Are Centurion Lounges So Busy Nobody Goes There Anymore?

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I was in the Phiadelphia airport’s Centurion lounge this past week. I hadn’t been since the lounge’s pre-opening event in October.

It’s the smallest club after Seattle, and there aren’t many lounge options in Philadelphia besides the Admirals Clubs (Priority Pass cardholders can use the Minute Suites in the A-B connector).

The lounge was packed. Fortunately I got a seat, and next to a power outlet no less. The men’s bathroom is showing wear but overall the lounge has held up well over the last 7 months.

The manager there shared that Air China has visited the Philadelphia airport twice in the past few months to talk about Philadelphia – Beijing flying. It’s a strange route notion to be sure other than that Chinese airlines squat on routes so that other carriers won’t be allowed by their government to operate them, although that’s been speculated to change.

There’s a Yoga Berra line, he may have been talking about Centurion lounges, that they’re so busy nobody goes there anymore. I often skip them, but in Philly OTG concessions have completely taken over many gate areas so waiting comfortably at the gate is hardly an option.

American Express tried to cut back crowding by limiting guests and by no longer selling guest passes. That hasn’t been enough.

Fortunately American Express is expanding their lounges in Dallas and Miami (and I shared a trick for the Dallas lounge two years ago), and the new Denver lounge will be 40% larger than the current Dallas one, the New York JFK lounge will be slightly bigger still, and LAX will be as big as expanded Dallas.

I still doubt it will be enough. They’re popular with travelers because they’re better than the lounges that were already in the airport before American Express opened them.

However with high demand comes real wear and tear on the spaces. For instance, here’s the bathroom wall in the Miami Centurion lounge this week – a hole, with toilet paper stuffed into it.

I reached out to American Express to ask about their maintenance program for the lounges. A spokesperson told me,

While we’re continuously expanding our Centurion Lounge network, we do also always want to ensure Card Members have a positive experience when they visit each location.

We have extremely high standards when it comes to each lounge and its upkeep. We have a global team dedicated to ensuring we meet the standards for our customers, and fixing maintenance issues when they occur. We will be sure the team in Miami is alerted about the below and that this is promptly repaired.

And indeed the wall was repaired in under 24 hours from when I brought it to American Express’ attention.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

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Comments

  1. SFO is miserably crowded at all hours of the day that I’ve attempted to visit. Occasionally get a seat but usually have to just turn around and walk right out. It’s incredibly frustrating

  2. I was in PHL the same day as you a few hours later. I went to the BA Lounge as a Gold Card Holder flying on AA domestically and was refused entry. I was told that I had to go to the AAdmiral’s Club. I only got in, because I was there with another Gold Card Holder flying internationally. I was only permitted entry as his guest.

    My experience may be the result of the same overcrowding concerns that you mention about the Amex Centurion Lounge. However, I thought any OneWorld Emerald could use any OneWorld Lounge when “traveling internationally?” And as a BA Gold Card Holder, I was traveling internationally on my AA domestic flight?

    The BA “Lounge Dragon” was not very nice either. My guess is he regularly turns away OneWorld Emeralds flying domestically on AA and doesn’t do so with a smile.

  3. I’ve been to SFO twice this year and both times it was fine. Both times were in early afternoon.

  4. A very timely article Gary! I visited this loung two Sunday’s who and wrote the report below … sadly I also tried the AA lounge ,,,, miserable welcome at AA where I was (after spending $6K for a business flight to GLA on a 758, don’t start me on the dumbest hard wired tablet used as an entertainment system requiring the aisle passenger to unplug TWO cables every time the window passenger needs past!!!!) I was offered two paltry vouchers for premium drink?!?!? WTF??? Haven’t these parsimonious b*stards ever traveled with a REAL airline or been in a REAL business class lounge!?!?
    Centurion lounges are for aspirationals and are noisy, overcrowded! PHL didn’t even have Bombay Sapphire gin !!
    So, thought I’d give Amex Centurion Lounge in Philadelphia airport a visit on a Sunday afternoon. A HUGE disappointment. Cramped noisy, kids shouting, babies screaming (staff told me it was “witching hour” – Sunday at 3pm?? Whatever that means!
    I heard this same employee say the same thing hours later to other passengers complaining about the noise and the heat.
    I was invited to access quiet by using the “Phone Room” which I had naively already used to make a call, thinking at last a lounge that discouraged loud phone yakking, and was told it was “5 degrees cooler”. By using it one is made to feel like the goldfish in the proverbial bowl. The men’s restroom was cramped (its 2018 so what’s with absence of self closing toilet seats and having to handle doors after you’ve washed your hands ? – we all know some guys studiously avoid hand washing! One of only two cubicles was bigger than many people’s bathroom with no wash basin – if this was the cursory nod to disabled toilet it’s failed as there’s no washing facility in the cubicle and a cramped area outside – one wash badly sited for the able bodied so I can only imagine it’ll be tough to negotiate in a wheelchair! Staff were pleasant enough but the area near the bar was as loud as any sports bar on match day! To add to the noise of TVs incessant sports and news cycles overhead Musak was piped across the lounge. Weirdest thing was the water fountain delivering either still or sparkling… delivered both as marked but the water was WARM!?!?
    I overheard quite a few people complain there were very very few accessible power points to recharge devices. In 2018? Poor!
    Food was decent but they were having issues with the one and only hot drinks dispenser in the lounge! One machine!
    I’ve experienced the poorly designed and over cramped Miami lounge but this was a new low.
    Back to the QUIET BA Gold Lounge for this passenger!

  5. The times that I have been to the Seattle lounge it has been a struggle to find a seat, and about 50% of the time I just do a quick walk through and then walk out to find some space/outlet in the terminal. The benefit has marginal value to me at this point. This is not really unique to the Centurion lounges though, most lounges in the US have become significantly more crowded in the past 10 years, and lounge operators have been slow to recognize the growth in demand. Early on, I think Amex had the opportunity to increase revenue in some form (higher fees) with these lounges, but they lost that opportunity by opening a series of undersized lounges, and I would think that has undermined most card holders receptivity to higher fees at this point. At this point, access to Centurion Lounges in the US is about as useful as priority pass – not a lot of locations, access limited, you might get in and you might not depending on variety of unpredictable factors. Not something anyone can count on and consequently, not worth paying much for.

  6. I avoid them like the plague unless I am in desperate need of a yummy cocktail or good food – I can usually go somewhere else and have a more relaxing/enjoyable experience. If I’m traveling for work, I don’t mind shelling out $$ for an airport bar or restaurant that will provide me with a more pleasant experience than an overcrowded Centurion lounge.

    However, the Miami situation is quite terrible. Whereas Dallas is usually full or at capacity every time I visit, Miami is terribly overcrowded regardless of day of the week or time of day, and the food isn’t even that good compared to the other Centurion lounges IMHO. So, with that being said, Miami is the exception to the rule in terms of when I will “suck it up” and go to a Centurion lounge.

    I feel like American Express is not doing enough to help – I think they should be much more strict with their Guest Access policy and should stop selling day passes.

  7. I travel on American out of Austin and Houston, with the frequent lay-over in Dallas. Depending on the time, I normally hit the Centurion lounge for a quick breakfast/lunch/dinner, then move over to the American Airlines lounge. They tend to be larger, closer to my gate, and actually allow me to get some work done.

    I’m honestly considering whether or not the Centurion lounges are worthwhile. I normally use lounges as a place to get work done, but recently they haven’t been so accommodating for this.

  8. Miami / phl I have walked in and walked out ! Terrible. Had a decent experience with Las when it first opened . It seems to me most lounges are packed these days .

  9. I’ve been to PHL Cent Lounge about 10x since it opened and only once was it so crowded that I didn’t get a seat. The food is good, the bartenders are great, the seating is great, location is great. The staff is friendly. The men’s bathroom is not great.

  10. The awful feedback about how crowded the lounges are is exactly why I haven’t bothered to get an Amex Platinum. If one of the biggest ‘benefits’ is really a hassle, what’s the point?

  11. Just returned last night from 10 day trip to Spain. Stopped at 3 Centurion lounges along the way and found them crowded, one with zero seats, and the food was awful. Didn’t want alcohol, so left and found the Star Alliance lounges fairly empty and a little better food.

    Came home to renewal fee for Amex Platinum and decided to cancel the card.

  12. @ Gary — I have The Plat AMEX, and I avoid these lounges if there are less-crowded options available.

  13. I live in Philadelphia, I have been to the lounge three times, twice it was too crowded to remain and frankly, I don’t like the food there. I would rather go to Chickie and Petes for some Crab Fries and a little more space. I have also been to the Hong Kong club and there again, food not so great, I would much rather go to the Cathay lounge.

  14. As an AA flyer, I know Admirals Clubs ain’t that great, but they are always less crowded than the Amex lounges. In Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia I don’t even look at the Amex lounges anymore (however, did have a good experience last year in Las Vegas). Also, as I get older Amex seems to be where the younger Millennial crowd likes to go- way too much drinking and noise, no thanks. No longer a reason to get or keep a Platinum card.

  15. Huh? Not many choices in PHL? 4 AA lounges, BA Galleries & First, DL Skyclub, UA lounge, and Centurion. Admittedly most are on the smaller side; but the main AA lounge is huge. I’m just saying, I wish more airports had this many options! But even when I’m flying DL at D Terminal, I’ll always AX for the bar & food offerings. The quick 12 minute walk to the D gates is well worth it.

  16. It wasn’t that long ago that many blogs were touting Centurion lounges as being all that and a bag of chips. Other than free spa services that are hard to schedule on most layovers, Centurion lounges just aren’t that good. Yes, the food and booze is better than basic airline lounges and domestic Priority Pass lounges, but that is a low bar. Priority Pass seems to be expanding its portfolio of restaurants. That and improvements to airline and traditional Priority Pass lounges may ultimately solve the crowding issues with Centurion lounges.

  17. @john couldn’t agree more. Centurion Lounge access, to me, is a perk similar to a Priority Pass – yeah, maybe I’ll get some value out of it once or twice per year, but its value is nowhere near the level that Amex thinks it’s offering. In the past 2 weeks I’ve been in both the Dallas and Miami lounges and they were abosolute zoos – no seats to be had, people fighting for space, food running out minutes after it’s set down. If Amex thinks they’re creating any of kind of luxurious, relaxing airport setting they are badly out of touch.

  18. Centurion lounges augment SkyClubs and the occasional Aadmirals club. I actually find Centurion lounges most useful as arrival lounges as I can get a quality free meal before leaving the airport.

  19. Miami is busy busy busy. Thank you Gary for preventing it from becoming a hole in the wall

  20. As a Centurion cardholder I only use the lounges that have a reserved section for Centurion cardholders. The AX lounges are over run.

  21. Dallas is currently closed and the Priority Pass lounge is in a temporary location. AA lounge in terminal D is also closed. All are being remodeled/moved. Been through DFW 6 times in the last two weeks and just exit and get a day rate at the Hyatt.

  22. Amex is selling their Platinum Card for 550$ and one of the perks is to receive Centurion Lounge Access during airport layovers, same day departing or arriving. This is the promise. Yet, most of the time the promise is not fulfilled. Centurion lounges across the country are over-crowded and the experience is just not as promised. As a paying member you get turned away or eventually allowed access to an overcrowded space where you can grab a drink while standing at an odd place waiting for a seat eventually becoming available. Amex, is this platinum service? You need to either dramatically restrict access or dramatically increase space. I am sure the first option is what you will do – thanks 🙁

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