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Review: the American Express Centurion lounge at Virgin’s New York JFK Terminal 4

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This is our review of the American Express Centurion lounge in Terminal 4 at New York JFK airport.

Most relevant for our readers is that this is the terminal used by Virgin Atlantic and its partner Delta Air Lines.

I recently found myself at the airport with several hours to kill and decided to pop into the Centurion lounge. It is one of the newer lounges (although not as new as the Centurion lounge at Heathrow) and opened in 2020.

Amex Centurion lounge

Who can get access to The Centurion Lounge at JFK?

Whilst the name of the lounge suggests it is only open to Amex Centurion cardholders, this is not the case. It is also open to anyone with an American Express Platinum card (including the business card) issued by any country. It is also open to anyone who holds the US-issued Delta SkyMiles Reserve card.

Anyone entering on a Platinum card can bring up two two guests for free; Centurion cardholders can also bring two guests or their entire immediate family, if it is larger.

SkyMiles Reserve cardholders can bring up to two guests at a cost of $50 (or equivalent) per person.

The Centurion lounge at New York JFK T4 is open from 6am until 9pm.

Where is the American Express Centurion Lounge at JFK Terminal 4?

There is only one Centurion Lounge at JFK airport – in Terminal 4. This is the terminal used by Virgin Atlantic, Delta, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air India, Asiana, Avianca, Caribbean Airlines, China Airlines, China Southern, COPA Airlines, EgyptAir, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Kenya Airways, KLM, Kuwait Airways, LATAM, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, WestJet and XiamenAir.

The lounge is easy to spot. It is almost immediately on the left as you come out of security and before you head down towards the gates.

Centurion Lounge JFK signage

A big white mosaic frames the entrance with two TARDIS-like doors:

Centurion Lounge JFK entrance

Inside are the reception staff who will ask for your card and boarding pass. Note that Amex is particularly strict on enforcing the rule that you can only enter up to three hours before your flight. On my first attempt I tried to get in earlier and was duly denied.

Inside the Centurion Lounge at JFK

The lounge itself is one of the largest Centurion lounges in the world, at 15,000 square feet. It was actually built from the ground up, as an extension of the terminal over the tarmac. You enter the lounge proper via a little glass bridge:

Centurion Lounge JFK seating

Unfortunately the layout doesn’t always make it feel that big. Situated over two levels, most of the lounge feels like a network of corridors rather than zones. Here is the central corridor that connects it to the terminal and staircase to the lower floor:

Centurion Lounge JFK corridor

Both floors are broadly H-shaped (if you turn the H sideways), with the central corridor connecting the front and back of the building. The result is seating in long but not particularly wide corridors:

Centurion Lounge JFK seating 3

and

Centurion Lounge JFK bar seating

Whilst this does maximise the natural light for guests – both sides appear to have windows (in some cases frosted, although it is hard to tell at night) it also means that you feel like you are sitting in a corridor. It is not hugely relaxing.

Both floors feel exactly the same. There is nothing much to differentiate them and both have horridly bright fluorescent lighting in the evenings which make them feel more like offices than a living room.

By far the standout feature of the lounge is the 1850 speakeasy, on the lower floor. I wouldn’t have known it was there had the lounge staff not told me:

Centurion Lounge JFK 1850 speakeasy entrance

Inside is a dark and atmospheric bar – a marked contrast to the rest of the lounge, and clearly very popular. You can order beer, wine or a number of cocktails from the bar.

Centurion Lounge JFK speakeasy

Food and drink

The food offering is equally unimpressive. There are two identical buffets on both floors, but neither is particularly enticing:

Centurion Lounge JFK food

The offering is pretty small given the size of the lounge. When I was there the main dish on offer was a coq au vin which looked like it had never been touched by red wine and would probably make Napoleon turn in his grave:

Centurion Lounge JFK coq au vin

Coffee machines are also self-serve and there are bars on each floor in addition to the speakeasy.

Having seen the food I decided I would return to the Virgin Clubhouse at JFK, which has much better food. I did sample one of the cocktails, however, which was delicious:

Centurion Lounge JFK cocktail

Conclusion

If I’m honest, I expected a lot more from the “flagship” Centurion lounge at one of the United States’ key airports.

The biggest issue is that it just doesn’t feel particularly calming or cosy. The weird corridor-like seating areas and bright fluorescent light mean it feels claustrophobic, at least at night when the windows are all pitch black. There is also no sense of privacy.

No thought seems to have been given to creating different zones across the lounge with different moods, seating and lighting effects. One corner looks very much like any other, rather than trying to create separate areas for working or relaxing.

The 1850 speakeasy is by far the highlight, and judging by the number of guests inside I wasn’t the only one impressed. It has one thing that the rest of the lounge lacks: atmosphere.

In a way, the JFK Centurion lounge feels like a wasted opportunity. The lounge was built from scratch, so the designers and architects could have gone to town. Instead it feels a little bit soulless. Whilst it’s better than nothing, and clearly everything is shiny and new, if you can get into the Virgin Clubhouse which I reviewed here then you’ll be better off.


Getting airport lounge access for free from a credit card

How to get FREE airport lounge access via UK credit cards (January 2022)

As a reminder, here are the three options to get FREE airport lounge access via a credit or charge card:

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

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.  Our American Express Platinum review is here. You can apply here.

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for the first year. It comes with a Priority Pass card loaded with two free visits to any Priority Pass lounge – see the list 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 you get a 20,000 points sign-up bonus.  Full details are in our American Express Preferred Rewards Gold review here.

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

A huge bonus, but only available to HSBC Premier clients Read our full review

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.

Comments (14)

  • Andrew J says:

    Totally agree with the opinions in this review, I also found the speakeasy to be the only redeeming feature and quickly decamped to the Virgin Clubhouse – to be honest I’ve always been underwhelmed by Centurion lounges whenever I’ve visited them which was why I wasn’t over excited by the LHR opening. They are heavily used lounges with poor F&B offerings and at LHR T3 you have much better airline lounges, I’m not sure I would ever visit it.

    • Track says:

      At airports like La Guardia, AMEX Centurion is a godsend — otherwise you are back to very old terminal facilities and even if you buy food at vendors it’s not good.

      MIA Centurion is as well, despite being super-crowded. Particularly it was when AA Flagship was still under construction.

      T4 JFK is a strange choice for a Centurion lounge, likely because of a tie up between AMEX and Delta (credit cards etc) to give AMEX customers a premier experience.

      However, Delta Sky Club is at par with this Centurion lounge. And those lucky Virgin and SQ elites have a Clubhouse to themselves. Such a huge venue is redundant basically, but maybe not as expensive to run per sqm.

  • Andrew P says:

    I went into the Las Vegas one a few weeks ago and was very impressed, but the usual lounge in Las Vegas was shockingly poor in comparison

  • Save East Coast Rewards says:

    It does seem that the excitement in the US over the Centurion lounges is more because traditionally lounges in the US have been quite poor (remember AA status holders can’t get access to Flagship lounges on domestic flights) but when compared to better lounges like VS or CX then they are less impressive.

    • Rhys says:

      Yes, that’s the impression I got too.

    • Tonei Glavinic says:

      Yes, I think that’s a fair assessment. Given the competition of Admirals Clubs, United Clubs, and decidedly subpar Priority Pass lounges, Centurion tends to compare quite favorably especially on the food and beverage front. (Delta Sky Clubs are I think significantly better than AA and UA, and given the choice between a Sky Club and a centurion lounge I’m not sure which I would pick).

  • Peter K says:

    Maybe it’s a trick of the light and photography, but the leg of the R in centurion seems to be missing already! 🤷🏻‍♂️

  • Paul says:

    Good review, thanks. From your write up and photos I agree – how could they have built such a poor lounge from the ground up?! Looks pretty poor. Contrast with virgin clubhouse LHR and wow, totally different levels.

    The best US lounge I’ve been in so far is the AA flagship in MIA, that’s pretty decent.

    • Doug M says:

      Was there yesterday, good short ribs and Lanson. They had a Champagne station, and the first glass was poured very carefully and handed over with a napkin. For the subsequent visits they’d put a younger person there, he just upended the bottle over the glass, this led to varying amounts of froth which meant the level poured was quite random, and often spilt down the glass. I asked him if it was his first timing pouring champagne and he said “next”. To be fair he was not representative of the experience in the lounge.
      Agree it’s a good lounge, good mix of areas, and plenty of power outlets and space.

  • Voldemort says:

    It’s an ubiquitous right of passage that all lounges in the US have to have a track of sodding cookies?

  • Gareth Morgan says:

    Sounds disappointing, particularly when compared with the Centurion lounge in HK which is outstanding. It has a separate Centurion card area with terrific food, wine and service and beats the Cathay 1st class lounge in that.

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