Are Centurion Lounges A Hero Or A Zero? Why Some Would Pay $60 Per Visit, Others $0

There’s an interesting online discussion of how much an American Express Centurion lounge visit is ‘worth’. Put another way, how much would you pay if it wasn’t bundled with an Amex Platinum? And opinions vary.

  • “with food, drinks, comfort, wifi, etc, it’s worth $60 for 3 hours”
  • “I MIGHT pay $30 if I could be guaranteed a 2 hour window with a chair at a table where I can eat, work, and charge, but not if I’m traveling for work.and can’t expense it as a meal.”
  • “Zero dollars. In fact, I’d pay not to wait in line for 30minutes”
  • “Like $10-15?”
  • “I value it at about what airlines charge for day passes (normally $60). 3 drinks and a meal, and some to go flight snacks”
  • “$30 which is how much I’d likely spend on average on an airport layover.”

Some of the variance is based on how much people spend on airports and save in the Centurion lounge. Others value it as an ideal, a real escape from the terminal and good food and drink and what that might retail for.

The problem is that, as I wrote five and a half years ago, Centurion lounges have gotten so busy nobody goes there anymore. The experience rarely measures up to the ideal where you experience peace, a nice meal, and even a spa treatment. Although I have to admit that recently before 7 a.m. on a Sunday in Las Vegas the place wasn’t crowded (though food not great).

When American Express first opened Centurion lounges, the food was fantastic and lounges weren’t overrun.

  • Not everyone had discovered them yet.
  • There weren’t as many cardmembers.
  • Those keeping the budgets hadn’t quite anticipated that when you open a nice lounge, more people will show up, stay longer, and eat more.

They were producing food at a smaller scale and with what seems like a bigger budget per head. I don’t remember the last time I encountered beef in a Centurion lounge, but a decade ago the smoked brisket in the Dallas lounge was fantastic. So were the baked salmon, fried chicken, and udon noodles at LaGuardia.

There were no limits on how far in advance you could arrive at a Centurion lounge, and no lines to get in. Sure, the Seattle lounge had capacity constraints even when it opened but the original one was a quarter of the size of the rest.

Now I rarely bother to stop in during my travels. Even spending the day at DFW airport I visited just about everywhere but the Centurion lounge.

  • I prefer the food at Capital One in Dallas (and Dulles)
  • And the cooked to order menu at Chase in Boston

Unfortunately those lounges get busy, too. Rules to limit crowding, such as departure only, within three hours of first, limits on guest access on the like haven’t solved this.

I do like Capital One adding people to a wait list, texting them when they can enter, and managing a virtual queue – though I’d prefer it if,

  • you could add yourself to the list virtually, rather than having to show up at the lounge to do it
  • there was a way to have a ‘fast pass’ a couple of times a year, so you could have quicker access to lounges when it matters most

Capital One does a nice job of using their queue so that the lounges aren’t as busy once you get inside (there’s actual seating!).

It’s interesting that as Delta limits access to Sky Clubs for its own co-brand Amex Reserve customers, those same cardmembers still have unlimited access to Amex’s Centurion lounges when flying Delta. American Express began building lounges where they didn’t have partner lounges (so, non-Delta hubs) and then shifted to adding lounges where they’d take the pressure off of Delta.

Credit card premium lounges are a victim of their own success, attracting more customers (which detracts from the experience) and driving up costs (which lead to cutbacks in the experience). And no one is really immune. I think that Centurion lounges have gotten a bit stale, not just crowded, and so I love the newer entrants into the space. And more lounges will take a bit of pressure off of existing ones, in some cases spreading guests out across different spaces.

It’s difficult and expensive to get space in airports. Guests will go out of their way for them, and that means it’s possible to utilize space that can’t be used for retail. Although some airports are reluctant to lease space that will be used to give away food and drink, which means less spending by passengers in the airport (for which airports, and then airlines, will take a cut). Adding these lounges initially was met with strong resistance from airlines, for instance American Airlines went ballistic over American Express taking space in the Dallas – Fort Worth D terminal over a decade ago.

In order for these lounges to attract cardmembers and be worth building, they need to be open to many, but once they’re open to many they aren’t as worthwhile. There’s more that can be done to increase their value, though, like virtual queuing, and limited priority access (‘skip the line’) criteria, while managing access enough so that the experience once inside the lounge is still a good one.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. After a 25 minute walk to the Centurion lounge at DFW and DEN, I think this is an AMEX ripoff to pay an annual fee of $695 and then find over a one hour waiting list to enter or you can’t get in at all during a layover.

  2. @ Gary — ZERO. Over-rated, over-hyped, over-crowded. I’ve never liked them since day 1. The seats are so small and cramped that I swear they use children’s furniture.

  3. If I were paying per visit to use the Centurion Lounges, it would certainly alter my behavior. For example, I could see paying as much as $50 to enter but only if I had a very long layover- say 4 hours or more. For more typical layovers of maybe 2 to 3 hours I would skip the lounge entirely rather then pay for the visit. Today, if I have a 2 hour layover and the lounge is in the vicinity of my next flight, I will stop by to see if there’s a long wait.

  4. It’s not about the lounges; it’s about the card that gives access to the lounges. Today, the average schmo can justify the Platinum Card without flying much. That turns the lounge into a free perk that people stumble into.

    When the lounges first opened, the Platinum card was more focused on frequent flyers. Ever since it became a “lifestyle card”, the lounges started feeling out of synch.

  5. My alternative is to rock up at a nice bar in the airport have a couple of drinks and a snack. That probably sets me back about $40 plus tax and tip so $50.

    Now Virgin charge less for kids in their lounge as they don’t drink the top shelf liquor £30 I think.

    The CLT lounge is excellent.

  6. In what is definitely a case of YMMV, I’ve yet to wait in line for *any* lounge, be it a Centurion lounge, a Priority Pass lounge, or one for a specific single airline…just luck? I dunno . . .

  7. The CLT lounge had beef last week – supposedly sirloin. It was so tough the knives provided were ineffective.

    I live in a city with an airport with a Centurion Lounge and in the last 50 or so originating trips this year, I’ve been to it exactly twice. Once was when it opened (because I messed up and mistook boarding time for departure time on a flight, so I was at the airport 45 minutes before I usually would be there) and the other was last week after waiting 35 minutes (and in that time going and paying to eat something else since by the time I gained entry, I could afford 15 minutes before needing to trek a mile to my gate).

    I just don’t even bother. It’s not the most convenient location to the airlines I fly and I don’t come to the airport early enough to visit – it’s a self-fulfilling conundrum: Do I get to the airport early with plans to eat in the lounge, to find a 45 minute waiting list and don’t even get in before I need to head to the gate and end up buying food anyway, or do I just cut it close and make it airside 10 minutes before boarding and grab food to go or eat ahead of time? The Admirals Club is a zoo but at least I know I will be able to get in with no wait, and I can level set based on what food/snacks I know there will be. If all I want is a bagel, to-go coffee, and yogurt in the morning, Admirals Club fulfills that beautifully and I can be in and out in 10 minutes.

    I would take a lower annual fee for the Amex Plat and move Centurion to a pay for use… say $30 as a round figure. I would choose to pay that if I knew I had about 2 hours to spend and would be able to enter upon initially coming to the lounge.

  8. Ever since the SFO and SEA lounges were expanded, I haven’t had any crowding issues. I’ve had ~25 visits this year to 5 different Centurion lounges and never had a wait to get in. I’ve actually stopped going to PP restaurants because there is often a wait for a table there, and I can just get in the lounge with no wait instead.

  9. The concept of the lounge being an oasis in a crowded airport has died, the experience has been ruined. What is the point of having a lounge you have to wait to enter, and then struggle to find seating. Odd how the terminal is now an oasis away from the lounge, no waiting and I can usually find a seat.

  10. I guess I am like Jason above. Just been luck that I have never had to wait to enter any lounge, but I also don’t fly at holiday times. Sometimes I have found the lounges crowded but I could always find a seat. I would much rather spend my time in a lounge than in the main terminal especially on international flights where I might have a long layover.

  11. Too many people visit simply to inhale two meals worth of free food topped off with a few drinks. Scale down the free food to simply snack type food and you’ll probably get fewer lounge lizards. Personally I don’t like to eat a lot at lounges, as I don’t want to feel the urgent need to drop a deuce on the flight. A light snack, a few beers, comfortable seating and a nice view of the tarmac is what I want from a lounge, and centurion lounges typically fail on the last two.

    Delta’s changes might also reduce the Amex plat population as well.

  12. Slightly off topic but do the long lines at most lounges continue to be an issue? Since the end of the summer travel season it seems like the AA lounges and the Amex lounges have been less crowded. It might just be the times I was there but I haven’t seen any real bottleneck issues in a couple of months.

  13. “Those keeping the budgets hadn’t quite anticipated that when you open a nice lounge, more people will show up, stay longer, and eat more.”

    If you build it of course people will use it. It’s like adding a new lane to a road. Initially, everyone will be happy with the increased capacity, but then of course more and more people will use it to the point where it will be just as crowded as before or worse.

    Lounge crowding wasn’t a problem when the only cards that included lounge access were Amex Platinum and Diners Club. Back then there was no issue of crowding and Amex Platinum even included access to American Admirals Club, United, Continental, US Airways lounges in addition to Priority Pass.

    The Club at MSY offers a queuing system which I think works well. Just like a restaurant you need to show up on site first to check-in then you’ll receive a text when you can enter. I agree it would be nice if we could do this without an in-person check-in but you know that would just increase the number of no-shows and speculative bookings.

  14. I’m not a big fan of people…even more so, those who are trying to justify their $695 annual fee by way of stuffing as much mediocre food down their throat.

    I make every attempt to get to the airport with just enough time so that I have no need to visit a lounge, if I have a longer layover, I’ll browse the airport if it’s nice enough or I’ll find a decent restaurant that cost more than the average family is willing to pay…that alone establishes at least some level of peace.

    Centurion = limited and overrated. Amazes me how many times I’ll see someone post “…how long does it take to get to terminal * to terminal *? Do I have to go outside of security?” Too much work to try and get some hummus and crackers that looks to be 3 hours past their prime.

    Admirals Club are a joke. They look as if AA makes a weekly run over to the local Sam’s Club and stockpile their lounges with the findings whatever’s in the bakery isle.

  15. It’s a mixed bag. In general I would not pay for a visit, but the value to me is roughly what I would spend out in the terminal – so about $30. I find that renovated SEA and SFO are generally fine now. CLT, DEN and IAH are crowded, but OK though lines at CLT make it more challenging. PHL is borderline if you can get in; the terminal is not very good. PHX is worthless and not worth even $10. Been awhile since I was in DFW or LAS. LAX and JFK are both tough, but the terminals are not great either. I have noticed there is quite a bit of variability.

  16. I don’t know centurion, but my experience with airport lounges is that they are miserable mediocrities. If they weren’t free I wouldn’t go.

    If I’m going to pay I just go to a restaurant near my gate.

    The worst is American Airlines. Admirals Club in Dallas give me food poisoning. In general it was like a Holiday inn buffet.

  17. The Amex staff at some Centurion lounges are great. Some, not so much.
    I was at the front of the line (still outside of the doors) since I’d received a text. A group of 5+ individuals walk past the line and go straight to the counter agent who starts to check them in. Another group also not in line walks past us in line and queues behind the first group of line cutters. A number of us go in the door and yell “there’s a line” and the agent says to them “pay no attention”
    And no, the line cutters were not Centurion, as I watched their AmexPlats come out. Not thrilled with this club location

  18. Maybe it’s time for AmEx to put Centurion Lounges on Resy with a deposit requirement. You show up, the deposit is refunded. And with a reservation, you’re guaranteed a seat. I haven’t bothered to visit a Centurion Lounge in a couple years because the crowding had grown so horrendous. I no longer consider it a valued benefit, not unlike the watered down companion airfare program.

  19. Lounges are kind of a mixed bag really. If I’m going to show up early enough to use them at my departure airport, they need to be worth my while. I recently flew ANA biz out of IAD, which got me into three lounges of note: United Polaris, Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, and Turkish. Polaris lounge is dead when the TYO flights leave so that helps a lot… and the lounge is worth some time. I spent 5 minutes in the VA lounge before deciding it wasn’t worth my while. VA might do better when their own flights depart, but this was a waste. Turkish makes their small space count, I always love their food selection.

  20. Just got the $695 renewal on wife’s Amex Platinum. Although the Delta lounge benefit is apparently available until 2025 there is no mention, instead citing the Priority Pass and Centurion availability. Can only imagine if the herds currently occupying the Skyclubs all descend on the Centurion lounges which appears to be the value proposition Amex will cite for the slashing of the benefits of their premium card without cutting the price.

  21. After the Delta rules go into effect, I’m out. Don’t worry though, I won’t be using SC’s all that much in 2024 as I’ll be building/retaining status on AA and UA. I’ll pick up the AA Citi Exec card early next year for the AC’s and AS lounges. Centurion’s are the last lounge I even try getting in to now. They’re packed, dirty and the food sucks. This trip which concluded last night, I used the DFW C1VX and AA Flagship lounges and the CX First lounge at LHR. ALL were MILES ahead of the Centurion’s. I didn’t touch a Centurion until my 1.5 hour connection in CLT last night. The place was jammed, 75% military (so AMEX isn’t even recouping any revenue), it was dirty….like really dirty and the food sucked. The butter knife to cut the meat just didn’t do it. I needed a Sawzall. AMEX has definitely turned the corner. I’ll gladly forego the Walmart+ credit that I’ll no longer be entitled to after I dump this over-marketed, dog of a card. It’s anything but “premium” these days.

  22. I am with the $0 crew.
    In fact, I will be ditching my AMEX Platinum before renewal. Damn near $700 a year just isn’t giving me value and I don’t need the ego reinforcement. I will have an AMEX card, but it will likely be the TAP branded version.
    The Centurion Clubs have been a joke for years, and at many airports just aren’t worth visiting. The only time I tend to use one is at PHX when I am flying direct PHX-LHR.
    Last visit, I got a seat. Food was worse than mediocre, no line at the bar. Very odd clientele. In an airline’s premium lounge you can assume folk paid for business or better. At the Centurion Club, it’s who paid for a credit card. I did not care for the entitled elderly lady (actually about my age) leading three small dogs around the clubs.
    I won’t miss them.
    Sad thing is, all the credit card clubs are headed that way. It’s inevitable. Personally, I don’t know why they don’t let one reserve a 3-hr slot and give those with reservations admission preference. It would fix a lot of problems.

  23. The lines are annoying and the food is average. Still, saves me quite a bit over regular airport dining. At Oklahoma City I was a couple hours early for my flight. No Centurion or Skyclub so I ended up spending 120 at Vino+Volo. Lounge access pays for itself quickly despite annual fees.

  24. @Jesda maybe you should adjust your spending in those couple of hours to match the value you would have received from spending 2 hours in a lounge. Centurion, Sky Club, or Priority Pass, there’s no way you’ve getting $120 in value after spending 2 hours in either lounge. You splurged and that’s why it cost you $120.

Comments are closed.