Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lounge Report - The Centurion Lounge, Las Vegas & San Francisco

One of the best benefits of the American Express Platinum card is complementary access to The Centurion Lounge.

The Centurion Lounge is a breath of fresh air for flyers accustomed to stale baby carrots and trail mix at the United Club. And it's not just the physical beauty of The Centurion Lounges that differentiates them from the Delta SkyClubs of the world.

The Centurion Lounge, San Francisco

The Centurion Lounge, Las Vegas

The Centurion Lounge locations
Four currently:
  • Dallas-Fort Worth, Terminal D (accessible from any terminal)
  • Las Vegas, D Gates (theoretically accessible from any terminal, but you may have to reclear security for the A, B, and C gates)
  • New York-La Guardia, Terminal B (pre-security)
  • San Francisco, Terminal 3 (accessible from the G gates in the international terminal)
Unfortunately, the San Francisco location is difficult to access unless you're flying United (the sole occupant of Terminal 3) or a Star Alliance carrier on an international flight (the sole occupants of International Terminal G).

A Miami location will open in early 2015, and more may be on the way.

Free for Centurion (Black Card) and Platinum cardholders and their spouse/partner + children (or two guests).  $50 for a day pass for other AmEx cardholders.

You must have a same-day air ticket to use the lounge, but you can use the lounge when departing, connecting, or arriving.  Given that the lounges have real food, that's a valuable benefit.

The Centurion Lounge Las Vegas

Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport was AmEx's first foray into its The Centurion Lounge experience.  The lounge is across from Gate D1, which I consider an ideal location.  Most major airlines (United, American, Delta, US Airways) operate out of the D gates, and most of the international airlines and JetBlue operate out of the E gates (a quick tram ride away - no need to re-clear security).

The main hose is for Southwest passengers - it's inconvenient for them to use the lounge.  But perhaps that's not AmEx's target audience.

As you ascend the escalator to the D gates, there's plenty of The Centurion Lounge signage.

The lounge entrance has an ivy wall - passersby can't see the lounge proper until they've been cleared by the front desk.

At the check-in desk, I presented my boarding pass and Platinum card.  On my first visit, the lounge attendant noticed that I was flying to San Francisco and encouraged me to try the location there as well.  On the second visit, the lounge attendant saw that I had been to this location before and welcomed me back.  That's an easy but meaningful personalized touch to the customer-service interaction process.

The check-in desk is in the background on the left

There are plenty of seating options in the lounge, from leather armchairs...

... to a communal coffeeshop-style desk and enclosed couches (we had something similar in law school and coined them "couchicles")...

... to little loveseat nooks ...

... to a spacious dining room.

And there's real food!  Like, actual good food.  I'm not sure if the menu rotates - this is what was on offer for both of my visits in December (although the actual offerings differed a bit).

There's plenty of everything in the self-serve buffet.

And the full-service bar has signature cocktails (and other made-to-order drinks) for free.

On my first visit, I had a caprese sandwich, herb-roasted chicken, and eggplant orecchiette with a Bison and Bear cocktail.


The caprese sandwich was a bit dry and forgettable; everything else was great.  But I think my breakfast on my next visit was much better:


The lounge also has an enclosed children's playroom, a meeting room, a shower, and bathrooms.  The internet is fast and there's lots of seating (although at the dinner hour, the lounge was quite crowded).  If you've lost all your money trying to count cards at the Bellagio double-deck blackjack game and need somewhere to hunker down until your flight, this is a great spot.

(That said, McCarran is one of the best airports in the US even without lounge access.  Wireless access is free; there's seating everywhere; it's spacious and clean with lots of food options.  The Centurion Lounge is still a value-add, but not as big as it would be in a festering cesspool such as LaGuardia.)

The Centurion Lounge San Francisco
The San Francisco location is The Centurion Lounge's newest location - it opened in December 2014.

The lounge is across from Gate 74 in a corner of Terminal 3 (the United terminal).  It's about a five minute walk to the international terminal (airside, so you don't have to re-clear security).

Most of the lounge is on the second floor; the first floor has a small (but elegant) entryway.  Like the Las Vegas location, there's an ivy wall by the entrance.

  An elevator and staircase lead you up to the main floor.

The lounge looks a bit smaller than the Las Vegas one, but feels more airy and less crowded.  The furniture and decor are of a very similar motif to the Las Vegas lounge.

The food selection here was slightly better for dinner (although I prefer Las Vegas's breakfast menu).

The buffet

Each The Centurion Lounge offers its own signature cocktails - these had a bit of a San Francisco theme.  I ordered a gin basil fizz.

The biggest differentiator between the San Francisco and Las Vegas lounges was San Francisco's automatic wine-flight dispenser.  Lounge guests can ask the bartender for a bar code good for five scans - each scan gets you a one-ounce wine pour from one of eighteen bottles.

I forgot to take a picture of the white wines

I had a light but delicious dinner with a glass of iced tea and a pour of... some white wine.

My flight was delayed for a couple of hours, so I decided to try the shower room.  There's only one shower available, so there can be a wait at peak times.  You have to check in with the lounge attendant, who writes your name on a clipboard.  (I recognized a college friend's name on the list - there's not much privacy to it).

The shower room was clean and well-maintained (of course, the lounge had only been open for a couple of weeks when I visited. Let's see it in a year).


The Centurion Lounge experience blew away my expectations.  It gives many international business-class lounges a run for their money and is a much nicer facility than the legacy carriers' lounges.  If you're fortunate enough to be based out of one of the lounge location's airports, the Platinum card becomes a much more attractive proposition despite its hefty $450 price tag.

I'd definitely choose the Platinum card over a $400+ United Club or American Airlines Admirals Club membership, especially if I were based out of SFO or DFW (United and American hubs, respectively).  As a bonus, the Platinum card gets you free access to Delta's Sky Club - theoretically a $450 value (on top of all the other card benefits, which I'll cover in a later post).

Hopefully, American Express will continue to open new The Centurion Lounges - these are a big reason why I decided to become a member.

1 comment:

  1. I hope to join you someday as a guest for Centurion lounge. Would I also need an airplane ticket as your guest? Or could I be someone joining you during send off?