Review of San Francisco American Express Centurion Lounge

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On November 6, 2014, the San Francisco American Express Centurion Lounge opened at SFO.  This was the fourth domestic Centurion Lounge to open, and while I couldn’t wait to see it for myself, I also didn’t have any near-term plans to go through SFO.  Luckily, a frequently-flying-friend, Michael, lives in the Bay Area and was willing to check out the 8,200 square foot lounge on opening day and share his thoughts here.  Michael has top-tier status with United and American, flies more than I ever would want to, visits more lounges than I can count, and is the dad to two kiddos.  In other words, he was the perfect guy to check out the new Centurion lounge.  Here is what he had to say…

As a San Francisco Bay Area frequent traveler, I have been eagerly awaiting the grand opening of the American Express Centurion Lounge at SFO’s Terminal 3 for what seems like eons.  When the rumors started appearing about a year or so ago that SFO would join the lucky ranks of Las Vegas (LAS) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), and now also, LaGuardia (LGA) – airports with their own Centurion Lounges – I started acting like a child who can’t wait for Christmas to arrive so that he or she can open presents

“Is it opening soon?  How soon will it open? Why can’t it be open now?”

Finally, on November 6, the dream became reality!  Like an oasis in the frequent traveler desert, the SFO Centurion Lounge offers a welcome respite and safe haven from the generally craptastic United Clubs that previously were the only game in town for those looking to escape the madness of the terminal.

Location of the San Francisco American Express Centurion Lounge:

And what an oasis it is!  Located across in Terminal 3 across from Gates 74 & 75 (and also easily accessible from International Terminal G via the airside connecting corridor), as one approaches the two-story glass wall exterior, the Centurion Lounge very much has the look and feel of a boutique hotel property entrance.  Upon walking in, one is greeted by a living wall (a signature element of the Centurion Lounges) two stories in height.  To reach the lounge itself, one can either take the staircase, or for families with young children (or those who are simply unable or unwilling to make the stair climb), there is also a glass-enclosed elevator.

SFO Centurion Lounge Entrance

SFO Centurion Lounge Entrance

SFO Centurion Lounge Stairs

SFO Centurion Lounge Entrance Stairs

SFO Centurion Lounge Elevator

SFO Centurion Lounge Elevator

Whether taking the stairs or the elevator, the first thing one will notice is the “wine wall,” displaying a broad selection of fine wines and vintages from a variety of Napa and Sonoma wineries.

SFO Centurion Lounge Wine Wall

SFO Centurion Lounge Wine Wall

As difficult as it may be to pull away from the impressive showcase, at some point one needs to move forward and check in at the welcome desk.  Visitors on opening day received a gift bag which included a coffee-table size hardbound cookbook by Christopher Kostow, the three-starred Michelin Chef who created the menu for the SFO lounge, and a vanilla scented candle.

SFO Centurion Lounge Check-in Desk

SFO Centurion Lounge Check-in Desk

SFO Centurion Lounge Gift Bag

SFO Centurion Lounge Gift Bag

Access to the San Francisco American Express Centurion Lounge:

The rules for entry into the lounge are identical to the other Centurion Lounges:  American Express Centurion cardholders and those of the various Platinum cards including The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN, and Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz members are granted complimentary access.

If you would like to see what the other Centurion Lounges in the United States have to offer, here are their reviews:

American Express Centurion Lounge DFW

American Express Centurion Lounge McCarran

American Express Centurion Lounge LaGuardia

Family Room at the San Francisco American Express Centurion Lounge:

For families with young children, the San Francisco Centurion Lounge has its own Family Room, as seen at the McCarran and DFW Centurion Lounges (though not LaGuardia, largely due to space constraints).  To get to the family room, after checking in at the reception desk, head into the lounge and turn right (opposite of the restaurant and bar area) and then in the next room, turn right again.  The Family Room is located toward the back corner.  The room itself is square-shaped, and filled with comfy-looking beanbag-type chairs, and stocked with children’s books, a TV, and a limited selection of DVDs and video games (so parents, be warned: If a child in the room wants to watch a movie, but another child wants to play a video game, since there is only one TV, this could be a potential source of conflict). From a quick perusal of the entertainment options, and based upon my experience with my own children’s interests, it seems this room seems better suited to children who are around age 8 or younger (although your child may feel differently), whereas children older than 8 may find the room boring.

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room Entrance

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room Entrance

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room Toys

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room Toys

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room TV

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room TV

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room Books

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room Books

Layout of the San Francisco American Express Centurion Lounge:

Here is where the physical layout of the SFO Centurion Lounge may present a challenge for parents of children who either like to “roam” around (quietly!), or who may be bored with, or too old for the family room:  The lounge is essentially three distinct rooms that are connected by a “central aisle-way”:  The dining room/bar area, the area just after the reception desk, and then the work/lounge/family room area.  But whereas the Dallas lounge has a horseshoe shape, and the Las Vegas lounge is more or less an oval shape – each offering “nooks and crannies” where families and children can potentially “park” themselves away from other guests, the San Francisco lounge does not really offer that level of “hidden privacy”.  This means that if you have children who are prone to being rambunctious (and who do not want to stay in the family room), it may be a courtesy to other lounge guests to reconsider visiting at a different time.

SFO Centurion Lounge Seating

SFO Centurion Lounge Seating

SFO Centurion Lounge Seating

SFO Centurion Lounge Seating

SFO Centurion Lounge Seating

SFO Centurion Lounge Seating

SFO Centurion Lounge Work Desk

SFO Centurion Lounge Work Desk

Food and Drinks at the San Francisco American Express Centurion Lounge:

On the day I went (opening day), I basically moved in and stayed long enough to try both the breakfast offerings, as well as the lunch/dinner menu.  Truth be told, I wasn’t that impressed with the food selections, though I expect that the menu will evolve over time; one of the lounge attendants did let me know that in the future, more of the menu will feature locally-sourced and organic ingredients.  Of course, what was available on the menu was certainly better than what you would find at most domestic airline lounges, and given that one doesn’t have to pay anything extra for the food in the Centurion Lounge once you are in the lounge, that of course is also a huge plus in terms of saving money, especially if traveling with one’s family.

SFO Centurion Lounge Dining

SFO Centurion Lounge Dining

SFO Centurion Lounge Buffet

SFO Centurion Lounge Buffet

SFO Centurion Lounge Breakfast Menu, Served 6AM – 11AM (cold items available at 5AM):

Whipped Yogurt with Passion Fruit, Olive Oil
Hot Cereal of Grains with Sorghum Syrup, Dates, Almond Milk
Steamed Omelette in “Potlicker Butter”
Breads and Spreads

    • Assortment of Baked Breads
    • Sturgeon Rillette
    • Crème Cheese with Pickles, Shallots, and Dill
    • Confiture of Local Fruits
    • Chocolate and Feulletine Spread
    • Cultured Butter
    • Garden Radishes

Steamed Sacramento Rice with “Furikake” of Mendocino Seaweed, Dried Peppers, Tea
Housemade Granola

SFO Centurion Lounge Steamed Omelet Potlicker

SFO Centurion Lounge Steamed Omelet Potlicker

SFO Centurion Lounge Blueberry Bread

SFO Centurion Lounge Blueberry Tea Bread

SFO Centurion Lounge Lunch/Dinner Menu, Items Served 11:30AM – 10:00PM:

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Apple Lees Vinegar
Salad of Barley, Squid and Celery
Fermented and Grilled Mushrooms with Vinaigrette of Charred Leek
Salad of Bitter Greens with Winter Citrus and Olive Oil
Pumpkin Cooked in Goats Milk Butter
Chestnut Pudding with Roasted Chocolate

SFO Centurion Lounge Pumpkin in Goat's Milk Butter

SFO Centurion Lounge Pumpkin in Goat’s Milk Butter

SFO Centurion Lounge Pork Shoulder

SFO Centurion Lounge Pork Shoulder

SFO Centurion Lounge Salad

SFO Centurion Lounge Salad

And last, but not least, dessert:

SFO Centurion Lounge Chocolate Chestnut Pudding

SFO Centurion Lounge Chocolate Chestnut Pudding

SFO Centurion Lounge Pecan Bars

SFO Centurion Lounge Pecan Bars

But what has to be the real treat for adults 21 years of age or older are the signature cocktails and the wine tasting stations.  If this weren’t a family-friendly blog it weren’t so early in the day, I would have gladly sampled all of the offerings on hand (but probably would have missed my flight because of it!) On day one, I tried the Pineapple Express, and boy was it strong!  Of course, my sensations may have been influenced by the glass of champagne I had had earlier, along with some of the wine samples I had tried <hic!>

SFO Centurion Lounge Bar

SFO Centurion Lounge Bar

SFO Centurion Lounge Wine

SFO Centurion Lounge Pineapple Express

SFO Centurion Lounge Pineapple Express

Here are the San Francisco Centurion Lounge wine and cocktail menus:

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Amex Centurion Lounge SFO Cocktail Menu

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Amex Centurion Lounge SFO Wine List

Amex Centurion Lounge SFO Wine List

Amex Centurion Lounge SFO Wine List

When you visit the lounge, you can get a bar code good for five wine pours from the “wine machine”.   San Francisco may not have the spa that DFW has, but we have a wine machine!  Of course remember that just like with the food, drinks are also included at no additional charge…just be sure to get home safely and don’t miss your flight!  In addition to the other amenities already mentioned, there is one shower suite, WiFi, and printing capabilities.

The Amex Centurion Lounge at SFO is open from 5AM – 11PM daily, and for travelers based in San Francisco, or for travelers who frequently transit Terminal 3, if one doesn’t already have an American Express Platinum card, the Centurion Lounge may be a solid reason and worthwhile justification to acquire the card, especially when factoring in the $200 annual airline credit that comes as an included benefit.

One final note about other recent changes to Terminal 3, besides the Centurion Lounge:  It used to be that the United Premier elite check-in desks and security screening stations were located by door 13, which is the door closest to where the Centurion Lounge is located.  However, as part of United’s renovations, including the recent addition of a new United Club and the“T3E” new set of airplane gates, Premier check-in and security screening is now at the complete opposite end of Terminal 3 from where it used to be (it’s now closer to Terminal 2).  The conspiracy theorist in me says that United wanted to keep its elites as far away from the Centurion Lounge as possible, since the inevitable comparisons against the (weaker) United Club offerings might spark controversy.  However, it is also entirely possible and probable that United moved the Premier check-in and security screening to be closer to the new T3E gates.  Regardless, all three of Terminal 3’s security checkpoints offer Pre-Check, so if one is a Premier elite member, and already has their boarding pass (printed at home, or on a mobile device), and does not have luggage to check, if one wants to visit the Centurion Lounge (and really, who wouldn’t?), I recommend utilizing the security screening by door 13.

Many many thank-yous to Michael for checking out the San Francisco Centurion Lounge on opening day and sharing all of these details.  I can’t wait to try it out the next time I am going through SFO and look forward to the Centurion Lounges in Miami and other locations coming online in 2015. 

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review that mirrors most of my thoughts on the lounge. Since my home base is SFO, I too waited impatiently for the new lounge to open. When I was there, I found that children were extremely noisy, with the entire area echoing with their shouts. Guess what, the children’s room doesn’t work if the parents refuse to take their kids inside. Amazingly, the kids wanted to go in so the mom propped the door open! So noise cancelling headphones are advised when children are present. I respectfully disagree regarding the food – I found it reasonably tasty. My sole complaint is that the lids and serving items are all metal, so be careful you don’t burn yourself. Otherwise, I am quite happy with the new lounge.

    • Jana, bummer about the kids not being in the family room (with the door shut)! Glad you liked the review and the food – I’m looking forward to trying it out myself. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like an indictment of kids, more to support the blog about how the room is structured to bounce sound around. Kids will be kids.

    • Jana, oh I totally agree! To the extent possible, if there is a family room, families with young kids should take advantage and use it!

    • Short answer: Not very accessible. There is no airside connection from T3 to either T1, T2, or International A. Theoretically, a same-day boarding pass on any carrier should allow access to the airside operations in any terminal…but this is very much a your-mileage-may-vary situation, depending on what your TSA inspector thinks. If you happen to have a separate United Club membership, you could get a gate pass to access T3 airside; however, since the gate pass gets confiscated by TSA right before you get to the metal detector, and since you *technically* need a boarding pass to enter the Centurion Lounge (though in practice, I’m not sure how much of a stickler Amex will be if you are airside but don’t have a boarding pass), this still may not be a solution.

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