Amex Centurion Lounge Overcrowding: A HUGE Problem & Are New Stricter Entry Policies Coming?

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Amex Centurion Lounge Overcrowding

Amex Centurion Lounge Overcrowding: Time for Changes?

I am a huge fan of the American Express Centurion Lounges. Ever since they opened up the first one in my hometown of Las Vegas, I have enjoyed the food (for the most part), drinks and most importantly the comfort. The seating options are diverse and the atmosphere is among the nicest among domestic lounges. The free spa services in Dallas and Miami ain’t bad either.

Since the Vegas lounged opened, the network has grown rapidly. The second lounge to open was at DFW and it was followed by lounges in New York (LGA), Miami, San Francisco and a smaller “Studio” concept in Seattle. All of these lounges share similar decor and characteristics, but offer different menus which makes it nice to visit each one. (Full disclosure I have not yet been to the lounges in LGA or SEA.)

Overcrowded Lounges

Which brings me to the topic of this post. The Centurion Lounges are getting CROWDED. I first noticed this a few months ago on a day where my wife took me to the airport here in Las Vegas on her way to work. I ended up killing a couple of hours that day before my flight and found the lounge way too full. It wasn’t just crowded either. The trash bins in the bathroom was overflowing and the buffet was overrun. It was dirty despite the staff working very hard to accommodate guests.

Amex Centurion Lounge Overcrowding
I don’t remember the last time I have seen a Centurion Lounge this empty.

Since then I have seen similar circumstances in the Vegas lounge several more times and have made visits to the lounges in San Francisco in Miami where I noticed similar issues. The SFO lounge isn’t terrible, but it is small and was near capacity both times I was there. If you are traveling by yourself, be prepared to share seating spaces too. On my last trip to SFO I allowed someone to share my dining table, because there was no more space.

Then there is Miami. Oh Miami. The Miami lounge is simply too small. I have been there four times over the past six weeks because of my mileage runs down to Panama and each time it was full at some point during my visit (i.e. no seats). The other day PDX Deals Guy and I had to literally stand near a group of tables and claim a dirty table as “ours” when someone got up. I seriously wonder why they put a spa in that lounge considering the lack of space. (But I did enjoy my free massages. 🙂 )

New Restrictions?

I am not an insider when it comes to American Express and thus have no knowledge if they are even aware of the overcrowding. (Although I am sure they are.) Since the existing lounges most likely won’t grow, what are they going to do? I think the only answer is to implement tighter restrictions on access.

Currently Platinum members can bring two guests or their immediate family into the lounge. Might we see that number reduced? Could they limit Platinum members to a certain number of lounge visits per year? Before you yell at me for giving them ideas, keep in mind they have experts working for them. I’m sure they have already considered all of these options & more.

Would You Give Up Some Access For a Better Experience?

Amex Centurion Lounge Overcrowding
The least crowded I ever saw the Miami lounge. (I don’t like to take photos of a lot of people.) This area has the buffet and bar and can get miserably crowded during peak times.

The Miami lounge is not a pleasant place to be in my opinion. I don’t want to have to fight for a seat and it is loud and cramped and not comfortable when full. Would you give up unlimited access for a set number of visits where you have a better expectation of it being less crowded? I think some people would. I really do love my lounges so that would be a tough decision for me.

More Staff?!?

One of the things they can do is hire more staff. I do want to say that the staff at the Centurion Lounges has always been a high point for me. They work hard and are friendly. I have always been impressed. With that said, they are often running around and at busy times it is clear there aren’t enough of them. Remember the full bins in the Vegas bathroom I mentioned? I have seen that numerous times now and the staff in that lounge works hard! They can only do so much.

Conclusion

I just wanted to put this topic out there since I have noticed some of the luster of the Centurion lounges has worn off for me. I do understand there are economics involved when choosing the location and size of a lounge and fully respect that American Express is putting out a product that is superior to other domestic lounges, but it isn’t as nice a product as what we saw two years ago.

Hopefully as they bring new lounges online in Houston, Chicago (rumored) and Los Angeles (rumored), the company considers the true capacity needed. Miami is clearly a debacle and I have heard the Seattle lounge is often closed due to being full. Even the larger Dallas and Las Vegas lounges seem to be overrun during peak times. Is this a problem you have noticed? What do you think American Express can do to make the experience better?


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36 COMMENTS

  1. “On my last trip to SFO I allowed someone to share my dining table, because there was no more space.”

    I do appreciate you letting me sit with you.

    Agree with your observations. Especially the fact that the Miami lounge is way too small.

    I also like the food variety from club-to-club. But: a) it would be nice if they would vary the food a bit more at each club, and b) I have found the food at some of the clubs (notably SFO) to be sub-par compared to the rest.

    • Agreed on the sub-part food at SFO and you can sit with me any time. I was referring to the time before last I guess. It was a poor stranger who was forced to ask if he could sit with me because there was no where else!

  2. They need to make the guest access more restricitve yes.

    Also notice in the SFO lounge they have been putting up a ‘reserved’ sign at tables. These are for Centurion cardholders who *might* come in. Yet they’ll leave these up even when people want seats.

    • Yes that is what happened the day someone asked to sit with me. There were two Centurion reserved tables that were empty. I sort of understand why they do that, but it can be a problem.

  3. Personally, a Platinum Card should just get admittance for the card-holder with a fee for each guest (say $25 +/-) or family (immediate family should be the same as a guest). If you travel enough, then it would make sense for US Platinum Card members to get an additional (authorized user) Platinum card. I believe this scenario is much better than restricting access to x visits per year. But, then again, I have no idea if it’s all the additional guests that cause the over-crowding. I’d say you probably shouldn’t have the same guest limit for Centurion; but that probably is not a big issue. But, be aware that you average non-USA Centurion card also gets 5 Platinum Cards for family+friends. But, non-USA Platinum Card people probably visit the USA Centurion Lounges less often.

  4. I agree with you it’s time to limit the number of “immediate family members” you can bring. I frequently see families with 3+ children in tow. Two guests (or maybe even one if the lounge is filling up) should be the maximum, regardless of relationship.

    • There is a limit even on immediate family – 2. I think if you show up with small children, they will let them in. I took my husband and two adult daughters. I had to pay $50 for one of them.

      I am in the DFW Centurion most often. It gets crazy crowded. I heard a silver-haired gentleman complaining to the manager, who then put more chairs out in a very odd configuration – two rows facing each other so you had to run the gauntlet to get to the coffee/tea machine. No one sat there.

      A lot of it has to do with time of day at DFW. If I run in after my flight lands mid-morning to get brunch, it isn’t crowded. I usually head home late afternoon and it is MOBBED. I’ve actually thought about running in to eat then head over to the Admirals Club to relax. I do love the massages at the Centurion though.

      • Interesting I wasn’t aware of that. The admission policy does sound like their is no restriction on “immediate family”, and during top travel period (e.g. the past Thanksgiving), the lounge was filled with families with multiple kids, some running around like it’s a playground.

  5. I agree that they should start by limiting the number of guests, though I don’t know how much that would help, as I haven’t seen many large groups inside. DFW is the worst I’ve seen as far as crowds, but so far I’ve only been there & SFO.

    Since I travel less than a some people, I wouldn’t mind having a limited number of visits per year, though I imagine the road warriors would understantably be livid about that.

    The staff in the Centurion lounges have always been fantastic. The customers on the other hand are some of the most entitled whiners I’ve ever seen. Perhaps they could start by banning some of the people who can’t wait 2 minutes for a drink or even get up to get one themselves!

    • When you say card holders do you mean literally all Amex card holders? Or do you mean Platinum and Centurion card holders? If you mean *all* card holders your suggestion would make things worse. Not to sound elitist but the last thing we need is Joe Blow with his no annual fee Blue Cash card suddenly getting unlimited access, even just for himself, to Centurion lounges. As I mentioned in my other post my first course of action, if the data supports them being a high percentage of visitors, would be to eliminate even paid access for anyone but Platinum and Centurion card holders.

  6. I can’t really see how running lounges is cost-effective for airlines. Sooner or later, one of the legacy airlines is going to dump it. Thus releasing airport space that Centurion could expand into. I much prefer being part of lounge programs that are NOT tied to a particular airline anyhow.

    • Are you kidding? Lounges are profit centers for airlines. You think most people with paid memberships to lounges actually eat and drink $500 dollars worth of mediocre food and rail liquor and light beer each year? No way.

      With the way the big 3 airlines are run today if these things weren’t making a profit they would have been dumped years ago.

  7. It’s difficult to prognosticate the solution without really having all the facts. For instance, how many visitors are people with “lesser” Amex cards that are paying the $50 bucks to get in? If the amount of those people is high enough then I think the solution is easy and you just end the ability to enter with anything but a Platinum or Centurion card. How many people are bringing in more than one guest or are paying to bring in more than 2. Maybe the number of guests should be limited, even for family members? It’s really a touch call without all the facts.

    • Agreed. I just think something has to happen. It is becoming more of an issue and I’m sure American Express is looking at the data they collect while considering solutions. Like I said, hopefully they will realize that future lounges need to be larger, especially in a city like Los Angeles or Chicago.

  8. Glad to see this post. I’ve visited LAS, DFW and SFO several tunes each. DFW has gotten busier, but nothing like SFO or LAS (which seems to be at capacity every time I visit). While the staff is always be very attentive, LAS just seems over run. The reserved tables really need to be made available if the lounges are full.

  9. Amex Centurion lounges are just a zoo and will damage the reputation of the Centurion brand. They should be called Amex Blue lounges and it would be more appropriate based on the level of the crowd that are using the lounges. I don’t think they can limit the number of visits Platinum holders could have in a year. My guess is that there are not enough Centurion cardholders to fill those lounges and if you have a Centurion card you probably spend your time in more fancy places than in an Amex lounge. I would say that limiting to 1 guest per Platinum cardholder should reduce the crowd as well as NOT allowing anyone to pay to access the lounge. You want access to the lounge? Go apply for an Amex Platinum card. Simple as that. I am biased on limiting the number of family members that are 18 years old and younger. I have 2 small kids and they cannot have their own Amex cars. Thus, unless they can access the lounge under my membership I would not use the lounge. However, I have an Amex Platinum card and my wife has another one. Thus, it would be fine if Amex only allows 1 family member per cardholder.

  10. Overcrowding is a problem that is getting worse. Limiting Platinum guests should be the first remedy. Either charge a nominal fee ($25) for all Platinum guests (my preference), limit Platinum comp guests to one or limit Platinum comp guests to eight per year.

    • There simply aren’t enough Centurion card holders to run these things for them only. Most of the reason Amex is making these lounges is to make up for all the lounge access Platinum members used to get free access to just a couple of years ago and have lost. If they start charging Platinum members for access people are going to start dumping the card. What exactly are we paying $450 a year for anymore? SPG and Hilton Gold status and a Priority Pass membership that’s worse than the one you get with the Citi Prestige? If they start charging I know I would personally dump the card and suck it up and go to the Admirals Club with the free I get access from my Prestige.

  11. In the last few weeks I have spent time at the DFW lounge twice and the LAS lounge twice. I never had a problem finding space at LAS. Maybe I just go lucky. But both times at DFW were a nightmare. There were people sitting on the floor because there was no table space. Completely agree about the limited staff as well. The staff at both lounges were great, but definitely needed more of them.

    I think limiting access to only the members plus 4 or 6 guest passes a year would definitely free up a bit of space. But it seems like most of the users are individuals so not sure if the number of guests being brought in is really that big of an issue.

  12. They should just tie it to spend on the Amex Plat. Spend $5,000, get one visit. After all that is their primary business…

    • I’ll reiterate what I’ve said in other comments on this post that the reason a lot of people signed up for the Platinum card to begin with 3-5 years ago was all the lounges you got access to. You could get into half of the big 6’s lounges for no cost. Tying it in to spending kills the incentive people have to keep this card. Yes these lounges are pretty much the best you can get domestically but you can get the AA, UA or DL top end cobranded card and get unlimited, ‘free’ access to those lounges included in the yearly fee.

  13. I agree with Santistico. The issue of children being too young to be AUs on Amex cards is very frustrating. And remember part of the reason that Amex allowed family members/guests in on the Plat card is b/c they nixed it on the Delta SkyClub access, which is now for cardholders only. They always remind me that my kids can go to the Centurion lounge free as the “replacement” for the lost benefit of free SkyClub access for them. I’m paying $450 + $175 (=$625/year) for our Plats and if I couldn’t take my (amex) underage kids with me into the Centurion lounge, I wouldn’t keep the card. Honestly, though, we only go for maybe 45 minutes 1-2x per year. How many families actually travel so much that they are overwhelming the Centurion lounges? As it is, I have to pay for my two younger children if we go to a SkyClub, so we just don’t go. Or we take turns.

    • Could not agree more. Amex Platinum is losing its appeal. No more Delta lounge to my family. Overcrowded Centurion lounges. SPG Gold and Hilton Gold that you can get in so many more ways (and are becoming less valuable year over year). I use FHR for all my vacations but I can get very similar perks when booking at Costco.com or Virtuoso. As for Priority PAss I get way more value from my Citi Prestige. Thus, at the end Amex Platinum is becoming less and less interesting. I also pay $625/year for me and my wife and if they do not find a way to give more value to me as a loyal customer I will jump out of the boat and stick with Citi Prestige. Amex is going downhill after losing Costco and they are now trying to find their space in a very competitive market when Citi and Chase are taking control.

  14. I first visited the Miami lounge during opening week and it was great. Fairly quiet, plenty of seats, calm and relaxing. Every subsequent visit has been a circus in there. Noisy, cramped and unpleasant. We’ve actually now been going back to the Admirals Club because at least it’s less crowded and more peaceful. Sure the food isn’t as good, but it’s better than boarding your flight with a migraine.

  15. MIA was beyond ridiculous last month went I arrived early evening from AUA. never seen a lounge that packed.

  16. I’ve only been to SEA lounge twice, once in early afternoon and once right before they closed. Even it’s really small, it was not very crowded, maybe because it is still fairly new? I didn’t have to fight with other guests on the food, and the stuff members were very friendly. That’s why I dumped Alaska Air Board Room. Way too crowded…

  17. I think limiting the guest to 1 for free regardless if they are family or not would help. I really only frequent the SFO and LAS lounges and have found both tend to be pretty crowed. In Vegas we have even opted to visit the lounge club over the Amx lounge. Speaking of Lounge Club, I find that there lounges are virtually never crowded with the exception of before the Narita flight from SJC but that crowd is actually a lot of fun and filled with very polite and entertaining businessmen returning home.

  18. Two ideas I have seen in other lounges

    a. Separate areas for Platinum and Centurion members.
    b. Limiting the capacity of the lounge to X number of Plat members at any given time.

    • This is yet another one of those suggestions that really relies on data from Amex to know if it would make a difference. Are there really that many people spending 5,6,7+ hours in the lounge? It seems like the turn over rate is much quicker than that in my experience. The way my SO and I operate is we’ll mill about until we can get a seat at the bar, then we’ll go grab some food and sit at the bar and eat and have a couple drinks. I think the longest we’ve ever spent in a lounge through was 3 hours.

      I really think removing access from the non-Platinum and Centurion cards, then limiting guest access down to a single guest, regardless of family status, is the best course of action. If the guy traveling with his wife and three kids really wants to bring them all in then I don’t think making him pay to get his wife an AU card and then paying for the third child is too much to ask. Is it really fair that I pay $450 to get myself and my SO access while the next guy can pay the same fee and get himself plus 3, 4 or 5 other people access?

  19. Wife and I flew through DFW to catch overseas first class (award ticket), so we had access to other lounges. We had enjoyed Centurion couple of times in past, food was great. Got to desk checked in they saw I’d been there before, great. Went into lounge and there was not only no seating, it was lines for food and bev and people standing to eat.
    My experience says they had exceeded their occupancy,which has other ramifications, but can’t they just tell you they’re full? Other lounge not nearly as nice but was at least not over populated.

  20. If the lounges are so crowded and so unappealing, why do people continue to visit them, which clearly they are since they’re so crowded?

    • Because it still beats sitting out in the terminal and having to eat McDonalds and pay an arm and a leg for a beer.

      • The major airports have great places to eat and drink and relax. Yes you have to pay but the fact that there are high prices means you eliminate the penny pinching travelers always looking for freebies.

  21. Frankly speaking, the luster has long worn off the value proposition of Airline Lounges or Airport Clubs. Too many traveling “entourages” in my opinion. How do you even define “immediate family”? I have seen groups of up to 6-8 people coming in on a single membership in AMEX Centurions in LGA and DFW. No one is going to question if or how they are related. The DFW club is usually at capacity. The men’s bathroom has urine stains on the floor, the shoe polishing machine was broken, and no paper towels. I stopped using Admirals Clubs for the same reason, but recently cashed some miles for a membership for 2016 as a relief stop when the DFW Centurions Club becomes overcrowded and unusable. Today I was in BOS and didn’t go into a crowded Admirals Club. Fortunately I found a quiet spot at the small tables in Terminal B hallway going over to gates 30-36, just across from the Hudson shop. Peaceful and uncrowded – and free. In the future I’ll save my money and avoid paying for airline lounges and clubs. Instead I’ll simply find a quiet spot near an inactive gate area.

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