If your wallet packs an American Express card – that's any AMEX card, including the fee-free varieties – make time for the American Express Centurion Lounge when you next fly through New York's LaGuardia Airport.
With a cocktail bar, dining area, business zone and even a concierge service to help arrange your travel plans and reservations, this certainly isn't your typical US airport lounge.
Location & Impressions
You’ll find the Centurion Lounge before security in LaGuardia’s Terminal B – used primarily by American Airlines and United – but which allows travellers departing from other terminals to easily step through the door. Just follow the clear signage throughout the terminal… … take the elevator up to level three… … and you’ll be relaxing in no time. Inside you’ll find distinct zones tailored to productivity, food and beverage and also relaxing, with great tarmac and runway views throughout... ... but remember to leave the lounge well before your flight starts boarding owing to the need to clear security – and with some airlines, change terminal too.
Shower facilities are absent, but that's understandable for a lounge that primarily caters to passengers on shorter domestic and Canadian flights.
- Complimentary entry for American Express Platinum and Centurion Charge Card holders from any country, including Australia
- Until October 2017, all other AMEX cardholders, including with standard, Platinum and Black cards from Australian banks, could also opt to pay US$50 for access, but this is no longer possible.
The great thing about Centurion Lounges is again that you can be flying with any airline in any class of service: just present a same-day boarding pass and your American Express card and you'll be good to go.
The Centurion Lounge blows most other USA domestic lounges out of the water when it comes time to eat and drink, with a dedicated dining room... ... a variety of fresh salads and dressings on the side... ... and hot dishes like the chipotle BBQ beef short rib with mash, which was tender and had a nice kick to it without being overpoweringly spicy. You'll also find fresh yoghurts, cookies and fruit-flavoured water... ... plus a staffed cocktail and wine bar adjacent to the dining room. The extensive cocktail menu includes an appropriately-named 'Big Apple' – mixing vodka, apple cider, Chartreuse and celery bitters to "showcase the diversity of flavours and ingredients you'll find in New York City's top restaurants and bars"... ... along with a Port Charlotte's Web: taking its name from the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte single malt scotch, joined with Kina L'Aero d'Or, lemon juice and grapefruit juice. The wine list caters to all tastes with an Italian sparkling, a French rosé, four whites – three of which from the US and one from New Zealand – and four reds: two from the US, one from Italy and the other from Argentina.
You're not 'required' to tip the bartender of course, but we'd realistically suggest US$1 for something simple like a glass of wine or US$2 for more complicated drinks such as cocktails for good and friendly service.
Travellers also have a choice between filtered and self-serve espresso coffee such as a latte, cappuccino or macchiato... ... with coffee and tea facilities also on the opposite side of the lounge to avoid doing laps when you're in need of caffeine.
When it's time to work, look to the business zone directly behind reception which offers computer terminals and printing facilities... ... communal work benches with lighting and AC power outlets... ... comfy chairs for more casual iPad browsing... ... and seats with a window view... ... which provide both AC and USB power underneath, and a handy hook for your shopping or small laptop bags. The business zone is completely separated from the dining room and bar area, making it a much quieter place to set up your laptop.
However, if you're in the dining room and are hungry for power, you'll also find AC outlets lining the windows and directly underneath many of the tables: Just remember your Australia-to-USA power adaptor, as there are no international-friendly plugs here.
Fast wireless Internet also blankets the lounge and was more than adequate for uploading high-resolution images and general browsing.
With the lounge mimicking a 'U'-shape with business to the top left and dining to the top right, look to the centre corridor for a little relaxation.
There you'll find plenty of comfy booths: facing TVs which are loud enough to listen to but quiet enough to ignore... ... but it's also a high-traffic area being the only pathway between reception and the dining room/bar.
You'll find the same issue with some of the single seats at each end of the corridor... ... so if you're willing to forgo live TV, stake out one of the more private booths in the business centre. Centurion Lounge guests also receive a complimentary four-week digital subscription to The New York Times (website, tablet and smartphone access), along with three months of free digital magazines via Next Issue.
You should receive your free subscription codes and instructions from the staff as you enter the lounge, although you're free to wait until returning home before activating them.
The lounge also provides concierge services, and while adequate-enough it doesn't match the AMEX Centurion or Platinum over-the-phone service that cardmembers might be accustomed to.
We filed a simple request, asking for a "nice coffee place" and also a "nice cocktail bar" near Grand Central Terminal, and received two suggestions for each.
One of the coffee places was easy-to-find, the other located well inside a particular building which wasn't made clear. Similarly, one cocktail suggestion was perfect, the other was a 'bar & restaurant' that was more 'restaurant' with a brief cocktail menu and a few bar stools.
In-lounge concierge services are nothing to be sniffed at, but we'd love to see AMEX making better use of its stellar telephone concierge team to provide better results for lounge guests.
But as far as domestic airport lounges go in the United States, the Centurion Lounge at New York LaGuardia is easily one of the best.
Chris Chamberlin was a guest of American Express USA