First look inside Amex’s expanded Centurion Lounge in San Francisco

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First look inside Amex’s expanded Centurion Lounge in San Francisco

As travel demand returns to 2019 levels and beyond, airports are busy again.

While you might find a line at the check-in desk or at security, there’s one part of the airport experience that’s especially prone to overcrowding these days — the lounge.

Whether it’s due to an increase in the number of premium cabin passengers or the proliferation of lucrative bonuses on top credit cards that have encouraged new customers to apply and take advantage of premium perks, there are simply more lounge-eligible passengers than there are seats in airport clubs.

To address overcrowding, American Express is expanding its popular Centurion Lounge locations to accommodate as many cardmembers as possible.

On December 31, the issuer opened its expanded and renovated space in San Francisco International Airport (SFO). TPG was invited to a pre-opening tour, and here’s what you can expect on your next visit.

Many more seats

When you approach the expansive Centurion Lounge in San Francisco, you might not immediately notice the upgrades.

This is because the lounge is still located opposite Gate F1 and F2 in Terminal 3, and the entrance area has not changed. You have to climb one more flight of stairs or take the elevator one level to the reception desk.

Once inside, however, you’ll begin to enjoy a revamped space. The main line of the expansion is an entirely new section located in a long corridor overlooking the landside section of Terminal 3.

The lounge’s footprint previously ended next to a single shower suite. Behind the shower were airport administration offices and other back-of-house spaces.

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Earlier in the pandemic, Amex was able to lease this space, and the newly expanded lounge integrates all of the former offices into its current floor plan.

As you walk past where the old shower suite was, you’ll find some additional pew-style seating, leading to a new narrow hallway that brings you to the extension.

The glass windows that line this hallway help flood the space with plenty of natural light, and the stylish wall art adds a pop of color.

At the end of the corridor you will find a brand new dining room.

There is a mix of seating ranging from two and four top dining tables to couches and high work tables.

The perimeter of this area is lined with bar-style seating, each within arm’s reach of a power outlet and USB-A port.

The dining room also boasts a full-service buffet and a beverage station.

Meanwhile, the new bar is significantly larger than the original, and will serve your favorite cocktail or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a four-pour wine flight from locally sourced bottles. (More on that below.)

From the accent lights to the deep blue mural on the wall, this space feels elegant and luxurious, in line with Amex’s latest Centurion Lounge decorative motifs.

In fact, Amex specifically commissioned abstract artist Tracie Cheng to design the new floor-to-ceiling wallpaper design, which appears to take cues from the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma, Northern California landscapes and San Francisco’s famous fog.

ZACH GRIFF / THE POINTS GUY

The addition of a second buffet and bar, plus more dining space, should help alleviate some of the overcrowding the lounge is experiencing.

Apart from the second dining area, there is also a brand new relaxation space further down the hall.

Turning left at the end of the corridor brings you to this lounge, which – like the dining room – is designed with Amex’s distinctive branding.

A small section of this section will be reserved for VIPs and those with The Centurion Card from American Express, but the rest of the space will be open to everyone. (The information for the Centurion card has been independently collected by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been verified or provided by the card issuer.)

Between the couches and the solo seats installed along the wall, there should be enough space to spread out. Every seat, including those in the middle of the room, has easy access to power points.

There are even two new phone rooms in this space, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

With stylish chandeliers and Cheng’s wallpaper, these two private rooms feel particularly luxurious.

With the addition of the new dining and lounge space, the expanded Centurion Lounge in San Francisco now measures nearly 16,000 square feet—or about twice the size of its previous footprint.

Upgraded amenities

Perhaps the biggest improvement at the Centurion Lounge in SFO comes in the form of new bathrooms.

Gone are the tiny toilets that could never fit more than about two people at a time.

In the new space, the bathrooms have been moved to the center of the new corridor connection, and they are significantly larger and nicer than the ones they replace.

The men’s room has more than twice as many urinals as the old one, and the women’s room is noticeably larger than it was. In addition, Amex has added two private all-gender booths in this area for more inclusive facilities.

In addition, there are two brand new shower suites, both of which are larger and more spacious than the single one they replace. Hopefully this will help reduce the wait for a shower for passengers connecting to or from long-haul flights.

Build on a strong foundation

The Centurion Lounge in San Francisco, which opened in 2014, was Amex’s first West Coast location.

It was designed at a time when there were fewer Platinum card members, and when decor touches like neon green couches were in fashion.

Along with the expanded footprint, Amex refreshed the lounge’s existing space with new chairs, reupholstered sofas and plush throw pillows.

ZACH GRIFF / THE POINTS GUY

There are even some new paintings and prints hanging on the walls.

Unfortunately, I was unable to grab photos of the upgrades to the existing space, which will be folded into the new, larger lounge, as it was still largely under construction during my visit.

ZACH GRIFF / THE POINTS GUY

That said, I checked out the original space in its entirety right before the pandemic, so that should definitely give you a good idea of ​​what to expect from the physical space.

Along with the expansion and renovation, Amex is bringing some other improvements to its San Francisco airport lounge.

ZACH GRIFF / THE POINTS GUY

This includes a new menu from Chef Ravi Kapur and a refreshed wine list curated by Centurion Lounge Wine Director, Anthony Giglio.

Travelers will also be able to try a new “wine flight” concept with a menu that rotates seasonally. At the start, two flights will be available, with the bottles presented below.

ZACH GRIFF / THE POINTS GUY

Sonoma Chardonnay Flight:

  • Gundlach Bundschu Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2020
  • Chief High Sonoma County Chardonnay 2021
  • Sonoma-Cutrer Les Pierres Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 2019
  • Walt Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2019

Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Flight

  • Emblem Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
  • Miner Emily’s Cuvee Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
  • The Critique Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
  • Twenty rows of Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Hopefully, Amex won’t feel the same cost-cutting pressure as United did when it stopped offering wine flights in Polaris business class in February 2018, just over a year after the concept was launched due to rising costs and increased wine consumption. However, given the San Francisco area’s ties to California’s wine industry, this would be a disappointing outcome.

Bottom line

American Express is addressing lounge overcrowding by building larger clubs and expanding existing ones.

The San Francisco outpost, historically one of the busiest in the country, is getting a major upgrade as it nearly doubles in size to about 16,000 square feet.

The extension brings an additional dining and recreation area, along with renovated restrooms and more space to spread out. The existing footprint has also received a makeover with new and reupholstered furniture, as well as some new decor hanging on the walls.

While Amex deserves credit for doing what it can to build larger lounges, it’s likely that the San Francisco outpost will still suffer from overcrowding at times.

ZACH GRIFF / THE POINTS GUY

At some point, it’s simply a numbers game. Although the issuer is limiting guest access starting February 1, 2023, there are only so many travelers going to or from the Bay Area with Amex’s premium cards that include complimentary primary cardmember access, and those numbers are only likely to increase.

That said, the expansion is certainly better than the pre-pandemic situation. Once you enter the living room, there are also many more amenities and spaces to enjoy.

For more information on the Centurion Lounge network, check out:

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