The Decline of Exclusivity: A Critical Look at the Centurion Lounge Experience

It was 2018 when I wrote that Centurion lounges are so busy, nobody goes there anymore. Sometimes I do? I’ve probably visited Centurion lounges only 3 or 4 times this whole year. To me, the luster has worn off.

  • They’re too busy
  • The food isn’t as good as it used to be
  • Other lounges have improved

Here’s the thing. Lines to get into a Centurion lounge can be just as bad as at a Delta Sky Club. When Delta announced their premium cardmembers would only be able to access lounges 10 times per year (down from unlimited), those same cardmembers would still receive unlimited Centurion lounge access on the same trip.

This is what things looked like at 1:45 p.m. on Monday in Las Vegas:

Credit: TravelZork)

Credit: TravelZork)

When I took my cousin on a seven hour tour of DFW airport while he was connecting enroute home to Australia, about the only thing we didn’t do was stop into the American Express lounge. We did visit the Capital One lounge there!

  • The food is better
  • It’s crowded, too, but they manage queuing better. The Capital One lounge puts you on a list and text you when it’s your turn to enter. You don’t have to stand around like an idiot waiting. And they also don’t pack people in as much, once inside it feels busy but not overrun (so there’s little queueing for food or at the bar). Capital One could still improve, letting you add yourself to any queue virtually.

The whole point of an airport lounge is not to wait in the terminal. There’s nothing luxury about queueing. I have a Platinum card. It pays for itself with credits against spending I would do anyway. And sometimes it’s useful for lounge access I wouldn’t have otherwise.

However, Delta for years has promoted the idea that ‘when everyone’s elite, nobody is.’ When there are so many cardmembers traveling through airports that there are lines to get into their lounges, the lounges cannot in any way be considered ‘elite’. I’d rather camp out in a restaurant with $28 Priority Pass credit and my laptop if there’s no wait (neither American Express nor Capital One-issued Priority Pass cards honor those credits anymore). I’d even wait near my gate or in a food court if there’s a power outlet.

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 managing 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 seemed like a bigger budget per head.

Back then there were no limits on how far in advance you could arrive at a Centurion lounge, and no lines to get in.

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 a decade on even the design feels dated.

Maybe American Express – and Capital One – could offer Platinum cardmembers a couple of ‘skip line line’ priorities per year?

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 »

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  1. Lately, I’ve been going first to Priority Pass restaurants to have an actual meal and then stopping by any available lounge with no wait to just, well, lounge around and have some coffee. It’s been a better, more relaxing, experience.

  2. LAX Centurion Lounge had a 20 minute wait 10 days ago. They will send a text when one can enter. So disappointing! I don’t know of a worse lounge in the Bradley International Terminal ( there might be one, what do I know…). The chairs weren’t much more luxurious than those in a bus terminal. I don’t value Centurion Lounge access highly for hard or soft product

  3. This is unfortunate, but – like Delta – American Express has issued hundreds of thousands of new Platinum cards advertising airport club access, without a corresponding increase in club capacity. With their main partner now limiting SkyClub access, more will end up in the Centurion line.

  4. Currently in the Amex lounge at LAX.
    Almost impossible to find a seat, servers are so visibly exhausted, and I wouldn’t feed this food to my dogs.

    Also, your punctuation… Where did you learn it! It fascinates me?

  5. I was there in Vegas when that club first opened. It was also smaller. They welcomed you to the club. That changed in a major way. Part of the issue is that Vegas is a wastleland for clubs and there are practically none there. Look in the future for more rstrictions from AMEX and higher annual fees on Plat. I also love when there are screaming kids in there.

  6. I avoid them for the same reasons stated here, but the last couple of times I’ve been to the past couple of months it hasn’t been as crammed and there have been no lines. Seems to me like on the margins the latest restrictions on authorized users and free guests have made a bit of a difference. But I’m still doing Capital One over Centurion. In fact, last time I went to DFW CapOne told me 30 min way. So I walked the 5 minutes over to Centurion to wait it out since I was hungry. I went right in and served myself food (no line), and before I started eating I had a text from Capital One that I could go ahead and go into the lounge. Took less than 15 min or so.

  7. So I travel a lot for work, and use the Admirals club, but mainly to sit in a bit more comfort comfort and have “free coffee” and a better bathroom. I’ve given up thinking any lounges are exclusive.

  8. I hate lines. I refuse to wait in a long line to get into a lounge. I’m not a 20 year old trying to get into a night club. It is not a premier experience, not exclusive, not luxury. In addition, centurion seating is typically not comfortable, and most of them don’t have any nice tarmac views…two of the most important things I want in a lounge. I cancelled my Amex plat, and won’t be getting another until at a minimum they expand capacity to be more in line with demand.

  9. Don’t kid yourself, the premium you (and everyone else pays) more than makes up for the costs of the lounges, the issue is they are killing the Golden goose (customers) by charging the same or more while making cuts to quality trying to squeeze out every nickel.

    Delta had admitted credit cards are the cash cow, that means people are the product!

  10. gonna be interesting to see what happens at centurion lounges at dl hubs in ’25, particularly if CL and skyclub lounges are co-located in same terminal. surely, all else being equal, there will be much more capacity pressure on CL at jfk, lga, sea, atl, and lax from ’25 onwards. What will amex do there? try to get more partner lounges? Probably can’t. restrict capacity further? Probably necessary. amex opening new lounges particularly in dl hubs suggests they want to hold on to those customers…

    And what will amex do in dl hubs without CLs or plans to open CLs (slc, msp, dtw, bos).

    My guess is they throw bigger retention offers at latter and smaller at former all while possibly adding a cap on annual lounge visits for those not meeting a spending threshold.

  11. I said buh bye Amex Platinum and have no regrets.
    I save $$ and my new credit card provides money back.
    I am done with the game. I don’t wait in the line—I’ll buy something at the airport and find a quiet corner.
    I feel more elite than ever.
    See ya suckers.

  12. AMEX made the decision during covid to pivot from a high earner/high spender/well qualified customer to the sub-600 fico instagram and the barely-able-to-scrape-/together $695 crowd. They can have it…..and they can fly DL too. I’ll be in the Flagship or Star Alliance Gold lounge.

  13. Just a wee bit of perspective here…yes…I’ve seen the lines (JFK, ATL B18, etc.) but have you seen the terminal (and bars) in those places? Does it ever amaze you how many people actually DON’T have lounge access?

    Yes…they’ve oversold the experience (and in the case of Amex/Delta …the access) and no, the experience is not “elite” anymore. But, I still think it’s better than hanging in the terminal.

  14. In July I got lucky, the las Vegas lounge was not crowded and had a decent breakfast. Las Vegas neededs desperately more lounges! The club and the centurion lounge are small and usually overcrowded, the worst part of a fairly decent airport.

  15. I’ve had successful UC & Polaris lounge visits – until AMS. Club Flor was a 20 minute walk to the gate, an open to the terminal buffet restaurant. I have access to Priority Pass as well. Both the 2nd PP, and non-Schengen SA lounges were closed for refurbishment. But even if they had been open – 20 minutes is too long of a walk.

  16. My wife and I both have Platinum cards. I have had mine since 1985. Each year at renewal time we consider closing the accounts. We look at the $695.00 annual fee and look at the cash back benefits we recieve. One benefit, the reimbursement for Clear, is something we would never do if not paid for by American Express. We personally think of Clear as being very little benefit. Aside from the Clear reimbursement using various uploaded coupons and other benefits we feel we are about even with the cost of the annual fee. The one thing that keeps us renewing is the Centurian lounge access. Sure it is not some exclusive experience but it beats sitting at the gate. I know I have been lucky and have not ever had to wait for access at any lounge including Capital One.

  17. I have never understood the appeal of lounges, especially domestically. Even without the wait, why would you want to spend extra time in a lounge? For like a couple drinks, a worn out chair, and some carrot sticks? Unless the airport terminal is incredibly crowded (like CLT), I find it’s better to pay the $25 for a real meal when I need to kill time.

    Better yet, is just stop spending so much time at airports. The 2-hour thing is BS, despite the scare tactics of the TSA lines going into the parking garage or whatnot. Be ok with getting to the airport closer to departure time and booking tighter connections and there’s no point to the lounge.

    Travel perks, in general, wear thin when you do enough travel. When I first started flying 2x weekly, I went to the airport early to experience the lounges. After like 3 times of this, I was like, wait what? Why?

    I suspect these people are the people that only fly 1x per month or less and have the benefit through the credit card. Nobody that travels that much and are in their right minds would be paying out of pocket for SkyClub membership these days. Your money is much better spent on reducing the margins of airport uncertainty (e.g. paying for a toll lane on the way to airport, expedited security, not checking luggage) than the airport lounge.

  18. The Centurion Lounge is one of the biggest scams in the industry. You can almost never walk in and relax. Always a line and sometimes even a wait list to enter. This is a terrible card benefit that is basically rendered useless.

  19. Centurion Loungues should be available only to Black Amex holders. Period . Otherwise , it is like waiting in line for you neighbourhood cafeteria …

  20. Look – for many travelers, food, and especially drink, are part of the experience. The ability to get a glass of wine, beer, cocktail, etc, while sitting in a less crowded area is worth it for many travelers. Centurion Lounges will forever be able to fulfil that purpose for many travelers.

    In terms of lounge crowding – I think one of the first lounges I ever visited was one of the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong. I was in my early 20s. It was empty and relaxing, and I felt it was a luxury experience (fresh made noodles, champagne, etc). Why was it empty? It was early 2009 during the global financial crisis. The only way lounges will ever be empty again is during a global economic emergency. Take the bad (crowded lounges) with the good (better economic times that allow a wider variety of people the ability to visit lounges).

  21. Standing in a long line only to search for seating, to eat mediocre food. Not very appealing. AMEX needs to figure this out, the lounge is supposed to be a refuge from the busy terminal, not a smaller version of it.

  22. @Jake Yes, agreed especially if you have unlimited priority pass visits — best way to take advantage of that

    @Mike P it’ll be a while but Capital One will be opening their next lounge at LAS!

    Obviously airport real estate is an issue but aside from the dilution of product or charging more I’m hoping more big companies start get into the lounge game. Even if you don’t have access to a particular one the mere presence of options helps thin the herd overall which in turn you would hope would elevate each product. (Wishful thinking though in most cases, ha)

  23. I rarely run into an issue with lines at centurion or SkyClubs. Anywhere. I also avoid traveling on Friday’s and Sunday’s after 12pm. (and most Monday morningsif I can).

  24. Amex needs to eliminate AU’s. Everyone that comes into a Centurion Lounge should either be paying $695 for the card, or paying the single use guest fee, or you have free guests due to annual spend. Including kids.

  25. It’s not just oversold cards, but more people flying and people taking longer connections. Even airline lounges like BA’s in LHR, which only allow business class flyers (and a few elites).- no cards- have had lines lately. And the terminals themselves are usually just as crowded.

  26. @morgan – “Also, your punctuation… Where did you learn it! It fascinates me?”

    Pot, meet kettle.

  27. The problem is the credits that offset the fees. At one time, you paid an annual fee for a card because it had lounge access. Now, you pay an annual fee that is offset to zero and you basically get lounge access thrown in. Something similar has happened to Priority Pass. At one time, PP pass was pretty good and people paid real money to get it. Now, with lounges you pay nothing and get nothing.

  28. To all the folks that say that they’d rather stand in a line as if they’re being herded like animals or walk around aimlessly waiting for a text to gain entry, is better than sitting at a gate, please tell me you don’t believe your own bullshit.

    You’ll hardly find a seat so please don’t claim that you can get some work done in a lounge. It’s too loud to take a phone call. With so many folks, the restrooms (at least the men’s) have piss splatter everywhere.

    The food is slightly above Golden Corral. So again, tell me what is so great about your current lounge situation that makes it soo much better than sitting at a gate? Also, chances are if you really want to be away from folks, more times than not, you’ll be able to find an empty or almost empty gate.

    Please, stop trying to convince yourself that lounges aren’t shitty…because they are, and you know it! You only stand in the line because if you don’t, you’ll really feel like an idiot for spending $695 a year for Walmart+, the Disney channel, and an ugly pair of socks that you didn’t want from Saks to justify the stupid $50 credit.

  29. The Vegas example is not fair, because Delta doesn’t have a lounge at all in Vegas. So Centurion is always a madhouse.

  30. My favorite part about the Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas is the Amex Bouncer who walks through the line of people waiting to make sure they have access, and to make sure they’re informed if they do/don’t have free guests. A bouncer is very Vegas.

  31. I have a Plat card but do not consider the CL as a perk or added benefit. The last thing I want to do is add lining up, crowds, noise and more chaos to the start of my journey. I don’t mind airports so I can usually find an empty gate area and sit, watch planes and people, work or just veg out. I don’t belong to airline clubs anymore either for the very reason stated in this article. If folks determine that queueing up to get into a lounge is a valid use of their time, then go for it. We all have choices of how to spend our 89400 seconds in a day. Some of my travel is international biz, which comes with lounge access and many times I do not use as I know if can be a “free for all” atmosphere…but an occasional shower or place to freshen up is welcomed on longer journeys. The older I get (!), the more I enjoy the opportunity to center and ground myself for the trip ahead, (or during the trip), so the lounge experience needs to add to that…and more and more, they do not offer that type of experience, at least for me.

  32. Lines are the thing I hate most of all. I have precheck and global entry to help me skip the most gnarly ones, and usually these days I’m flying business/first and often even get priority lines or fast track for screening. I just can’t queue endlessly. It’s the worst. So yeah seeing that line for the Last Vegas Centurion really affects me viscerally. I couldn’t.

    Fortunately, fly OneWorld almost exclusively and so have the CitiAA Exec, and the Admiral’s Clubs never have this issue, it seems. They’re not as nice overall, but they’re never THAT crowded, which honestly makes them better in my eyes.

  33. We have been to some really enjoyable lounges and we will hit a lounge when we can. Last week, we were in PHL and stopped by three—BA, AA and Centurion. We were shocked how bad they were. Centurion Lounge texted us when we could go in. Then, the assigned us two uncomfortable chairs and we’re told we couldn’t switch. Lots of seats empty but “reserved”. First time in Admirals Club since the increased price. Wow—awful. BA was meh. Maybe we caught them all on a bad day.

  34. @John is spot on.

    > Add a business professional dress code. No more lines or golden corral crowd.

    There’s nothing premium about a lounge where the average guest is dressed more slovenly than those at a Midtown restaurant. And that would cull out the wrong type of people, who are there to engorge on the food and stay for hours.

  35. @john Yes! Absolutely love the dress code idea. Call me old-school, but I still like to dress a little more “elevated” for air travel. I see the all the masses dressed for Greyhound, and I’m like, meh.. that’s just not me. Would be great if lounges made this a criterion for entry.

    @Jimmy Same! I avoid the heavy travel days, and generally opt for earlier flights. (Ok maybe not zero-dark-thirty, but anytime before noon). Works like a charm: I rarely stand on any lines or find lounges crowded.

  36. Airlines have consolidated so the way you make money is to take share (cutting prices) or lower costs. Now the biz is all about putting bums in seats at lowest possible cost. Looks for innovations like JSX to escape

  37. I am a Centurion card member, and I go directly to the front of the line. I am then escorted to a separate room for Centurion cardholders. So for now, having a Centurion car still maintains the “fast pass” approach including my guests. And showing your card at the bar, they will serve you with a reserve champagne.

  38. Blame “influencers”!!!. Lounge experiences even 5 years ago were so much better than what exists today

  39. You forgot to mention the increases in the annual fees. I can buy some good airport food for $695. The lounges are victims of their own success. I will be dumping my card once I use up my points.

  40. CL access should only be granted for AMEX Plat members after a set minimum spend say… $75-$100K on the card in a calandar year.

  41. If Lounges offered grab and go meal and beverage options then a lot of people would probably utilize that and get out of dodge. The reality is many people aren’t going to the lounge to work, or drink… they just want a free meal. Let them get that and go nearer their gate. I know if I had that option I would use it all the time.

  42. Agree with Freddy Mac 100%. Every lounge network should set up “express” or “grab and go” stations both in the clubs themselves and across the terminals to allow for passengers to grab cold sandwiches and snacks, waters and soft drinks, coffees, etc. This would cut down lounge crowding dramatically and also reduce complaints on board, as passengers will be able to bring quality food on-board and not suffer from the decline we have seen in catering across the industry

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