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Centurion Lounge: The best part of San Francisco International Airport

August 6, 2015
Panna cotta
Airport sign announcing the new Centurion Lounge at SFO

Airport sign announcing the new Centurion Lounge at SFO

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.

Dramatic entrance to the Centurion Lounge at SFO

Dramatic glass entrance to the Centurion Lounge at SFO

Living Wall inside the entrance

Living Wall inside the entrance

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.

One of the lounge areas

One of the lounge areas

Food-wise: Life is a bowl of cherries

Bowl of fresh bing cherries

Bowl of fresh bing 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.

Chef Jake in the Kitchen

Chef Jake in the Kitchen

Scrambled eggs with heirloom tomatoes and chicken-apple sausages

Scrambled eggs with heirloom tomatoes and chicken-apple sausages

Zucchini and goat cheese quiche

Zucchini and goat cheese quiche

Decadent deep-fried brioche French toast

Decadent deep-fried brioche French toast

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.

Herb-roasted chicken

Herb-roasted chicken with garlic and lemon

Rosemary potatoes

Rosemary potatoes

Creamed corn with jalapenos and lime zest

Creamed corn with jalapenos and lime zest

Panna cotta

Panna cotta

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.

Wine-tasting wall and menus

Wine-tasting wall and menus

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

Back to reality at Gate 64 SFO

Back to reality at Gate 64 SFO


IF YOU GO 

Centurion Lounge at SFO

(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


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. 

  • Reply
    Laura
    August 7, 2015 at 10:15 am

    What a great perk! I had the gold cards for years and regularly received offers to upgrade but never saw the need. If I traveled regularly I would definitely get a platinum card. The $450 is totally worth it. Too bad it doesn’t include bypassing the waiting area at the gate.

    What kind of shoes are you wearing, Irene? Are they Skechers go walk?

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 7, 2015 at 11:28 am

      You sure have a keen eye for shoes!

      Yes, I think it’s a great Amex perk, too!

      • Reply
        Laura
        August 7, 2015 at 12:30 pm

        I’m all about comfortable shoes, so I know the styles. I want to try the go walk. I have a pair from Lands End that are practically identical.

  • Reply
    Nancy D. Brown
    August 9, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    The title of this blog post caught my eye, as San Francisco International Airport is my home airport and I am an American Express card holder. Alas, I am not an AmEx platinum card holder so $50 is on the high end to spend on a lounge unless I had plenty of time to kill. Looks like I need to become friends with a platinum card holder and be a +plus one!

    Thanks for the thorough review. The Centurion Lounge at SFO looks like a winner and the food….don’t get me started! Yum.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 9, 2015 at 11:09 pm

      If it’s your home airport, you may want to consider membership given the frequency of your travel. It’s simply the cat’s meow!

  • Reply
    Jackie Smith
    August 9, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    While we haven’t tried the Amex Lounge at SFO, we did get to experience the Emirates Business/First Class lounge there last spring. It was an amazing oasis of luxury — and what a pleasant way to start a long journey. Oh to be a permanent ‘lounge lizard’! Great report on this lounge. . .so very tempting!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 9, 2015 at 11:27 pm

      I love the idea of a lounge as the destination! The Emirates one sounds very tempting, too!

  • Reply
    Paula McInerney
    August 9, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    Looks very tempting. I haven’t been here but when we fly from San Fran to NYC we will stop in as we have Amex Platinum Card. Is that all we need to enter?

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    August 10, 2015 at 1:38 am

    A chef at an airport lounge? Yes, that’s pretty unusual. That’s quite a selection of real food there too (not just cheese and crackers). Now, if only we hadn’t given up the American Express card!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 10, 2015 at 10:32 am

      We thought about doing the same but the Centurion Lounges are another incentive to keep the card.

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    August 10, 2015 at 8:59 am

    The food in this lounge looks fantastic. It certainly outshines anything I’ve had in an airport lounge.

  • Reply
    Nancie
    August 10, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Beautiful lounge, and I am still drooling over the food. I used to work for American Express, and they really are a class act. I still have an Amex card, and their customer service is always over the top.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 10, 2015 at 10:45 am

      They are terrific when customers encounter billing difficulties, Nancie.

  • Reply
    noel
    August 10, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Wow, this is definitely the way to enjoy a visit to the SF terminal when you have time to relax befor the a long flight, do you know what the cost for Centurion membership is Irene?

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 10, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      A small fortune:

      To become a Centurion cardholder, one must meet American Express’s eligibility criteria. Cardholders are required to pay an annual fee, and in some countries also an initiation fee (In the United States, the initiation fee is $7,500 in addition to the $2,500 annual fee from each cardholder).

      Wow!

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    August 10, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Your description of the Centurion Lounge at my home airport makes me wish that I had an American Express Platinum card! Alas, that hefty fee will keep me out.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 10, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      Actually, when you do the math, the $450 annual fee isn’t excessive given the benefits. This is NOT a sponsored post but if I’m remembering correctly, the Amex Platinum carde fee includes: 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; access to 10 segments of Go-Go inflight internet service; reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check fees every five years; and access to a network of lounges.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Fluhr
    August 10, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    For frequent flyers who use airports with Amex lounges, with the extra perks, the $450 sounds worth it. My husband has an Amex card that he has had since before we were married—-i.e. for more than 33 years. We were thinking of canceling it because we are running into more and more places that don’t even accept American Express. As it is, we just use it for back-up because we collect points/miles on a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. When we flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand last year, we had a 7 hour layover at SFO. We had the worst dinner at THE WORST FOOD COURT. It was so bad, it even made a cameo appearance in my blog post about that trip, “The Longest Day”.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 11, 2015 at 8:15 am

      So sorry about your very bad day…we could have remained in this lounge at least a day:-)

  • Reply
    santafetraveler
    August 12, 2015 at 1:21 am

    If I ever get stranded at SFO- the Centurion Lounge is where I want to be. The food looks great. You could pay for your year’s card if you eat and drink enough.

  • Reply
    Sheila
    November 8, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Wondering ,as a platinum card holder, if SFO is my destination can I access the lounge?

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 8, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      Sheila,

      Great question. I am not sure of the answer. I know that you need to have a same-day boarding pass to access the lounge. Moreover, the lounge is post-security so you will have need to have gone through TSA.

      Given those two limitations, according to the eligibility FAQs (http://thecenturionlounge.com/info/faq) it seems like you would be able to access the lounge.

      I think your best bet would be to phone AMEX at the number on the back of your Platinum card just to be sure.

      Best, Irene

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