Review: Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco Airport

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As most US-based travelers know by now, American Express has started opening up more of their own airport lounges in part because quite a bit of value has been lost in terms of the lounge privileges of The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN. The card used to get you access to American Admirals Clubs and US Airways Clubs, though that was discontinued last March. Furthermore, guesting privileges have been reduced at Delta SkyClubs as of last May.

American Express now has more than a handful of locations in the US. I’ve reviewed the following:

The only lounge Centurion Lounge I haven’t yet reviewed is the one in San Francisco. So since I was transiting San Francisco last week and had a long layover, I figured I’d check it out.

Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco access requirements

There are a few ways to access the Centurion Lounge San Francisco:

Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco hours and location

The Centurion Lounge is open daily from 5AM till 11PM, which I think just about covers any possible times you could want to use it.

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The Centurion Lounge San Francisco is located in Terminal 3, which is the terminal out of which United operates. The lounge is located near gate 74, so is in the area of the concourse closest to the security checkpoint. This area is connected airside to International Terminal G, though not to any other terminal.

Centurion-Lounge-SFO-Location

That being said, it’s worth noting that San Francisco Airport has a policy whereby you can enter any terminal as long as you have a same day boarding pass departing the airport. So you can access the lounge regardless of which terminal you’re flying out of. For what it’s worth, the security agents seemed well aware of this when I showed up with my Delta boarding pass, and even offered to give me directions to the lounge.

Whether or not visiting the lounge when departing from a different terminal is worth your time probably depends on how long you have and how bad the security lines are.

Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco review

We landed from London at around 3PM, and then headed over to Terminal 3 to check out the Centurion Lounge. We cleared security at Terminal 3 by around 3:30PM, which isn’t half bad when you factor in that we had to clear immigration and change terminals. Upon entering the terminal we walked left and followed the signage towards gates 74-75 and the international terminal.

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Terminal 3 SFO

The lounge is across from gate 74, and has a rather striking glass exterior. While all Centurion Lounges have impressive entrances, this one is especially nice, given that it’s a two-story glass facade.

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Amex Centurion Lounge SFO entrance

Once inside you can either take the staircase or an elevator to the second floor, where the actual lounge is located.

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Amex Centurion Lounge SFO staircase

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Amex Centurion Lounge SFO entrance

The agents at the reception desk were super friendly, as usual. When you hand over your Amex Platinum Card they can see your entire visit “history,” so she noted how I had been to all the other lounges, and explained the basics of this lounge. She explained that there was a hot buffet, and that there was also a special wine tasting available, which the bartender could tell me more about.

I was also given a card with the wifi password, which is the same as at all the other lounges.

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco reception desk

All Centurion Lounges more or less have a similar design, even when the sizes and layouts are different. Behind the reception desk and to the right was the “lounging” room, with a bunch of comfortable couches, benches, lounge chairs, and even those cubicle-style loungers.

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco seating

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco seating

In the back left corner of that room were two computers and a printer.

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco seating

It’s worth noting that the lounge doesn’t actually have tarmac views. Instead it just overlooks the interior of the concourse.

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco view

Across from that large room was an area with three day beds, which several of the Centurion Lounges have. They’re usually my favorite place to set up shop.

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco day beds

Separated from the day beds by a partition was a small TV seating area, with a couch and a few lounge chairs.

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco seating

Next to that was an espresso machine, coffee canister, iced tea, water filtration system (with both still and sparkling water) and delicious freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco coffee/tea

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Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco cookies/iced tea

The other large part of the lounge was the dining section. In the front left of it was a big wooden table, and across from it was the bar, which had the standard Centurion Lounge design, including antique suitcases.

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO dining area

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO bar

Then there were over a dozen tables, most of which seated four people. I’ve been noticing more and more lately that some tables have “reserved” signs on them, which is sort of frustrating given that the lounges are typically quite crowded to begin with. Does anyone know who they’re for? Centurion cardmembers, or…?

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO dining area

The lounge had further seating in a back corner, and even had a booth along one of the walls.

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO dining area

What really sets Centurion Lounges apart from other US airline lounges is the food and drink selection.

The drink list read as follows (everything is complimentary):

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Then there’s a full hot buffet throughout the day.

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO food spread

To the left of the buffet was iced tea, an espresso machine, and coffee.

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO espresso machine

The food spread is different at each of the Centurion Lounges, which is good. That being said, I find they don’t mix up the selection at a given Centurion Lounge very often, so it can get quite repetitive.

This spread consisted of basmati rice with mushrooms, corn, and red peppers.

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO buffet

Then there was fried chicken with sweet chili sauce.

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO buffet

Then there was a spicy pea puree and french onion soup.

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO buffet

Then there were green beans, a salad station, focaccia bread with olive tapenade, and a chocolate mousse dessert.

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American Express Centurion Lounge SFO buffet

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American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco buffet

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American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco buffet

One of the unique features of the Centurion Lounge San Francisco is that it has a wine tasting option. The bartender can give you a “receipt” which entitles you to five tastes.

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Amex Centurion Lounge SFO wine tasting

There are small tasting glasses next to the display.

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Amex Centurion Lounge SFO wine tasting

The bottles are all in a glass display, and there are about 15 wines to choose from at any given point. If you want to try a wine you scan your receipt and then push the button above the wine you want to try.

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Amex Centurion Lounge SFO wine tasting

The pours are quite small, probably less than an ounce, though it’s a really cool concept, especially in a lounge.

Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco bottom line

Amex Centurion Lounges blow other US airline lounges out of the water in terms of the food and drink selection, and overall in terms of the decor and service as well. They do tend to get pretty crowded, which I guess is a reflection of how desirable they are to many passengers.

Overall I was really impressed by the Centurion Lounge San Francisco. I’d say that the Centurion Lounge in Dallas remains my favorite, followed by the one in Miami (at least in theory, given that it’s the only other one with a spa). After that I’d say the one in New York is my next favorite, given that it’s the only redeeming quality of LaGuardia Airport. But I’d say I probably prefer the Centurion Lounge in San Francisco to the one in Las Vegas.

Regardless, these lounges continue to add significant value to the Amex Platinum Card and Amex Business Platinum Card, and along with all the other benefits, make them cards I hold onto despite the $450 annual fee.

Have you visited Amex Centurion Lounges? Which one is your favorite?

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Comments

  1. @ Ben — The new Delta Sky Club at SFO is much nicer than the Centurion lounge, and it isn’t over-crowded like the Centurion lounge. You should check it out on your next visit to SFO!

  2. The Centurion Lounge in San Francisco has something none of the other location possess and that is Francis the Barman. He is without question one of the finest barkeepers I’ve encountered anywhere. He knows the history of a wide breadth of cocktails and ingredients. He’ll mix something to your taste if call out a spirit you enjoy. Above all of his technical skills is his personality. You feel like you’re sitting in his living room. Cheers to Francis!

  3. RE: I’ve been noticing more and more lately that some tables have “reserved” signs on them, which is sort of frustrating given that the lounges are typically quite crowded to begin with. Does anyone know who they’re for? Centurion cardmembers, or…?

    At DFW I overheard someone (maybe a guest) say they were for black card holders, which I guess is Centurion cardmembers. That being said someone sat at a reserved table and no one checked his card or made him move.

  4. no photo of bar menu? the cocktails i’ve had at the centurion lounges have been fantastic. one of the best features to me.

  5. So far my experience with the Amex Centurion lounges in DFW and MIA was subpar. The lounges were overcrowded, almost no seats available, food was trashed like after a party in a frat house and customers almost fighting to have access to services provided. Unless Amex reviews its policy and makes access more restrict their lounges will look like a zoo which is not what you expect from a lounge that uses the Centurion name on it.

  6. Worth noting that there’s a single shower suite (just beyond the day beds) that can be waitlisted at the front desk. It’s a very similar shower suite like DFW.

  7. Hmm. I actually think the SFO location is the best one, especially with the beer on tap, wine, and MICHAEL AND FRANCIS THE BARTENDERS!! They are amazing.

    @Gene– is the Skyclub really that much better..????

  8. I really appreciate the soft product at Centurion Lounges but the crowding and design put me off. The furniture just doesn’t feel comfortable to me… Reminds me of IKEA stuff. If I’m starving I’ll have a light lunch at CL then head to the nearest Admiral’s Club. The latter may not be particularly stylish or plentiful with food and bev but the armchairs are a great place to work from.

  9. Overheard one of the waiters at SFO Centurion Lounge say the “reserved” is for “Black Card/Centurion” card holders…

    Marvin the bartender is also quite good at this lounge!

  10. I’ve been an airline club member for 15 years and travel 100K+ miles a year. I have never seen a domestic club with more promise than the Centurion Clubs. The food and wine range from very good to great. Unfortunately the disappointment exceeds the promise. On nearly every visit in the last 6 months, the crowds have been overwhelming, as has the attitude of entitlement and frustration emanating from the customers, who as a group seem to embody the worst of the aspirational would-be 1%. Give me a dowdy AA club with low expectations and relatively polite and low-key business travelers any day. Amex had a great chance to retain me as a customer with these lounges in spite of the declining value of the Platinum card product in other respects, but they’ve blown it. I’m going to be letting my Platinum card lapse when it comes up for renewal this spring.

  11. The ‘reserved’ are for Centurion and ‘VIP’ – and it’s worth complaining about.

    The club is too crowded and letting table stand empty like that is just insulting.

  12. @Andy-

    Spot on analysis of the Centurion Club. Sometimes the patrons are the worst part of them.

    At SFO I regularly find peace and quiet at the United Club instead.

    The food has already been downgraded at the SFO Centurion, and a couple glass of wine isn’t worth the lack of privacy with these tools.

  13. Great concept, but these lounges are victims of their own success.
    There is never enough seating.
    The buffet is always depleted.
    The tables and seating areas are a mess; the cleaning staff cannot keep up with the crowds of people.
    In several visits (to SFO, LGA, and DFW), have never been able to score a reservation for a spa treatment.
    Even the ventilation system (especially in San Francisco) cannot keep up, and it is often very stuffy.
    Respectfully disagree, but not reason enough to keep a $400/yr fee Platinum card.

  14. As the other commenters have suggested, the Centurion Lounge experience is dramatically undermined by the crowding. I’ve been to the LGA Lounge a few times near closing time. Food items were missing / gone, there was a two or three person deep line at the bar, limited seating available, etc. I much prefer the various Delta lounges in LGA as they are spacious and actually let me relax. The food options are limited, but whatever, I can grab a high quality meal in the terminal and go to the lounge after for drinks. Similarly in SFO, I recently visited American’s Admirals Club and had a very pleasant experience. The club was much less crowded than your photos show and the for purchase food options seemed good.

    The problem with the Centurion Lounge is that there are tons of Platinum cardholders, but no real way to limit it beyond that as there are too few Centurion card holders to make it work.

  15. @Anthony: There are many ways where Amex can reduce the problems of its lounges. First, no guests allowed. If they want to keep immediate family that is fine but why should you be able to bring two guests? If it is not family these guest should get their own card to access the lounge. Second, maybe the $450 fee is too low. No, I don’t want to pay more but I would gladly pay more for more quality. Delta charges $695 just for lounge access if you want to bring two guests or $450 just for lounge access for one person. Thus, it might be the case for Amex. As Darwin said, it is all about natural selection. Once Amex finds the right balance between value and quality for its members their lounges will be top notch. As it is now, they are a zoo and I prefer to spend my time at an AA or Delta lounge rather than at an Amex Centurion.

  16. The new lounges do indeed look great. I have a question I’m hoping I can get help with….
    I’m arriving in sfo on Lufthansa (assuming International terminal g) at 13:15 and need to kill some time before my aunt arrives in on aerlingus at around 17:00. I will have checked baggage. Can I use the lounge as an arrival lounge using my arriving boarding pass? Is there a solution with the luggage or will that make the plan to use the lounge a no go?
    Appreciate the help and @ben thanks for great blog…become an addict
    Grüße aus München

  17. @Santastico,

    “…The lounges were overcrowded, almost no seats available, food was trashed like after a party in a frat house…”

    No doubt – I visited the DFW lounge yesterday after a long flight back from Asia – There were 4 people on the shower list in front of me – so I went to grab a bite – the two breakfast egg dishes were empty and while I waited around a while after informing someone they needed attention… no dice.

    After 20 minutes I did what any self respecting EXP would do – I hopped on the Skylink to terminal A and grabbed a shower in on their awesome (and almost as large as many hotel rooms I’ve stayed in) shower suites. While I did have to pay for food, the panini I grabbed from the bar was pretty good.

    The Amex lounges were great last year, but they are just simply too crowded to keep up with the level of service that they used to provide. They really should rotate the food offerings as well – Sadly, it looks as if I’ll be hitting up the AA lounges in DFW when on an international itinerary for the foreseeable future.

    One positive note, I did notice that they have replaced the seating cushions on those huge green high-back seats – those were getting rather grotty.

  18. Got the AMEX Plat and one big reason was for lounge access. Its definitely not worth the card just for that feature as the lounges are not that great. Yes good food and drinks, if you can get served and if their food doesn’t run out.
    I was at the Delta Club in ATL in their intl terminal, and has deifinately been upgraded. They had a great food spread, a lot nicer than the centurion lounges. Several salads, sides, several hit dishes, desserts, just a great selection.They used to have food for sale but they said they no longer sell food since they have a expanded buffet.

  19. Yep, the reserved tables are for black card holders. The reason why they don’t check the cards is because they always remember who we are when we show them the card at the entrance. It’s perfectly fair – we spend more money with them so we get better perks

  20. i commute between SFO and PSP,several times a month and se the AX Centurion lounge often.. my thoughts
    always too crowed
    too many guests requesting ‘craft cocktails’ and single Bartender bogged down cutting/crushing mint,rosemary and tree bark for the latest trend cocktail??
    can I just get a gin/tonic!!!
    often hot meal set up missing replenishment of dishes
    often NO seating any where
    as you said staff is super friendly and space is nice,miss the nuts/pretzels also

  21. @santastico Let me guess, you have a family…??? I completely disagree…Why should a card member, their spouse, and their –4– kids get in [seriously, in LGA 3 weeks ago] and my colleague and myself cannot…If you limit guest, then the spouse an X amount of children are limited too…

  22. As others have stated, reserving tables is a benefit of the Centurion card. My understanding is Centurion card holders also get a better champagne/sparkling white from the bar.

  23. If they really have all the wines from that wine menu available, it’s head and shoulders above my experience with the DFW CL last July. These are fairly solid wines from wineries whose names I recognize, which was mostly not the case in DFW. Lacking a decent wine selection, I tried several of the “specialty cocktails”, and I agree with the commenter above. Forget the utterly weird “signature” concoctions, and just crank out some high quality standards in a timely manner.

    But it was the food “spread” in this post that really got my attention. A choice of only rice with veggies or fried chicken. That’s it for the main course? And certainly the photo of the virtually empty plate of green beans speaks volumes. We were lucky to get to the DFW lounge early, and were able to “reserve” our own table for our 5 hour wait. As everyone here is saying, as the day went on the crowds got quite intense, and the buffet was frequently a line of nearly empty plates.

  24. Bit of a longshot here, but does anyone know if you can access the lounge with an Australian-issued Amex Velocity Platinum card? Cheers.

  25. I visit the Miami Centurion Lounge frequently as that is my home base. That club has a fantastic breakfast. Truly stunning with the flavors. It’s one of my favorite features. I did visit the DFW Centurion and that food was outstanding. I goofed and had a meal before going to the lounge not realizing that it had such a variety, but I tasted some items regardless. I’ve got a couple of trips planned and on purpose booked through DFW just so I can go and enjoy that lounge. It’s that nice! The service was outstanding in Dallas particularly. And it’s a larger more spread out space.

    I am very comfortable in the Miami lounge and the views of the tarmac and runways is fantastic, particularly if you are a plane spotter. The drinks are great as well.

    It can get a little crowded sometimes, but I haven’t had any issues with finding a place to sit. There are areas that are outside of the main area that are basically always empty and extremely quite and peaceful for work.

  26. @Mark O
    Yes, you can access on arrival. I typically stop in for some food and a cocktail when returning from business trips. Just hang onto that boarding pass – it’s required for entry.

  27. I was recently there and the lounge was packed. Really packed. All the tables were full except for the ‘reserved’ ones.

    They gave us the ‘reserved’ table and at the time I didn’t know why nor did they explain. Now I know it’s because of the Centurion card.

    Didn’t want to ask at the time as I was thankful to have a table LOL but it still boggles me how the person taking us to the table knows I am a Centurion cardholder – she didn’t check me in. Hmmmm… maybe as we turn to talk in the lady in the front counter has a special sign that signifies I’m a sucker hahaha I mean a Cent holder?

  28. Just made my first visit to the SFO Centurion. Could not have been more under impressed. At 9 pm the place was packed. Line at the bar was 7 to 10 persons long, and only 1 bartender. Empty tables are slow to be cleaned. Buffet was consistently low on food. Regardless of volume of food they had cubed pork roast (which was mighty tasty) mostly empty salad mixings, and an absolutely flavorless broth that you could pour over some noodles, when the noodles were infrequently replenished. Sorry but I am just not catching the Centurion fever! Really thought the Delta line was a grander space.

  29. Steve – when they check you in they make a note of who you are and pass that around the lounge. When you get tinted bar they already know you’re coming, even if it’s a crowded room.

    I guess there must be mainly platinum card holders and only a couple of centurion cards in the lounge at any one time and no, I didn’t feel guilty taking my double scotch and sitting at a reserved table!

  30. There is a similar question in thus thread but thought I would get clarification. I am a platinum card holder and will be flying into SFO in August. There is a 2 and a half hour gap between my flight and my wife’s flight. I will be flying in from London on BA. Will I be able to use this lounge and is there somewhere to leave the suitcases in the lounge ?
    Thanks

  31. I just want to let everyone know that contrary to this report, there is no way to access the lounge from the international terminal airside. I asked multiple airport employees and TSA personnel. I told Americans Express to update their website which says the same thing a month ago and they haven’t done anything. Disappointing when you are banking on a visit based on false info.

  32. Ed, I don’t get that, as I have accessed several times from Terminal G? There is a TSA line very close to the lounge. More convenient geographically than the UAL Terminal 3 security access, but take note that at times it is sufficiently quiet that they do not open a TSA Pre line. So if you are TSA Pre, you gotta take off your shoes, belt, liquids, laptop etc like everyone else, which is meh if you’re spoiled by not doing.

  33. Per my last post, there is no way to access the lounge airside from terminal G. You must go through security again. The lounge is advertised as being able to access via terminal 3 or G airside which is not true.

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