One of the perks of holding premium credit cards, and particularly American Express cards, is that they often come bundled with airport lounge access.
Historically Amex has contracted with airlines to offer lounge access. In recent years, however, it has started building its own lounge network, and there is now a large network of American Express and Centurion branded lounges.
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 decade 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 an additional fee.
In response, 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 certain US lounges.
Amex has branded its lounge network as ‘Centurion Lounges’. 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) card, issued in any country.
Where can you find Amex Centurion Lounges?
At present, there are Centurion lounges at:
- Dallas / Fort Worth
- Hong Kong
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- London Heathrow T3
- New York (La Guardia)
- New York (JFK)
- San Francisco
The first ‘proper’ overseas lounge was Hong Kong, as we covered here. The London Heathrow Terminal 3 lounge opened in 2021 – you can read our review here.
There is also, confusingly, a group of other American Express lounges, which are not always branded as ‘Centurion’. These are generally lower quality than ‘real’ Centurion Lounges, although American Express is slowly rebranding with the Melbourne and Sydney lounges now officially Centurion branded.
Currently, other Amex lounges include:
- Buenos Aires
- Mexico City
- Sao Paulo
What do Centurion 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 isn’t a problem at Heathrow Terminal 3 which does not have any dedicated domestic areas.
Who can use the Amex Centurion lounges?
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.
Amex has also started extending some of its existing lounges, and the Centurion Lounge in San Francisco has now nearly doubled in size, to almost 3,000 square meters.
Anyone with the following cards can use Centurion Lounges:
Holders of the Centurion Card (sometimes called the Black Card) also have access, although as this card is invite-only we won’t be focussing on it.
Platinum Card members are now restricted to two guests although additional day passes can be purchased.
From February 2023 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.
Are Amex Centurion Lounges good?
Generally speaking the answer is yes. Centurion Lounges are well designed spaces with good amenities and normally excellent food and beverage options. You can see our Centurion Lounge reviews here:
As you can see here, we rank the Centurion Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 as the fifth best in the terminal. Don’t misunderstand this – Terminal 3 features an unusually high number of outstanding lounges including Cathay Pacific (x2), Virgin Atlantic and Qantas. At almost any other airport a Centurion Lounge is one of, if not the, best.
How to get FREE airport lounge access via UK credit cards (January 2023)
As a reminder, here are the four options to get FREE airport lounge access via a credit 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.
If you have a small business, consider American Express Business Platinum instead.
Additional lounge visits are charged at £20. You get four 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 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.