Yesterday, on June 30th, American Express quietly unveiled the latest sibling in The Centurion Lounge lineage, at Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA.) It’s a bit smaller than its predecessors — with less of the whizz that makes Centurion Lounges the most hyped airport lounges in the US — and thus affectionately dubbed The Centurion Studio.
The Centurion Studio: The background
It all started about two years ago. As the value of the American Express’ flagship charge card, The Platinum Card, started to dwindle with the loss of major partnerships — first, American Airlines Admirals Lounges and then US Airways Clubs — the financial institution decided to take the matter in their own hands by opening their own network of airport lounges.
While competing against the sheer breadth of the network of legacy airline clubs was not a realistic endeavor, raising the bar in terms of amenities and services turned out to be a slam dunk. American Express moved in aggressively, opening Centurion Lounges at major hubs such as Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW), Las Vegas (LAS), New York LaGuardia (LGA), San Francisco (SFO), and most recently Miami (MIA). The recipe: prestigious lounges which offer a premium experience more akin to what one would expect from an international First Class lounge than from a typical domestic lounge. In short, a luxurious product that doubles as a powerful marketing ploy.
Centurion Lounges are visually striking spaces, with a signature living wall, hardwood floors, designer furniture, recessed lighting, and high end finishes. The service is personal and attentive, with personable front desk staff, and servers roaming the room offering drinks and bussing tables. But the amenities steal the show. Each lounge offers full hot meals cooked by celebrity chefs, a full bar with a high-end selection of cocktails, superb shower suites, semi-private spaces such as napping pods and cube chairs, and a family room. At the Dallas and Miami locations, patrons may enjoy complimentary massages, while in San Francisco, travelers may indulge in wine tastings.
Enter the Centurion Studio, Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA)
Seattle is one of the fastest growing metros in the US and ground zero for the battle between Alaska Airlines and Delta — both carriers have established a hub at SEA and keep raising the stakes with promotions and new routes. It’s therefore hardly surprising that American Express would want a footprint in the Emerald City. Officially, though, because of lack of available real estate at Seattle-Tacoma international airport, or perhaps because Seattle is a secondary market after all, American Express has chosen to settle on a smaller space, with limited amenities.
So what’s the Centurion Studio about? Basically, the lounge boasts the same gorgeous design as the larger Centurion Lounges, but without the hot food, cocktail selection, showers, napping areas, or other top of the line amenities. Instead, American Express has focused on the essentials: comfortable seating, fast Wi-Fi, a serene environment, and a range of quality snacks and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
The lounge can sit up to 60 customers, with an official maximum capacity of 101 persons, although we cringe at picturing how such a large crowd would fit. In light of the smaller footprint, American Express has implemented a few pragmatic restrictions. Platinum and Centurion card holders may invite only one guest (or immediate family) and other card members do not have the option to buy a day pass (The Centurion Lounges offer $50 day passes, a good value considering the breadth of services.) Also, American Express had to break the tradition of offering complimentary access to service members on active duty. This makes the Centurion Studio is the first truly exclusive lounge for premium card holders. It will be interesting to see how this strategy pans out. Ultimately the main downfall of the larger Centurion Lounges is the constant crowding, and perhaps more restrictive access policies may help foster a higher-end image.
Interestingly, with a more limited offering, American Express is perhaps competing against itself in Seattle. Not only do Platinum and Centurion card holders get a complimentary Priority Pass membership which opens the doors of as many as three other lounges: the Alaska Airlines Board Room, The Club at SEA Concourse A, and The Club at SEA Satellite S, but in addition, members flying Delta have access to the Delta Sky Club. Effectively, it’s an embarrassment of riches for American Express premium card holders, though not all lounges were created equal. (See our Definitive Guide to the Seattle Tacoma Airport Lounge Scene.) So, where does the Centurion Studio fit?
The Centurion Studio: Location and space
The Centurion Studio is located in Concourse B, by gate B3. At Seattle-Tacoma airport, all concourses are connected airside, so the lounge is accessible by all travelers, no matter what airline they’re flying. Concourse B is centrally located, although incidentally it’s pretty far from both the Delta and Alaska gates, which see the bulk of the airport’s traffic. That probably makes the location equally convenient or inconvenient for all travelers – a fair situation after all. From/to the A gates, count on a 6+ minute walk, while you should allow 15 minutes to reach satellites N and S.
If you’ve ever been to any American Express Centurion Lounge, you’ll feel right at home at The Centurion Studio. The décor is virtually the same, with the living wall behind the reception desk, gorgeous wood panels, designer furniture, cube chairs, and American Express memorabilia. The lounge also features American Express’ signature scent. We can say without hesitation that the Centurion Studio is the airport’s most elegant lounge, with a warm but functional design.
The space is mostly open; it is essentially a single room with a partition carving out a TV room. Seating options include couches, a large high communal table, counter-style seating by the windows, four cube chairs, and comfortable traditional seating throughout. Power outlets and USB ports are available at every seat. We do miss the napping area found at larger lounges, but overall American Express has done a solid job at outfitting the space in a way that is efficient without feeling crowded.
The lounge benefits from plenty of natural light and boasts an absolutely stunning vista of Mt. Rainier on clear days. However, tarmac views are somewhat limited due to the design of the terminal building.
The Centurion Studio: Amenities and service
In lieu of hot food, The Centurion Studio features a variety of quality snacks, beautifully presented on an over-sized buffet. Breakfast, served from 5:00am to 11:00am, includes granola, bagels and spreads, Greek yogurt, muffins and scones, and fresh Sliced Fruit. The all-day offering includes grilled vegetables (although they were missing during out visit), crudités (carrots, celery, and broccoli), fresh herb baguette, wasabi peas, various snacks, and various baked goods such as coconuts treats.
It’s a far cry from what patrons have come to expect from The Centurion Lounges, but nevertheless probably the best lounge offering at Seattle-Tacoma airport. Perhaps the addition of sandwiches would make the selection more suitable to a quick meal on the ground. Either way, we found the snacks tasty (the trail mix was a surprising highlight) and the buffet was constantly replenished. A lowlight: the paper plates and plastic utensils, which hardly scream luxury. But again, given the limited space, there was probably no realistic alternative.
The wine and beer selection includes Hilliards Blonde Ale, Lucille IPA, Two Beers Pilsner, NxNW Chardonnay (North by Northwest Horse Heaven Hills), and Vine to Table Rhone Inspired Red Blend (a local blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah.) A wide range of soft drinks is available from coolers below the buffet, in addition to ice tea, water, tea, and espresso. Due to Washington state law, all alcohol is to be ordered from a server. The lounge opens at 5am, alcohol is served from 5:30 am, the last call is at 9:15pm, the last drinks are served at 9:30pm, and the lounge closes at 10pm.
Complimentary, fast Wi-Fi service is provided by AT&T (the splash page is AT&T branded, which left us confused for a moment.) And while The Centurion Studio does not have showers, two oversized, luxurious unisex bathrooms offer plenty of space to change, and feature L’Occitane amenities. It remains to be seen how two stalls fare at peak times, though — perhaps a lower key, more traditional design might have been more efficient.
The service, on our opening day visit, was stellar, despite a few teething issues. The front desk employees seemed truly genuine and proud of their product and the company that they represent. Servers were roaming the room discreetly but with a keen attention to details. All employees have gone through a five week training session, a testament to American Express’ commitment to high-end service.
The Centurion Studio: Bottom line
The Centurion Studio is not The Centurion Lounge, and perhaps American Express’ key challenge will be to manage expectations and position their Seattle offering. The key amenities that have helped create the (well deserved) hype that surrounds The Centurion Lounge, such as meals cooked by celebrity chefs, are missing from the Centurion Studio. Again, American Express is competing against itself: The Centurion Studio easily boasts the best design at Seattle-Tacoma airport, as well as one of better generous food and beverage offerings compared to other lounges, but it’s just more modest than the Centurion Lounges.
We understand that American Express is studying plans to convert The Centurion Studio into a full featured Centurion Lounge and discussing options with the Port of Seattle. A possible design would involve expanding the floor plan by taking over the parking spaces immediately outside the windows. It’s unclear what the idea would entail in terms of challenges, costs, and complexity, but should it pan out, that would be outstanding news for Seattle travelers. In the meantime, American Express Card Members benefit from a new, premium option that is a fresh departure from the traditional airline clubs. With traffic increasing constantly out of Sea-Tac, that’s excellent news.
Here’s a tour of The Centurion Studio. For more details, see our The Centurion Studio page in our worldwide lounge index.