What Are REALLY The Best Airline Lounges In The US? (Since I Think Ben Is Wrong, Sort Of)

Ben just posted a listicle of what he calls the “5 Best Airline Lounges in the U.S.

I’ve (playfully) accused Ben of living in a bit of a bubble before, and I think this post is a prime example of that, because what are the 5 airline lounges he lists?

  • Qantas First Class Lounge LAX
  • Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse JFK
  • Star Alliance First Class Lounge LAX
  • Lufthansa First Class Lounge JFK
  • American Express Centurion Lounge DFW

Ahem.

Four of the five airline lounges he lists are available only to travelers flying internationally in premium cabins (and really, in three of the four cases, in First Class specifically), and those four lounges are evenly split between New York’s JFK airport and Los Angeles’ LAX. None are operated by US airlines.

Centurion Lounge DFW
Centurion Lounge DFW

Only one of those lounges — the Centurion Lounge in Dallas — is available to travelers flying domestically.

Semantically speaking in absolute terms, Ben may be correct that those five lounges are the “best” lounges physically located in United States territory. (And in that case, how come Ben didn’t include the Emirates lounge at LAX?)

Emirates Lounge LAX
Emirates Lounge LAX

If We’re Going To Talk About US Airport Lounges, Let’s Talk About US Airport Lounges

Again, unless you’re one of the very few passengers regularly booked on Qantas First to Sydney from LAX or in Lufthansa First out of JFK, Ben’s post might have raised your eyebrows. To put it bluntly, it’s not an especially helpful list.

I haven’t traveled through every airport in the country and I haven’t sampled nearly as many domestic lounges as Ben has, but I suspect it might be much more useful to discuss the best airline lounges in the US that you can access on a domestic ticket.

Of Course, Centurion Lounges Will Sweep

There’s no denying the American Express Centurion Lounge at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is bananas amazing for a domestic lounge.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas
Centurion Lounge Las Vegas

I’ve also been to the Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas, which, while not as spectacular as the lounge in Dallas, is still phenomenal.

The Centurion Lounges are a real game-changer for U.S. domestic lounges, and they’ve really upped the ante as to what savvy travelers have come to expect from a lounge experience when they’re connecting domestically.

But There Are Still Good Domestic Lounges Out There

When I mentioned my idea of another list to Tiffany, she (correctly) pointed out that the top 5 domestic lounges in the US would be the 5 existing AmEx lounges: Centurion DFW, Centurion LAS, Centurion SFO, Centurion MIA, and Centurion LGA, in more or less that order.

So putting the Centurion Lounges aside, it’s worth discussing those domestic lounges, be they airline-run or contract lounges, that do stand out from the pack.

I’ve been to more than a handful of lounges in the US, ones run by all three carriers. Frankly, I’m unimpressed with the United Clubs at JFK and LAX, and I think while the Admirals Club at LAX is certainly large, and benefits from great views of the tarmac, it’s glum and American is stingy with their food and beverage component.

I’m much more familiar with Delta SkyClubs, and while they’re often fine (I’ve spent more time than I care to admit in the SkyClub in Salt Lake, which could stand to be redecorated), there are indeed a few that blow me away.

Delta SkyClub JFK
Delta SkyClub Atlanta

The Delta SkyClub in Terminal 4 at JFK is impressive. The food and beverage offerings weren’t different from other SkyClubs (though, on the whole, SkyClubs have better and more varied catering than Admirals Clubs or United Clubs), but the layout, the shower rooms, and the huge outdoor terrace were really something special.

Similarly, I’ve been impressed by the SkyClub in Atlanta’s (sorry, in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport‘s) international terminal, which is open to domestic travelers as well, and the SkyClub at LAX has gone through some substantial improvements lately.

Virgin America Loft LAX
Virgin America Loft LAX

I personally love the Virgin America Loft at LAX. I’ve found the food selection to vary at times, and while the food spread isn’t, say, what you’d get at a Centurion Lounge, it’s still better than any SkyClub, Admirals Club or United Club. And the fantastic, complimentary cocktails are a huge plus.

What Are Your Top 5 Lounges In The US?

It’s wonderful that Ben is able to travel in international first class cabins so often and so regularly that he can compile a list of fabulous foreign-run first class lounges on American soil. It really is. But personally, I can’t relate to that list.

It’s like if someone asks me, “what’s your favorite food?” I could respond “Royal Ossetra caviar served on buckwheat blinis at Petrossian” (though I’d be lying; it’s sushi or Neapolitan pizza), but it’s not an especially realistic or relatable answer. Same to “what’s your favorite drink?” A Manhattan, or a spicy margarita is a relatable answer; Krug is not. 😛

I imagine many of you readers have your own favorite domestic clubs in the US, and I’m eager to hear what you think.

Centurion Lounges aside, what are your favorite domestic lounges in the US, in your opinion?

Comments

  1. Virginia America LAX is also good.
    Delta SkyClub JFK doesn’t have good food selection.
    I don’t really think domestic flights lounges matters,since everyone only stays there for a short period.

  2. Lufthansa Senator lounge at Dulles has a good food and beverage spread (I believe Lucky has reviewed it in the past) and is accessible to any Star Gold flying domestically, unlike United’s own clubs.

  3. What about the Etihad lounge at Dulles? The food selection there, esp. the a la carte menu, is quite good.

  4. Virgin LAX? You must be joking. That place is a freakin dump, albeit with good free drinks… 🙂

  5. Agree that Lucky Ben lives in a bubble called first class in a flying metal. I only read this blog for some industry insider news and fare deals–more first-hand than copycat, The Points Guy. Honestly I don’t care for the the 6-star hotel and premium class reviews. I know this is not journalism and I do appreciate the first-hand info from Ben and Nick, especially on SkyTeam and DL, despite one useless drunken review in Spain. I just wish there’d be a blogger on BoardingArea who can write from the average-Joe’s pov.

    As far as US airline lounges are concerned, I do think SkyClub is at least more modern and the shower facility is great in ATL with the bath amenities (great lotion). The outdoor terraces at ATL and JFK are nice. The F&B, besides the chicken salad, is sad. I prefer the open buffet style in the Air France JFK T1 lounge. Even Alitalia and Korean Air T1 lounges offer better snacks/sandwiches and drinks (again, open buffet thus I don’t have to bug a bartender) than any SkyClubs (Narita is a differently story with the pour-your-own Asashi).

    Since I’m on a rant/praise here, I might as well point out some foreign flagship lounges as a SkyTeam Elite Plus and DL PM:

    Royal Jordanian in Amman (AF uses it) offers a great food selection but shower isn’t free.

    Air France in CDG provides a good shower kit and the attendant was super nice the time I used it. And there were… MACARONS in the buffet! Ohh la la!

    KLM in AMS also offers tasty F&B although the lounge gets crowded but it’s fun to people-watch there than just plane-watch.

    China Airlines in TPE presents five freshly made noodle dishes at a noodle bar!

  6. I actually enjoyed Ben’s post more than yours. As you are all Delta all the time, Ben gave a more varied view of lounges. And what is this hobby if not aspirational? So we aspire for those first class lounges. Not Skyclubs.

  7. @Rob: I was resonating what Nick wrote. Aspirational or arrogant? Are you the 1% Richard Anderson caters to?

  8. ROFL at the Virgin America Loft being on the list. I’d take the Admirals Club Atlanta over that lounge (and that’s saying a *lot*).

    That lounge is completely style over substance (but it doesn’t even really have style, so…).

  9. SFO (including Virgin America) got overlooked. SFOs SQ and EVA air lounges are great in comparison to the United Club.

  10. @Billy – or anyone else caring to share… Please elaborate on getting into the QF F lounge at LAX on my lowly business class award. Will my AAdmiral’s Club membership get me in? What other ways are there?

  11. I like the playful banter in this article (this is the way to do different perspectives) and this is where the multiple voices at OMaaT really do add value. Lucky does love aspirational travel (and so do the readers) but it’s important to inform about the more practical and technical things too. The reality is that most travel more frequently on domestic flights than international ones, so good to cover this side too.

    But hey, don’t knock the Krug! Lol.

  12. @matthewD Access to OneWorld First lounges (with some exceptions) can be had, even if travelling in Economy, provided you are a OneWorld Emerald.

  13. I found The Club at ATL in the F terminal to be pretty nice. Decent food and drink and they even have nice shower rooms (unlike most domestic lounges including centurion lounges).

  14. Nick, both list concepts — yours and Ben’s — are valid and useful, so don’t get your knickers in such a twist! In practical terms, though, you admit that you’ve visited mostly SkyClubs, so I have to question your ability to come up with a really helpful list of lounges that can be accessed by domestic travelers.

  15. Here’s my list (limited to what I’ve actually visited, note that I never fly Delta):

    US domestic:
    * Centurion lounges
    * AA flagship lounges
    * AA PHL, CLT, BOS, DFW, PHX, SFO, DEN, DCA, UA SFO, JFK, DEN (all of these usually have decent space available and are quieter than the terminal area, but nothing redeeming about them)

    US international:
    * LAX OWE/first TBIT
    * Virgin Atlantic JFK (one of the few lounges anywhere with something fun to do (billiards), besides eat or massage)
    * JFK BA CCR

    Overseas international:
    * CX the wing (cabanas, restaurant)
    * BA LHR CCR
    * SQ SIN
    * TG BKK
    * LH lounges (only for the pretzels, I’ve never flown them in F)
    * OZ ICN

    I’m obviously missing a huge share of the better lounges in the world, but I’ve not visited them yet. I hope to make it to some of the QF lounges this year, as well as QR DOH.

    I also find the NZ koru lounges oddly charming. How cool is it that they have a decent lounge at even very small airports like Queenstown?

  16. The Admirals Club at SFO and the newly renovated BA lounge at IAD, which you can get into with Lounge Club and Priority Pass, if I recall correctly.

  17. Adding the Terminal D Admiral’s Club in DFW. Lots of windows, and last time I was there they had a guy cooking made-to-order omelettes! (Way better than the usual Snack Towers Of Sadness)

  18. You actually technically can access the Virgin Atlantic lounge JFK on a domestic trip — if flying Virgin America first class and you pay an additional fee for access.

  19. While I primarily visit Admiral’s Club as an American Airlines flyer, I have had the pleasure to visit quite a few lounges both domestically and internationally. Excluding the Admirals Clubs of which I have only really been impressed by the PHL A-West Lounge and the DFW lounge, I find the Alaska Airlines lounge in Seattle to be great and the British Airways lounge in Newark to be great and are my two favorite lounges in the states outside of the Admirals club lounges.

  20. Hey Nick, I’m also a huge fan of sushi and neapolitan pizza. Here are my favorite places around LA (in no particular order cause that would be too hard). Maybe you’ll find this helpful.

    Sushi:
    Sushi Kimagure
    Shunji’s
    Mori Sushi
    Sushi Zo

    Pizza:
    Desano Pizza
    Mother Dough
    Settebello

  21. i know this lounge has bad reviews on loungebuddy, but I love the Sakura lounge in HNL. access with admirals club. I love it for the free delicious REAL instant chicken ramen, where the flavors are embedded in the noodles, no packets necessary. I ate like 10 packets myself…

  22. I should add that a lot of airports now have restaurants that far exceed the food on the lounges, which didn’t used to be the case. For example, LAX TBIT and PHX both have pretty solid restaurant selections now

  23. Here’s a couple of “domestic” lounges. (definite air quotes here)

    You can also access the Virgin Clubhouse SFO on a VX ticket plus paying a fee (though it’s a pain since it’s landside in a different terminal now).

    https://www.virginamerica.com/cms/fly-with-us/vx-lounges/sfo

    AS Board Room membership gets you into the CX Lounge at SFO:

    http://www.alaskaair.com/content/gifts-and-products/board-room/boardroom-locations-and-hours.aspx

    The VS Clubhouse at SFO blows away the VX Loft at LAX (which used to be the AS Board Room, and before that was a TWA lounge, I believe).

    The AS Board Room at LAX deserves a nod here:

    http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2013/04/alaska-airlines-board-room-making-pancakes-at-lax/

  24. Ok – so the parameters set forth here are domestic lounges operated by a domestic entity? I.E. Lufthansa Senator lounges are excluded even though it is accessible for some domestic flyers, because it is operated by an international entity. Centurion lounges acknowledged, but set aside for the sake of this post.

    If those are the parameters then my ranking would be something along the lines of:

    1. Alaska Board Room LAX
    2. Airspace Lounge San Diego
    3. Delta Sky Club JFK Terminal 4
    4. Virgin America Loft LAX
    5. American Admirals Club San Francisco

  25. Some feedback for Nick.

    “unless you’re one of the very few passengers regularly booked on Qantas First to Sydney from LAX or in Lufthansa First out of JFK”

    Except this blog is all about empowering readers to do just that.

    “I suspect it might be much more useful to discuss the best airline lounges in the US that you can access on a domestic ticket”

    Could just be me but I don’t see the point. There are very, very few domestic airline-run lounges that can be considered destinations, meaning I purposely create a long layover just to use its facility. I’ve been to maybe 20 different domestic lounges and there’s not much difference between the best and worst. It’s not a differentiator for me. On the other hand, Ben’s praise of the VS JFK lounge inspired me to book my EU flight with them (when I had other choices).

  26. Aspirational lounges are fun, but functional lounges are wonderful at the right time and place. I’ve enjoyed the great showers at the ORD Admirals Club many times recently. Arriving from overseas it’s always my first stop.

    My daughter was also impressed. Returning from Ethiopia she commented that it was the best shower she had in 2 weeks!

  27. The picture that is captioned Delta Sky Club JFK is really of the ATL Concourse F Sky Club terrace.

  28. The disheartening thing to me (I fly United) is that the new and improved United lounge at Heathrow is up there with Centurion lounges (let’s say it is about 90%). Great food, bar with top flight cocktails…I wish they could bring that level here but it is clear that competing for overseas flyers is worth the efforts while domestic are basically captive.

    Posted from the very hectic United lounge in terminal C at ORD…

  29. “Four of the five airline lounges he lists are available only to travelers flying internationally in premium cabins (and really, in three of the four cases, in First Class specifically)”

    That is a demonstrably untrue statement on at least two fronts.
    1. The QF F lounge in LAX is accessible to all OneWorld Emeralds flying coach, as Ben helpfully noted in his linked review if you had bothered reading it.
    2. The VS Clubhouse in JFK is available to Delta and Virgin elites traveling in Economy or to anyone who pays 10k VS points.

  30. Actually LH lounges in DTW and IAD are great, also they are accessable for domestic UA*Gs which is a big plus !

  31. Aside from all the previously named lounges, I think the LH Business/Senator lounge at DTW is worth a mention. It was not the nicest lounge I ever visited (even within the US), but it is the default Star alliance lounge in DTW. and was full of UA domestic flyers. It was definitely a step up from the typical UA Club.

    Also, my most frequented lounge is the AA SFO lounge. The lounge has VERY helpful staff, is bright, new, and never very crowded. While the snack towers of sadness are present, I do love that they have Cherry Coke in their soda fountain. One of the better Admirals Clubs in the system.

  32. Golfingboy must be very easy to please, that’s all I can say. AA at SFO!!! WTF!!!! It’s crap like the airline.

    Ben nailed it. I’d add EK’s new LAX lounge as well. Very nice and great service.

  33. No one blogger or blog will satisfy everyone all the time. So enough with the rants about aspirational or necessary! Reading a few blogs gives everyone different perspectives, so suck it up.

    I actually think the whole US lounge issue is hilarious. I’m sure there are those lou Gehrig crazy people who spend hrs in a lounge, but I suspect most flyers pick their airline based on route, price, and class of service details–and deal with whatever lounge is available in that terminal. It’s a lounge. For long layovers, especially internationally, lounges probably are more important…but I doubt most flyers consider lounge quality over the other details mentioned above. For the U.S. domestic flyer, almost all lounges are sad in one way or another–except for Centurion! Hopefully, Centurion will force the U.S. airlines to up their ante because of Centurions. FWIW, I’ve seen massive improvement at several United Clubs and they look to be much more competitive in some ways when completed at LAX, SFO, EWR, etc. The new United Club at BOS is a major upgrade, even if food selection isn’t yet. AA Flagship lounges are nice but rare. DL lounges are fine but most look dated in the ones I’ve visited.

  34. Hey all, thanks for the helpful feedback. To be clear, I was trying to say that I don’t have an exhaustive experience with domestic US lounges and my visits tend to be SkyClub-heavy. I wasn’t trying to articulate a “best-of” list myself, but rather throw the question out to the readers. I’m genuinely curious as to what lounges you guys like!

  35. @Bill – Just to clarify, what exactly are “those lou Gehrig crazy people who spend hrs in a lounge”?

    And it would help to know how old you are, making this comment. There’s a certain level under which it may be less offensive.

  36. Not that it’s great compared to some of the lounges mentioned here – like Centurion – but the UA lounge at EWR (terminal C) is the best of the domestic UA lounges I’ve been in. In fact, I thought it was quite good all the way around. It’s been re-vamped and offers a lot of space and light and nice tarmac views. There were showers, a small variety of salads, cut fruit and cheeses, hot cereal, soup, etc. in additon to the omni-present “shameful tower of snacks” or whatever it was laughingly called on this blog recently. In fact, there’s now even a decent nut trail mix offering next to the aforementioned goldfish, chex, and pretzel mix. Puts the other major US city UA lounges to more shame than they aleady exude. EWR is the major US hub for UA (r.i.p. Continental). Hopefully, LAX and SFO will follow suit.

  37. Robbo – You obviously can’t read.

    If you were wondering; yes, I have been to plenty of top tier lounges in the US and globally (LH FCT, TG F BKK, CX Wing/Pier, TK IST, EK F DXB, etc.), so trust me I am fully aware of the wildly different standards.

    I’ll repeat one more time for you. Domestic lounge operated by domestic owners and excluding all Centurion lounges. Maybe you should give your top 5 within those parameters. Anything Ben listed in his post or the EK lounge at LAX does not meet the criteria set forth.

  38. I really think an airline lounge should be AT LEAST better than the restaurant in the terminal that every one has access to. Otherwise, what is the point?

  39. This upmarket (Ben) /downmarket (Nick) stuff is getting tiresome; a blog about ‘…first class experiences…’ as mentioned in the About Lucky section at the bottom of the page isn’t going to include those Lounges you mention, Nick. Further, your attempts to walk-back a click bait Title are pretty weak. Why not write a blog of your own non-first class experiences & give up the contrived Ben-Nick differences

  40. Nick,

    Maybe I missed something here, but last time I checked those lounges were still within the US. Are any of the lounges you mentioned better than those on Ben’s list?

    This is more of a post gone wrong I must say, instead of just highlighting your own Top 5 by US based airlines…it has turned into something rather horrid and lets this site down.

    This is not a foreign vs US… there is no competition. US carriers decided long ago to just become people movers…and their lounges reflect this! Plastic Plastic Everywhere! Cheap food, no free booze…pitiful.

  41. @golfinboy – It doesn’t makes sense to narrow it down all the way to “domestic lounges operated by domestic carriers” because that’s not the question that was asked, which was about our favorite domestic lounges in the US. By domestic, I believe Nick was referring to lounges that could be accessed while flying domestically as opposed to the lounges Lucky listed, which for the most part can only be accessed on international tickets.

    There are some relative gems such as the LH Senator lounges at IAD and DTW, the BA Galleries Lounge at IAD, the Club at ATL, and others that can be accessed relatively easily with elite status or priority pass which offer a much better experience than an average Admirals Club, Sky Club, or United Club. I believe that was the purpose of this thread – for readers to share knowledge. Listing a dozen random Admirals/United clubs that “are quieter than the terminal area, but nothing redeeming about them”, and a half dozen of the top lounges around the world like @Dylan did offers nothing useful to this topic or conversation.

    I would LOVE to learn more from other readers about the best domestic lounges, as Nick asked. I think that’s a worthwhile question that we can all benefit from.

  42. Check out the brand new Delta Skyclub at SFO. Old place was a dump but they have really stepped up their game on the new one
    -There is good food selection + a full time kitchen chef who offers paid meal options!!!. Allowing you to stay in the lounge if your appetite is bigger than the standard snacks.
    – It sits where it belongs behind security and all Delta flights are within 2 minute walking distance. Extending your lounge experience.
    – The views on SFO airport are stunning from almost every position in the lounge

    I like the Delta Skyclubs in general, especially in ATL International terminal. Nevertheless SFO airport stays ahead of the curve now.

    rgdz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *