I’ve held off on reviewing any of the American Express Centurion Lounges until I can visit most of them to get a sense of what they offer and how they differ from each other. Context can be helpful in giving both fair criticism and fair praise. Unfortunately most of my travels have not historically taken me anywhere near a Centurion Lounge so it has been longer than I would have liked.
Credit goes to Tahsir for some of the photos in this post as we both had the same idea, though he kindly asked me to continue with my own review.
I have reviews of the Las Vegas and Dallas locations queued up and will pass through La Guardia in a couple weeks. Miami is not yet open, and I discussed previously the location of a smaller Centurion Studio opening soon in Seattle. However, today’s post covers the most recent addition: a new Centurion Lounge opened in San Francisco at the beginning of November.
Located near Gate 74 in United’s F Concourse, this lounge is also available to international passengers traveling through Concourse G, which mostly serves Star Alliance, thanks to a nearby airside bridge that connects these terminals. Passengers on most other carriers will need to exit and re-clear security. (On this particular trip since we were flying on Alaska Airlines out of Concourse A.)
Though it felt smaller than other locations, it was not crowded during our visit and has many other virtues, my favorite of which was the West Coast cuisine — I’m getting a little tired of the Tex Mex BBQ in Dallas. My opinion is that overcrowding won’t be too much of an issue going forward since United has its own, more convenient club and the relative difficulty re-clearing security will discourage people from visiting if they are departing in other terminals. When I fly through Dallas, I can easily take the Skylink (and often need to anyway to make my connecting flight).
All guests enter downstairs at the departures level and take the stairs or the elevator to go up to the mezzanine. Check-in was very welcoming, as you’d expect for a new space. They were trying to show it off to people who maybe hadn’t visited other Centurion Lounges before. But there’s such a thing as being too friendly.
The lounge agent looked scanned the boarding pass on my phone and then proceeded to look up my flight information. She stared at it forever before speaking, and finally started giving me a point-by-point list of my airline, flight number, departure time, and gate — information already listed on my boarding pass. It was the longest check-in experience I’ve had at any lounge, and this was before she started to go into all the amenities they offer. I wanted to walk away, but she still had my phone.
Overly helpful check-in aside, it’s a good escape from the terminal.
One thing I appreciate about the Centurion Lounges is that they make an effort to make each location a bit unique. For example, they each have a specialty cocktail menu and a different food menu that emphasize local cuisine. I even recognized that a reader was at the SFO location a few weeks later when he posted a photo just because I remembered the food.
The menu included such options as roasted pork with leeks and fennel, pumpkin cooked in goats’ milk butter, and fermented and grilled mushrooms (everyone I’ve heard who tried the mushrooms thought they were awesome). You can even watch them make the food in an open kitchen.
Drinks are important too. When I pass through Dallas, I always get the Blue Door. There wasn’t anything that really spoke to me on this cocktail menu, so I stuck to wine. They have a few house wines available by the glass at the bar as well as wine dispenser along the opposite wall you can visit for smaller tastings. Ask the bartender for a ticket, which you can scan for five separate tastes of about 1-1.5 ounces. A stack of small glasses means you can taste several wines together. (Go back and ask for additional tickets if you wish).
But if there’s one major flaw in this lounge, it’s the wine selection. All the wine is from Napa Valley. It seems to me like someone at Amex decided “Napa” has the most cachet so they should make sure all the wine came from there to improve the image of the lounge.
Another opinion is that they have a few good wines and a lot of mediocre wine. My dad likes to say, “NAPA makes auto parts.”
Different regions are better at producing different kinds of wine due to their respective growing conditions, and the Bay Area has tons of unique microclimates. The adjacent Sonoma Valley to the west and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south both produce equally excellent wine and could have been added to the list while retaining the concept of local cuisine. (My dad and I are biased. I grew up near the Santa Cruz mountains and he now lives in the Sonoma Valley.)
I wouldn’t ordinarily make it a point to complain — I almost never drink wine in airport lounges — except that Amex made wine such a central feature of this location. I tasted a few to see if they actually did manage to make the Napa thing work. Nope. After a few unsatisfying attempts I asked the bartender to just pour a glass of the house Cabernet Sauvignon, which was much better. Napa is actually known for making this well. Another woman overheard the conversation with my wife and walked over to agree it was unfortunate there weren’t more diverse options.
Looking around we saw a few people working on their computers or checking their iDevices. While I may have commented that the space felt smaller, that might be because there was greater focus on open, square rooms. The Dallas and Las Vegas locations felt bigger if only because I constantly walk through narrow rooms and passages to get anywhere. I prefer the layout in SFO.
Tahsir visited separately and was able to take advantage of the shower suite. There’s only one, but at least it exists. You won’t found showers at United’s domestic or international lounges in SFO unless you are flying business or first class and are invited to the arrivals lounge, which is not a Star Alliance Gold benefit.
As Tahsir says, he was able to snag it after waiting an hour. He enjoyed it and the L’Occitane amenities.
There are also a variety of private areas for work and napping. To quote Tahsir:
The Centurion Lounge offers very private pod like seats. I noticed that they were quite wide and many people seemed to be pleased with the amount of privacy they offered. It’s quite rare to work on things and get the feeling that no one else is around you in a lounge.
Throughout the lounge, there is also more seating and a set of sleeping loungers. From the looks of it, they seem to be comfortable and were actually in use the entire time.
In summary, we both thought the new San Francisco Centurion Lounge was a great addition to the network. You can work around the wine list issue I mentioned, and obviously stuff like that is up to personal taste. But the food was my favorite so far, and the lounge offered a surprising amount of comfort and space without lacking privacy.
Admission is free to Amex Centurion and Platinum Card members and their immediate family (or two guests). Other Amex cardmembers are permitted at a cost of $50 per person. I’m not sure that any domestic airport lounge is worth $50, but Centurion Lounges are definitely a notch above and more worthy of your consideration. Personally, I think it has been worth it for Megan and I to pay the $450 annual fee on her Platinum Card, which drops to $250 after taking consideration of the $200 annual airline fee credit.