On my trip home from the Gulf Coast, I was delayed in Houston for one night due to a late-arriving aircraft in Gulfport which caused me to misconnect and miss my flight home to Newark. Since my original flight to Newark from Houston was the last of the day, I would have to find my way to an airport hotel and try to get a few hours of sleep before the next morning. Although being away from home for an extra night was not ideal, I was not too downtrodden because it would give me the chance to experience the new American Express Centurion Lounge at IAH (Houston) and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
My rerouting was a bit odd and I had to specifically request it from the United phone agent when I rebooked my flights. Instead of flying on a nonstop flight from Houston to Newark, I would instead be routed from Houston to San Francisco and then from San Francisco to Newark. This was the only routing that still had premium seating available the next day and (as luck would have it) both flights would utilize an internationally-configured plane.
United sometimes repositions its 787 Dreamliner aircraft (which are generally used on international flights) via domestic routes and a “Houston to San Francisco” flight is a common way for them to do so. This is how I was able to snag a BusinessFirst seat on the Dreamliner from Houston to San Francisco. Although the food offerings and amenities on these domestic routings are the same as other domestic first class flights, the seats and the AVOD systems are much better.
United uses special 757-200 aircraft on flights between San Francisco/Los Angeles and Newark. United calls these flights “p.s. (Premium Service) flights” and utilizes international BusinessFirst seating in the premium cabins of these planes. Most U.S. legacy carriers (and JetBlue) consider SFO/LAX to New York to be ultra-premium markets and therefore use planes with international-style business class seating in their premium cabins on these routings.
After slogging my way from the airport to my hotel for the evening, I made it up to my room and slept for a good six hours. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and showered quickly before taking the hotel shuttle back to the airport. The TSA PreCheck line was already open at 5:00 a.m. and almost no one was in line. Surprisingly, however, there were many people sleeping or resting on the post-security airport benches inside the terminal. The weather must have caused significant delays the night before and stranded many passengers attempting to make connections in Houston. I considered myself lucky that I was going to make it out of there without being displaced too badly that day.
For those who frequently fly out of Houston on United, one of the things you realize quite quickly is that United has flights arriving and departing from almost every terminal. After all, IAH is a United hub (and has been since the merger with Continental Airlines). Thus, you may need to plan your stay at the Centurion Lounge around how long it will take you to get to your gate. Although there is the nice post-security Skyway that efficiently ferries passengers between terminals, you still do not want to miss your plane and the assigned gate for any flight can change at any moment.
The American Express Centurion Lounge is located in Terminal D at IAH (Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport). The lounge is a bit hidden and reaching the entrance requires an elevator ride and a short walk through the lower levels of the terminal. The elevators are located around the corner from the Duty Free shop and Gate D-6. There are signs located outside the Duty Free shop that guide passengers to these elevators.
The elevators leading to the lower levels of the terminal are easy to miss as they could easily be mistaken for service elevators if not for the signage directing guests to them.
After exiting the elevators, guests must walk down a corridor until they see the bright blue doors that welcome patrons with the American Express logo (although the doors should be open once the lounge opens for the day). Once inside the lounge, the lounge attendants check you in and swipe your American Express card. If you are new to this particular lounge, they may also offer to show you around and give you a quick tour of the facilities.
Before I continue, I should point out that in order to get into any Centurion Lounge you will need to first possess an American Express credit or charge card (not all American Express cards are eligible, but most are). You will also need to possess a same-day boarding pass with confirmed seat assignment to show the lounge attendants upon entry. Stand-by and non-revenue ticket-holders are not eligible for entry unless they have a confirmed seating assignment and boarding pass.
Centurion (black card) and Platinum cardholders receive complimentary entry to the Centurion Lounge, as this is a stated benefit that these cardholders receive as part of the annual membership fees associated with those cards ($7,500 initiation fee and $2,500 annual fee for The Centurion Card and $450 annual fee for The Platinum Card respectively). Personal, Business and Corporate cards are all eligible.
Other eligible American Express cardholders may enter the Centurion Lounge for a fee of $50 per day (subject to availability and capacity control).
The full lounge access policy and fee amounts can be found on the official American Express Centurion Lounge website located at:
Although the line to get in the lounge when I visited at 5:30 a.m. was virtually non-existent, I am sure that as the day goes on the lines and number of club patrons grow significantly. I was happy to be one of the first guests inside the lounge, as this allowed me to take photos of everything without disturbing anyone else.
Prospective Centurion Lounge visitors should be aware that hot breakfast food is not brought out until 6:00 a.m., so if you have a flight that departs very early in the morning, you may not be able to enjoy all of the lounge food. Fruit, yogurt, bread, granola, juices, coffee, tea, and other assortments are available from the instant the lounge opens in the morning, so light fare is always available.
Due to all of the travel interruptions from the previous day, I had not eaten anything since the afternoon of my originally-scheduled departure in Gulfport. After I arrived in Houston, I really just wanted to get to my hotel and sleep. Thus, by the time 5:45 a.m. rolled around I was tempted by all the offerings in the Centurion Lounge. Of course, the hot food had not even come out yet and I was already sampling small plates (okay maybe not “small” plates) of fruit, jam, exotic butter, muffins, and toast. While my airport lounge experience is limited compared to some of the million-miler folks out there or those who travel extensively overseas, I was able to definitively and immediately determine that the food at the Centurion Lounge was good.
In fact, it was very good.
And not just compared to other airport lounge food available.
In fact, by the time the hot food was served, I had already sampled a few plates of fruit and yogurt. Pancakes, Southwestern eggs, potatoes, soup, and warm muffins were all available in a buffet-style setting. Many of the lounge attendants had also began serving drinks to guests as well (self-serve juice, water, coffee and tea were also always available). Although the bar was not open at this hour, several customers requested and received mimosas.
The biscuit and scone were warm and fluffy. The eggs were creamy but not too runny. The pancakes were also warm and soft, which is sometimes hard to achieve with buffet-style offerings since pancakes can dry out very easily. The potatoes were a bit dry, but the cream sauce seasoned them well. All of the fruit tasted very fresh, and the yogurt was a step up from the yogurt I had tasted previously in the United Club and other airport lounges. I did not sample the granola, but it also looked very appealing and fresh. The butter and toast were great. I wish more places (both at the airport and everywhere else) would use real butter and not butter packets.
Although I have not been to any of the other Centurion Lounges in the United States, I would imagine that the lounge at IAH is smaller than some of the others I have read about. When I visited the lounge at IAH, there was one conference table, a family room, a small lounge with a television, a rest area with four lounge chairs and semi-darkened lighting, a telephone room and the two main seating areas (one next to the food and the bar area and one in the center of the lounge).
The Internet was very fast and the password and login details were given to me by the lounge attendant who checked me in upon entry. In fact, I was able to play online video games, stream CNN and YouTube and upload high-resolution photographs to my Twitter account at the same time without any lag, hiccups or loss of download/upload speed. This is very important to me and a lot of other business travelers since slow Internet can ruin a presentation, briefing upload, or even a conference call.
Multiple power outlets and USB ports were located at every seat which allowed me to charge my phone, laptop and camera batteries at the same time. There were no issues connecting either my Android phone or my camera to the WiFi either, which was also nice (sometimes wireless networks can be finicky to work with in that regard). Cell phone reception was fine in the lounge as well, which was good to see considering the lounge itself was nestled into the lower corridors and hallways of the terminal building.
The seating in the Centurion Lounge was very comfortable and I did not feel cramped or crowded even as the lounge began to fill up right before I departed for my flight. I did not have a chance to check out the full bar or watch television in the smaller lounge area. If I was delayed for an extended period of time at IAH, I might have tried to catch some sleep in the relaxation area of the club as it seemed very peaceful and a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the main lounge area.
The bathroom was very clean and modern. This is also important to me since using the restroom facilities in certain terminals or at certain airports can feel like wading through a sewer at times. I realize that the entire lounge is relatively new. However, the staff did seem keen on keeping everything clean and tidy and used plates, silverware, glasses and other service items were removed quickly after a guest departed the lounge. Tables were also cleaned very quickly and thoroughly after anyone got up and departed their seats.
I wish I could have stayed in the lounge for a bit longer, but my flight to San Francisco began boarding shortly after I had finished breakfast and photographed everything that I could photograph. If I ever find myself back in this (or another) Centurion Lounge, I would love to sample some of the cocktails and bar service that American Express offers later in the day. Of course, with lots of travel looming next year (and even next month), I may just get the chance to do so.
The staff at the Centurion Lounge were exceptionally professional and friendly. The lounge itself was very sleek and modern. Everything inside the lounge was clean and sharp. The Internet worked very well, there were outlets and charging stations for all my devices, and the food was much better than other airport lounge food that I have consumed in the past. The lounge may be a bit small, especially during periods of heavy traffic, but American Express also limits the amount of people that can enter the Centurion Lounge at one time.
If you are someone who travels frequently from an airport where American Express has a Centurion Lounge, access to these clubs may very well help offset or justify the $450 annual fee for The Platinum Card. At airports where there are no Centurion Lounges, Platinum cardholders can still utilize their Priority Pass Select benefits (please note that you have to call American Express in advance in order to activate this benefit as enrollment is not automatic!) or access Delta Sky Clubs if they are flying on a Delta flight that day as well.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the American Express Centurion Lounge at Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). I hope American Express continues this trend in building more and more airport lounges across the country. They are definitely a step up from your standard domestic airport club.
As for me, I was off on another adventure, flying all the way to San Francisco only to head onward to Newark that same day. Of course, not everything was bad. I would finally be able to experience a 787 Dreamliner flight in the BusinessFirst cabin and have the chance to fly yet another p.s. route as well.
Stay tuned for my United 787 Dreamliner domestic BusinessFirst breakfast report and my United p.s. (Premium Service) lunch report as I finally reach the conclusion of my long and winding journey home.