Sneak Peak: Inside the Pre-Opening of the San Francisco American Express Centurion Lounge

The new American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco airport is ready and will open tomorrow (as was leaked last week).

I had an opportunity to see the lounge last night and try the food since I was invited to the pre-opening party and dinner there.

What American Express has created is a stylish, comfortable departure lounge with good food and drink.

I actually think this is the most gorgeous, sexiest domestic lounge American Express has built to date. The entry is dramatic, the lighting is great.

At ~ 8200 square feet it’s about 10% smaller than Dallas while substantially larger than New York LaGuardia.

It features a kids room like Dallas and Las Vegas, and it has a shower. There’s no spa, but its ‘plus’ feature is a self-pour wine wall with real premium wines.

I’ve got photos of the space, the food, and details on American Express’ future expansion plans.

What Is An American Express Lounge?

American Express has begun operating their own network of “Centurion lounges,” which are a step above what travelers have become accustomed to from US airline-operated lounges.

I consider the American Express Centurion lounge in Dallas my favorite lounge in the U.S.. It’s one of the two lounges I visit most often.

Other contenders for best lounge would be the New York JFK Virgin Clubhouse, first class section of Lufthansa’s club, and British Airways Concorde Room.

There’s a Centurion lounge already in Las Vegas and at New York LaGuardia as well. There’s an additional known lounges in the pipeline for Miami. Others will surely come, with a goal of hitting all of the major metropolitan areas in the U.S.

Access:

  • Centurion and Platinum cardholders: Cardmember may bring in their spouse and children or two guests
  • Other American Express cardholders: $50 per adult (children complimentary when accompanied by paying adult)

Finding the American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco Airport

The lounge is just past security in United’s terminal 3 at San Francisco International airport. It’s across from gates 74 and 75.

If you come in on the departures level at door 13, on the far end of the terminal, and use that security lane (there’s a PreCheck line there) you’ll turn right immediately on clearing the checkpoint.

    american express centurion lounge san francisco airport

    american express centurion lounge san francisco airport

Terminal 3 airside means it’s really going to be of appeal to United flyers. The airport is connecting terminal 1 and 2, but there’s no timeframe for actually connecting terminal 2 and 3. So American, Virgin, Delta and Southwest flyers will not find the location convenient.

Inside the Lounge

You walk inside the entry doors and there’s a staircase and an elevator which both take you upstairs to reception and the lounge.

    american express centurion lounge san francisco airport

    american express centurion lounge san francisco airport

The ground floor sets the tone — it’s dramatic, with the bottom of the two-story living wall. It’s stylish, and it’s modern.

At the top of the staircase is a glass-enclosed wall of wine. You immediately know that the American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco Airport is a Centurion lounge in Northern California, and that they’re showcasing California wine — currently all Napa.

You’ll immediately turn to your right and check in at the reception desk. Here a passenger simply wandered into the lounge, and it was explained to him where he was.

There’s a seating area to the left of reception.

Then if you walk to the left you’re in the dining room area of the lounge. To the right you find the seating areas and workstations.

The Dining Area… Bar.. and the Self-Pour Wine Wall!

The dining area was set up for a sit-down dinner, rather than having separate dining tables. The evening’s set up was different than what you’ll see.

On the left hand side when you walk into the dining room you’ll see an extension of the wine wall. That’s where there’s self-pour wines from the bottle, actual honest-to-gooness premium wines. When I saw this the first thing I asked, are these really the wines you’ll be serving in the lounge?

When you enter the lounge you can get a ticket with a scannable bar code. It’s good for five one ounce pours from the wine machine.

You scan the bar code to activate the machine, then push a button to dispense wine from the bottle into your glass.

I took several pours of the Grgich Hills Zinfandel of which I’m a long-time fan.

Unquestionably, Anthony Giglio did a fantastic job sourcing the wine. And selling American Express on going all-out…

There’s also a full bar, of course.

They feature specially-designed Jim Meehan cocktails. They were serving us Pineapple Express and Gin Basil Fizz. Although I admit I stuck to the wine, which I was very happy with.

And there’s a fixed dining area in the corner of the restaurant space.

Excellent Food!

The chef Christopher Kostow (Napa’s The Restaurant at Meadowood) emphasizes transparency as part of his cooking, he’s a three Michelin-starred very California chef. And that translates into the design with an open kitchen.

Here’s our menu for the evening, all food that will be served in the lounge.


    (Click to enlarge)

Our first course consisted of a salad of bitter greens, olive oil, and lemon juice, as well as barley squid celery and mushrooms in kasu with charred leek vinaigrette.

This was followed by pumpkin in goats milk butter and pork shoulder.

For dessert was chestnut pudding with roasted chocolate, the chef described this as ‘like the top of the brownie.’

Seriously, the food was fantastic.

Gorgeous Facilities

The lounge has plenty of comfortable and stylish seating, design that’s in keeping with the rest of the Centurion lounges.

What was interesting about the American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco airport is that the space itself is much more open. There’s fewer “nooks and crannies” in the lounge, with a sense of space created more by the furniture than by the architecture. I do think it works, but I like having more alcoves.

The relaxation area was more set-apart, though.

There’s the kids room, very similar to what’s in Las Vegas and Dallas.

Restrooms will look familiar in design to those that have been to other Centurion lounges.

There’s also a lone shower room. That may well be enough, although I’d greatly prefer that there were two.

Verdict and Plans for the Future

American Express Centurion lounges are stylish and functional. I love the space in San Francisco, there’s good food and drink. And like other lounges there are plus features — this one has a shower, and the spectacular wine wall.

The only thing Centurion lounges lack compared to an airline’s own lounges is the sort of help with rebookings and upgrades that your operating carrier can provide. That said, they do uniformly feature friendly and helpful service — something I learned not to expect from US airline lounges ‘growing up’ at United’s clubs at Washington Dulles (although the American agents at both Washington National and Austin are uniquely spectacular, and pretty good in San Francisco too).

The American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco airport is a hit in terms of style, comfort, food and drink. It’s the most dramatic space of any of their lounges.

Already I’m a very frequent visitor to the Dallas lounge. I fly American primarily in the U.S., and connect through Dallas constantly. If I’m arriving in or departing from the D terminal I’ll use it, and if my connection is 75 minutes or more I usually will pop in as well. Building out the network is the single biggest reason I keep my Platinum card. Even though I’m unlikely to visit the American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco airport often at all.

Next up, though, is Miami — we’ll see that open in the first half of next year, and ti will be accessible to passengers of the airport’s major tenant American Airlines. I’m really looking forward to that!

And I’m looking forward to discovering which lounges come next. Usually these things leak out of the airport authority, or someone finding a signed lease with an airport authority (which is usually a public document). If any of you have tips out there about the next airports in the pipeline, I’d love to hear it!


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. They have plans to open one in IAD in the vacant lounge space in the international terminal(hat off to TPG).

  2. Thanks for the time you put into this post, Gary. Excited to be flying through here on opening day! Can’t wait to try it!

  3. I chuckle every time I read this statement: “I had an opportunity to see the lounge last night and try the food…”

  4. @ivan – reached out to Amex and didn’t get a ‘no comment’ on the lounge, but a pretty flat ‘not accurate’…

    “No- no plans for that.”

  5. It’s a pity it’s in Terminal 3. I’m not likely to get much use out of it, since I so rarely fly United. If they weren’t going to put it in T2 (and I kind of see why), I wish they would have gone for the international terminal.

  6. @ Gary — SFO Terminal 3 is not shared with AA and is not scheduled to be. Yes, terminals 1, 2 and 3 may eventually be connected airside (AFAIK, scheduled for fall 2016), but AA won’t be in the SAME terminal as the AMEX lounge.

    I think it is safe to say that the day-to-day food and beverage will not nearly as good as be what you had at the opening party (at least not in the long run…).

  7. Very cool. Any idea if you’ll be able to access it airside from the Alaska gates (A1-12) in the int’l terminal?

  8. @Gene – I suspect the food will be a bit more tame to appeal to people other than SF/Napa foodies, although with serious flair.

    I’m jealous because my wife and her sister will be traveling from SF to LV this weekend for a girls’ weekend, and they’ll get to enjoy both lounges before me…

    Greg

  9. @Gene I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that American would ever be near SFO’s terminal 3. And I do not expect terminal 2 and 3 to be connected for quite some time! That’s why I suggested I wouldn’t often re-visit this lounge.

    And I agree, that the actual food experience is likely to drop off compared to when the chef is present overseeing its production. I made that point when I attended the pre-opening dinner at the LaGuardia lounge and actually meant to make that point here as well.

  10. FWIW, US Air presently flies into T1 (AA is T2) and
    there is an airside “United Shuttle” between T1 and T3.
    T1 is also connected to the International Terminal. Therefore, eventually you will be able to fly AA and walk T2-T1, shuttle to T3, and drink fancy wine.

  11. Well let’s hope that the bar service is better than in DFW. Last couple times, had asked for a Mint Julep…”sorry, no mint”. Asked for a Malibu “sorry, no Malibu”. Asked for Whiskey Sour…”sorry, not enough sugar syrup”. Maybe 2 off-days, but still, twice over a few weeks? In the grand scheme though, these are first world problems! : )

  12. If one is flying JetBlue from SFO (uses the A wing of the International Terminal), can one access this lounge staying airside? I seem to recall hearing that the A wing on the Int. Terminal and the United terminal are connected airside. Thanks!

  13. @Ryan – International Terminal A and United’s Domestic Terminal 3 are NOT connected airside; in fact, they are at polar opposites of SFO. It is International Terminal G and Terminal 3 that are connected airside. However, if you are flying B6 FROM SFO, then you can use your boarding pass to access T3. However, you will have to pass through TSA screening twice (one at T3, and once again at International A). The only way this is really feasible and to have at least an hour in the Centurion Lounge is if you allow 2.5 hours at SFO before your B6 flight. If you have PreCheck, it may speed things up a bit, but you will still need at least two hours before your flight, at a minimum.

  14. Putting these lounges post security in airports WITHOUT connected terminals and concourses is a BAD idea. SFO is very cumbersome in this regard, so everyone but UA flyers are very inconvenienced. At least at LGA Amex put the lounge landside not post security. So, the new lounge at SFO is no good for pre-departure use for this AA flyer. Back to the AAdmirals Club. If I didn’t fly through DFW often, these lounges would not be a good value for Plat card Amex.

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