With its Centurion Lounge, American Express pioneers the concept of lounges you don’t want to leave.
Airports can be pretty unwelcoming places these days but the Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is a virtual oasis in the desert. Open for nine months, this brilliant new “conception” is located on the second level (near Gate 74) in Terminal 3 and is accessible from the International Terminal at SFO as well. Upon arriving, visitors enter through glass doors and can either walk up a gracious stairwell opposite a striking living wall or take an elevator.
Although we previously raved about the Centurion Lounge at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, this one kicks the concept up a notch. The attractive, light-filled lounge is divided into two primary spaces, a dining/bar area and work/relaxation area—although people seemed to be multitasking in each—with a living room in the center and numerous special purpose alcoves.
Food-wise: Life is a bowl of cherries
Honestly, we didn’t time it this way but when we arrived at 11AM, we were able to sample the best of two menus. As we checked into the lounge, the receptionist told us that the kitchen would shortly be switching over from breakfast to lunch so if we wanted the former, we should hurry over to the buffet table. We did.
On the first segment of our trip (from New York to SFO), we had visited the United Lounge where food offerings were limited to standard fare like carrot sticks, cookies, yogurt covered raisins and munchie mix.
The experience at The Centurion Lounge at SFO was totally different: An elegant breakfast spread included a zucchini and goat cheese quiche, scrambled eggs with heirloom tomatoes, chicken-apples sausages, fresh fruit and the most incredible French toast ever (made from deep-fried brioche bread).
Chef Jake was presiding over the open kitchen when we visited. When was the last time you saw a Chef in an airport lounge? Cédric Vongerichten (yes, the son of Jean-Georges), who was recognized by Zagat as one of the top 30 chefs under 30, is the lounge’s Executive Chef.
On to lunch
After you pick up a cloth napkin (yes, cloth), the beautifully presented lunch buffet included lentil soup, herb-roasted chicken with garlic and lemon, rosemary potatoes, creamed corn, string beans, make-your-own salad, and a panna cotta dessert.
Staffing was impressive throughout the lounge. Someone was always around to help, to explain, or to tidy up used plates and glassware. Help-yourself stainless steel bowls filled to the brim with different types of fresh fruits on many of the tabletops.
Drinks: Bar none
Guests who sashay up to the bar can order their choice of unlimited complimentary wines, beers, spirits, soft drinks or cocktails. An automatic machine dispensed cappuccino and other specialty coffee drinks beside a tray of Mighty Leaf Tea. Those beverage offerings were pretty impressive but they paled compared to the wine tasting wall on the opposite side of the room.
The bartender gives guests a scannable receipt to sample from a selection of 20 different Napa Valley wines (reds, whites and rosés). A long table in front of the wall encourages interaction among travelers but introverts can find comfortable seating in private banquette-like niches or on lounges and chairs.
Even the rest rooms were noteworthy. My husband reported that an orange ring with a corresponding fruit scent was inside each of the urinals; in the ladies room my hands never dried as quickly as they did with the top-of-the-line Dyson Airblade 5 automatic dryer. Flat-screen TVs and reading materials were also abundant as were USB and conventional electrical outlets to take advantage of the free high-speed Internet connection.
The cost of a wrapped-in-cellophane sandwich alone at a nearby kiosk in the airport is $12.99. So if you don’t have an Amex Platinum Card, the $50 entry fee at the lounge is well worth the cost. What was the downside? The Centurion Lounge may be a victim of its own success. We visited the lounge during the summer when the airport was pretty crowded and it was almost filled to capacity. Yet, when it came time to board, we hated to leave and wait at the busy gate
IF YOU GO
(also accessible from the International Terminal)
Hours 5AM to 11PM
The Centurion Lounge at SFO is open only to guests with American Express cards. Entry is complimentary for Centurion members and Amex Platinum Card holders (who can enter with immediate family members or two guests). Day passes are available for other Amex card members at a cost of $50 per day.
Previously on More Time To Travel
- Biding time at the American Express Centurion Lounge at McCarran Airport (a post that includes information about other American Express Platinum benefits)
Access to Centurion Clubs like the one at SFO is one of my favorite Amex Platinum Card benefits but CreditDonkey recently reviewed the exhaustive list of benefits available to cardholders.