Hide and seek: A review of the Amex Centurion Lounge in Houston
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In 2013, American Express changed the game when it came to airport lounges. No longer content to just partner with existing airline lounge operators, they began opening their own spaces, called Centurion Lounges, across the U.S. and beyond. These lounges vary in size and offerings from location to location, but at a minimum offer a place to get real food and drinks, and at times offer included spa services, children's rooms, showers and more.
Six years later, there are now nine open Centurion lounges and another half dozen actively under construction with opening dates in 2019 and 2020.
You can check out all the details of the Centurion Lounge in our main guide, but since each lounge is unique, here are links to individual location-specific reviews in addition to this full review of the location in Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH).
- Dallas (DFW), includes spa services
- Hong Kong (HKG)
- Las Vegas (LAS)
- New York (LGA)
- Philadelphia (PHL)
- Miami (MIA), includes spa services
- Seattle (SEA)
- San Francisco (SFO), includes a wine-tasting area
Fortunately, for those traveling domestically, Terminal D is very easy walking distance from the security screening area of Terminal E, making the use of the lounge feasible when departing out of D or E. If departing out of A, B or C, you can still use the lounge, but will likely need to take the airside inter-terminal train to catch your flight after leaving the lounge, unless you really like walking.
Within Terminal D, the Centurion Lounge is a bit hidden behind a duty free store close to gate D6. There is often a sign to help point the way, but head toward the duty free store.
The elevators to the lounge are located behind the duty free store in Terminal D. (Yes, it is really well hidden.)
Once you find the elevators, take them from the departure-gates level to the mezzanine level to find the Centurion Lounge.
Fortunately, once you reach the mezzanine level, the searching portion of the adventure is over as the Centurion Lounge is essentially the only thing down that hallway.
The Houston Centurion Lounge is open from 5:30 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. daily and to enter you'll need a Platinum Card® from American Express, Business Platinum Card® from American Express or Amex Centurion Card, your ID, as well as a same-day boarding pass for a departing or connecting flight on any airline. To help curb crowding, you cannot access the lounge once you have landed at your final destination and if crowding is an issue, you might be restricted to not entering the lounge until within three hours of your initial departure.
A Platinum Amex cardholder (or authorized user with a Platinum card in their own name) can bring in two guests at no extra charge. Children under two do not count against that two complimentary guest maximum. Those with the high-end Centurion card can bring in either their entire immediate family or two guests. Here are tips for families of four or more who hope to all use the Centurion Lounge together without paying $50 guest fees for more than two guests.
Those with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card will get access to the Amex Centurion Lounge when flying Delta with a ticket purchased on the card (up to two guests may also enter for a fee of $50 each). In Houston, you'll find Delta gates in Terminal A, so you'll need to budget extra time as that is the further terminal from this lounge.
Coming in at about 8,500 square feet, the Houston Centurion Lounge is neither the smallest nor largest in the network. It also falls about mid-pack when it comes to amenities relative to other locations.
There are a variety of different seating areas and seating types in the lounge, some of which were well used on my recent mid-day visit. In fact, the biggest complaint about Centurion Lounges is that they are too crowded. While the Houston location can get busy, it doesn't have a reputation for being as crowded as some of the other locations.
My personal favorite seating area at the IAH lounge is a bit hidden from view -- exactly what makes it great. If you walk into the heart of the lounge and then go all the way to the left, you'll find a few loungers in the quietest, calmest portion of the lounge.
If you can't snag one of those loungers, then these cozy seats are the next best bet if you're hoping for a little peace and quiet.
Power outlets aren't everywhere, but you will find them all around the lounge if you look. The best seat for you may be whichever one has an available outlet nearby.
Unlike at the other Texas Centurion Lounge location up in Dallas, there's no spa, but the Houston Centurion Lounge is home to a small family room. Not every Amex lounge has a family room, but the ones that do typically offer a wall-mounted TV with kid-friendly shows and toys that are usually best for toddlers and preschoolers. Most importantly, these family rooms have a door that shuts the room off from the rest of the lounge so that kids can play with the toys instead of playing the quiet game.
The restrooms and shower are located all the way in the back of the lounge, past the bar and dining area.
The restrooms are large, have full-sized doors for each private stall and offer L'Occitane soaps and lotions mounted to the wall. I'd call all that three steps above the other lounges at IAH.
I did not have the opportunity to use the shower on my recent visit, but we do have some photos of the shower area from a previous visit by TPG editor at large Zach Honig.
If you need to print out a boarding pass or otherwise hop online, there is a printer and computer available for use.
Should you be in the mood for some reading material, your next edition of Departures magazine is free for the taking next to the departures board.
The speed of the available Wi-Fi during my visit came in at -- "very fast". The speed was clocked at 55.0 Mbps download and 39.7 Mbps upload.
Food and beverage
Seats and computers are great, but most of us come to the Centurion Lounges for some food, a drink -- or both. In that respect, the Houston location doesn't disappoint. As with all of the Centurion Lounges, there's no additional charge for food and beverages, which isn't always the case at U.S. airline lounges.
Here you'll find a full hot and cold buffet that rotates from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner. The food menu was designed by Chef Justin Yu, owner and chef at the Houston restaurant, Theodore Rex.
While the menu rotates seasonally, some recent selections included: warm potato salad, jasmine rice, vanilla panna cotta, spiced cauliflower, braised chicken thighs, quinoa and lot of salad fixings and options. While I enjoy the offerings here for a somewhat eclectic meal, I will say that less adventurous eaters may not always find a ton they love. Picky kids may especially be challenged to fill their bellies once the clock and menu gets past the breakfast hours where biscuits and griddlecakes are usually an easy hit.
A highlight of the Houston Centurion Lounge is the bar. And the bartender Charles is worthy of a mention all his own, too. He has been at this lounge since it opened in 2016 and before that was a fixture at the Continental President's Club (before that became a United Club). Bottom line, he knows his stuff, knows the airport, is a master of his drinks and makes a day of travel feel almost homey and familiar, at least for a few minutes.
Now, onto the drinks. There is beer on tap, beer by the bottle, wine, mixed drinks, spirits and essentially whatever you can come up with.
As far as the signature drinks go, I can fully vouch for the Chinese New Year, which is described as a ginger-spiced mimosa and is light, refreshing and really delicious.
The Desert Oasis, however, was not my personal cup of margarita. I don't know whether it was the grapefruit or the Mezcal but I'll stick with the Chinese New Year, though some love this smokey drink.
While the Houston lounge isn't the busiest in the network, the bar and dining area can certainly get quite brisk, so grab a table or seat at the bar when you see one open.
My family keeps the $695 (see rates & fees) per year Amex Platinum in our wallet because we use up every ounce of the built-in more than $800 annual credits and we make regular visits to many of the Centurion Lounges. It helps that the Houston lounge is in our home airport. Filling our bellies and sometimes enjoying a cool beverage before catching a flight has real value to us, and it's still a fun thing to look forward to before or between flights.
The Houston Centurion Lounge isn't the biggest, the flashiest or packed with the most amenities. It's tucked away in a corner of the international terminal and you have to be looking for it to find it. But, that secluded location likely helps keep the crowds under control. While the food line-up can be a little quirky, I've never regretted taking the extra time to pop down to Terminal D and enjoy a little time at this lounge, courtesy of the Platinum Amex.
Get Centurion Lounge access and more with The Platinum Card® from American Express
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.
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