The Definitive Guide To The SFO Airport Lounge Scene

By | November 16, 2015 | 2 Comments

San Francisco, CA is both a major leisure destination and a key business hub. Despite geographical and geological boundaries, the city’s growth, fueled by the sun and the software industry, seems unstoppable. With over 800,000 residents, the city by the Bay is the most densely populated city in the US after New York City.

San Francisco International airport (SFO) is a gateway to Northern California, the Silicon Valley, and the Pacific. The airport is the second busiest in California next to Los Angeles (LAX), and the seventh busiest in the US. A major Star Alliance and United hub — the latter dominates the Bay Area market and operates large-scale maintenance operations on the airport’s grounds — SFO is also the home of Virgin America.

Other SFO tenants might be relatively minor players relative to United, but competition for a share of the lucrative Asia and trans-continental markets is increasing. Both American and Delta offer non-stop service to New York City, competing head to head with United, and are doubling down on amenities and ground services. In August 2015, Delta made a bold move by opening a new luxurious Sky Club which beats United’s lounges on every count.

At loungereview.com, we’ve spent countless hours exploring every SFO lounge for you. In partnership with Experience The Skies, we bring our unbiased definitive guide to the San Francisco airport lounge scene. Our goal is to help you pick the best lounge based on your ticket and credentials. Enjoy, and feel free to share your feedback!

The SFO Story

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is one of the busiest airports of the world. In 2014, it ranked as the 21th busiest with over 47 million passengers passing through. It is located 13 miles (21 kilometers) south of downtown San Francisco, CA and is home to more than 33,000 employees and $US 5.5 billion worth of business activity.

The airport opened on May 7, 1927 as the Mills Field Municipal Airport. The airport was represented by “San Francisco” in 1931. Due to increase capacity, passengers and routes, “International” replaced “Municipal” by 1955. It was one of the first airports in the United States to install jetway bridges in July 1959.

Today the airport has four runways in a double parallel configuration that can handle all commercial aircraft types including the Airbus A380-800. The airport has four terminals (1, 2, 3 and International), which host seven concourses. Intermodal transportation to the airport is provided by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system which provides direct connections to downtown San Francisco and Oakland.

In the next 10 years, the airport will partake in projects to build a new air traffic control tower that will achieve LEED® status, terminal 1 and 3 improvements, and a new on-site 4-star hotel.

SEE ALSO:  The Definitive Guide To The Seattle (SEA) Airport Lounge Scene

Interested in more aviation facts? Follow the Experience The Skies blog.


Business class and membership lounges

From #13 to #1, here’s our ranking of the business class and membership lounges at San Francisco International airport. Read on for a brief review of each lounge and a summary of access rules and amenities, or read detailed reviews of every lounge.

For each lounge, we also provide you with alternative options: other clubs that you may be able to use with the same credentials or boarding pass. For the purpose of this post, we’ve excluded the JAL Sakura Lounge and Philippine Airlines Lounge which are only open a few hours late at nights and therefore are not available to the majority of our readers.

#13 – United Club (Terminal 3E)

United Club - San Francisco, CA Terminal 3 Concourse E

United Club – San Francisco, CA Terminal 3 Concourse E

Opened in November 2015 in conjunction with the completely refurbished and vastly expanded Concourse E, the United Club in Concourse E is the airline’s newest at SFO, and sports the latest design with clean lines, modern furniture, and dominant white tones.

The space is modern, pristine and functional—borderline utilitarian—but with seating for as many 130 customers, it is severely under dimensioned, and the tight layout offers virtually no privacy.

Patrons will find side tables and power outlets at every seat, as well as a selection of snacks, soups and salads. House drinks are complimentary while higher end libations come at a cost.

The United Club in Concourse E is convenient to travelers departing from the new gates, and offers great views on the tarmac. Otherwise, it’s a pretty underwhelming offering—while old fashioned, the legacy club in Concourse F is much more spacious and features a relaxing quiet room.

The United Club in Concourse E ranks last on our chart. Despite being brand new, it disappoints given the lack of space, privacy, and amenities.

Find out more about the United Club at San Francisco Airport, Terminal 3E, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Showers: No
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary finger food, Complimentary soups
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary house wine and beer, Complimentary liquor, Premium drinks for sale
  • United Club members.
  • United Global First and BusinessFirst passengers departing on an international or p.s. flight (no guests)
  • Star Alliance First Class and Business Class passengers.
  • United Premier Gold, Premium Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members (except United Premier members) departing on a Star Alliance flight.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on a Star Alliance flight.
SEE ALSO:  Priority Pass expands agreement with Air France; fills gaps in domestic US market
See detailed access rules.

The main domestic United Club by the rotunda is more spacious and features a long window wall, a peaceful quiet room, and a convenient business center.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders should however consider walking a few short minutes down the concourse to The Centurion Lounge, a luxurious (albeit busy) haven offering complimentary hot meals, cocktails, and high-end amenities.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 3/5
  • Food and beverages: 3/5
  • Amenities: 2/5
  • Service: 3/5

#12 – Air France KLM Lounge (International Terminal A)

Air France Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Air France Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

The Air France KLM lounge  in International Terminal A serves Air France, KLM, SkyTeam partners, as well as Air Canada passengers. The club also welcomes Priority Pass members, although the latter may be denied access at peak times.

The club has recently been refreshed, though overall it has seen few updates seen its former days as a Northwest Airlines and then Delta lounge. The signature fireplace is still there—though it has been inoperative for years.

The lounge features a seating area with a beverage counter, and a second room in the rear with a buffet and dining area. Overall, the layout offers very little privacy—thus the existence of a partitioned-off area for First Class—and power outlets are sorely lacking.

Windows run along the length of the lounge and provide plenty of natural light as well as outstanding close-up views of aircraft parked immediately outside.

The buffet offers an enjoyable selection of hot and cold dishes, tasty baguette sandwiches, snacks, and desserts. On the beverage front, patrons will enjoy a self-service selection of beers, wines, and even Champagne.

The Air France KLM lounge is a good option for Priority Pass members departing from International Terminal A, thanks to the quality of the food and beverage offering. As an international business class lounge, however, the club fails to impress due to its cramped layout, the lack of privacy, and the lack of amenities such as showers.

Find out more about the Air France KLM lounge at San Francisco Airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Showers: No
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary snacks, Complimentary finger food
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary house wine and beer, Complimentary liquor
  • Air France La Premiere passengers, Air France and KLM Business Class passengers departing on a sameday flight.
  • Air France Flying Blue Gold and Platinum members departing on or connecting to/from a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member.
  • SkyTeam International First and Business Class passengers.
  • SkyTeam Elite Plus members departing on a SkyTeam flight.
SEE ALSO:  The Definitive Guide to United BusinessFirst and Global First Arrivals services
See detailed access rules.

Unfortunately, no alternatives are available for SkyTeam passengers. Air Canada passengers may choose to use one of the United Clubs in Terminal 3 or International Terminal G, or the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge in International Terminal G. However either option involves going through an extra security check as International Terminal A isn’t connected to any other terminal airside.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 2/5
  • Food and beverages: 3/5
  • Amenities: 2/5
  • Service: 1/5

10% off a Priority Pass membership!

#11 – British Airways Terraces (International Terminal A)

British Airways Terraces - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

British Airways Terraces – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

The British Airways Terraces Lounge at San Francisco airport serves Korean Airlines in the morning and British Airways and oneworld passengers after 1pm. The club is pretty typical of Terraces Lounges with light hardwood floors, sofas with blue upholstery, and a more intimate space with a bookcase and more private seating in the back.

With bare ceilings and neon lights, the design is hardly attractive, but what makes the lounge so disappointing is the crowds, combined with the overall lack of upkeep. The facility was never meant to support an A380. British Airways is keenly aware of the situation and in the process of expanding the space by adding another floor. In the mean time, the airline redirects passengers to the Cathay Pacific First and Business Class lounge — another oneworld lounge that’s far superior across the board.

There are redeeming factors. The lounge offers several well-appointed shower suites, a business center, a digital magazine download service, and a decent selection of alcoholic beverages. The food selection is somewhat underwhelming though, with mostly snacks and hot soup.

Overall, the British Airways Terraces Lounge a mixed bag. It delivers on the basics with comfortable seats, Wi-Fi, substantial snacks, and offers a few high-end amenities such as shower suites. But the appearance of the club is underwhelming and reveals years of neglect.

Find out more about the British Airways Terraces Lounge at San Francisco Airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: oneworld
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary snacks, Complimentary finger food, Complimentary soups
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary house wine and beer, Complimentary liquor
  • British Airways First and  Business Class passengers.
  • British Airways Gold and Silver Executive Club members departing on a same-day oneworld flight
  • oneworld First and Business class passengers.
  • oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members departing on a same-day oneworld flight.

See detailed access rules.

The Cathay Pacific First and Business Class lounge, also located in International Terminal A, is an elegant and convenient alternative to the British Airways Terraces lounge, and accessible to British Airways elites and premium passengers.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 3/5
  • Food and beverages: 3/5
  • Amenities: 4/5
  • Service: 2/5

#10 – United Club (Terminal 3, Concourse F, rotunda)

United Club - San Francisco, CA (SFO) Terminal 3

United Club – San Francisco, CA (SFO) Terminal 3

Due to its central location, the United Club in Terminal 3 by the Concourse F rotunda is the club that United passengers are the most likely to visit when flying out of SFO. The facility used to be a United flagship with a grand reception area, unique décor and artful touches, but time has passed and the lounge is in need of a refurbishment.

The club benefits from plenty of natural light and offers great views on the tarmac. The best amenity is the relaxation room in the back beyond the bar. Formerly a “Westin Renewal Lounge”, the room features comfortable chairs, classy consoles and ottomans, soft lighting, indoor plants, and a general feeling of serenity accentuated by a LED candle wall.

The food and drink selection is the standard United Club fare with continental breakfast, soups, salads, and finger food. The spread is suitable for a substantial snack but doesn’t quite cut it for a real meal. Basic wines and alcoholic beverages are complimentary, while premium drinks may be purchased.

The United Club at San Francisco Airport Terminal 3 has the blueprint of a flagship lounge and retains a few nice touches such as the beautiful reception area, a comfortable relaxation room and a large business center. Unfortunately, time has passed, the design has faded, and the lack of showers is truly unfortunate at a major hub such as San Francisco. The United Club is a pleasant place to sit and wait between flights, but don’t expect much more.

Find out more about the United Club at San Francisco Airport Terminal 3 Concourse F, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Showers: No
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary finger food, Complimentary soups
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary house wine and beer, Premium drinks for sale
  • United Club members.
  • United Global First and BusinessFirst passengers departing on an international or p.s. flight (no guests)
  • Star Alliance First Class and Business Class passengers.
  • United Premier Gold, Premium Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members (except United Premier members) departing on a Star Alliance flight.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on a Star Alliance flight.
See detailed access rules.

A possible alternative is the United Club in International Terminal G, which features some of the airport’s best views on the tarmac and might be quieter due to its sheer size. The location is accessible through the airside connector between Terminal 3 and International Terminal G, though the walk is probably not worth it. A second alternative is the United Club in Concourse T3E which, while more modest, might be quieter at peak times.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders should however consider walking a few short minutes down the concourse to The Centurion Lounge, a luxurious (albeit busy) haven offering complimentary hot meals, cocktails, and high-end amenities.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 4/5
  • Food and beverages: 3/5
  • Amenities: 3/5
  • Service: 3/5

#9 – United Club (International Terminal G)

United Club - San Francisco, CA (SFO) International Terminal G

United Club – San Francisco, CA (SFO) International Terminal G

The United Club at San Francisco International Terminal G serves primarily United and Star Alliance passengers departing on international flights. It is by far United’s largest lounge in San Francisco and features some of the airport’s best views, with front-row seats on a ballet of international widebody aircraft.

Thanks to the large windows, the lounge is typically bright and its layout feels open. The club does get busy at peak departure times, but is typically not crowded. However, despite the qualities of the physical space, the United Club has earned a sad reputation for its lack of amenities and the worn furniture. Indeed, much of the furniture is still original – and it shows.

The food and beverage options are typical for United Clubs. Continental breakfast is followed by soups and salads throughout the day – enough for a substantial snack, but far less than what we’d expect for an international business class lounge.

A glaring flaw is the lack of showers, an unfortunate oversight especially considering the amount of real estate available.

Overall, the United Club at San Francisco International Terminal G is offers a quiet place to sit, relax, and get work done, but does not quite meet the standards of an international business class lounge.

Find out more about the United Club at San Francisco Airport International Terminal G, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Showers: No
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary finger food, Complimentary soups
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary house wine and beer, Premium drinks for sale
  • United Club members.
  • United Global First and BusinessFirst passengers departing on an international or p.s. flight (no guests)
  • Star Alliance First Class and Business Class passengers.
  • United Premier Gold, Premium Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members (except United Premier members) departing on a Star Alliance flight.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on a Star Alliance flight.
See detailed access rules.

Star Alliance Gold passengers and Business Class passengers departing on an international flight can use the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge, which offers substantially better food and drinks as well as showers, though it is also much smaller, lacks power outlets and business amenities, and has more limited hours.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders might want to reach Terminal 3 through the airside connector and use The Centurion Lounge, a luxurious (albeit busy) haven offering complimentary hot meals, cocktails, and high-end amenities. The lounge is located immediately outside the connector, a 3 minute walk from the security checkpoint in International Terminal G.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 3/5
  • Food and beverages: 3/5
  • Amenities: 3/5
  • Service: 3/5

#8 – EVA Air Evergreen Lounge (International Terminal G)

EVA Air Evergreen Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

EVA Air Evergreen Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

The EVA Air Evergreen Lounge at San Francisco airport is the smallest lounge in International Terminal G, yet it benefits from ample daylight and great views on the tarmac thanks to large windows along two walls. The club still sports its original design and is a far cry from EVA’s futuristic lounges at its Taipei hub.

The highlight of the lounge is the buffet: unlike the adjacent United Club—also accessible to EVA passengers thanks to Star Alliance rules—the EVA lounge features a selection of hot food, in addition to a choice of salads, snacks and desserts. There is a also a small selection of alcoholic beverages for self service.

The amenities fail to impress: the business center is comprised of a single work desk, and there are no showers.

EVA Air MileageLands Diamond members benefit from a separate seating area in the back with slightly upgraded furniture, more personal space, and their very own buffet—though the food and beverage spread is exactly the same.

Due its small size, the EVA Air Lounge can be crowded at peak times. Star Alliance Gold passengers flying on domestic itineraries are not admitted, and even international travelers are often turned away.

Find out more about the EVA Air Evergreen Lounge at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary cold food, Complimentary hot food
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • EVA Air Royal Laurel/Premium Laurel/Business class passengers
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands Diamond and Gold members
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands Silver members holding an Evergreen Deluxe/Elite Class ticket or with a confirmed upgrade reservation
  • Star Alliance Business and First Class passengers departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • United Club members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
See detailed access rules.

The nearby United Club is enormous and boasts slightly better views, but offers virtually no amenities. The adjacent Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge features a more up-to-date design and hot food, though it’s likely to be closed at EVA flight times.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders might want to reach Terminal 3 through the airside connector and use The Centurion Lounge, a luxurious (albeit busy) haven offering complimentary hot meals, cocktails, and high-end amenities. The lounge is located immediately outside the connector, a 3 minute walk from the security checkpoint in International Terminal G.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 3/5
  • Food and beverages: 4/5
  • Amenities: 4/5
  • Service: 3/5

 

#7 – Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge (International Terminal G)

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

The SilverKris Lounge in International Terminal G is the best Star Alliance Lounge at San Francisco airport. It is far superior to the United Clubs, and is also a notch above the EVA Lounge (which is only open late at nights.)

The lounge benefits from a prime location that overlooks the tarmac and the surrounding mountains. The large windows let plenty of light in. The design, on the other hand, is rather unremarkable. It matches neither the Singapore Airlines’ traditional marble clad décor, or the new “home away from home” concept.

The single, rather compact room features a dense seating layout which affords limited privacy. Power outlets are hard to find – even some of the work cubicles lack a power point.

The buffet, while underwhelming by Asian standards, is a highlight of the lounge. It features a small but varied selection including hot entrees and Singaporean specialties. The self-serve bar offers a wide selection of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, although quality has gone downhill over the years. A Nespresso machine is also available, with a large array of coffee pods to choose from.

Four large bathroom stalls are available, including two that double as showers.

Due its small size, the Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge can be somewhat crowded at peak times. Therefore Star Alliance Gold passengers flying on domestic itineraries are not admitted (but international travelers are welcome.)

Find out more about the Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary cold food, Complimentary hot food
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • Singapore Airlines Suites, First and Business class passengers.
  • PPS Club and KrisFlyer Elite Gold members departing on a Singapore Airlines flight.
  • Star Alliance Business and First Class passengers departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • United Club members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
See detailed access rules.

The nearby United Club is enormous and boasts slightly better views, but offers virtually no amenities. Singapore Airlines First Class passengers who prefer to use a true First class lounge may use the United Global First Lounge by the boarding gates, which offers additional privacy and a somewhat larger food selection. The Global First lounge is also closer to the boarding gate.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders might want to reach Terminal 3 through the airside connector and use The Centurion Lounge, a luxurious (albeit busy) haven offering complimentary hot meals, cocktails, and high-end amenities. The lounge is located immediately outside the connector, a 3 minute walk from the security checkpoint in International Terminal G.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 3/5
  • Food and beverages: 4/5
  • Amenities: 4/5
  • Service: 3/5

#6 – American Airlines Admirals Club – Terminal 1

American Airlines Admirals Club - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

American Airlines Admirals Club – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

The American Airlines Admirals Club at San Francisco International airport features a unique décor inspired by San Francisco. At the heart of the lounge is a cobblestone plaza with trees flanked by an elegant seating area that evokes a posh café. The space benefits from plenty of daylight and a window wall boasts exciting tarmac views. The design might feel a tad old fashioned to some, but it’s a refreshing departure from cookie cutter clubs.

A variety of seating options is available ranging from booths to sofas, countertop seating, and cafe style seating. The club is rarely excessively busy and offers a comfortable level of privacy.

With power outlets at every seat, a small business center, premium food for purchase, and well appointed shower suites, the Admirals Club offers a solid range of amenities.

American may be an underdog in the Bay Area compared to United, but the Admirals Club is definitely superior to the United Clubs, and the showers are a treat. Just don’t come for the free food – with snacks, humus, veggies, soup and cookies, there’s enough for a small snack but nothing that comes close to a meal.

Find out more about the American Airlines Admirals Club at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: oneworld
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary soups, Complimentary finger food, Food for sale
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary house wine and beer
  • American Airlines Admirals Club members.
  • Alaska Airlines Board Room members departing on a same-day flight operated by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines.
  • Citi® Prestige primary card holders departing on an American Airlines flight within 12 hours.
  • American Airlines First and Business Class passengers departing on a same-day international fight
    oneworld First and Business class passengers departing on a same-day flight operated by a oneworld airline.
  • oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members departing on a oneworld flight.
See detailed access rules.

There are no practical alternatives to the Admirals Club for American Airlines passengers, as Terminal 2 is not connected to the International Terminal where other oneworld lounges are located. Passengers who have ample time and don’t mind going through security twice may choose to use the beautiful Cathay Pacific First and Business Class lounge in International Terminal A.

Note that American Airlines does not operate a Flagship Lounge in San Francisco. The only dedicated First Class lounge for oneworld customers is the British Airways First Class Lounge, also in International Terminal A. The club is only open in the afternoon and not worth an extra trip through security.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 4/5
  • Food and beverages: 3/5
  • Amenities: 4/5
  • Service: 4/5

#5 – Cathay Pacific Business and First Class Lounge (International Terminal A)

Cathay Pacific Business and First Lounge - San Francisco, CA

Cathay Pacific Business and First Lounge – San Francisco, CA

The Cathay Pacific Lounge serves Cathay Pacific, oneworld partners, as well as Alaska Airlines Board Room members – a treat for passengers of the Seattle-based airline.

The lounge features Cathay Pacific’s luxurious traditional (but legacy) design with white marble that contrasts with black tiles, elegant furniture, soft lighting, earth colors, and the signature communal tables with stools. The club was expanded in 2015 and is now twice as large as when it opened back in 2011.

The comfortable seats all come with a side table and power outlet. Patrons wishing to enjoy more privacy may want to use one of the Solus chairs: individual productivity (or relaxation) pods designed exclusively for Cathay Pacific, with a built-in table and power outlet and a high padded wraparound shell.

It’s unfortunate that the space offers virtually no views on the tarmac. While there are windows, and thus daylight, the views are blocked by the adjacent terminal building.

The food offering varies greatly throughout the day. Outside Cathay Pacific flight times, the selection is limited to snacks. Closer to the airline’s flight times, it expands to include finger food, salads, soups, and a small assortment of hot entrees such as chicken curry and vegetable stir fry, plus the highlight: Cathay Pacific’s traditional noodle bar. On the beverage front, self-serve fridges offer a vast assortment of soft drinks while a modest open bar with wines and liquor is also available.

Six showers are available. The tastefully decorated suites feature white marble and river pebbles and come with a sink, toilet, a rain shower, as well as amenities such as razors, moisturizing cream and a toothbrush.

Read the full review of the Cathay Pacific Business and First Class Lounge at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: oneworld
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary cold buffet, Complimentary hot buffet
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • Cathay Pacific or Dragonair First Class and Business Class passengers
  • Marco Polo Club Diamond members departing on any airline (+2 guests)
  • Marco Polo Club Gold and Silver members departing on a same-day flight operated by Cathay Pacific, Dragonair or another oneworld airline
  • Cargo Clan Elite members departing on a same-day flight operated by Cathay Pacific, Dragonair or another oneworld airline
  • oneworld First and Business class passengers departing on a same-day flight operated by a oneworld airline
  • oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members departing on a oneworld flight
See detailed access rules.

oneworld business class passengers may use the British Airways Terraces Lounge, though we can’t think of any reason to do so. Cathay Pacific First Class passengers may also use the British Airways First Class lounge, seeing that Cathay does not offer a dedicated First Class section. However, in our opinion the Cathay Pacific Lounge is overall far superior to British Airways’ First Class lounge.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 4/5
  • Food and beverages: 4/5
  • Amenities: 4/5
  • Service: 4/5

#4 – Delta Sky Club (Terminal 2)

Delta Sky Club - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Delta Sky Club – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Delta’s brand new Sky Club is located on the mezzanine level above the concourse, in a prime location that offers sweeping views over the busy tarmac. The bright and airy space features a unique décor which is a welcome departure from Delta’s signature modern but blunt design, with tall floor to ceiling windows, lightweight partitions, and an overall simplicity in lines and colors. Throughout the day, the visually striking bar changes colors creating a dynamic and vibrant mood, while at dusk, smart LED lighting gives the club a soothing vibe.

The Sky Club is large – surprisingly so for San Francisco, which is a secondary market for Delta in a region heavily dominated by United. You will be guaranteed calm and privacy even at peak times.

The essentials are all available: private, comfortable seating with power ports at every seat, a business center, and fast Wi-Fi. But what sets the Delta Sky Club apart is the array of high end amenities.

The buffet features a noteworthy selection of complimentary snacks, salads, soups, hot entrees, and attractive desserts, all beautifully presented in elegant dishes and Le Creuset pots. In addition, the Sky Club offers a selection of cooked to order Asian-inspired delicacies like pho and Thai chicken flatbread, designed by a local chef and available for purchase. (The San Francisco Sky Club is the only one beyond the flagship JFK Sky Club to come with a full kitchen.)

Two luxurious and spacious shower suites are also available with a spa inspired vestibule, a spacious changing area, rain showers, and Isaac Mizrahi bath products.

Overall, the new Delta Sky Club at San Francisco International airport is a sumptuous lounge which truly raises the bar. Delta beats United by leaps and bounds on their own turf.

Read the full review of the Delta Sky Club at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary cold buffet, Complimentary hot buffet, Food for sale
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary house wine and beer, Complimentary liquor, Premium drinks for sale
  • Delta Sky Club members departing on a same-day flight on any airline.
  • Delta First Class, BusinessElite, or full-fare economy passengers departing on a same-day transcontinental flight.
  • Delta BusinessElite passengers departing on a same-day international flight.
  • International First and Business Class passengers departing on a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member.
  • SkyTeam Elite Plus members departing on a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member, in any class of service.
  • American Express Platinum and Centurion Card® members departing or arriving on a same-day Delta flight.
  • Delta Reserve Credit Card holders.
See detailed access rules.

Technically Delta premium passengers also have access to the Air France and China Airlines lounges in International Terminal A, though both are vastly inferior and not accessible airside from Terminal 1.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 5/5
  • Food and beverages: 5/5
  • Amenities: 5/5
  • Service: 4/5

#3 – American Express The Centurion Lounge (Terminal 3)

American Express The Centurion Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

American Express The Centurion Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

American Express recently started building a network of domestic US airport lounges, providing complimentary access to Platinum and Centurion card members as well as paid access to all other card holders. The San Francisco Centurion Lounge opened late 2014 right in the heart of United land in Terminal 3, but also steps away from International Terminal G which is accessible through an airside connector.

With its all-glass façade, tainted doors, elegant but bold signage, and signature two-story living wall, the lounge makes a statement and draws attention even from outside. The space boasts a modern but timeless and chic design, with hardwood floors, dark wood paneling, recessed lighting, and designer furniture.

Seating options include a a large room with couches, tables for two, luxurious leather chairs, private cube chairs, and a wooden communal table, as well as café style seating. No detail was overlooked, with power outlets at every seat, fresh flowers, fruit baskets, and pillows.

The main draw of the American Express Centurion Lounge is the complimentary food and beverage offering. The dining area faces an open kitchen which cranks out hot dishes designed by a Michelin starred chef. The menu includes a variety of appetizers and salads, hot entrees, and desserts. A complimentary full bar is available with an outstanding selection of signature cocktails. Patrons may also ask for a coupon to get five pours from the automated dispensers built into the wine wall.

There are also three comfy daybeds in a semi-private setting, a posh shower suite with L’Occitane amenities, and a kids’ room with toys and video games. And the service matches the breath of amenities, with friendly and proactive staff readily available.

Perhaps the only flaw of The Centurion Lounge is that it’s proving extremely popular, and is often busy, sometimes borderline crowded. We struggled while ranking the Delta Sky Club against The Centurion Lounge—the former is quieter and more spacious, with grand views. But the exquisite design of the Centurion Lounge combined with the excellent food and beverage selection makes it a favorite of ours.

Read the full review of the Centurion Lounge at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: none
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: Yes
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary cold buffet, Complimentary hot buffet
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • American Express Platinum Card® or Centurion® card holders (complimentary)
  • American Express card holders ($50)
See detailed access rules.

American Express Platinum card holders are eligible for a Priority Pass membership and can therefore visit the Air France lounge in International Terminal A, although it ranks poorly on our chart.

When flying Delta, American Express Platinum card holders may also use the Delta Sky Club, another outstanding lounge.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 5/5
  • Food and beverages: 5/5
  • Amenities: 5/5
  • Service: 5/5

#2 – Emirates Lounge (International Terminal A)

The Emirates Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

The Emirates Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Despite operating a single daily flight, Emirates runs their own lounge in International Terminal A. At a first glance, the space doesn’t look too impressive – it is located at the ground level and therefore lacks any noteworthy views. But the facility is immaculate, with the airline’s traditional design featuring an Italian marble floor, Rolex clocks, golden hues and not so subtle pillows. It’s a bit heavy handed, yet never excessive due to pleasant touches such as a soothing water feature, numerous indoor plants which double as privacy dividers, and gorgeous flower arrangements.

Emirates‘ food and beverage offering beats what United and British Airways offer at their respective First Class lounges. With a wide range of small plates, cold and hot dishes and tasty desserts, all beautifully presented, there is something for every taste. Drinks wise, a wide selection of soda and alcoholic beverages is available, with Veuve Clicquot Champagne, although the spirits are the middle shelf type.

The bathrooms are luxuriously maintained and decorated, with fresh orchids, cloth towels, and Babor Timeless spa lotions. The four showers are somewhat basic but do come with Timeless spa bath amenities as well as toothbrushes and shaving kits.

Self-service PCs, printers, newspapers and magazines, and a prayer room are also available.

Overall, the Emirates Lounge at San Francisco Airport combines a quiet and peaceful environment with a superior food and beverage offering, and a range of business amenities. The Delta Sky Club may have better views, and the Centurion Lounge a more vibrant design and vibe along with some unique features such as the wine tasting wall, but neither provides the same combination of a soothing environment with a gastronomical experience. Well done, Emirates. Unfortunately for most of us, the Emirates Lounge is only accessible to Emirates passengers, so it’s not a viable alternative to any of the aforementioned lounges.

Read the full review of the Emirates Lounge at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: none
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary snacks, Complimentary cold buffet, Complimentary hot buffet
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • Emirates Business and First class passengers.
  • Emirates Skywards Gold and Platinum members departing on an Emirates flight.
See detailed access rules.

None.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 5/5
  • Food and beverages: 5/5
  • Amenities: 5/5
  • Service: 5/5

#1 – Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse (International Terminal A)

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Virgin Atlantic has established a solid reputation when it comes to lounges. And while the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse SFO isn’t quite as grand or over the top as the London Heathrow flagship, it retains some of the key attributes: a modern design with a fun vibe, comfortable and private seating, a vibrant bar area with an outstanding drink selection, a complimentary, full-service restaurant with fresh dishes prepared on demand, cheerful and helpful staff, and showers with Cowshed bath products.

From a design standpoint, The Clubhouse is the most unique club at San Francisco airport. The décor bridges the gap between trendy and timeless with designer furniture and bold colors, but also a genuinely relaxing and private living room-like environment.

The service and amenities are second to none. The concept of a la carte dining is especially luxurious for business class, and Virgin Atlantic is the sole airline to deliver such a high-end experience at SFO. While Emirates offers a larger menu, the Dubai airline uses an outside caterer while Virgin prepares meals freshly on site. And the drink selection—with Champagne, over 70 whiskeys, and a fine range of liquor and spirits—tops what’s on offer even at The Centurion Lounge.

The Clubhouse is a small lounge, but it is relatively quiet at all times, since it serves only a handful of flights a day.

The Clubhouse is currently located outside security, so patrons need to leave early to make their flight, but the terminal is scheduled to be reconfigured in the next few months to allow airside access.

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: none
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary full service restaurant
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • Virgin Atlantic Upper Class and Flying Gold passengers departing on a same-day flight.
  • Delta SkyMiles Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members departing on a same-day nonstop flight to the U.K. that is operated by Delta or Virgin Atlantic.
  • Virgin America Elevate members, First Class passengers, and Main Cabin Select passengers, for a $40 fee.
See detailed access rules.

None for Virgin Atlantic passengers.

Delta international business class passengers and American Express Platinum card holders may also use the Delta Sky Club, another outstanding lounge.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 5/5
  • Food and beverages: 5/5
  • Amenities: 5/5
  • Service: 5/5

First Class lounges

While San Francisco is a major hub, few airlines offer First Class service and even fewer operate First Class lounges. The British Airways First Class lounge serves Korean Air as well as oneworld customers, and the United Global First Lounge serves Star Alliance passengers. Unfortunately, neither lounges meets world class standards.

#2 – British Airways First Class Lounge (International Terminal A)

The British Airways First Class Lounge is merely an enclave within the larger Terraces Lounge. The small dedicated room offers slightly more intimate seating and a dedicated buffet. In reality, though, there’s hardly any difference between the business class and First Class sections — both are located at ground level and offer limited views; the food and beverage spread is essentially the same, and with all oneworld customers having access to the First Class section, the latter is typically as crowded as the adjacent Terraces Lounge. Besides, access restrictions are hardly enforced. And most amenities (business center, showers) are located over on the business side.

This setup is pretty typical of Terraces Lounges and not unique to San Francisco. We’re not sure why British Airways bothers with such underwhelming First Class facilities. Combining the spaces would make for a larger, more open lounge for all patrons.

Find out more about the British Airways First Class Lounge at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: oneworld
  • Bathroom: Yes
  • Showers: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary finger food
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • British Airways First passengers
  • First class passengers departing on a same-day flight operated by a oneworld airline
  • British Airways Gold Executive Club members departing on a same-day flight operated by British Airways or other oneworld airlines
  • oneworld Emerald members departing on a same-day flight operated by British Airways or another oneworld airline
See detailed access rules.
\

None.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 3/5
  • Food and beverages: 3/5
  • Amenities: 4/5
  • Service: 3/5

#1 – United Global First Lounge (International Terminal G)

United Global First Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

United Global First Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

While it’s starting to show its age, the United Global First Lounge at San Francisco Airport is still widely considered as one United’s best facilities system wide. The design has faded and the furniture is in dire need of an upgrade, yet the place remains a haven compared to the busy and somewhat basic United Clubs.

The Asian inspired décor features artwork reflecting the destinations served by United from San Francisco. Recessed lighting gives the space a soothing and pleasant vibe. The large windows, equipped with wooden blinds, offer close-up views of the wide body aircraft parked outside. Given the restrictive access policies, the lounge is typically extremely quiet.

The buffet offers a selection of snacks, appetizers, finger sandwiches, salads, cold entrees, and small hot plates. The selection is a mixed bag: at peak times when it’s replenished, it is substantial enough for an enjoyable albeit simple meal on the ground. Unfortunately, the buffet is mostly left unattended outside peak times, and especially late evenings past dinner time. The drink selection includes beer, Champagne and various liqueurs and spirits.

Other amenities include a business center with individual work cubicles, a bag storage location, and a basic slumber room. Two elegant shower suites are available upon request and come with a sink, toilet, shower, Cowshed branded bath amenities, and towels.

Overall, if one is willing to turn a blind eye on the lacking service and tired design, the United Global First Lounge at San Francisco airport is a pleasant place to relax, eat, work or socialize prior to a long flight, though it doesn’t quite meet the standards of premium facilities worldwide.

Find out more about the United Global First Lounge at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Bathroom: Yes
  • Showers: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet, Complimentary snacks, Complimentary finger food
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • United Global First passengers departing or connecting.
  • First Class Passengers departing on an intercontinental Star Alliance flight.
  • United Global Services members departing on a United intercontinental flight in Business or First Class.
  • Lufthansa HON Circle members departing on a United or Lufthansa intercontinental flight in Business or First Class
See detailed access rules.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders might want to reach Terminal 3 through the airside connector and use The Centurion Lounge, a luxurious (albeit busy) haven offering complimentary hot meals, cocktails, and high-end amenities. The lounge is located immediately outside the connector, a 3 minute walk from the security checkpoint in International Terminal G.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 4/5
  • Food and beverages: 4/5
  • Amenities: 4/5
  • Service: 2/5

Arrivals lounges

United, as the dominant carrier, is the only airline to offer an Arrivals Lounge – and access is restricted to their own customers arriving before noon. Other passengers may use the Freshen Up pay-in facility in the International terminal.

United Arrivals Lounge – International Terminal

United Arrivals Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

United Arrivals Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

While the United Arrivals lounge is hardly modern, its timeless design is classy yet unpretentious. A small room offers seats arranged for both relaxation and breakfast, and is flanked by a dozen elegant shower suites. While the plumbing could use a refurbishment, the shower rooms are elegant and well appointed, with a sink, shower, toilet, towels and Cowshed branded bath products. Toothbrushes, slippers, combs and other amenities are available upon request.

Breakfast is a step above the traditional United Club fare. The buffet offers a good selection of pastries, breakfast sandwiches, bagels, cereal, fruit salad, fruit, cookies, yoghurt, and other treats, which can be heated on demand. Soft drinks are available from a self-serve fridge. We only regret the lack of an espresso machine and true hot food.

The lounge is run by the United Global Services team and the staff there is consistently amongst the best, providing a friendly welcome as well as extremely proactive service. Typically agents will check on your connection, reprint your boarding pass with updated gate information, and provide assistance proactively.

For more information about United arrivals services, check out our Definitive Guide to United BusinessFirst and Global First arrivals services.

Find out more about the United Arrivals Lounge at San Francisco airport, and share your comments!

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Bathroom: Yes
  • Showers: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary breakfast buffet
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks

None.

Our ratings
  • Comfort: 4/5
  • Food and beverages: 4/5
  • Amenities: 4/5
  • Service: 3/5

Airside connections and how to lounge hop

San Francisco International Airport is large but easy to navigate with a train system linking all terminals landside, and direct connections to the regional BART transit system. Unfortunately, not all terminals are connected airside, though the airport authority is building connectors.

At present:

  • Terminals 1 and 2 are connected airside (the two buildings are adjacent.) Allow 5-10 minutes to walk from one terminal to the other.
  • International Terminal G and Terminal 3 are connected airside by a hallway. Allow 10-20 minutes to walk from one terminal to the other; note that the new Concourse E is located at the opposite end of the connector hallway to International Terminal G.
  • All other terminals are standalone. Even International Terminals A and G are NOT connected airside.

At SFO, a boarding pass grants you access to all terminals. You may therefore use the lounge of your choice, provided that you have sufficient time to go through security at each terminal, when applicable.

San Francisco international airport map - © San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco international airport map – © San Francisco International Airport

For a detailed terminal diagram, see the airport’s web site.


More to come

We hope you’ve enjoyed our definitive guide to the San Francisco airport lounge scene! Check out our other definitive guides covering Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle-Tacoma (SEA.) We’ll be covering additional airports shortly.

Credits: SFO photo adapted from Håkan Dahlström under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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The loungereview.com editorial team brings you the latest information on airport lounges, passenger experience, and ground services.

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Comments

  1. Profile photo of Cameron

    worldwidedreamer, November 2, 2016 4:31 pm

    I really think you’re not being fair to the Air France lounge. It offers nice views, has a good food spread and much nicer drinks that most other clubs. You might also want to add that DL SC members have access while flying other airlines like their (for the time being) partner Alaska.

    • Stan, November 3, 2016 1:47 pm

      I am sorry worldwidedreamer but SFO is the worst lounge I have been too. This is my opinion only of course but it is fair. Name one premium lounge that you think is worst and if I have been there I would offer my view (I have been to over 60 countries and stayed i premium lounges in about 40 airports, at least).
      P.S. Good food spread 🙂 Please!

  2. Stan, July 24, 2016 2:44 pm

    Lounges in SFO are the worst I have seen and I have been Wester Africa, Easter Europe and some of the poorest of Asian countries. What a shame. In a city where a couple of coffee’s and a muffin costs 15 bucks, to have lounges that are dirty and smelly is just a joke.
    I would have fired your GM for the sloppy job on biz lounges.


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