First look at the flagship Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK
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Despite the pandemic, 2020 is shaping up to be a blockbuster year for the Amex Centurion Lounge network.
The issuer entered the new decade with just nine locations. In the first week of January, Amex opened its tenth location in Phoenix. A few weeks later the Charlotte space opened its blue doors, and LAX followed shortly thereafter.
And then the coronavirus came stateside. For the health and safety of its colleagues and in light of greatly reduced travel demand, Amex closed the entire network. Nearly six months later, and the issuer is reopening the blue doors. On 5 October, the Philadelphia and Seattle lounges welcome back cardmembers, with four more locations (CLT, DFW, IAH, SFO) reopening by the end of month.
But that’s not all. In the coming days, Amex is also opening its largest Centurion Lounge to date at New York’s JFK airport. TPG was invited for a preopening tour of this two-level space — read on for our first impressions of Amex’s latest and greatest outpost.
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The lounge is open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. For starters, you need to have The Platinum Card from American Express or The Business Platinum Card from American Express to access the Centurion Lounge. Visitors are entitled to bring two guests, and lap infants don’t count against the two-guest allotment.
Authorized users with a Platinum Card can also enter — but those who have the Platinum’s complimentary additional Gold Card don’t have access. Adding authorized users is the best strategy if you need to get a family larger than three in the Centurion Lounge.
Note that Platinum cardmembers can only access Centurion lounges up to three hours before a departing flight. Platinum members also get access when connecting through the airport, but won’t get access without an onward boarding pass.
If you hold the right card, then you’re welcome to visit any Centurion Lounge subject to a few access rules.
The Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK is located post-security in Terminal 4.
T4 is home to Delta, in addition to several other international carriers at JFK, including Asiana, Avianca, China Southern, Copa, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, KLM, Singapore, South African, Swiss, Virgin Atlantic and others. You’ll also find one of Delta’s most appealing Sky Clubs, Etihad’s top-notch NYC lounge, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse and more in the terminal.
After passing through T4’s centralized security checkpoint, make a left and you’ll then find the signature Amex green living wall, blue doors and Centurion branding.
All six of JFK’s terminals are connected by an above-ground AirTrain, though you’ll need to reclear security if you plan to visit the Centurion Lounge before departing from another terminal.
The largest terminal at JFK is also home to the largest Centurion Lounge to date. At more than 15,000 square feet, the JFK outpost is massive. So big that it spans two floors.
After passing through the welcome desk, you’ll find yourself on the lounge’s upper level that has a capacity of 223 guests (without social-distancing measures).
To your right is the multipurpose room designed for families travelling with children.
As you return to the main lounge area, you’ll pass through a variety of seating areas featuring couches and individual recliners. The signature Amex watchdog and flight information monitors adorn the wall in this area.
You’ll also find the Equinox Body Lab right by the entrance. Had the lounge not featured such sweeping views of the tarmac, that’s where you’d find me hanging out.
Back to the views.
As you pass through the central corridor, your eyes will immediately notice the planes parked at T4’s A-gates. The floor-to-ceiling windows are a dream for aviation enthusiasts. Others will appreciate the plethora of natural light that adorns the space. (It’s just too bad the views were slightly obstructed by the vertical lines in the windows.)
But don’t stare, or you’ll miss two of the lounge’s six “treehouses” (read: individual phone booths), the main restroom area, the elevator and staircase.
As you cross through the central corridor, look up and you’ll notice how the lounge was actually built as an extension of the existing terminal out towards the tarmac.
Once you get to the window, you can either go left or right. The narrow hallway features a bunch of seating areas — individual chairs, recliners, sofas and more.
On your left is the signature co-working table, as well as another one of the six phone booths.
As you walk towards the other end of the hallway, you’ll find a high-top counter with plenty of seating, the main buffet area, dining room and bar.
You can ride the elevator or take the playfully decorated stairs to access the lower level that holds 146 people in non-COVID times.
Once downstairs, you’ll find plenty more seating. If you make a right, you’ll see individual recliners lining the interior of the lounge.
Here’s where the remaining three phone booths are located. You’ll notice that each is labelled with a year. Look closer and you’ll find that the year references the room’s design motif. For example, the wallpaper in the room labelled 2016 is reminiscent of the World Trade Center’s Oculus structure.
The room furthest toward the lounge’s perimeter is home to Amex’s signature pink-maroon zigzag chairs — perfect for social distancing.
Just like the upper level, there’s a long, narrow hallway spanning the length of the lower level. There are a variety of comfortable seating areas down here, roughly mimicking those upstairs.
Instead of a dining room, there’s another relaxation room downstairs, featuring the Amex signature built-in blue wall chairs.
There’s also another buffet and bar down here. Behind the bar are four individual bathroom stalls.
But we’re not done yet.
Food and beverage
Take a look at the copper-panelled wall next to the lower-level bar and you’ll find an unfinished illuminated vertical strip.
Push the hidden door and you’ll be transported to 1850. Quite literally.
Indeed you’ll be standing foot in the “1850” Speakeasy bar, designed to evoke the Prohibition era with its oak-panelled walls and dark interiors. (1850 is also a nod to the year Amex was founded.)
This is the lounge’s third bar(!) and the rotating cocktail menu features a twist on some of the classic cocktails that defined the Prohibition era.
You’ll find a bunch of seating lining the walls as well as a few tables for those travelling in groups.
Aside from the speakeasy, there are two main bars, buffets and self-serve drink stations — one on each level.
Each bar, including the speakeasy, features cocktails curated by Jim Meehan and a wine list selected by Anthony Giglio.
Each drink station has Vivreu water dispenders, Franke coffee machines, Irving Farm brewed coffee, pitchers of flavoured waters and teas.
Every Centurion Lounge partners with a local celebrity chef, and the JFK location continues this tradition. Four-time James Beard Award nominee Ignacio Mattos serves as the lounge’s executive chef.
The lounge’s two buffets will ultimately be self-serve once the pandemic ends. For now, everything will be pre-plated and served by Amex representatives.
One of the highlights of Centurion Lounges is the restaurant-quality food, and the JFK outpost is poised to live up to the brand-standard.
Another highlight of the Amex Centurion Lounge network is the myriad of bespoke amenities.
The JFK location features a first-of-its-kind Equinox Body Lab — sure to become a favourite of fitness junkies.
The Lab is located on the upper level near the entrance to the lounge. Upon entering, you’ll immediately smell the signature Equinox scent.
There are three rooms located in the Lab. One is dedicated to yoga and stretching and another one features a vibrating reclining chair with acoustic therapy.
The main room has a large fitness mat, a stretching table and, my personal favourite, a Hyperice bar. You’ll find two traditional Hypervolts, two Hyperspheres and two Vyper foam rollers. I’d definitely recommend using one of these percussion therapy devices to relax and release muscle tension before or after a long-haul flight.
As mentioned, there are six unique rooms, each influenced by a local NYC landmark. Some have closing doors, but all feature additional privacy for phone calls.
Though there’s no dedicated family room here, the multipurpose room near the entrance doubles as a pseudo-family room. There aren’t any kids’ games, but the design and television should (hopefully) help keep children entertained.
There’s a shared printer next to the coworking table and power outlets and USB ports everywhere. Wi-Fi is available throughout the lounge, and speeds hovered around 60 Mbps download and upload during my visit.
Aside from the two sets of restrooms, the lounge also has two shower rooms, each featuring L’Occitane amenities.
The Centurion Lounge Commitment
At more than 15,000 square feet, the JFK Centurion Lounge is purpose-built for a post-pandemic world — where overcrowding is once again a concern.
For now, however, the issuer is implementing health and safety protocols as part of its Centurion Lounge Commitment to support a safe opening.
You’ll find social distancing markers everywhere — from the floors to the barstools to the individual seating areas. Amex is making it abundantly clear where you’re allowed to sit and stand.
There are hand sanitizing stations at every corner as well. The bartenders and welcome agents are all stationed behind plexiglass shields to limit exposure.
The Equinox Body Lab sessions are all self-led and capacity is capped to promote distancing. Showers are temporarily closed too.
Behind the scenes, Amex is working to disinfect high-touch surfaces with greater frequency. Plus, the lounge gets deep cleaned each night.
The JFK outpost is the fourth Centurion Lounge location to open this year — and instantly becomes the issuer’s flagship space.
The bi-level lounge is decked out with tons of seating options, a first-ever Equinox Body Lab, a hidden speakeasy-style bar, two buffets and more. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping views, and the lounge provides a welcoming respite from the hustle and bustle of one of JFK’s busiest terminals.
Whether you’re ready to travel now or in two years, there’ll be a new Centurion Lounge waiting for you at JFK.
All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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