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Lounge lottery: How US lounge food offerings stack up right now

Oct. 11, 2021
8 min read
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A recent trip to the Delta lounge at New York’s JFK airport had a pleasant surprise in store for TPG’s executive editor Scott Mayerowitz: a full buffet, including paella. That’s right, food is coming back to your favorite lounges. It’s not quite to pre-pandemic levels everywhere, but the offerings are improving.

Mayerowitz’s experience inspired us to quiz other TPG members about current lounge offerings. Overall, it’s hit and miss, but the trend is very positive.

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Delta Air Lines lounges

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Good news for Delta flyers, all Sky Club locations are now open again. On that recent trip to JFK I mentioned, a sign declaring “fresh food buffets are back” greeted Mayerowitz.

Indeed, he found full buffets are available again, even including a paella station. As you can see below, there were hot soups and cheese cubes, which are pretty standard fare. But there were also fresh make-your-own salads, pasta salad, clams, pasta primavera, orecchiette pasta and much more. For desert? Biscotti or brownies.

As we reported in May 2020, food options had been really cut back in the age of COVID-19. That’s all changed now. I can confirm because I was pleasantly surprised on a recent trip through Salt Lake City: The glorious new Sky Club in the new Salt Lake City terminal (it includes a Sky Deck) was also again serving hot serve-yourself food. In fact, I kind of missed being able to get some grab-and-go items to take with me.

I would say Sky Club offerings are now on par with what they were pre-pandemic.

American Airlines lounges

Admirals Club Miami bar. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Good news on American Airlines. The airline says it has now reopened all of its domestic Admirals Clubs. TPG senior writer Zach Griff was in one of the Miami AA Admiral’s clubs recently. He said it definitely was similar to pre-pandemic offerings. Griff says he actually liked a few of the changes saying there were a “.. bit more unique elements, like a create your own mezze plate.”

Most AA lounges will have cheese cubes, hummus, hard-boiled eggs and fruit. Many also now have self-serve soups again.

And Griff pointed out that one of the AA lounge favorites was back: the guacamole station. You can have avocado toast in the morning and guacamole, salsa and chips in the afternoon. (Don’t forget to leave a tip.)

Related: 9 ways the pandemic has transformed the American Airlines lounge experience

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

TPG cruise reporter Ashely Kosciolek was just at the Admiral’s Club at LAX. She said they had, “Breakfast buffet: eggs (scrambled end boiled), oatmeal, cereal, fruit, yogurt, breads (bagels, English muffins, cinnamon muffins), spreads (butter, jelly, cream cheese), toppings for oatmeal (brown sugar, raisins, coconut), toppings for eggs (salsa, chives, cheese, sour cream), juices.”

The Admirals Club was also back to selling other meals. Below is a look at the current menu and prices.

AA club at LAX menu. Admiral’s Club at LAX. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

She also got to see the snack buffet that day and it included, “pretzels, M&Ms, Cajun trail mix, white chicken chili, falafel, kale and sweet potato soup, naan and dips (hummus, veggies, tzatziki), veggies, cheese cubes, chocolate chip cookies, Rice Krispie treats, pumpkin spice blondies, iced tea and soda.”

Red Ventures director of social media Sophia Fen told me her boyfriend was just at ORD (Chicago) on Monday in the Admirals Club.

The food choices included:

  • Chips/salsa/guac station (staff made the guac from scratch)
  • Pita/hummus/tzatziki station
  • Fresh fruit
  • 3 different types of soup
  • Salad bar
  • Hot meals for purchase, including chicken tenders and hot sandwiches

The AA lounge offerings are favorably comparable to food offerings pre-pandemic.

Note also, as we’ve reported, the Flagship lounges are also back. American has brought in new chefs and a ton of options kicking off with the reopened Flagship lounge at New York-JFK last month.

Roasted squash with a side of zaalouk (a Moroccan eggplant dish). (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Zach tried the roasted squash with a side of zaalouk as an appetizer and the signature roasted cauliflower dish.

Roasted cauliflower. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The Flagship Miami (MIA) lounge reopened on Sept. 28th. The Flagship lounges in Chicago (ORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX) are set to open later this fall.

United Airlines lounges

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Many United lounges are open again, but some are still only serving prepackaged “grab and go”-type offerings.

Summer Hull, TPG editorial director, has been in several United clubs recently, including Houston (HOU) and Dulles. She said, “... each club was really different.” Offerings varied from lounge to lounge. That wasn’t just her experience; she’d heard similar comments from many of her social media followers, too.

However, Hull also said that “United needs to elevate the club experience, but based on her low expectations, it outperformed, “... in some cases, it works better than before as you can grab and go. So, it’s not as great an offering as Amex or Delta -- but it never was. In some clubs, it’s as good as before, just different.”

If you were hoping to experience one of United’s business-class-only Polaris Lounges, you’ll need to wait a little longer. There are reports a few of them could reopen in 2021, but no official word yet on when.

Alaska Airlines lounges

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

All of Alaska Airlines’ lounges have reopened. I’ve been a few times recently to the spectacular flagship lounge at Seattle’s N gates. I found food offerings to be as good as pre-pandemic with hot beverages prepared by baristas, and a self-serve buffet available again. The full bar is open and there are long, not-socially-distanced lines for cocktails.

Even the pancake machines are back.

Alaska Airlines flagship lounge Seattle food offerings. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

That’s a huge difference to offerings during the pandemic that were all self-serve and mostly sad prepackaged snacks.

Scaled-back food and beverage options at Alaska Airlines lounge in Seattle in August 2020. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Alaska Airlines is even bringing new experiences to some lounges. The brand-new lounge in San Francisco has a toast station where you can get a little bubbly and some bread with your choice of toppings. For the record, that’s sourdough toast from San Francisco’s Acme Bread Co.

Alaska Airlines SFO sourdough toast station from San Francisco’s Acme Bread Co. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

Related: First look at Alaska’s new SFO lounge

American Express Centurion lounges

Dallas Amex Centurion Lounge long lines. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The biggest disappointment, in my opinion, is the American Express Centurion lounges. I’ve had some unpleasant experiences at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport lounge, in particular.

Most Centurion lounges have offered food served by lounge employees only. Lounges at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) provided prepackaged meal selections.

Related: Complete guide to Amex Centurion lounges

That’s beginning to change, and Amex says self-serve is coming back. It can’t come soon enough, judging by the lounge in Dallas. Check out the lines. The lounge had one lonely employee serving from a closed-off buffet and wait times were very long; it took a half-hour to get food.

I will say, the lines at the Centurion lounge in Miami have been much more manageable when I’ve been, and other TPG staffers haven’t seen the problems I’ve seen at Dallas.

Amex’s Centurion Lounges will bring back self-serve options across all locations. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Lounges across America are reopening at a rapid clip, and the food offerings are getting better day to day. While it will be a while before everything gets back to pre-pandemic normal. We are happy to report there’s been dramatic progress.

Featured image by (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases