As the independent lounge market continues to expand—revealing customers’ appetite for a comfortable ground experience, perhaps in response to ever-shrinking seats and increasing nickel-and-diming—an unexpected outsider has redefined the domestic US premium lounge experience: American Express.
The financial institution unveiled its first Centurion Lounge in the US at Dallas/Ft. Worth airport (DFW) a few years ago, and it was an instant hit. The exquisitely decorated retreat featured a living wall, elegant hardwood floors, high-end finishes, luxurious designer furniture, and conveniences such as power outlets at every seat, large work desks, and fast Wi-Fi. There was a subtle air of exclusivity—a premium American Express Platinum or Centurion card is the key to the sanctuary, although other American Express card holders can purchase access for $50. But the amenities stole the show: at a time when the big three US airlines offered no more than a cash bar, carrot sticks, and crackers in their own lounges, American Express rolled out a complimentary hot buffet with dishes crafted by celebrity chefs, a full bar with creative cocktails, and a swanky shower suite. There was even a spa with complimentary massages.
The move was genius. News of the many delights of the Centurion Lounge spread like wild fire on travel blogs, attracting new customers and fostering loyalty towards the Platinum Card. The hype was such that many travelers overlooked the fact that American Express was in fact reeling from the back-to-back loss of their partnerships with US Airways Club, American Airlines Admirals Club and Continental Airlines Presidents Club, as the three airlines decided to focus on their own customers in order to increase revenue and reduce crowding at their lounges.
A few years have passed, and the airlines are finally investing again in their clubs. Delta, American and United have all launched massive renovation programs, enhanced food and beverages, unveiled fancy new flagship facilities, and expanded their networks. They’ve also hiked membership prices, and are starting to roll out separate high-end facilities exclusively for international premium passengers—American with future re-imagined Flagship Lounges, and United with Polaris Lounges, the first of which is now open at Chicago O’Hare.
The market is shifting, but it’s moving slowly, as airlines renovate 20 to 30-year old lounges. American Express is forging ahead, with swanky clubs now open at Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW), Las Vegas (LAS), New York LaGuardia (LGA), San Francisco (SFO), Miami (MIA), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), and lately at Houston Bush airport (IAH).
The Centurion Lounges are popular to a fault—they routinely operate at capacity—but the appeal doesn’t seem fade. With their strategic location, the lounges fill a gap in ground services. For example, at San Francisco airport, The Centurion Lounge is the only club with showers in Terminal 3; at Las Vegas airport, The Centurion Lounge has by far the best offerings in all categories; and at Houston Intercontinental airport, American Express breaks the monotony of five vintage United Clubs.
American Express is building a new Centurion Lounge at Philadelphia airport
Today American Express officially announced the arrival of their eighth location, in the City of Brotherly Love.
Scheduled to open in August 2017, the American Express Centurion Lounge at Philadelphia airport will be located in Concourse A West. While the concourse serves international flights, it is connected airside to the domestic terminals, and thus accessible to all passengers.
The 6,300 square foot club will feature floor-to-ceiling windows with views on the tarmac, as well as the full line-up of amenities that we have come to expect from American Express, including full hot meals (with local favorites!), a full bar with a high-end selection of cocktails, superb shower suites, cube chairs, and day beds, along with attentive service.
Philadelphia is an American Airlines hub, and the new Centurion Lounge will complements American Express’ offering at Miami and Dallas airports. So far, the company has favored United and American hubs over Delta hubs, since Platinum and Centurion card members have access to Delta SkyClubs when flying on Delta.
An exception is the Centurion Studio at Seattle-Tacoma airport, a smaller incarnation of the Centurion Lounge, in the heart of Delta land—just next door from Delta’s new flagship lounge. The Centurion Studio is currently being expanded.
New amenities at The Centurion Studio at Seattle-Tacoma airport
One of the fastest growing metros in the US and ground zero for the battle between Alaska Airlines and Delta, the Emerald City is struggling to expand and modernize an airport which is stretched to its limits.
American Express wanted a presence at Sea-Tac, but citing a lack of real estate, settled on a small 3,100 square foot space, dubbed The Centurion Studio. The lounge boasts the same gorgeous design as the larger Centurion Lounges, but without the hot food, full bar, showers, napping areas, or other top of the line amenities. Instead, American Express has focused on the essentials: comfortable seating, fast Wi-Fi, and a range of quality snacks and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
With such a small footprint, the Centurion Studio is perhaps one of the most chronically crowded American Express lounges—at times, the front desk staff has to turn customers away.
Relief is on the horizon. An extension is currently under construction, and will bring the size the Centurion Studio to 4,500 square feet. New amenities will include additional bathrooms, a shower suite, and a full bar. The views of Mount Rainier that have been obscured by the new Delta Sky Club next door will also be restored.
The lounge remains fully open during construction, but we took a peek behind the scenes:
The Centurion Lounge to roll out at Hong Kong airport
American Express has long operated a network of international airport lounges, under various names such as Centurion Club, The Centurion Lounge, or American Express Lounge. Locations include Buenos Aires, Mexico, Monterrey, Mumbai, Delhi, Toluca, and Sydney.
The amenities, design, layout, and services vary widely. At many international locations, food and drinks come at a cost—a far cry from the US standards—while the club in Sydney is American Express-branded but operated by global lounge operator Plaza Premium.
Today American Express announced the arrival of a “US-style” Centurion Lounge at Hong Kong airport, with similar amenities including hot food and a premium bar, and possibly a similar design. Located in Terminal 1, the lounge will span over 8,000 square feet, just about the size of the Houston lounge.
With year-round high-yield business travel, Hong-Kong is a powerhouse and a natural fit for the American Express brand. Yet, unlike in the US, the financial institution will have a challenging time standing out against the competition. HKG is home to some of the world’s most impressive lounges, including the serene and newly remodeled Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class and First Class lounges, and the Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class lounge with its stunning private cabanas. Star Alliance operates no less than five lounges, including an elegant and newly redesigned Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, and a recently refreshed United Club. SkyTeam runs a shared lounge, and while amenities vary across lounges, hot meals, complimentary alcohol, and personal service are the norm. American Express card members who don’t hold airline status and are flying in economy can already use two expansive Plaza Premium lounges through the complimentary Priority Pass membership bundled with the card.
Still, we look forward to an additional option at Hong Kong airport, and to many other openings worldwide. We know that American Express is negotiating with major airports including Los Angeles and Denver in order to expand their network. An auspicious pop-up lounge has appeared at LAX, leaving us anxious for an official announcement.
Featured image: Rendering of the American Express Centurion Lounge – Philadelphia, PA (PHL), courtesy of American Express