We’ve written extensively about American Express Centurion Lounges. Located at eight airports in the US and reserved exclusively for Centurion and Platinum card holders and their guests, the clubs are elegant retreats featuring a complimentary full bar, free hot meals designed by celebrity chefs, luxurious shower suites, and stylish seating and work areas with power outlets aplenty.
At least, that’s the theory.
The reality is that most lounges are operating at capacity. The typical guest experience is not what American Express envisioned when designing the lounges, which were initially an exclusive perk for Centurion members. Several clubs routinely have to turn patrons away—The Centurion Lounge Seattle and Miami are infamous in this regard—and most struggle to offer enough seats, let alone an intimate and exclusive ambiance, or timely access to showers and daybeds.
Ultimately, that’s a testament to the runway success of the product. The unveiling of the first Centurion Lounge at Dallas/Ft. Worth airport in 2013 sent ripples throughout the industry, forcing airlines to improve their offerings and remodel clubs. Six years later, despite significant improvements, passengers who have airline club access often choose The Centurion Lounge despite the crowds.
American Express tweaks access policies for Platinum members
In an effort to mitigate crowding, American Express will make the following changes to the access policy for Platinum card holders, as of March 22, 2019. There are no changes for Centurion members.
- No more access upon arrival. Currently, members are welcome to visit any lounge at any point during their trip, including upon arrival at their final destination. As of March 22, members will only receive access when departing or connecting.
- Access within 3 hours of departure only. Currently, members may stay at a lounge for as long as they want. As of March 22, access will only be granted within three hours of departure.
While most travelers should feel little impact—other than, hopefully, a quieter experience—the change will affect red-eye passengers, as well as those with long layovers.
- The change to the arrival policy marks an end to the use of The Centurion Lounge as a place to shower and enjoy breakfast after a red-eye transcontinental flight. At San Francisco International airport, for example, the Centurion Lounge is the only domestic lounge with showers in Terminal 3.
- The Centurion Lounge becomes of limited use during long layovers. The three-hour limit translates into a two-hour limitation in practice, seeing that most airlines start boarding 45 to 50 minutes before departure. Assuming a remote gate or terminal change, that’s little lounging time left.
In response to member feedback, as of March 22nd, children under 2 years of age will be admitted free of charge, in addition to two guests. This policy is bound to be popular with families—but possibly less so with business travelers. Fortunately, most Centurion Lounges feature a sound-proof family room.
American Express renovates lounges with additional space and seating
In an other attempt to mitigate crowding, American Express is touching up several lounges to increase capacity.
The financial institution has been coy about the details, but we understand that there may be changes to the bar areas, for example—the monumental bar design is certainly a visual highlight, but it’s not especially space efficient. There may also be improvements to the seating layout in order to accommodate additional guests.
These renovations have started throughout the network. The Centurion Lounge at Miami International Airport is currently closed, and expected to re-open in the next few days; while The Centurion Lounge Seattle will be temporarily closed for a short period in March.
As of March 22, 2019, American Express will phase out Centurion Lounge access upon arrival, and restrict access to three hours before departure, in an effort to mitigate crowding. In parallel, American Express is re-introducing complimentary access for children under two years old.
While any new restriction is a take-back, ultimately these are pragmatic and common-sense changes that will not impact most travelers. It remains however to be seen if they will make a material difference.
American Express is also working with most airports to obtain additional space, though it will likely be years before any real expansion plans pan out.