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American Express’ network of airport lounges has just gotten bigger by one. On Tuesday, Oct. 12, the iconic blue doors to the American Express Centurion Lounge opened to passengers for the first time at London’s Heathrow Airport.
Centurion Lounges are widely regarded as some of the best domestic airport lounges in the United States, and strong abroad as well. That’s largely because of the premium and complimentary food and beverage on offer, which typically rotate on a seasonal basis, but also because of their sleek design features and amenities like spas, showers and even a speakeasy.
For frequent flyers, the opening of this new Centurion Lounge in London is great news, especially as international travel is poised to rebound following the lifting of pandemic-spurred restrictions. The Heathrow Centurion Lounge was first announced back in 2018 with a scheduled opening date in 2019. However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the much-delayed lounge was pushed back to 2020 and then again to 2021.
But, as of Oct. 12, the lounge at the U.K.’s busiest airport is finally open. Was it worth the wait? Let’s take a look inside the big blue Centurion Lounge doors.
The brand-new Centurion Lounge at Heathrow Airport is located within the recently reopened Terminal 3, home to carriers such as Virgin Atlantic, Delta Air Lines, Qantas, KLM, Finnair, Emirates and some British Airways flights.
Once you’re through the security checkpoint, follow signs toward gates 23 through 29 and gates 30 through 42 to find the lounge located on the northern end of the terminal. You can also keep an eye out for signs for the family lounge play area. Then, in between the Accessorize and Ted Baker shops, you’ll see a small opening with signs for the newly opened Centurion Lounge.
Once you’ve located the lounge, you’ll need to either walk up the stairs or take the elevators up to the second level. Immediately upon getting to the second floor, you’ll see the iconic Centurion Lounge marking and famed blue doors welcoming you to the lounge.
The blue front doors to the lounge
Upon entering, you’ll see the welcome desk, which is where you’ll need to show your credentials to access the lounge. The desk itself is visually appealing, with a vibrant moss mounted on the wall — a nod to London’s famous Hyde Park, according to Amex.
The welcome desk.
That’s a theme that you’ll see around the lounge — a nod to Britain. The designers of the lounge played up the influence of London and the larger U.K. to be reflected around the space.
Despite their name, you don’t need to hold the exclusive American Express Centurion Card to gain access to Amex Centurion Lounges. You can get into any of the Centurion Lounges across the world with any of the following Amex cards:
In addition, card members holding the invitation-only Centurion® Card from American Express (colloquially known as the “Amex Black Card”) or the American Express Business Centurion® Card can access any Centurion Lounge.
Generally, access to the Centurion Lounges is reserved for departures — as in, don’t expect to be able to access the lounge after you’ve landed. Card members can enter within three hours of their scheduled departure. However, the exception is Centurion Card members, who can access the lounges once they’ve arrived at their destination, and aren’t limited to how much time they can spend in a lounge.
Amex Platinum card members can bring up to two guests with them into a Centurion Lounge for free. Additional guests are charged at a rate of $50 per person and are subject to capacity limits at any given lounge. On the other hand, Delta Reserve card members cannot bring in guests for free — they’ll be charged at $50 apiece.
But you only have a little more than a year to bring in any free guests. That’s because as of Feb. 1, 2023, card members will be charged a fee of $50 for each guest they bring into a Centurion Lounge, with no free guests allowed. Once the new policy is in place, only Amex Platinum card members who spend at least $75,000 on their card in the prior calendar year will have guest fees waived.
Finally, given the rise in popularity of the Centurion Lounges, the network has become increasingly busy, which has only been accentuated by the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, American Express has implemented strict entry policies to avoid overcrowding, which means when you first arrive, you may be required to wait until space opens in the lounge.
Once you’ve cleared the entry desk, you’ll walk down a narrow corridor that’s lined with artwork and photographs from British artists. “The lounge interior will transport guests on a journey to discover London through design,” Amex said in a press release about the lounge’s opening. There are QR codes next to each photo that travelers can scan to learn more about a particular piece.
A corridor of British art
The push to be British feels natural and not tacky or forced. There are custom furniture elements from U.K.-based producers Konk, Naughtone and Deadgood, as well as modern lighting designs by Lee Broom and Tom Dixon, which truly stand out in the space.
The bar is another standout design feature, with crystal lighting above the barstools. Amex said that it will be removing some of the seating in the bar and dining area in order to promote social distancing. Travelers should expect to be escorted from the welcome desk to a sitting area away from other guests after they check in at the lounge.
The bar at the Centurion Lounge.
But for the design elements that bring the best of Britain into Heathrow, there are some drawbacks to the lounge as well. First — and most glaring — is that the lounge has no windows, and therefore no natural light. Because of the lack of sun, it can feel a bit dark and grim, despite the designers’ work to make the interior welcoming and bright. It’s definitely a big drawback to the space.
While the lounge is beautiful and fresh, the lack of natural light is a downside
Additionally, the lounge is on the smaller side compared with the rest of the Centurion Lounge network. At just over 7,000 square feet, the lounge is less than half the size of the new Centurion Lounge at New York’s JFK Airport, which just opened over one year ago on Oct. 9, 2020, and is over 15,000 square feet in size.
Because of the smaller size of the lounge at Heathrow, which will be further impeded by social distancing measures that will see some seats removed, overcrowding could become an issue in the future when travel completely rebounds to pre-pandemic levels.
Some of the seating options
Finally, while there’s ample seating around the lounge, what the space is truly missing is any seating areas that could be considered fit for kicking back to relax. You’ll find plenty of sofa-like seating for solo travelers, which is nice and comfortable, but don’t expect to be able to put your feet up and stretch out. All of the seating spaces in the lounge are upright, which could be a downside for someone on a long layover.
That being said, the seating that’s available is stacked with power outlets. For the modern traveler who wants to stay connected at all points of their journey, the Centurion Lounge at Heathrow isn’t lacking any kind of power outlets and USB outlets. Even on the dominating sofa in the main lounge space, there are power outlets at every seat. Note, however, that the power fittings around the lounge are U.K.-style outlets, meaning you’ll want to be sure to have a converter with you if you intend to charge up.
Impressive in-seat power around the lounge
Additionally, in the work space area — which you’ll find as soon as you walk into the lounge — there are individual work spaces, which feature their own light as well as wireless charging technology that’s built into the desk. In the space, there’s a communal work area featuring a gorgeous piece of oak wood table, as well as — you guessed it — power outlets built into the top of the surface.
The workspace area of the lounge.
There are also two private phone areas that are soundproof and available on a first-come-first-serve basis — a great space for a secluded phone call or video meeting.
One of the private phone rooms.
Throughout the lounge, there’s free Wi-Fi. I found the speeds to be very good — 15.1 Mbps download and a very impressive 68.4 Mbps upload — though there were only a handful of people on the network while I was there. When the lounge gets busier, speeds might slow down with more demand.
Booths ideal for working with wireless charging technology.
At the back of the lounge, you’ll find two showers that are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, as well as a wellness room, which is a quiet and private space. American Express has confirmed that the showers will be open for travelers as of Tuesday’s opening. While showers across the Centurion Lounge network had been closed for much of the pandemic, the issuer is reopening the service when it deems it safe to do so — including at Heathrow.
One of the shower rooms.
For the time being and until further notice, face masks are mandatory in the lounge when not eating and drinking. But, when you’re eating or drinking in the lounge, prepare to be impressed.
As with all Centurion Lounges around the world, there’s a self-serve area that features both hot and cold food options. The food on offer rotates seasonally and is free of charge.
The self-serve food area.
The menu is curated by Michelin-starred chef Assaf Granit of the restaurant Coal Office in London. According to Amex, “Granit’s menu ties back to London’s rich multicultural heritage through signature dishes from his top restaurants across the globe.”
A look at some of the food on option.
For the media preview of the lounge, there were several food options — both hot and cold — on offer, such as a mushroom dish with red pepper puree and egg, and a sabich sandwich with an eggplant slice, hard-boiled egg and tahini served on a pita bread. Grilled marinated chicken thigh, shakshuka and a dish with minced beef and lamb served with tahini and pita bread were also available.
I opted to try the mushroom dish as well as the eggplant pita, which was effectively a slider. Both were great, with a perfectly cooked egg and fresh flavors. I was impressed.
A terrific meal — especially in an airport
For dessert, I had a “back to black” chocolate masterpiece, which featured dark chocolate creameux and cacao crumble. It was truly magnificent.
A closer look at some of the dessert options.
Behind the bar, expect to find a fully complimentary selection of drinks, including some London classics — sometimes with a twist.
One of the mocktails, dubbed “Hare of the Fog,” an alcohol-free Negroni.
And, to play up the hometown London theme a bit more, you’ll also find a Centurion Lounge first at this location: the tea cart. It’s a lovely green in color and features a rotating selection of local hot and cold teas as well as pastries, plus bar offerings such as custom cocktails and wine. It feels like a nice touch and an ode to London.
The first-ever Centurion Lounge tea cart.
Overall, the new Amex Centurion Lounge in London has a lot going for it. The food choices are great, with rotating options and a large selection, as well as plenty of seating and ways to stay charged up.
The lounge would be improved for travelers if there were some natural light. But this new Centurion Lounge at Heathrow will undoubtedly quickly become a popular spot, and having another international location added to the premier Amex lounge network is great news for card members.
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