Review: American Express Centurion Lounge — Houston (IAH)
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Following a preview event earlier this week, Amex opened the doors to its latest Centurion Lounge in Houston earlier today. TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig flew down from NYC to take the new lounge for a (six-hour) spin.
I'm spending the day at Houston's Intercontinental Airport — entirely by choice. I flew here this morning and I'm heading back to New York City later this afternoon. And man am I glad I did — the brand new IAH Amex Centurion Lounge is awesome.
The lounge isn't exactly easy to find. It's located just below a duty free store near gate D6, and there's hardly any signage. To get inside, you need to take an elevator down one level to the mezzanine then walk down the hall. It was only a 10-minute walk from my United gate in Houston's Terminal C, and if you're flying internationally (out of Terminal D), it should be very convenient. That said, it's very easy to miss the entrance.
Given that I had some difficulty finding the new lounge, I expected it to be empty when I arrived a bit after 10 this morning, especially considering that it just opened at 5:30 this morning (this particular Centurion Lounge is open from 5:30am until 9pm seven days a week). However, more than 30 people had already been through earlier in the morning — pretty incredible considering that Amex didn't send out any notice to customers, and it isn't likely that many IAH passengers will simply stumble upon the entrance.
By the afternoon, the lounge even started to feel busy. With a response like this for a soft opening, I imagine Houston's Amex hideaway is going to become very popular in the weeks and months to come.
The Centurion Lounges are part of Amex's Lounge Collection, which gives American Express Centurion and The Platinum Card® from American Express members access to more than 900 lounges in 130 countries around the world. Cardholders can access Amex lounges overseas, Priority Pass lounges, Delta Sky Club locations (when flying Delta) and Airspace Lounges, such as this one at JFK. If you have another American Express card, such as the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you can pay $50 for a day pass to enter.
After handing over my Platinum Card, boarding pass and ID, I was invited into the lounge. Just past the front desk is the main room of the 8,500-square-foot space, which is divided into several seating areas.
There's a semi-private nook off to the side.
A large open room with a very open feel.
And then a section with a conference table, just like you'll find at some other Centurion Lounges.
The Houston lounge also has a nap area with three lounge chairs, though it's a bit noisy there, so be sure to bring along an eye mask and earplugs if you're planning to get some shut-eye.
Just past the main room is a very large dining area — it's considerably larger than the space at SFO, which tends to feel very crowded even during off-peak periods.
The main dining area has more than a dozen individual tables and a large marble bar.
There's also a larger table with stool seating, so hopefully you'll have somewhere to eat even when the lounge is near capacity.
I can see this room filling up quickly during meal times, but there are plenty of other spots to enjoy your Centurion Lounge feast if you can't grab a spot in the dining area.
As with the other Centurion Lounges, the Houston location has plenty to keep you busy, including this large playroom for the kids.
The kids' room has a variety of games and toys — the teepee is a pretty cool addition.
There's only one restroom (one for men and another for women), but it's a decent size. It was empty most of the time during my visit, but you might have a brief wait during busier times.
There's also a restroom as part of the private shower area.
The shower room is quite large — it's far bigger than its equivalent at SFO. (Ignore the contractor's foot in the picture below...)
I wasn't able to take a shower during my visit, unfortunately, as it wasn't quite ready for customers, though the lounge staff expects it to be available beginning this Monday. The lounge has L'Occitane amenities, and there are toothbrushes and shaving kits available (free of charge).
There's also a private phone room — this lounge doesn't have a conference room, but this is a solid alternative if you're not planning to meet with a group.
There's also a computer and a printer.
Wi-Fi is free, of course — it's one of the fastest connections I've come across at an airport, though I only saw a dozen or so customers on their laptops at the time.
If you manage to swing by the Centurion Lounge soon, there's a very good chance you'll walk away with this smartphone battery pack. There are a few hundred available, but I wouldn't expect them to last more than a day or two.
The lounge has plenty of outlets and USB ports — I wouldn't be surprised if there are more than 100.
Amex worked hard to maximize space so most of the area is available to customers, but there's one section that's off limits — the surprisingly large kitchen.
Each Centurion Lounge has different food and beverage options, typically curated by local chefs and mixologists. At Houston, that's Justin Yu, the chef and owner of a Houston restaurant called Oxheart.
The lounge serves breakfast from 6:30-11:15am, followed by lunch and dinner from 11:30am until 8:45pm. Breakfast options include fresh fruit, yogurt and granola, scones with butter and jam, and a variety of hot items.
The granola tasted homemade and incredibly fresh, as did the yogurt and toppings.
Just check out this granola — definitely not something you'll find at an airline-operated lounge.
As for the hot items, you can choose from pancakes, biscuits, fried potatoes, an egg dish and breakfast porridge.
Given that I was reviewing the lounge, I tried a little bit of everything.
The fruit was super fresh and delicious, as was the scone, zucchini bread, granola and yogurt. I have literally zero complaints — a very good breakfast.
But wait, there's more! The hot items were also very good, but the highlight was the potatoes (that little lump to the right side of the big plate) — they were super flavorful and more than a bit spicy.
Since I arrived around 10am, I had some time to enjoy breakfast before moving on to lunch...
You can go super healthy if you want, with a salad and fresh raw veggies. You can also choose from a couple of prepared salads, including beets with spiced yogurt.
Then come the hot dishes — braised chicken thighs with dried fruit and nuts, a chickpea and egg stew, steamed summer squash, quinoa, corn on the cob and mushroom-flavored miso soup.
My two favorites are below — that chicken is insane.
I learned my lesson from breakfast, so I went with smaller plates this time. There's just so much food to choose from, and it's all pretty great. Definitely the first time I've ever seen corn on the cob in an airport! The black pepper panna cotta (top right) was delicious as well.
Bar and Beverages
No visit to a Centurion Lounge is complete without a visit to the bar.
The bar has a familiar look and feel — all of the lounges are unique, but there are definitely some common themes throughout.
While the cocktails are a bit different here, IAH stocks similar high-end liquors, including Mount Gay rum, Tanqueray gin and Johnnie Walker Black.
I tried a breakfast-friendly cocktail called Chinese New Year, which consists of Prosecco, Mandarin Napoleon, Canton Ginger Liqueur and lemon juice. It wasn't as sweet as I expected (in a good way), and really packed a punch.
There's also coffee and juice available.
You don't have to settle for regular coffee though — there's a super fancy hot beverage machine, which I'm told costs as much as a decent car. The other lounges should be getting this thing soon.
A crowded environment can very negatively impact a Centurion Lounge visit — and the IAH lounge was never packed during my six-hour stay — but there's plenty of space here to stretch out, and given the location in Terminal D (a bit of a walk from domestic gates), I can't see this lounge getting nearly as packed as the one at SFO.
The IAH Centurion Lounge is quite possibly my new favorite in Amex's network — I could easily see myself routing through Houston when traveling to this part of the country, rather than connecting in, say, Chicago, and maybe even flying nonstop.
If you happen to be traveling through Houston and you have an Amex Platinum Card (or Centurion), you should definitely work in some time for the Centurion Lounge. And while I might hesitate to pay $50 to gain entry with another Amex, if you have a couple hours to kill and plan to have a meal and a cocktail or two, it could easily be worth the money to visit.
Which airport has your favorite Centurion Lounge?