It may be a couple of years behind schedule, but the American Express Centurion Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 3 will soon be here.
We spoke to the Amex team a couple of weeks ago and they confirmed that it was, pretty much, done and dusted. The main reason it is still closed is the low number of passengers in Terminal 3, but this will pick up sharply if British Airways returns as expected in late August.
In advance of the opening, I thought it was worth taking a look at the Centurion Lounge network. Despite the name, you get in by showing an American Express Platinum charge card.
Why did American Express get into the airport lounge business?
A few years ago, American Express started to lose its contracts with the major US airlines which allowed Platinum cardholders to use their lounges.
Today, the only arrangement that is still in place with a US airline is with Delta. Even this is restricted to the Platinum cardholder only, with guests only allowed for a fee.
American Express decided to launch its own proprietary airport lounge network. They have been seen as a welcome breath of fresh air in the US, where airport lounges are substantially lower in quality than those in Europe and Asia.
US airport lounges tend to operate on a ‘club’ system with paid memberships – having status is not enough to get you access. You have the odd situation where a British Airways Executive Club Gold or Silver member can use their card to access an American Airlines lounge but an AA top-tier flyer cannot. You are also expected to pay for food and some drinks in US lounges.
Amex has branded its lounge network as ‘Centurion Lounge’. This causes some confusion because many believe that you need an American Express Centurion card to enter, which is not true. Access is gained via a Platinum (or Centurion) charge card, issued in any country.
At present, there are Centurion lounges at:
- Dallas / Fort Worth
- Hong Kong
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- New York (LaGuardia)
- New York (JFK)
- San Francisco
The first ‘proper’ overseas lounge was Hong Kong, as we covered here.
There is also, confusingly, a group of other American Express lounges which are branded as ‘Centurion’ but which are not done to the same quality. You can find these in Stockholm, Mumbai, Delhi, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Melbourne, Mexico City, Monterrey and Sydney.
London Heathrow Terminal 3 will therefore be the second ‘current generation’ Centurion lounge outside the US.
What do the lounges contain?
American Express has set up a special website where you can find all the details of each lounge, including opening times and facilities, here.
Depending on the airport, you will find a cocktail bar, premium wines, hot and cold food, a family room, a computer bar, a spa suite offering free 15-minute treatments and shower suites.
Just because you are using a particular airport does not mean that you can get to the lounge, of course. It depends on what terminal you are in and how international and domestic passengers are segregated. This won’t be a problem at Heathrow Terminal 3 which does not have any dedicated domestic areas.
Are Centurion Lounges busy?
Unfortunately, Centurion Lounges in the US have been a victim of their own success and now suffer from overcrowding at peak times. The entry requirements have been tightened up over the years and you can no longer bring in unlimited children or spend the whole day there.
Platinum Card members are now restricted to two guests although additional day passes can be purchased.
From February 2023 – so you can’t say you didn’t have advance notice – holders of US-issued Platinum Cards will not be allowed to bring guests into Centurion Lounges unless they spend $75,000 per year on their card. This rule will not impact UK cardholders.
For the US lounges, you must be 21 years old to enter – unsupervised – if there is a self-service bar. Lounges with a staffed bar accept unaccompanied guests from age 18.
The photographs in the this article are of the Charlotte Centurion lounge. We are looking forward to seeing the Heathrow lounge when it opens – hopefully very soon – although it’s not as if Terminal 3 is short of excellent airport lounges.
How to get FREE airport lounge access via UK credit cards (September 2021)
As a reminder, here are the three options to get FREE airport lounge access via a credit or charge card:
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with two free Priority Pass cards, one for you and one for a supplementary cardholder. Each card admits two so a family of four gets in free. You get access to all 1,300 lounges in the Priority Pass network – search it here.
You also get access to Plaza Premium, Delta and Eurostar lounges. The card has a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points which is a special offer running to 2nd November 2021. Our American Express Platinum review is here. You can apply here.
Additional lounge visits are charged at £20. You get two more free visits for every year you keep the card.
There is no annual fee for Amex Gold in Year 1 and a 20,000 points sign-up bonus. Full details are in our American Express Preferred Rewards Gold review here.
HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard gets you get a free LoungeKey card, allowing you access to the LoungeKey network. Guests are charged at £20 although it may be cheaper to pay £60 for a supplementary credit card for your partner.
The card has a fee of £195 and there are strict financial requirements to become a HSBC Premier customer. Full details are in my HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard review.
PS. You can find all of HfP’s UK airport lounge reviews – and we’ve been to most of them – indexed here.