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One of the perks that makes flying so much better is having access to an airport lounge. Many travelers have access to Priority Pass lounges through their premium cards. But gaining access to these two airport lounge networks is more tricky. Today, we’re comparing the American Airlines Admirals Club and the American Express Centurion Lounge. What’s the difference between them and which one is better for you? Continue reading to find out.
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Why do airport lounges matter?
Taking advantage of an airport lounge is one of the few ways to make every travel experience better. This is true whether you are traveling in Economy or First Class. Your time spent waiting at the airport will be much more enjoyable when you’re in a lounge instead of sitting at a crowded gate.
What benefits can you expect from an airport lounge?
The complementary benefits vary from lounge to lounge. But almost all offer free WiFi, comfortable seating, complimentary drinks and snacks, and extra plugs to charge your devices.
The higher-end lounges offer even better perks, like premium drinks and complimentary meals. You may even be able to book a massage or get your nails done for free. Airport lounges with showers are a godsend after an overnight flight.
How do you access airport lounges?
Airline elite members have access to their airline’s airport lounges. Some airlines also offer reciprocal access to other members of the same alliance.
Since I usually pay for flights with miles instead of cash, I have to use other ways to enter the airport lounges.
When you fly international Business or First Class, you will generally have access to the lounge of the airline you are flying. This is true whether you pay with cash or miles for your flights. When I splurge on Business or First Class, I make sure I show up at the airport early to take full advantage of this benefit.
Many premium cards also offer a Priority Pass Select membership as one of the perks. This is how I enter most airport lounges for free. However, the American Airlines Admirals Club and American Express Centurion Lounges are excluded from Priority Pass.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the American Airlines Admirals Club and American Express Centurion Lounges to find out what they offer and how you can gain entrance.
American Airlines Admirals Club
The Admirals Club is American Airlines’ exclusive airport lounge that offers six ways to enter:
- Airline elite status (AA Platinum and above or OneWorld Emerald or Sapphire)
- Premium Class international or select transcontinental flights
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® cardholders
- Admirals Club memberships
- Day passes
- Military personnel traveling in uniform
It’s possible to purchase annual or single-day memberships with cash or American Airlines miles.
Admirals Club locations
The American Airlines Admirals Club offers over 50 locations around the world (find more information here). Members also have access to over 60 lounges with their partners. However, this benefit isn’t available to one-day pass holders or co-branded American Airlines credit card members.
Admirals Club amenities
In my experience, the benefits found inside an Admirals Club lounges will vary quite in a bit, depending upon your location. For example, the Admirals Clubs in Phoenix are barebones offering only house drinks and a handful of snacks. Then compare that to the DFW Admirals Club that offers handmade guacamole every afternoon. Before heading to the bar to order food, walk around the lounge to see if they don’t have better food hidden around the corner.
Many locations also offer shower suites and a business center to help get things done before your next flight.
How to enter the Admirals Club
My preferred option to gain entrance to the Admirals Club is to hold the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®. The annual fee of $450 is cheaper than top-tier American Airlines Executive Platinum fliers would pay for membership ($550) and $200 less than fliers without status ($650).
Plus, with the AAdvantage Executive credit card, you can bring in your immediate family or up to two guests at no charge. People who buy their Admirals Club membership don’t get that option unless they buy a household membership which can cost as much as $1,250.
Credit cardholders can add up to 10 authorized users to the credit card. Each of them gets the same entrance privileges as the primary cardholder. This includes bringing in their immediate family or two guests.
It’s important to remember that you must be flying on an active American Airlines itinerary to enter. As this is an airline-operated lounge, it can be less likely to experience crowding like an independent network.
A one-day pass costs $59 or 5,900 AAdvantage miles. These passes are available to anybody flying on American Airlines, including non-AAdvantage loyalty club members.
American Express Centurion Lounge
The American Express Centurion Lounge is even more exclusive. It’s one of the reasons why I believe The Platinum Card® from American Express is worth it. The only way that you can gain entrance is to be a cardholder of one of five cards:
- The personal option: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- The small business option: The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
- For Delta Air Lines cardholders: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
- An invite-only option: The Centurion Card (American Express Black Card)
- American Express Corporate Platinum
Delta Reserve cardholders must book their Delta flight with the rewards card to have lounge access on travel day. Additionally, these premium cardholders have Delta Sky Club access too.
Centurion Lounge locations
Although there aren’t many Centurion Lounges, American Express has developed partnerships offering American Express Platinum cardholders access to over 1200 global lounges. Here are the partners:
- Escape Lounge
- Delta SkyClub (when flying on Delta)
- AirSpace Lounge
- Plaza Premium Lounge
- Lufthansa (when flying with Lufthansa Group)
- Priority Pass (complimentary, but requires registration)
The Centurion Network continues to expand existing locations and open new lounge spots across the globe. For instance, the San Francisco Centurion Lounge (SFO) recently re-opened at double its original size. Additionally, the largest Centurion Lounge yet is opening later in 2023 in Atlanta (ATL).
Centurion Lounge amenities
I like that the Centurion Lounge offers premium beverages at no extra charge. I also like that they offer full meals instead of the limited “bar snacks” available at most Admirals Clubs. The amenities at Centurion Lounges are pretty consistent across their handful of lounges, and they always have excellent service.
Whenever we fly cross-country, I try to fly through Dallas with a longer layover. This way I can stop by for a complimentary massage for me and a manicure for Anna at the DFW Centurion Lounge.
If you’re basing your decision on amenities primarily, the Centurion Network is usually better. However, Admirals Lounges tend to be less crowded and are less likely to have a waitlist.
Centurion Lounge access
One note of warning for Centurion Lounges – American Express has started to reduce lounge access to prevent overcrowding. Guest limits have been reduced from 3 to 2, which is frustrating since I often travel with my wife and two children. With this rule change, I now have to pay $175 a year for my wife to be an authorized user so she has her own lounge privileges. Or, I pay up to $50 per visit for my children to be a guest inside the Centurion Lounge.
Here are the current one-day pass fees for additional guests:
- Guests who are 18 years or older: $50
- Age 3 to 17 years: $30
- Age 2 or younger: Free
Typically, you can enter a lounge up to 3 hours before your scheduled departure. You can no longer visit the lounge after arriving unless you’re waiting for a same-day connecting flight.
There have also been stories about reduced guest access during peak periods. The Seattle and Miami Centurion Lounges limited entrance to two hours before departure. Nobody was allowed entry upon landing. I’ll definitely keep my ear out for more of these tales. It may sway your American Airlines Admirals Club and Centurion Lounge opinions.
Admirals Club and Centurion Lounges: Which Airport Lounge is Better?
At a budget-busting $550+ per year, most travelers will need to choose one lounge over the other. But which airport lounge is better – American Airlines Admirals Club and American Express Centurion Lounges – will depend on your situation.
You should look at your home airport and the airports which you travel to frequently to see what lounges are available. LoungeBuddy is awesome at helping to determine which lounges are available at airports you’ll be traveling to.
American Express Centurion Lounges offer higher quality food and beverages, but there are only a handful of locations available. I already have access to Priority Pass lounges through other premium cards, so the Amex Platinum benefit doesn’t add any value to me.
Based on my new location, I’m leaning towards trading in my Platinum Card from American Express for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®. This way I’m guaranteed lounge access whenever I fly to or from my home airport. The food and drink selection won’t be as good, but I’m totally fine with free domestic brews and a handful of snacks while I’m waiting for my flight.
Between the American Airlines Admirals Club and Centurion Lounges from American Express, which do you prefer? How do you get access? Sound off on the comments below.