Airport lounges in the United States are an odd beast. Quite often, even a domestic First Class ticket or top-tier frequent flyer card won’t get you in the door. So American Express saw an opportunity – to build its own network of premium lounges, reserved exclusively for elite Card Members. That’s where Los Angeles’ Centurion Lounge comes in.
It’s not a lounge that sells access at the door. You’ll only see inside if you have one of Amex’s Platinum personal or business Charge Cards, the invitation-only Centurion Card, or are a guest of the above. Platinum credit cards – like the Australian Platinum Edge, Velocity Platinum or Platinum Reserve – don’t cut the mustard.
So what awaits inside, for those sporting an American Express card heavier than most? I’m glad you asked…
In Los Angeles, the American Express Centurion Lounge resides in LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). If that’s where you’re departing from and you come via the main security checkpoint, just turn left. You’ll see the familiar American Express signature blue colours just down the corridor.
But here’s a tip. You don’t have to be flying out of TBIT to visit this lounge. In fact, you don’t need to be flying internationally at all. Any same-day departing boarding pass – domestic or international – will work just fine.
Better yet, many of the terminals are linked ‘airside’ at LAX. This means they’re in the same security area, and you can wander freely between them. If you’re not flying out of TBIT, Terminal 4 is just next door, and about 5-10 minutes on foot. That’s where most American Airlines flights depart from – worth keeping in mind.
You can also get across to TBIT when departing from most other terminals. Terminals 5-8 are directly attached, and Terminal 5 is then linked with Terminal 4 – and onwards to TBIT. In other words, just keep walking towards a lower-numbered terminal while remaining inside the airport’s secure area.
This makes it straightforward to visit the Los Angeles Centurion Lounge when flying JetBlue or Spirit from Terminal 5. It’s a bit of a stroll from Terminal 6, but still possible when booked on carriers like Air Canada and Alaska Airlines. Terminals 7 and 8 are home to United. It’s a bit of a hike, but doable if you have enough time.
There’s also now a direct airside walkway between TBIT and Terminal 2 and 3 – home to Aeromexico, Delta and WestJet. Terminal 1 is the only outlier not linked airside: home to carriers like Southwest.
Lounge layout and seating
The layout of Amex’s Los Angeles Centurion Lounge is a little peculiar but it still gets the job done. Rather than one large space divided into zones, the lounge branches off in different directions with rooms of varying sizes. There’s also a longer path among them, which essentially provides a few places to stop along the way.
Following that longest path uncovers a small sitting area, which leads through to a bar and dining nook. It continues its transition into a small workspace, home to a central communal table. Individual desks line the walls, although many of these lack power points.
Following a different path uncovers a line of power-equipped chairs and tables. I actually found this to be the quietest spot in the entire lounge, because it’s also along the path to the restrooms. Translation: people have already set up somewhere else, before spotting these seats.
Going back to reception and around the other way finds more work benches. These benches line the windows, which carry through some natural light. But because this comes from a skylight in the middle of the building, the glass is opaque – there’s nothing to look at.
The same area is also home to a short-stay zone where you can dine and power up your gadgets. Otherwise, the main dining area is around on the opposite side.
All in all, Los Angeles’ Centurion Lounge is a little chaotic in its layout. But space is at a significant premium in an airport like LAX – especially in TBIT. I get the sense that Amex took what was available at the time, and moulded things together to make it work. In that sense, they’ve still done a reasonable job, even if different sections do feel a bit detached.
Here’s where the Los Angeles Centurion Lounge takes an interesting twist. This isn’t a facility built with First Class travellers or top-tier frequent flyers in mind. It’s a credit card lounge… and yet, there’s a day spa. Best of all, whether you feel like a massage or a manicure, all treatments are gratis. Just remember though, tipping is still customary. And funnily enough, you can’t pay by Amex – you’ll need cash.
Sometimes, the spa can be booked out hours in advance. Other times, you can get lucky. Today’s visit is, fortunately, one of those luckier times. When I arrive at the lounge, the agent notices that I’ve touched down from Sydney. She figures I’m in need of a massage – proactively offering an appointment.
I score a reservation in just half an hour’s time. And I tell you what, a back and shoulder massage is a great way to unwind between flights. It’s just a chair massage in a communal room, but I’d say it’s the best chair massage I’ve ever had.
Once I’m all relaxed, I continue wandering. I discover the lounge’s ‘Moonrise’ room, but it’s full of people all relaxing in their own way. I then catch a peek of the ‘Sunrise’ room. Amex touts this as offering ‘the perfect amount of light exposure to accelerate travellers’ adaptation to new time zones and reduction in jetlag’.
That sounds perfect for somebody in transit – like me. But Amex’s website doesn’t share that the entire room is off-limits unless you have the invitation-only Centurion Card.
Given that other guests are roped out, it’d be fair for Amex to mention this on its website. In fact, throughout the rest of the lounge, you’ll even spot ‘reserved’ signs on a variety of seats. The idea is that Centurion Card guests will never struggle for a place to sit.
But I’d suggest that if enough Centurion members are stopping by to warrant this, a separate and true Centurion-only lounge would make the experience better for everyone. After all, that’s exactly what American Express does in Hong Kong, where Centurion Card members have their own space and dining room. Aptly, it’s tucked away behind a frosted black door.
Food and beverage in Los Angeles’ Amex Centurion Lounge
It’s common for ‘domestic’ lounges in the United States to mainly provide snacks and nibbles, rather than substantial hot food. For instance, American Airlines makes a point of difference between its regular Admirals Clubs and its Flagship Lounges.
As for the Los Angeles Centurion Lounge, it’s a strong performer on the food front, and closer to that Flagship Lounge territory. My lunchtime visit finds a good selection of pasta, salads and vegetables. There’s also hot chicken, soup, cheese, fruit and other light bites. I particularly like the polenta triangles and return for a second serve.
But the bar is what really makes this lounge. And this is one where you’ll want to pull up a seat, rather than scurry off with your drink. There’s a comprehensive cocktail menu to navigate. I’m often quite partial to the ‘Blue Door’ – a global staple in Amex’s Centurion lounges. But today, I feel like branching out.
I try the ‘Venice Spritz’. It’s a refreshing mix of Bruto Americano – an orange citrus spirit – plus sparkling wine and San Pellegrino Aranciata. Despite the name, Bruto Americano is a Californian spirit based on Seville oranges. But hey, it’s nice to branch out from a more typical Aperol Spritz.
The wine list offers Prosecco and a broad collection of Californian, Italian and New Zealand wines. The Sangiovese Chianti catches my eye but is sadly out of stock. I save my next drink for the nearby Qantas First Lounge instead, where a glass of Taittinger awaits.
Accessing the Amex Centurion Lounge in Los Angeles
You don’t have to be a US-based Card Member to access the Centurion Lounge in Los Angeles. For instance, the following Australian Charge Cards convey complimentary, unlimited entry:
- The American Express Platinum Card (+2 guests).
- The American Express Platinum Business Card (+2 guests).
- The American Express Corporate Platinum Card (+2 guests).
- The American Express Centurion Card (+2 guests or immediate family) (issued by invitation only).
Just note, single-use Centurion Lounge passes issued in Australia aren’t valid here. That’s to say that the two free lounge visits per year provided on Australian cards like Amex Explorer, Qantas Amex Ultimate, Amex Velocity Platinum and so on aren’t valid overseas. These remain available to use at the Centurion Lounge locations in Sydney and Melbourne.
Back in LA, access is generally available three hours before the scheduled departure time of your onward flight. But if you’re in transit and have more time to spare, just show your inbound boarding pass at reception. This waives the three-hour rule – and it’s how I was able to stop by at lunchtime before a 7 pm flight.
Speaking of timing, this lounge opens daily between 6 am and 10 pm. But here’s another tip. If your flight departs after 10 pm (such as QF12 to Sydney), you can visit three hours before closing time. Not just three hours before your flight. For instance, QF12 departs at 11:40 pm. Normally, that’d mean lounge entry from 8:40 pm, unless in transit. But because the lounge closes at 10 pm, you could visit from 7 pm onwards.
The ‘three-hour’ rule also doesn’t apply to Centurion Card Members. Whatever your circumstances though, just be prepared to show your eligible Amex Card, onward boarding pass (plus your inbound, if you’re in transit) and a government-issued photo ID.
Different access policies apply for some US-based American Express Card Members, but we won’t get into those here.
On the whole, it’s wonderful to have an American Express Centurion Lounge in Los Angeles. And particularly for Australian flyers, a lounge in such a great location. It’s right near LA’s Qantas First Lounge, which means a walk to most Australia-bound flights isn’t far. The airside connector also makes things easy when flying with most other airlines.
Being able to get a massage before your flight is a real winner. And even though I qualify for access to the nearby Qantas First Lounge, I choose to venture to Centurion first, for that very reason. After all, the Qantas First lounges only have day spas in Sydney and Melbourne – not in outposts like LA.
To the Centurion Lounge itself, the food is more substantial than you’d expect of a typical US lounge. For that reason, it can be particularly popular with US Card Members. So much so, I overhear many being advised of a half-hour wait at the door. But as an international Card Member, my wait is pleasingly just a few short minutes.
Whether this becomes your own go-to lounge really depends on how you normally travel. If you’re sitting at the pointy end or have elite status, you may find things quieter in your own airline’s lounge. But the Los Angeles Centurion Lounge is still an option I’m glad to have – and a venue I’d visit again.
Hopefully, I’ll have just as much luck landing a spa appointment on that next visit.
Also reviewed: American Express Centurion Lounge, New York JFK
Feature image courtesy of American Express. Other photography by Chris Chamberlin, who accessed the lounge as a regular guest.
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