Airport lounges in the United States have drastically improved in recent years. That’s especially true of American Airlines, which has revamped its top-tier spaces as Flagship Lounges. But how do those differ to the carrier’s typical Admirals Club lounges?
Here’s what to expect on the lounge front with American Airlines, whether you’re flying at the pointy end or have a shiny frequent flyer card or lounge membership.
What’s on offer in an American Airlines Admirals Club?
The Admirals Club is American Airlines’ standard tier of lounge. Think of it as the US equivalent of a Qantas Club. In fact, it’s often the only type of American Airlines lounge available: especially outside of AA’s key airport hubs.
Being the most common of AA’s lounges, the Admirals Club is the easiest to access. But that’s countered by a leaner food and beverage offering. There’s still a light buffet, where you can pick up a bagel or some cereal for breakfast, and salad bites later in the day. But for anything more substantial, you’ll need to order and pay.
On the beverage side, expect a standard white wine, red wine and beer to be complimentary. The house vodka, gin, whiskey and rum are also gratis. But again, for anything else, you’ll pay.
If the situation calls for it, you can even buy wines by the bottle. As a guide, the paid wines cost US$9-13 per glass or US$27-39 per bottle (all plus sales tax as varies by state, and tip). Premium spirits cost US$7-11, again plus tax and tip. If you’re curious, here’s the full menu from my most recent Admirals Club visit.
While facilities can vary between specific lounges, it’s common to expect onsite bathrooms and shower facilities at most lounges. Fast and free Wi-Fi is also standard, with a variety of seats catering for work, dining or kicking back before your flight.
What sets the American Airlines Flagship Lounge apart?
As the name suggests, American Airlines’ Flagship Lounge is designed for the more premium travellers. Think those flying key routes in Business Class or First Class, and travellers with AA’s invitation-only ConciergeKey status – made famous by George Clooney in Up in the Air.
It also welcomes eligible frequent flyers from AA’s international partner airlines, including Qantas Gold and above. In other words, this lounge is AA putting its best foot forward to please those who’ve come from afar, are travelling there, or who practically live at 40,000 feet.
The Flagship Lounge is a rare breed, with only five in existence – found in Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami and New York JFK. There’s a sixth planned for Philadelphia, but it’s not open yet.
Because the Flagship Lounge is more exclusive, it tends to be quieter than your typical Admirals Club. The notion of having to pay for anything is also forgotten. Everything served here is complimentary. This includes premium spirits, nicer wines, and even Champagne.
On the food front, choices are broader, tastier and more filling. There’s typically a variety of hot food tailored to the time of day – and again, you don’t need to pay.
Depending on when and where you visit, there are also opportunities for more bespoke service. For instance, before Qantas’ flights from Dallas Fort Worth to Sydney, there’s a dedicated Qantas assistance desk in the Flagship Lounge.
This allows travellers connecting from other destinations to have their documents checked for Australia before arriving at the boarding gate. This saw me sidestep a queue of over 100 people at the gate, and settle straight into my seat on one of the world’s longest flights. Not bad at all.
Flagship First Dining
Separate to the offerings of American’s main Flagship Lounge, Flagship First Dining takes things a step beyond. Instead of the buffet and self-pour bar of the standard Flagship Lounge, guests in Flagship First Dining enjoy more of a First Class experience.
Think table service, hand-crafted cocktails, signature wines and a quieter space. Best of all, it’s all free – if you’re eligible to step inside, that is. (Tipping is still appreciated, of course).
AA reserves this experience for a select few – and yes, the guest list here is even more restrictive than the Flagship Lounge itself. It’s more of a lounge-within-a-lounge, rather than a lounge itself.
Flagship First Dining exists only at Dallas Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami and New York JFK.
Who gets American Airlines lounge access?
One of the other key differences between the Admirals Club and the Flagship Lounge is who gets inside.
As you may have gathered, the Flagship Lounge is more exclusive, while the Admirals Club welcomes a larger collection of travellers. Flagship First Dining is the most exclusive, but it’s more of a dining room within the Flagship Lounge itself.
While eligibility rules vary between access method, here’s a broad overview of how things stand:
|Access method||Admirals Club||Flagship Lounge||Flagship First Dining|
|Qantas Gold, Platinum, Platinum One and Chairman’s Lounge||🟢||🟢||⛔|
|AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum||🟢||🟢*||⛔|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K*||🟢*||🟢*||⛔|
|American Airlines ConciergeKey||🟢||🟢||🟡~|
|All other oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members||🟢||🟢||⛔|
|Admirals Club members||🟢||⛔||⛔|
|Travelling in AA Flagship Business||🟢||🟢||⛔|
|Flying in AA Flagship Business Plus or Flagship First||🟢||🟢||🟢|
|Travelling international Business Class|
or First Class on another oneworld airline
|US military personnel flying AA in uniform||🟢||⛔||⛔|
|Paid single entry pass||US$59||US$150||⛔|
~These members may receive one-off invitations throughout the year, but access isn’t automatic with every visit.
^Must be travelling long-haul to destinations such as Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand or selected South American countries.
Generally, even where it’s not indicated above, you’ll need to be travelling with a oneworld airline to gain lounge access with American Airlines. This includes American Airlines itself, along with Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, and all other oneworld carriers.
If you’re flying from an airport that only has an American Airlines Admirals Club, that’ll be your go-to. But when you’re jetting through one of AA’s key hubs, it pays to know your options.
For instance, with Qantas Gold, Platinum, Platinum One or Chairman’s Lounge status, you can use the Flagship Lounge even before short AA domestic flights. You can also access the Flagship Lounge with a Qantas Business (or Qantas First Class) boarding pass.
Of course, US-based frequent flyers are still likely to prefer the frequent flyer programs of American Airlines or Alaska Airlines overall. Especially given the other perks these programs provide, such as complimentary upgrades for eligible travellers.
But when travelling in the United States as an Aussie, your Qantas status – or even Qantas Club card – can make the journey better. And if you make the cut for the Flagship Lounge, things get better again.
Just remember, a US domestic ‘First Class’ ticket doesn’t usually grant lounge access on its own. With American Airlines, you’d need to book a route sold as ‘Flagship’, or have the right status or lounge membership to get inside, as above.
Photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled at Point Hacks’ expense. Feature image courtesy of AA.
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