American Express’ new Centurion Lounge at New York LaGuardia airport is ready and will open in a matter of days — the specific day is uncertain, although they promise “by mid-month.”
I had an opportunity to see the lounge last night, though and try the food since I was invited to the pre-opening party and dinner there. So I flew up to New York for the night (4500 British Airways points each way for the US Airways Shuttle from DC, and cash and points at the Sheraton LaGuardia).
What American Express has created is a stylish, comfortable departure lounge with good food and drink.
The LaGuardia location is smaller than their other lounges — 5000 square feet compared to 8000 – 12000 elsewhere, including the new lounges under development. It’s the space that was available, but it makes good sense. This isn’t an airport with long layovers (or really, very many connections). No spa, kids’ play room, or showers. But plenty of spaces to sit in comfort, with power and internet and libations and a buffet.
I’ve got photos of the space, the food, and details on American Express’ future expansion plans.
What Is An American Express Lounge?
American Express has begun operating their own network of “Centurion lounges,” which are a step above what travelers have become accustomed to from US airline-operated lounges.
I consider the American Express Centurion lounge in Dallas my favorite lounge in the U.S.. It’s one of the two I visit most often, along with my home American Airlines Admirals Club at Washington National airport.
Other contenders for best lounge would be the New York JFK Virgin Clubhouse, first class section of Lufthansa’s club, and British Airways Concorde Room.
There’s a Centurion lounge already in Las Vegas, and additional known lounges in the pipeline for San Francisco and Miami. Others will surely come.
- Centurion and Platinum cardholders: Cardmember may bring in their spouse and children or two guests
- Other American Express cardholders: $50 per adult (children complimentary when accompanied by paying adult)
Most Passengers Will Find the Lounge Accessible.. Before Security in the Central Terminal
LaGuardia is set up with multiple terminals, and they’ve placed this lounge in the Central Terminal also known as terminal B. It has several piers servicing American, United, JetBlue, Air Canada, Southwest, Frontier, and Spirit. If you put the lounge after security you’d only give access to passengers of an airline or two.
Delta passengers with American Express Platinum cards get Delta lounge access already (but no longer for guests…).
So that really just leaves US Airways passengers (with their much scaled-down operation, mostly the Shuttle with just-in-time arriving passengers) and WestJet without immediate access to an American Express-provided lounge.
Having a lounge ‘landside’ before security means having to leave the lounge earlier for your flight, though. But security has never been bad for me at LaGuardia — the different terminals and piers have helped ensure that. And American Express Platinum and Centurion cardholders get Global Entry or PreCheck signup fees rebated. Either gets you PreCheck access if you qualify, and should further reduce wait time.
They’re planning to add a screen showing security wait times near the entry to the lounge, so that will help reassure guests as well.
From outside the airport, enter via the food court entrance on the upper (departures) level. Turn to your left and you’ll see elevators which you’ll take up to the third floor.
A directional sign greets you.
Inside the Lounge
Right behind the check-in desk is a lounge area overlooking the tarmac.
Sadly, there’s no photo of meatloaf.
The lounge is U-shaped, a long corridor with seating takes you through to the dining room and bar.
The dining room will be set up differently, here all of the tables were moved together to make one long table for the night’s dinner.
The restrooms are just past the bar. As I mentioned, no showers. The bathroom amenities are L’Occitane.
The Food… Really Good
The lounge’s celebrity chef is Cedric Vongerichten of Perry Street restaurant in New York. Accomplished in his own right, it will be a long time before his name is mentioned without reference to his father Jean Georges.
He was in the kitchen for our dinner, and the food was being plated individually. But the evening’s menu consisted of items that will be served in the lounge. It’s an open question how well executed it will be when Cedric Vongerichten isn’t there. And how it will translate to a buffet. But it’s clearly his food, and he’s paid attention to how the food will translate and how it works in that kitchen. They use fairly small buffet dishes and change them out frequently, and that helps a lot.
Here was the evening’s menu:
We began with a tomato and herb salad in a shallot and red wine vinaigrette. It had sliced jalapeno peppers, so surprisingly spicy. The tomatoes were excellent.
Second course was udon noodles in a vegetable broth with green chili and these were good noodles. Not quite Lam Zhou Homemade Noodles in New York but satisfying nonetheless.
The entrée was a duo of baked salmon with sesame seeds and kaffir lime and fried chicken with honey lemongrass glaze accompanied by ginger rice and roasted summer squash.
The chef is known for his friend chicken, widely regarded as one of the best renditions in Manhattan. I’m usually not a fan, but it was great. If it stays equally juicy, not overcooked, on the buffet it will be a huge win on its own.
Finally for dessert, strawberry shortcake which was excellent as well.
Verdict and Plans for the Future
American Express Centurion lounges are stylish and functional. There’s nooks and crannies to sit and work. There’s good food and drink. And there are plus features at many like a spa and showers.
The only thing they lack compared to an airline’s own lounges is the sort of help with rebookings and upgrades that your operating carrier can provide. Back in December when I was caught in an ice storm in Dallas and suffered eight straight cancelled flights, I kept moving back and forth between the American lounge (for rebooking) and the Centurion lounge (where I wanted to spend my time).
The LaGuardia location is a hit in terms of style, comfort, food and drink but it’s smaller and serves a different purpose from their lounges in major international hubs where passengers are often waiting out long connections, need a shower or a nap.
I’m hoping it’s big enough at less than 3/5ths the size of the Dallas lounge.
American Express should have 5 lounges open in the U.S. by the beginning of 2015 — San Francisco coming online by the end of the year and Miami by early next. They tell me they hope to have two more to announce in the pipeline by the end of the year.
These negotiations with airports are complicated, finding the right space, and dealing with the politics. American Airlines went nuclear when the DFW airport leased them space.
But their goal is to be in all major cities in the U.S., and then evaluate whether select mid-size cities make sense.
Already I’m a very frequent visitor to the Dallas lounge. I fly American primarily in the U.S., and connect through Dallas constantly. If I’m arriving in or departing from the D terminal I’ll use it, and if my connection is 75 minutes or more I usually will pop in as well. Building out the network is the single biggest reason I keep my Platinum card.