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Biding time at the American Express Centurion Lounge at McCarran Airport

August 14, 2014
One of the signature breakfast dishes

One of the signature breakfast dishes at the Centurion Lounge at McCarran

If you are traveling from Las Vegas, bypass the slot machines. Head directly to the American Express Centurion Lounge. 

If you’re lucky enough to wind up in a American Express Centurion lounge, you may wish you had arrived earlier or that your plane was departing later. Really.

This was our first visit to the lounge that opened more than a year ago at Terminal 1 in McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. We’ve been in many lounges but this one truly made us reminisce about the days when flying felt luxurious, flyers weren’t squirreled into tiny seats, and passengers weren’t nickel-and-dimed.

The space

Centrally located across from Gate D1, the contemporary space is light and airy with see-thru shades that block out the blazing Las Vegas sunshine. Seating is ample and comfortable, and the setting looks like one of the spirited workspaces of tech giants like Google, Facebook or LinkedIn. Large graphics of Vegas headliners decorate the walls.

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Guests can choose one of the pillowed nooks lining the periphery of the room (large enough to lie down in); one of the string of chaise lounges (big enough to fit two); or a comfortable couch with a huge Alessi fruit bowl on the nearby cocktail table. We sat down at the one with a mound of fresh white peaches, opposite a priceless portrait of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in their prime—passing nearby tables with apple, orange and banana bowls. With high-speed wireless Internet service throughout, the lounge also offers work areas with large-screen computer monitors.

Couch beside the white peaches

Couch beside the white peaches

White peaches

White peaches

Work area

Work area

Another work area

Another work area

Mid-morning, there were no check-in lines and plenty of seats affording tranquility, privacy and charging stations for electronics.

Food

The breakfast buffet is better than that found at most chain hotels. Not tons of choice but enough foods that are fresh, tasty and replenished frequently.

In addition to the juice and specialty coffee bars, there is fresh cut fruit and Greek yogurt, cold cereal, and hot oatmeal. The poached eggs floating in a sea of tomato-basil-cheese sauce were my favorite but there were also lemon-ricotta pancakes, scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes and sliced breads.

Scrambled eggs with lemon-ricotta pancakes

Scrambled eggs with lemon-ricotta pancakes

If you want to eat while chatting with friends or colleagues, you can sit at one of the cafeteria-style tables adjacent to the fully-stocked wine and liquor bar. I couldn’t believe it so I asked twice: All foods and beverages are complimentary.

The cocktail bar

The cocktail bar

A benefit of American Express Platinum Card

American Express Platinum Card membership costs $450 per year. If you travel often—but not often enough to have status with one or more airlines—Centurion Lounge access may help rationalize the value of being an Amex Platinum member.

In addition to the convenience and reliability of the card, Amex Platinum travel benefits include: a: $200 credit per year for ancillary fees like baggage or seat upgrades incurred (on one carrier you choose at the beginning of the year); no foreign transaction fees on purchases abroad; access to free Boing-Boing internet service at airports; reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check fees every five years; and access to a network of lounges.

Let me try to explain the somewhat byzantine lounge arrangement. In addition to offering access to three Centurion lounges, Amex now has a reciprocal relationship with Delta (participating airlines change and have diminished in number). If you fly on that carrier that day, you can enter the Delta Sky Club for free, depending on finding a club at the airport and terminal you depart from.

However, on our trip to Las Vegas we learned that the rules have recently changed and only the cardholder has free access. We were told that entry for a second person (e.g., a guest or spouse) would be $29 (on top of our painful Delta $25 first bag charge per leg) so we left feeling stung by another airline benefit being taken away.

At carriers/airports without such a lounge arrangement, Amex cardholders can use another card benefit, a Priority Pass card issued at no-cost to all members, which allows entry to a network of 600 lounges at 100 airports for free. Additional guests with the card member are charged $27 each.

Prior to a trip, it can be confusing to determine/research your options. For example, lounges may exist at the airport you are using but they may be in the wrong terminal. Adding to the confusion, rules, requirements and available lounges change frequently with little notice.

Lounge of the future opens at La Guardia 

Coincidentally, we learned from one of the lounge employees at McCarran that a new American Express Centurion Lounge has opened its doors this week on the third level at Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport (one of the New York airports we often use). At present, the third and only other lounge in the Centurion network is at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Others are under construction in San Francisco and Miami.

Every year when the bill comes for Amex Platinum membership, we wonder whether the card offers enough value for its cost. Given this very enjoyable and near-perfect Centurion Lounge experience, it makes us more sanguine about keeping the card.

It also makes us question why upgrades aren’t being made at other airport lounges, many of which offer only marginal experiences.


IF YOU GO

  • Of course, in addition to Amex Platinum Card holders, Centurion members (who pay the $2500 annual fee) can also access the three lounges at no charge (along with up to two guests or immediate family).
  • The cost of a one-day pass for non-members is $50. If you have an extended wait, it may well be worth the cost given the price of airport food.

This post is part of a LinkUp to Noel Morata’s Travel Photo Discovery.

What has been your experience at airport lounges? Any stand out from the crowd?

  • Reply
    Wanda Sadowski
    August 15, 2014 at 8:36 am

    The American Express Centurion Lounge is definitely a great-sounding choice for us! Clean, great food, and not packed with exhausted people. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Reply
    Sheryl
    August 15, 2014 at 8:57 am

    This definitely makes waiting for a flight so much more pleasant. Killing time in a lounge like this sounds very luxurious. If you do fly often, I think it’s worth the rather steep price of the card!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 15, 2014 at 9:00 am

      Or people may want to splurge for the day pass if they anticipate a long wait!

  • Reply
    Patti
    August 15, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    We rarely fly into Vegas, but I’ll keep this in mind for future possibilities. Hanging around in airports is usually more of a chore than anything, so having a lounge is an added bonus.

  • Reply
    Larissa
    August 16, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    This is a good reminder that there are other options out there for comfort when flying (or at least waiting to fly). Our travel is scattered between several airlines, and I had forgotten about the AMEX option. It may be time to reconsider upgrading my membership to Platinum!

  • Reply
    Johanna
    August 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    My gosh! How luxurious. This sounds more like a hotel lounge than something at an airport, and please transport me there, Now! I’d get a lot of blogging done at that workstation with Bob Dylan beaming down on me as my muse 😉

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    August 17, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    A lounge that offers eggs and lemon-ricotta pancakes? That’s an unusual and very nice treat… We have Priority Pass, which gets us into certain airport lounges. Interestingly, we were told that if you have a Priority Pass given to you as a benefit through your American Express card, it won’t allow you to get into certain airline lounges (maybe United’s Red Carpet lounges?) in the U.S., but if you bought and paid for Priority Pass separately, then you can get in. Means that one really has to read the fine, fine print…

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Gosh, these lounge entry rules are even more convoluted that I thought they were! In the end, the consumer gets screwed every which way. I tried to find a website that had the current benefits of various cards but most are outdated (some don’t even have dates!).

      Best, Irene

  • Reply
    Jackie Smith
    August 18, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Sounds like a fabulously luxurious way to prepare for a flight. Thanks for taking us along with you –

  • Reply
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    August 18, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Savvy travelers come to depend on these little beacons of comfort and you’re right, they’re dwindling in number, along with diminished accessibility. This one looks like a great oasis.

  • Reply
    noel
    August 18, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    That sounds like a great option, I’ll definitely have to investigate this more and see if it is feasible to do with all the travel I have lined up for the rest of the year to next. Thanks for the information.

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    August 18, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    McCarran Centurion Lounge looks great. One of my credit cards gets me into a number of airport lounges (not Centurion though). I like to make use of the lounge whenever I have a bit of layover or a long airport wait. It can be a very pleasant way to pass the time and get refreshment.

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    August 18, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Very interesting. I just heard that AmEx also has a well price travel insurance available. Do you know anything about that? Are there less expensive AmEx cards that are worth considering?

  • Reply
    Suzanne Fluhr
    August 19, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    I don’t think it’s worth the $450 per year for us, but it’s nice to know that we can possibly pay to use a lounge during a long layover. I’d look at it like paying for an extended check out at a hotel—-sometimes worth the money for a late flight. If you pay the day rate to get some work done, I wonder if the fee can be considered a work expense? And, if you write a blog post about the exact experience of using one of the lounges….. 😉

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 20, 2014 at 11:16 pm

      Your mind is always working, Suzanne!
      Even if you don’t work, the lounge can be a sanctuary in a very crowded airport—although some lounges are almost as crowded!

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jones
    August 19, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Even at $50 a pop it’s a bargain if you have a long layover; beautiful space!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 20, 2014 at 11:15 pm

      Especially given the price of airport food and spirits:-)

  • Reply
    Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it
    August 21, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Airline travel is so impersonal and this lounge certainly offsets that image. My son travels internationally often and he’s described these lounges as one of the few perks that make his wait time bearable.

  • Reply
    Michelle
    August 22, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    I would gladly pay $50 for the comfort and luxury during a long layover. This looks like an amazing lounge that would make the traveling experience so much nicer. Thanks for sharing – REALLY!

  • Reply
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
    August 22, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    How lovely to have an airline travel experience that is positive and makes you feel like a valued customer! If we were in the US more often I would definitely look into the AMEX platinum card.

  • Reply
    alison @GreenWithRenvy
    August 24, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    I use my priority pass all the time, but you definitely have to read the fine print. I downloaded the APP they have, and it helps a lot when you are in a strange airport. Plus it is updated constantly to include new ounces and take away others. That Centurian Lounge is quite a find!

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