable and incredibly slow — slower than even in-flight Wi-Fi.
There was really no reason to dawdle here, and before long, I made my way over to the gates for a mid-day flight to LaGuardia.
Between the two Admirals Clubs at Reagan Washington National Airport, I’d definitely choose the terminal B location. If you have a long enough layover to make it worthwhile, there is an airside shuttle so you don’t need to re-clear security.
New York LaGuardia Airport — The Centurion Lounge
I decided to wrap up my lounge-hopping week with a visit to the famous Centurion Lounge at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which I had access to through my American Express Platinum card.
Since it was a long train ride home, I took the opportunity to compare the smallest Centurion Lounge (not including the Centurion Studio), to the Admirals Clubs that I’ve visited. And boy am I glad I did.
The best part, after spending a week eating at Admirals Clubs, was the complimentary food. It was like heaven compared to the moldy sandwich I’d received just a few days ago a few hundred feet away.
There were many great options available, but I settled on a wonderfully slow-cooked salmon, ginger rice, beet salad, avocados, creamed corn and garlic broccoli. I finished that up with a delightful strawberry shortcake, and headed home happy and full.
The best part though, was the glass of fruit-infused water, and — get this — cloth napkin and metal silverware! After a week of eating at Admirals Clubs, I felt like royalty eating with actual metal silverware.
It’s always wonderful chatting with readers, and here in the the Centurion Lounge, I ran into fellow TPG reader Kevin Watkins. Good choice, Kevin!
Over the past week, I’d encountered some pretty good lounges, and some pretty depressing and dismal lounges. I’d ordered moldy sandwiches and surprisingly decent lobster rolls. Overall, the former US Airways Clubs just weren’t as competitive as the Admirals Clubs, but they all paled in comparison to the Centurion Lounge in LaGuardia. But, those aren’t available in nearly as many places as Admirals Clubs, so for now, I’m happy I got the Citi card.
With that, my week-long Admirals Club visit comes to an end. Stay tuned for a recap tomorrow of my favorite and least-favorite lounges of the week and a food scorecard later next week. If you’re looking for free access, the current Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offer is hard to beat.