The 5 Best Airline Lounges In The US

When most people think of airline lounges in the US, they probably conjure up images of the Snack Towers Of Sadness (thanks to Tiffany for coining that term!).

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We all know there are some great lounges outside the US, which feature amenities like hour-long full body massages, restaurant quality meals, and even car transfers to the plane.

But are there any US airline lounges which can actually compete? I figured I’d compile a list of my five favorite airport lounges in the US. These are lounges which actually aren’t an embarrassment to the largest aviation market in the world.

With that in mind, what are my five favorites, (roughly) in order?

1. Qantas First Class Lounge Los Angeles LAX

Qantas opened the doors to their new First Class Lounge late last year, which complements the existing oneworld Business Class Lounge LAX.

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While the lounge lacks views, it makes up for it in style, with the same signature modern interior as the Qantas First Class Lounge Sydney.

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But what really sets this lounge apart is the food. The menu rotates seasonally and is inspired by Neil Perry. As far as I’m concerned, the Qantas First Class Lounge LAX has the best food of any lounge in North America.

It’s the only lounge I’ve been to in the US which serves top notch restaurant quality food. In other words, the food in this lounge can compete with what you’d be served at a top restaurant in LA.

The service in the lounge is also managed by Sofitel, so expect swanky service, from servers in white coats, who always put their other hand behind their back while pouring.

2. Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse New York JFK

While this is “only” a business class lounge, it’s my favorite lounge in the US to hang out in. The food in the lounge is simple, in the sense that you’ll be served burgers, flatbread, etc. In other words, everything is very well executed, but it’s not really gourmet.

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But what sets this lounge apart is just about everything else. For me this is the lounge that it’s the most fun to spend time in, since the entire space has such a fun vibe with amazing tarmac views. The staff in this lounge are probably my favorite of any lounge in the world, and I consider many of them to be good friends.

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Furthermore, the lounge also has a pretty awesome spa. If you’re flying Virgin Atlantic (or Delta to London), you receive a complimentary treatment, ranging from a massage to a haircut. Getting your hair cut with a glass of champagne while having views of the tarmac is a pretty special experience for an aviation geek.

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While I love the Qantas First Class Lounge LAX, it’s not actively fun to spend time there, if that makes any sense. In other words, I’d arrive two hours before departure for an amazing meal, but that’s it. Meanwhile at the Clubhouse, I’d absolutely arrive way early, as it’s a place from which it’s fun to get some work done, play a game of pool, get your hair cut, etc.

3. Star Alliance First Class Lounge Los Angeles LAX

The new Tom Bradley International Terminal LAX is an impressive space, and definitely one of the top terminals in the US. As such, the terminal actually has some decent lounges. While the Qantas First Class Lounge is still my favorite, the shared Star Alliance First Class Lounge LAX is also quite nice.

It’s a small space with table service and a good food/drink spread. The lounge never gets as crowded as the Qantas Lounge, given that access is limited to first class passengers (meanwhile at the Qantas Lounge, oneworld Emerald members also get access).

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In addition to a small buffet, there’s a good a la carte menu available. I’d describe the food as good, though not amazing. In other words, you can tell you’re at an airport.

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But what really makes the lounge awesome is that it’s connected to the Star Alliance Business Class Lounge LAX, which is one of my favorite business class lounges in the US. This lounge is much more fun to spend time in, once you’ve had something to eat. There’s a beautiful outdoor deck, an interior “balcony” overlooking the rest of the terminal, etc.

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4. Lufthansa First Class Lounge New York JFK

While I love Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, their US ground experience isn’t typically quite as exceptional. However, there’s exactly one airport in the US with a dedicated Lufthansa First Class Lounge, and that’s New York JFK.

The First Class Lounge is located inside of the Senator Lounge. It’s a fairly small space, though has table service, so you can have a good meal while waiting for your flight.

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Generally I recommend just going up there for the meal, and then heading back downstairs to the Senator Lounge to hang out.

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5. AmEx Centurion Lounge Dallas/Ft. Worth DFW

When it comes to Centurion Lounges, the one in Dallas is my favorite. It really is amazing what American Express has done to innovate the domestic lounge experience. We’re used to crappy lounges run by US airlines, while the Centurion Lounges are much higher quality, and in many cases you’re paying even less for access to them.

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While perhaps not the healthiest food in the world, the Centurion Lounge DFW has one of the tastiest and most “feel good” spreads (unless we’re talking about how you feel when you board your flight, after having eaten half of a Mexican restaurant). But who doesn’t love some tacos, chips & guac, etc.?

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What also makes this lounge awesome is the spa, where you can get a complimentary 15 minute massage, facial, or manicure. Nothing breaks up a day of MD-80 flying like a strong 15 minute massage.

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This lounge deserves a spot on the list simply because of how easy it is to get access. For the annual fee of an American Express Platinum Card, you get access to what’s a lounge which I’d say is comparable in quality to the best international business class lounges in the US.

Bottom line

While the above order probably varies on my mood, all things considered I’m fairly certain the above five are my five favorite lounges. What I know for sure is that:

  • The Qantas Lounge LAX has the best food of any lounge in the US
  • The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse JFK is the most fun lounge in the US to hang out in
  • The Centurion Lounge DFW represents an amazing value for the frequent American flyer

With that in mind, I’m curious how you guys feel. What are your favorite airline lounges in the US?

Comments

  1. I really need to agree with you with the Lufthansa first class and senator lounge. Though near it is the newly renonvated air france lounge just reopened last October, I feel that the LH lounge is still better. Both in terms of its food and space. Simply nice.

  2. @Lucky – we’re flying BA first out of Denver next week. Are we stuck using the Admirals Club lounge or is there a better/different option? Thanks in advance.

  3. @Lucky – whoops, if you’re able to take my last name off the previous comment, I’d greatly appreciate it.

  4. Given the hype, I wasn’t impressed with QF F lounge LAX. The food (breakfast) wasn’t especially good, and service was slow and cold. Definitely didn’t feel like first class service.

    I was in QF lounge HKG the other day and encountered great service, in a land not known for service. I must say that I far prefer that lounge.

  5. Do the EK lounges get honorable mention? I found the EK lounge at SFO to be very nice, well stocked, and big selection of decent food. And you only have to be travelling in Business Class for access. Pretty impressive for an operation with a single flight a day. No massages, but they have both wedges and slices of lemon and lime available for drinks, a nice detail, I thought.

  6. “If you’re flying Virgin Atlantic (or Delta to London), you receive a complimentary treatment”

    so Singapore F passengers do not get a treatment? do they ask for boarding pass before they cut your hair? or how does it work?
    thanks.

  7. The Centurion Lounges are all impressive. I love the wine selection in SFO, the staff is so friendly and fried chicken is amazing in LGA, and the lounge in Vegas is so much better than the UA Club there. I need to check out DFW and MIA. I keep hoping for one in ORD.

  8. Air France at JFK T1–great food, snack and beverage bar. You can also schedule a free spa treatment too.

  9. Hi Lucky!

    In your review for the Qantas First Class Lounge, you mentioned that it would be worth it to route through LAX when flying CX rather than ORD. However, would you still route through LAX even though the flight is shorter (and we all know CX First Class is one of the best)? Thanks for your time!

  10. Lufthansa NYC lounge is way too small!!! All lounges in NYC airports suck! Lounges in LAX are a lot better. I wonder why good lounges are all in LAX, maybe because it is the most competitive market in U.S.?

  11. Great article – the US is so lacking in decent lounges. I’d replace Centurian DFW with Centurian LAS in my list. I found the food to be quite a bit better at LAS, although it’s a matter of opinion certainly.

  12. @Jack – for people in the Eastern US, flying through LAX instead of ORD to fly CX seems like a bad idea.

    1. It means you spend more time on a domestic First (or domestic Economy) flight to get to your US Gateway
    2. It means fewer miles on the actual CX flight

    Example from ATL: http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=ATL+-+ORD+-+HKG,+ATL+-+LAX+-+HKG
    Example from STL: http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=STL+-+ORD+-+HKG,+STL+-+LAX+-+HKG

    DFW is about the breakeven point in total distance.

  13. In my opinion actual lounge food is only important in instances where I can access the flight when flying coach (ie OneWorld lounges). If I’m actually flying F I’m going to get a good meal once airborne and probably have little interest in eating before the flight.

  14. Lucky, have you been to the Amex Centurioun Lounge in Miami yet? I’m dying to know what you think of it!

  15. Great write up! I recently enjoyed the Star Alliance lounge at LAX and truly enjoyed it. Just as I’ve enjoyed the Centurion Lounge at DFW. Both I thought they were very good. From the service, food and décor, head and shoulders above any of the United or AA Admiral’s Club lounges. IMHO Now, I need to try the rest that you mentioned!

  16. @Mattias: The Delta ONE Lounge at LAX is actually not a departure lounge, but a private check-in area with light refreshments. You still have to go through security and access the SkyClub.

  17. 1. Top favorite lists should start with the least favorite and climax at the conclusion with the very favorite, so this list is presented backwards.

    2. I keep hearing the Centurion DFW is jammed to bursting and there’s no place to sit and you won’t ever get that free massage because of the line. I’m more of a reverse-commute flyer like Lucky — I don’t fly on the favorite business traveller days, at least not in the same direction — so maybe I’d have Lucky’s experience, but the majority of visitors seem not to enjoy it.

  18. Also,

    @iopere “You forgot the affiliate link to the AMEX Plat application”
    This!

    And, “The 5 best airline lounges in the US” sounds a lot like “the 5 circles of Hell with the best air conditioning.”

  19. Lucky: Question re: Access to QF LAX F lounge. As an AA EXP do you need to be on QF in F or would a QF or CX J flight also get access to the F lounge?

  20. etihad lounge at IAD is small but with one flight a day, it’s more than enough size wise. Quality of everything is top notch including food and service. You also can’t beat direct boarding onto a beautiful 787!

  21. Hi Ben-
    Was wondering, I have a nearly 4 hour (3h56m) domestic-domestic AA connection in LAX.
    Would it make sense (time wise) for me to go to the QF F lounge (accessed through my BA OW Emerald Card)?
    This will be on Friday, July 3rd from 2:50pm to 6:46pm, if that makes a difference.

    Thanks!

  22. @italdesign: Agree 100% about the QF F lounge – very underwhelming. Food average, service was bumbling to inept, and the shower room attendants are running some kind of tipping scam.

    I wonder if lucky has actually been there as a normal passenger rather than just for the media briefing. Apart from the decor it’s nothing like the MEL/SYD F lounges at all.

  23. Dunno if I’m gonna trigger something here, but after the Centurion DFW (definitely my #1, partly because of a staff interaction I’ll never forget) my #2 is AA’s Flagship Lounge JFK. I haven’t sampled other First Lounges in USA so maybe my opinnion is underinformed. I have sampled Oneworld First lounges elsewhere (BA First BKK is buttery and so English, JL First NRT is so Japanese, luxe but somehow rigid, AA Flagship LHR is a bit of a yawn) and I’d rate Amex’ Centurion Lounge DFW right up there with any of them.

    However the best shower anywhere is certainly EVA Infinity Lounge TPE.

  24. It’s telling and not at all surprising that none of the best lounges in the U.S. are lounges run by any U.S. airline. United’s lounges in Chicago are an embarrassment. Compare what United has in Chicago to just about any foreign carriers home airport lounge. It’s nice to see some U.S. lounges are getting better, but why can’t United, American and Delta step up their game on their home turf?

  25. can we pleeease do a “worst” list??? Or better yet, can you please start an instagram campaign to find the most depressing snack tower of sadness? #SToS

  26. I’m glad someone else mentioned the Etihad Lounge at IAD. I’ve used the AmEx lounge at DFW a fair number of times, but from the reviews the EY lounge looks like a definite step up. I’m looking forward to checking it out next year. And certainly agree with Sami that boarding directly from a lounge is a huge plus.

  27. @Jason +1

    What a guilty pleasure that would be. Although they might all be United Dirty Carpet Clubs.

  28. @lucky: i have priority pass via citi prestige. Except for the centurion lounge, do i have access to any of these?

  29. @ Viet — Nope, the lounges are all based on the class of service you’re flying, as they’re the better lounges operated by international carriers in the US.

  30. @ Pascal — I’d say that’s enough time to visit the lounges for at least 2.5 hours or so. I would go for it, in your shoes.

  31. @ pssteve — All oneworld Emerald members traveling internationally can use it. Enjoy! 🙂

  32. @ Doug — I guess it depends on the airline you’re flying. I’d take the food in the Qantas Lounge, for example, over what’s offered in American or Cathay Pacific first class (well, aside from the caviar).

  33. @ JakePB — Funny how tastes differ, as the Centurion Lounge LAS has my least favorite food. Heh.

  34. @ Hour — Well and I think partly because TBIT is new, so the airlines had a chance to actually put some effort into their new lounges.

  35. @ Lantean — That’s correct, if flying Singapore you have to pay. When you book your appointment they take down your boarding pass information.

  36. @ EthaninSF — Agreed. For business class lounges they’re among the best, in my opinion.

  37. The *A Business lounge is the one that should get the ranking. The F lounge is a disappointment. I wouldn’t spend any time in there, except maybe to order off the menu. The buffet is better in the J lounge.

  38. @ Kacee — Agreed, and that’s why I mentioned the best combo is eating the a la carte food in the first class lounge and then heading over to the business class lounge, which is a much more fun place to pass time.

  39. 1 problem w/ the DFW Centurion Lounge is that it can get quite crowded (my last time there was on a Sunday afternoon, so that figures) – could not get a spa treatment unless I had a 5-hour-plus connection time
    a very honorable mention should go to the SFO Virgin Atlantic lounge – considering they only have 1 or at most 2 flights daily, they do a great job with excellent food and drink plus tarmac views
    looking forward to the ‘worst’ list, and I hope we bundle all of UA’s into 1 slot since otherwise I suspect they would take the ‘top’ 5 (or 10) – SFO’s in the International Terminal (except for the International First Lounge) is simply embarrassing at its primary Pacific Rim hub

  40. Lucky, have you visited First Class Malaysian Air lounge in KUL? I thought it was pretty good, with separate restaurant.

  41. Lucky, I’m excited to go toDFW w/my family on our way to CUN. We only have a 2hour layover. Think that’s enough time to make it worthwhile? Is the lounge close to American Air’s international gates?

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