Is American Express’s Platinum Card Worth It for the Centurion Lounge Access?

My toddler and I spent almost 12 hours in Seattle’s Centurion Lounge and lived to tell the tale. And then a week later we did it again.

I’m the world’s best procrastinator. Case in point, we had made the decision to visit New York City several months before I got around to looking for flight options. I was shocked by what I saw. Round trip tickets for flights between Honolulu and New York City for four people were going to cost $2,000 each. No thank you! Instead, we used the companion / discounted flight coupons we got with our Alaska Airlines credit card. These discounts made the tickets much more affordable but came with a 12-hour layover in Seattle each way. Cue Seattle’s Centurion Lounge.

For the uninitiated, the Centurion Lounge is American Express’s uber luxury airport lounge for their Platinum and Centurion Card holders. Previously, if you had one of American Express’s lower tier cards you could still enter the lounge. It would just cost you $50 per person. Unfortunately, American Express stopped that option in recent years in order to deal with overcrowding.

The Centurion Lounge accessed with the American Express Platinum Card
Why didn’t we just leave the airport?

I realize that everyone’s first question will be, “why didn’t you just spend the day in Seattle?” If the same situation happened today, I would definitely take that option instead. However, we had a couple of reasons why that was off the table for this trip. First, I just didn’t have the confidence I do today about traveling around a new city with a toddler. First time parent problems.

Second, we traveled with a lot of stuff. Like an entire household worth of stuff. We were always so worried about being caught without something Emily needed. We just didn’t know where to draw the line. Everything came with us. I repeat, first time parent problems. (When we start travelling with Leo I’m hoping for a much more minimalist approach.)

Third, I was suffering from a bad case of bronchitis. This made points one and two above seem much worse than they were.

Regardless of whether these excuses were silly or not, in the end Emily and I stayed in the Centurion Lounge for our entire layover. Bryan however ventured into the city for a couple hours. I’ve since learned that the card holder must stay in the Centurion Lounge at all times or the guests will need to leave. Whoops. No one said anything to us, so you may be able to chance it as well. In addition to Bryan’s ventures into Seattle, he also left several times to walk the hallways of the airport or to pick up food for everyone. No one made a comment when Bryan left on those times either.

Check-in

Seattle’s Centurion Lounge was located after security in Concourse B near Gate B3. Be forewarned: check in does take awhile. It has every time I stayed in this lounge and the one in San Francisco as well. And it appears to be getting worse. Friends and family that recently stayed in the lounge mentioned waiting at least 15 minutes just to be let in.

As a Platinum Card holder, Bryan was allowed to bring in two guests. This worked well since we were only a family of three at the time. We just showed our ticket along with Bryan’s card and ID and walked on in.

For families or groups traveling with four or more people, additional guests can enter at $50 / day. In addition, babies under 2 can enter free with either a “lap infant” boarding pass or proof of age. One way around the $50 / day cost is to have a spouse / travel buddy become an authorized user on the Platinum Card for an extra $175 / year. That authorized user is also allowed to bring in 2 guests for free as well. So see what option financially works best for you.

Lastly, when we checked in, the Lounge’s Wi-Fi password was provided so that we could use the internet while inside.

Inside the Centurion Lounge – Main Room

Around the corner from the check-in desk was the main lounge. This was a huge room filled with the food buffet, non-alcoholic drinks and many different types of seating arrangements.

The Centurion Lounge accessed with the American Express Platinum Card

On both of our 12 hour-stays we opted for the same digs. A couch and two chairs circling a table that was close to the entrance to the room. The couch was the most important part for us since it allowed Emily a place to take a nap.

The Centurion Lounge accessed with the American Express Platinum Card

The entrance to the main room was also where two of the bathrooms were located. Since all the bathrooms were single stalls it was nice to be sitting close enough to be able to monitor when one was vacant so I could whisk Emily in to change her diaper at a moment’s notice.

Inside the Centurion Lounge – Bar Area

Continuing on straight back there was a second room that housed the bar and numerous table and chair options. This seemed to be the emptiest part of the Centurion Lounge. Since you could drink anywhere in the lounge and there were waitstaff on hand to bring drinks, I could see why many people would opt for finding a place in the main lounge room instead and have their drinks brought to them.

There were two more items of note in the Centurion Lounge: 1) next to the bar was another set of bathrooms and the shower suite, and 2) across from the buffet area from where we sat, there is also a small TV lounge

Food and Drinks

The best part of the lounge was that the food and drinks were all free. I heard that other lounges they have heartier meals but in Seattle it is mostly smaller finger foods. Don’t get me wrong, I typically love that kind of stuff. However, after 12 hours of eating the same couple of items over and over again we were over it. We finally sent Bryan outside of the Centurion Lounge to find us heartier sustenance for purchase.

The Centurion Lounge accessed with the American Express Platinum Card
Showers

There is one shower in Seattle’s Centurion Lounge. One the plus side, you will get a bunch of amenities so there is no need to carry anything in your carry on. On the minus side, the shower suite was FREEZING. The shower water itself was nice and hot but the room had to be a good 20 degrees colder than the rest of the lounge. Not ideal for the room that you get naked in.

If you’ve ever stayed in some of the first class lounges in the European airports, those are much better than what the Centurion Lounge offers. But a shower is still a shower. It was nice to feel clean again after our first day of traveling.

Let’s Look at the Numbers… A.K.A. Obtaining the Platinum Card

The Platinum Card will cost you $550 / year. There are a bunch of bloggers out there much smarter than me that can tell you exactly what every single perk is and how to maximize your financial rewards while getting this card. (Some of my favorites include The Points Guy, Points With A Crew, Million Mile Secret and Mile Value.)

I will leave the hard work of figuring out all those metrics and secrets up to them. This blog post is not that. But I’m going to include what we did and why in case it ends up helping anyone.

I had fallen in love with the American Express brand several years ago based on the customer service. We never took the plunge to get the Platinum but Bryan had the Gold Membership Rewards card for several years and I was an authorized user on the account free of charge. Back then, the Centurion Lounge allowed access to Gold Card holders as long as they paid $50 / person per visit. However, we did the math and the money worked out in our favor to upgrade. We were paying $195 as our annual fee (as of 2019 this was increased to $250) and to have 3 people stay in the Centurion Lounge on two different occasions would have cost us $300. At the time the Platinum Card was only $450 / year so we were saving money AND getting extra perks. It was a win-win.

Let’s Look at the Numbers… A.K.A. Cancelling the Platinum Card

I’ll admit it, we have since cancelled American Express’s Platinum Card. After we got the card, the annual fee was raised by $100 to the new price of $550. We kept it another year or two after that until I finally dug into the numbers. Once I looked into it I realized that we just weren’t using the perks enough to make it worth it.

For example:
$200 airline credit

At the beginning of the year you pick a specific airline. Any money spent on that specific airline, up to $200, will get reimbursed. The biggest catch on this perk is that is doesn’t include the cost of the flight itself. When booking flights I always price shop and therefore constantly changing carriers. In a perfect world I would be on top of all my travel plans and would change my airline every year to fit those plans. But as I stated at the very beginning of this post, I am the world’s best procrastinator. Many years we never got the full $200 back.

$200 Uber credits

From January – November you get a $12 credit monthly (that you have to use or lose). In December the credit goes up to $35. If I lived in downtown Honolulu I probably would love this perk. Instead, I live deep in a valley where an Uber ride costs A LOT of money. As a result, I don’t use Uber too often. If I could have received the full $200 at the beginning of the year to use in whatever chunks I wanted to, that would have been a different story.

Access to the American Express Concierge Service

In the past this service was a godsend for getting reservations at French Laundry and tickets to Garth Brooks when he came to Honolulu. But the last time we used concierge they were downright rude about our request to get Bruno Mars tickets. I don’t mind being told no, but for $550 a year I’d at least expect you to not tell me “that’s impossible” and hang up on me. Especially when a lot of my friends got tickets just by being persistent and refreshing the ticketmaster website. (So not actually impossible.)

5x Membership Rewards points on Travel

Flights booked directly through airlines garner 5 points per dollar. That is a pretty amazing benefit. The “catch” on this perk was that for all other travel related expenses, you had to use the American Express Travel portal in order to receive the 5x Membership Rewards points. Since Amex Travel usually isn’t the most cost efficient option, I rarely earned the illusive 5 points per dollar.

The Centurion Lounge

Hands down, I think the Centurion Lounge is the best perk that the Platinum Card offers. What makes this benefit iffy, is the recent changes that made it harder (for me at least) to visit the Lounge.

As of March 2019, American Express changed a lot of their rules in order to combat massive overcrowding in their Centurion Lounges. One rule change made the Lounge accessible only for departure and layover travelers. This meant that after I arrived at my destination I could no longer use the Lounge.

Travelling from Hawaii means that my shortest flight puts me at over 5 hours. I also love red-eye flights but it results in me not having a “home” until much later in the day when the hotels let me access my room. I loved being able to freshen up in the Centurion Lounge after a long flight and grabbing a free breakfast on my way out of the airport. While the continued crowded reports I receive seem to make me think I was one of the only people using the Centurion Lounge after arrival, this was a big loss in the perk for me.

Additionally, since the Centurion Lounge isn’t offered in Honolulu, assuming I don’t have another crazy layover again, there isn’t too often that I would get to use the Lounge in a year to make the expensive annual fee worth it.

Would I get the Card Again?

It depends. I would only get the card again in order to access the Centurion Lounge. With the addition of Leo to the family, we would now need to pay $50 each time we wanted to use the Centurion Lounge. That means for 1 day in the Centurion Lounge it would cost $600. Would $600 be worth it to have access to the Centurion Lounge while on vacation? Again, it depends. Certainly not for just a couple hours while waiting for a flight to depart, but you never know when I may decide to be a hermit and spend another 12-hour layover holed up in a Centurion Lounge. (Boy I hope that last line is a joke!)

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