After being closed for several months for expansion, the American Express Centurion Lounge at SFO reopened last week. The Centurion Lounge is one of my favorite lounges at my home airport, but it was notoriously overcrowded. I was excited to check out the changes on a recent Saturday afternoon.
To access the lounge you need a have a qualifying credit card. My American Express Platinum Card grants me and two guests access to the lounge. An important reminder that the entry rules are changing on February 1, 2023, which only allows cardholders who spend over $75k annually on a qualifying card to bring in guests. (Cardholders who have not met this threshold in 2022, can still bring in guests for a $50 fee per guest).
Another way AMEX is combating overcrowding is by limiting the amount of people in the lounge at a given time. This sometimes means there is a wait to enter the lounge. You can check on the AMEX app to see how full the lounge is and expected wait time. You can also “check in,” so to speak to get a code that can help you gain entry faster. Here is what that looks like in the app:
As a reminder, Centurion card (aka black card) members never have to wait in line and have exclusive use of reserved areas in the lounge.
When I arrived at the airport, my AMEX app said the lounge was “almost full,” so I checked in to get a code which said it would expire in 30 minutes. After clearing security and when I arrived at the lounge, there was no line to get in and I was able to enter right away.
For those familiar with the Centurion lounge at SFO, the old lounge setup is pretty much the same with some small layout changes in the dining area. There is an additional island for buffet items and a larger section is reserved for centurion member dining.
Just to the left of the bar, where the bathrooms used to be, is now opened up to give guests access to a long hallway that leads to the expanded lounge area. The walkway is nicely done and overlooks the United check area of SFO.
Halfway down the hallway on the left-hand side is the new location of the bathrooms. One of my biggest gripes with the lounge before was that there were only 2 stalls in the men’s bathroom and always a line to use one. Unbelievably, even after the renovation there were not enough stalls added and there was still a line!
The first new room in the expanded section of the lounge, is a large dining area with a second buffet, coffee area, bar and a lot of seating for eating.
If you continue through the dining area there is another new space in the far back of the lounge that offers more casual seating. There is a reserved section for centurion members as well as 2 phone booth rooms that were locked.
They definitely added more seating, which was a big reason for the renovation but even on a slow travel day the lounge felt full. I think on busy travel days and during prime time, it will still feel very full. I’m curious to see how the phone booths get used since I suspect many business travelers use this lounge they will get filled up quickly. I’ve seen other Centurion lounges use similarly sized rooms for Centurion (black card) members, which I think would be a better use of the space.
I was excited about the new menu because the chef behind it is the same chef as one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, Liholiho Yacht Club. Unfortunately, the food did not live up to the hype.
The flatbread was tasty but unimpressive, the chicken skewers were overly spiced with ginger and the tofu dish was drenched in the marinade. It didn’t come together for me and it didn’t feel like enough food for lunch.
The bar offers a selection of wine and alcohol. Naturally, I perused the wine line but also wasn’t impressed with what was on offer. They tried to stick to local wines, which is nice but I wish they would have included some nicer wines.
The customer service experience at this lounge is consistently friendly and helpful, which I appreciate. Staff are warm and quick to help you find a place to sit. I can’t say the same for other lounges, like the United Club, which I audibly heard another guest say “Wow, this is so much better than the United Club.”
The AMEX Centurion Lounge continues to be one of the best lounges at SFO, and only time will tell if the expansion and entry requirements changes will provide a better experience for members.