The Definitive Guide To The SFO Airport Lounge Scene

Updated November 2018

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), the seventh busiest in the US, and a major United and Star Alliance hub.

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 domestic lounges on every count. Alaska Airlines has dramatically increased their presence at SFO thanks to the acquisition of Virgin America.

At loungereview.com, we’ve spent countless hours exploring every SFO lounge for you. Here is our unbiased definitive guide to the San Francisco airport lounge scene to help you pick the best lounge based on your ticket or credentials. Enjoy!

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.

Within 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.


Business class and independent lounges

From worst to best 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, Concourse level)

United Club - San Francisco, CA Terminal 3 Concourse E

United Club – San Francisco, CA Terminal 3E, Concourse level

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 Concourse level

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 Polaris business class passengers departing on an international or transcontinental flight to JFK or BOS.
  • United Premier Gold, Premium Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services members departing on an international flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Star Alliance First Class and Business Class passengers.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members (except United Premier members) departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
See detailed access rules.

The United Club on the mezzanine level in the immediate vicinity is equally small and lacks windows, but often quieter. 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.

Departing and connecting United Polaris business class passengers, and Star Alliance business class passengers departing on intercontinental flights should use the luxuriously-appointed United Polaris Lounge in the adjacent International Terminal G.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders should consider walking a few 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 – United Club (Terminal 3E, Mezzanine level)

United Club - San Francisco, CA Terminal 3E, Mezzanine level

United Club – San Francisco, CA Terminal 3E, Mezzanine level

The United Club in Terminal 3, Concourse E, mezzanine level, was built as a temporary facility to cope with swelling crowds while the main Concourse E lounge was being designed. It closed down when the permanent Concourse E club opened, only to resurface late 2017 as overflow space to the closure of several lounges in the adjacent International Terminal.

The former office space looks and feels temporary—away from daylight, the club sports symphony of muted and monochrome tones. The amenities are limited, with a small selection of snacks and beverages, and a few bathroom stalls.

But the essentials are all there, with power outlets at every seat, fast Wi-Fi, and a well-stocked bar with complimentary house wines and well drinks. The best feature is probably the relative quiet: the club is hidden away from the concourse and only accessible through an elevator in the vicinity of gate 71A.

Find out more about the United Club at San Francisco Airport, Terminal 3E mezzanine level

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 Polaris business class passengers departing on an international or transcontinental flight to JFK or BOS.
  • United Premier Gold, Premium Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services members departing on an international flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Star Alliance First Class and Business Class passengers.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members (except United Premier members) departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
See detailed access rules.

The United Club on the Concourse level has large windows, a more cheerful design, private office spaces, but is constantly crowded. 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.

Departing and connecting United Polaris business class passengers, and Star Alliance business class passengers departing on intercontinental flights should use the luxuriously-appointed United Polaris Lounge in the adjacent International Terminal G.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders should consider walking a few 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: 2/5
  • Amenities: 2/5
  • Service: 3/5

#11 – United Club (International Terminal G)

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

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

The former Global First Lounge, hastily downgraded to a United Club since the opening of the new Polaris Lounge, retains its ideal location steps away from international gates, fancy customer service area, and its elegant but past-its-prime Asian-inspired decor.

Otherwise, it’s become a run-of-the-mill club, crowded and ripe for a complete makeover. The sparse seating has made way for rows of seats, the napping room has faded away, the now-unmarked shower suites are locked into oblivion, and finding a seat can occasionally be challenging. There’s still a silver lining: the alcohol selection is self-serve, since the club never had a dedicated bar area.

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

Find out more about the United Club at San Francisco Airport International Terminal G

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 Polaris business class passengers departing on an international or transcontinental flight to JFK or BOS.
  • United Premier Gold, Premium Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services members departing on an international flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Star Alliance First Class and Business Class passengers.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members (except United Premier members) departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
See detailed access rules.

Departing and connecting United Polaris business class passengers, and Star Alliance business class passengers departing on intercontinental flights should use the luxuriously-appointed United Polaris Lounge.

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 consider making the short walk to Terminal 3 and 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: 3/5
  • Service: 3/5

#10 – 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, and Air Canada passengers. The club also welcomes Priority Pass members, though the latter are routinely turned away due to crowding.

While the club has recently been refreshed, it has received few significant updates seen its former days as a Northwest Airlines Lounge and then a Sky Club. 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, 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 lack of showers. It’s no wonder that Air France directs First Class passengers to the far superior Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse.

Find out more about the Air France KLM lounge at San Francisco Airport

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 same-day flight.
  • Air France Flying Blue Gold and Platinum members departing on or connecting to/from a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam airline.
  • SkyTeam International First and Business Class passengers.
  • SkyTeam Elite Plus members departing on a SkyTeam flight.
See detailed access rules.

No alternatives are available for SkyTeam passengers. Air Canada passengers may use one of the United Clubs in Terminal 3 or International Terminal G should they be willing to go through security twice (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!

#9 – 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 to begin with, but the lack of upkeep and constant crowding put a final nail in the coffin. British Airways is keenly aware of the situation. The airline is about to expand a remodel the club. In the mean time, customers are encouraged to use the much more elegant Cathay Pacific First and Business Class lounge.

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

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

#8 – 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 domestically out of SFO. The lounge used to be United’s flagship, with a grand reception area, unique décor, and artful touches. Time has passed and the decor has lost much of its former appeal, but a refurbishment won’t be on deck for another few years.

The club benefits from plenty of natural light and offers great views on the tarmac. While it’s often busy, a quiet room tucked away in a nook beyond the bar area offers a more serene ambiance, complete with a LED candle wall; a leftover from United’s defunct partnership with Westin. There are also quiet work cubicles nearby.

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. House wines and well drinks are complimentary, premium libations come at a cost.

A former flagship lounge, the United Club at San Francisco Airport Terminal 3 Concourse F retains a few nice touches such as the beautiful reception area, a comfortable relaxation room and a large business center. Other than that, it’s a relatively basic United Club in need of remodeling.

Find out more about the United Club at San Francisco Airport Terminal 3 Concourse F

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 Polaris business class passengers departing on an international or transcontinental flight to JFK or BOS.
  • United Premier Gold, Premium Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services members departing on an international flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Star Alliance First Class and Business Class passengers.
  • Star Alliance Gold Members (except United Premier members) departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier.
See detailed access rules.

Departing and connecting United Polaris business class passengers, and Star Alliance business class passengers departing on intercontinental flights should use the luxuriously-appointed United Polaris Lounge in the adjacent International Terminal G.

American Express Platinum and Centurion Card holders should 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

#7 – American Airlines Admirals Club – Terminal 2

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

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 or 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.

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

#6 – 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

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 First Class and Business Class passengers
  • Marco Polo Club Diamond members departing on any airline
  • 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

#5 – Delta Sky Club (Terminal 1)

Delta Sky Club - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Delta Sky Club – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Delta’s 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

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 Delta flight.
  • Delta First Class, Delta One, and full-fare economy passengers departing on a same-day transcontinental flight.
  • Delta One 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 airline.
  • 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

#4 – 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 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

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
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

#3 – 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

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

#2 – 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 Clubhouse is a haven of service and amenities, with complimentary a-la-carte dining featuring freshly prepared meals served with flair (while Emirates offers a larger menu, the Dubai airline uses an outside caterer while Virgin prepares meals on site.) The drink selection—with Champagne, over 70 whiskeys, and a fine range of liquor and spirits—tops what’s on offer at The Centurion Lounge.

The Clubhouse is a small lounge, but remain 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.

Find out more about the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at San Francisco Airport

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.
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

#1 – United Polaris Lounge (International Terminal G)

United Polaris Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

United Polaris Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

United has hit a home run with the new Polaris Lounge, a haven exclusively for long-haul United and Star Alliance passengers. The bi-level, expansive facility was built in 2018 in the footprint of the former international United Club, Singapore Airlines Lounge, and EVA Air Lounge, and boasts some of the airport’s best views.

A plethora of seats welcomes travelers with power outlets and USB ports at every corner. Sofas, booths, egg chairs, and productivity pods should meet the most diverse needs. Many seats offer plenty of privacy for work or relaxation.

On the ground floor, and entire space dubbed the Library is earmarked as a quiet area. That’s also where luxurious shower suites and individual sleeping rooms are located. Both come with Saks Fifth Avenue-branded amenities such as slippers.

On the upper floor, an expansive seating area surrounds a vibrant bar and dining area. In addition to a generous buffet featuring sushi, a noodle bar, and rotating international fare, guests may enjoy a meal at the dedicated complimentary full-service restaurant. The bar boasts a collection of creative cocktails and local spirits, as well as barista coffee.

The decor plays on the name Polaris, with twinkling stars on the ceiling in the hallways, star-shaped couches, and even binoculars—to watch planes, or stars.

The Polaris Lounge is a real treat well worth an extended stay.

Find out more about the United Polaris Lounge at San Francisco Airport

AmenitiesFood & DrinksWho's inAlternatives
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Showers: Yes
  • Business center: Yes
  • Free Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Family room: No
  • Food: Complimentary full service restaurant
  • Drinks: Complimentary soft drinks, Complimentary full bar
  • United Polaris business class passengers, within 24 hours of their international flight, at the departing, connecting and destination airports.
  • First Class passengers departing on an international flight operated by a Star Alliance member airline.
  • Business Class passengers departing on an international operated by a Star Alliance member airline (Canada and Mexico excluded).
See detailed access rules.

Passengers eligible for access to the Polaris Lounge may also use any United Club. We’d struggle to find any reason to do so, besides proximity to domestic gates for departure passengers.

Additionally, passengers arriving in United Polaris business class may use the United Arrivals Lounge in the mornings.

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 anymore—and only one operates a First Class lounge.

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 Emerald passengers having access to the First Class section, the latter is typically as crowded as the adjacent Terraces Lounge. Besides, access restrictions are hardly enforced. Most amenities (business center, showers) are located 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

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

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 among 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.

Find out more about the United Arrivals Lounge at San Francisco airport

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.

5 Comments

Stan

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.

worldwidedreamer

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

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!

Leave a Reply