On our recent trip to Russia, we found ourselves traveling through JFK Terminal 1 without access to a priority security line. We were flying on Aeroflot Russian Airlines in Comfort Class, their version of premium economy. Although we both have TSA Precheck, Aeroflot is not a participating airline. Having read about a new priority line-cutting service called VIP ONE, we decided to try it.
VIP ONE bills itself as an “exclusive meet and assist service” operating out of JFK Airport in New York. The service is currently only available in Terminal 1, an international terminal servicing Air France, Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Lufthansa, along with numerous partner airlines. There are three different service levels advertised by VIP ONE:
Silver Purports to expedite you to the front of the security line and assist you through the TSA checkpoint.
Gold In addition to the above, offers curbside service and assistance at checkin.
Platinum Beyond checkin and TSA expediting, Platinum service offers access to the Primeclass Lounge, a newer Priority Pass-affiliated offering at Terminal 1.
The day before our flight, I purchased the Silver package for two people. The cost is $35 per person. The purchasing process was somewhat confusing. We paid and received a standard email receipt but there was no indication in the email about what we should present upon arrival. We expected some sort of barcode, ticket, or other identifier to allow access. After emailing their contact address without reply, we decided to just check it out when we arrived at the airport.
Coincidentally, the entrance for the VIP ONE security checkpoint is exactly adjacent to the Aeroflot checkin counters in Terminal One. After waiting about 15 minutes in line to check our backs, we walked a few steps to the VIP ONE entrance.
The entrance is guarded by a velvet rope, but there was no line at all to enter. We told the attendant that we had purchased yesterday, and she asked to see our receipt. I pulled up the receipt on my phone and she found the corresponding purchase on her tablet and ushered us right in.
Upon entering, we were greeted with a small lounge area. Elegant wooden counters topped with marble replaced the standard stainless steel tables of the table TSA security area. An attendant immediately got to work helping us decompose our belongings into the required bins. She separated out our laptops, iPads, and iPhones into bins, neatly folded our winter coats into bins, and collected our passwords.
The VIP ONE Process
Next, the attendant grabbed all our bins, opened a locked glass door, and we emerged at the front of the TSA security line. She shouted “TSA!” and an agent came, inspected our passports and boarding passes, and allowed us to pass.
Front of the Line
The doors opened up directly at the end of the stainless steel tables by the security checkpoint. She nudged in front of the other passengers and places our trays on the table. There was a somewhat tense moment when she placed our belongings on the table in front of another passenger, stating she had a “VIP passenger” and needed to go ahead of them. Her demeanor was not entirely courteous and, understandably, the couple was not entirely happy. This moment felt quite awkward since nobody likes to feel that they are inconveniencing others.
The attendant instructed us to remove our shoes, and whisked us through the metal detector and stayed behind to push our belongings through the x-ray machine. On the other side, we collected our things as usual and that was the end of the expedited security.
Fortunately, we made peace with the couple we had butted in front of on the other side. We told them about the process at VIP ONE and they were very understanding. “It’s not you, it was her. An ‘excuse me’ would have gone a long way.”
All in all, we were very pleased with the service and would definitely use it again if we find ourselves in JFK Terminal 1 without a business class ticket. The service was extremely fast and felt very exclusive. The TSA signboard at the end of the public security line stated there was a 30 minute wait, which we effectively reduced to 2 minutes by paying for VIP ONE. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it you hate lines and value your time, you might enjoy VIP ONE.
The Admirals Club SFO is a fine place to relax but doesn’t live up to the rest of the American Airlines First Class experience.
We recently traveled on American Airlines Transcontinental First Class from SFO to JFK and had the opportunity to visit the Admirals Club SFO lounge in Terminal 2. Access to the Admiral’s Club is usually restricted to AAdvantage members who pay annual fees between $550 and $650, depending on their status level, or to international First and Business Class passengers. However, passengers on American Airlines’ transcontinental routes in First or Business class also have access to the lounge.
Upon entering and presenting our boarding passes, our eyes were immediately drawn to the rotunda in the center of the lounge. The ceiling is shaped like an oversized leaf and the corners are dotted with real trees, an elegant statement that sets a welcome tone.
Immediately in front of the entranceway was a temporary-looking station creating custom-made avocado toast, complimentary to all passengers. This was a novel idea, something unique that we had never seen below. Passengers could customize their avocado toast and a chef would create it to their specifications. Toppings included an array of options including the hard boiled egg and feta cheese seen below along with either smoked salmon or prosciutto.
Unfortunately, the avocado toast really wasn’t that appetizing. The bread was barely toasted and the spread resembled avocado in color only. It seemed to have been pulverized into a fine paste and lacked the texture one would expect from fresh avocados.
The rest of the food was somewhat typical lounge fair, though relatively unimpressive compared to other mainstream US carriers’ domestic lounges. It was late morning, so the options slanted toward breakfast-appropriate choices. A selection of packaged yogurts were available along with berries and melon for toppings. Hard boiled eggs were also presented, but no hot cooked eggs of any kind were offered.
A cereal bar offered three kinds of cereal: low-fat granola, Fruity Pebbles, and Kashi Honey Toasted Oats along with milk of an unspecified type. A toaster was provided to toast the breads: plain and raisin bagels, and plain English muffins, along with three types of pound cake. Notably, there was plain bread such as wheat or white for toast.
There was a coffee station here that included La Colombe coffee, a nice change from the ubiquitous and uninspiring Starbucks that is prevalent in many other lounges.
Upon checking in to the Admirals Club SFO, we were provided with two premium drink tickets. Although standard house “well” liquor, wine, and beer, is included for all passengers and Admirals Club members, eligible passengers on a long haul flight in Business or First Class are provided one drink ticket each for a premium beverage.
When I inquired at the bar what drinks were available with these tickets, the friendly bartended stated I could use it for any drink or premium bottled water. There was a reasonable selection of top shelf liquors available including Absolut, Grey Goose, and Titos’ vodkas, Bombay Sapphire and Bulldog gins, and Patron tequila. The selection wasn’t exactly extensive and none of these brands are what I would consider very premium but nonetheless better than whatever bathtub gin would normally be served.
As it was too early in the morning for Valeriia to drink, she opted to use her drink ticket for a bottle of Perrier sparkling water. A more reasoned choice for sure, but for the sake of a more complete review, I had to test out the top shelf bar service.
I asked if they had ginger beer and the bartended stated enthusiastically “yes” but then couldn’t locate any bottles of it. He said “I’ll find it sir, give me a minute,” and then proceeded on a quest to locate a ginger beer for me, involving a manager to help locate. It was nice to feel that they were taking care of me. About a minute later, he returned with a bottle of ginger beer and made me my requested gin and ginger beer with a squeeze of lime.
All and all, the bar service at the Admirals Club SFO is a cut above the rest. Having access to premium drinks is a nice benefit, although the drink ticket voucher system does feel a bit… rationed. Wouldn’t it be great if premium drinks were available for everyone? Or if a boarding pass could be scanned to get unlimited premium drinks? We’re hoping some lounges can continue to innovate in these service offerings.
The Admirals Club SFO features ample work space with a lovely, sunlit view of the tarmac for those of us that like watching planes. The work stations all featured power outlets and, strangely, little pieces of paper and golf pencils.
The prototypical printer station was provided, allowing those that still use dead trees in their work to print.
I was pleasantly surprised to see there was an area with a standing desk of sorts. The countertop space was wide enough for maybe two people to park their laptops and work while standing, a popular option for many. If you’re going to be sitting for hours on a plane, who wants to sit in a lounge? It would be great if more lounges could add actual adjustable standing desks, since they have become fashionable. Another nice touch was the shredder under the counter.
We later discovered that there are conference rooms available for rent at the lounge, an interesting concept that I would have liked to check out, but unfortunately, we hadn’t noticed them during our visit.
There were also showers which we did not have a chance to try, but can be seen over at Lounge Buddy.
Overall, the lounge is a fine place to hangout before a flight, but pretty unimpressive when it comes to food. Since this lounge also services long haul business and first class flights, they would do well to have a higher level of service for those passengers. Or, as American Airlines has done in LAX, to build a separate Flagship Lounge. The beverage service with drink tickets was a novel way to accomplish catering to both regular business travelers and long haul premium passengers, but American needs to do more if they want to attract to these kinds passengers.
We paid for our airline ticket with our American Express Platinum, since it earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights.Apply now through our link and you can get 60,000 Membership Rewards points and we can get 15,000.
Points We Earned
0 Membership Rewards points
Nothing paid for entry, so no points earned.
We rate the Admirals Club SFO 3 ½ stars. Although lovely and spacious, the food selection was limited and doesn’t live up the First Class service offered by American.
We tried every premium transcon cabin in the US and American Flagship First is the best.
American Airlines transcontinental First Class is the most exquisite way to fly across the United States and it really is the “Flagship First” class. American operates this 3-cabin experience on just two routes: between SFO (San Francisco) and JFK (New York) and between LAX (Los Angeles) and JFK. If you have the opportunity to try First Class on either of these American routes, we enthusiastically recommend it.
We were flying one-way from SFO to JFK. When booking the ticket, First Class was significantly more expensive than Business so we booked Business. It was also almost twice the cost to fly on the midday 11:19 AM flight compared to the 6 AM and 8:15 AM flights, so we reluctantly booked the 8:15 AM flight.
Approximately a day before departure, we began to have second thoughts about needing to rise at 5 AM for our trip back east. Some quick research revealed that American allows free changes to another flight the same day when flying Business or First. So exactly 24 hours ahead, when we attempted to check in, we were presented with an option to change to the 6 AM flight… not the flight we were hoping for! The trick with changing to flights later than your own is to wait until 24 hours before the NEW flight to check in to your own. When we attempted at 11:19 AM the prior day, we were indeed presented with the option to change to the later flight for free, an option we happily took for no cost.
When proceeding through the check in, we were also presented with the option to upgrade our Business Class seats to First Class. The cost was $281 per person, which we took for a chance to try American’s transcontinental First Class.
Check In at SFO was probably the least luxurious part of the trip. For the prices one is paying for these flights, it would be great if American could provide a separate check in area. There was, at least, a separate line, for JFK First Class passengers which was drastically shorter than the line for Priority passengers and Economy passengers, but it still took us more than 20 minutes to check in and drop our bags, mainly due to there being only one agent to handle First Class passengers.
American Airlines Transcontinental First Class passengers have access to the Admirals Club lounge at SFO, as do Business Class passengers on transcon routes. Unlike at LAX, where a Flagship First lounge is available to First Class passengers exclusively, San Francisco International Airport is home only to an Admirals Club lounge. The lounge had standard breakfast lounge fare, though a bit minimalist, along with a full bar. We were provided 1 premium drink ticket for each of us in order to be able order any premium drink from the bar, beverages that would usually be charged to other passengers.
As expected, the First Class seats on American’s Airbus A321 are fully lie flat seats configured in a 1-1 configuration. The amount of privacy achieved in this layout is exceptional, seconded only to the single seats available in JetBlue’s Mint business class. These seats give the best of both world: aisle access for convenience and window access for great views and lightning control.
The seat comes with two good-sized pillows, both very comfortable and more substantial the many other pillows we’ve encountered. There was also a duvet and a blanket. All the bedding was provided and branded by Casper, the mattress company. Midway through our flight, I prepared the bed to give it a try. It was long enough to comfortably fit my 5′ 10″ frame with room to spare. The larger pillow and extra smaller pillow made all the difference in comfort. As I was making the bed, the purser asked if he could it for me or if he could bring me an extra duvet to make it even cushier. I declined both but this kind of service is welcomed.
Plenty of storage is available in several places through the seat. There is a bright reading light which came in handy after the cabin lights were dimmed. However, the overhead light was either not wired up by design or was broken, because ours did not function and therefore the reading light was the only supplemental light available.
One of our seats had a malfunctioning armrest and despite several attempts by various crew members to fix it, it was not movable. The captain came back and personally asked us we were willing to move seats so as not to delay the flight. Luckily there were several available. He also specifically mentioned that he would write up the defect for maintenance.
Before takeoff, a pre-departure beverage was offered. The purser walked the cabin with a tray of orange juice, water, or champagne. The drinks were served in delicate glassware branded with the AA logo, contrasting with the disposable plastic cups provided in many domestic premium cabins these days. This was a harbinger of good things to come.
Shortly before take off, our lunch orders were taken. The menu offered four main courses: lamb cutlets, grain and greens bowl (with optional chicken), seafood medley, and vegetarian Thai green curry. I ordered the lamb, as it’s the toughest food to get right on an airplane. For the appetizer I chose the goat cheese croquette, rather than the seared tuna. I was asked if I wanted to soup as well and of course I said yes.
Immediately after take off, warm nuts and olives were distributed along with our drink orders. I had ordered a gin and ginger ale, one of my favorite in-flight combinations because it’s a little different but also readily available.
As we were nearing the completion of our nuts and drinks, the tables were prepared for lunch service. Beautiful two-tone cloth napkins were laid, our appetizers delivered, and a bread basket was offered. My goat cheese croquettes were a bit odd. They were goat cheese, seemingly coated and fried but served cold. They were plated on top of a salad called Waldorf, but it was a bit bland. Still, overall, the dish was pleasing and I ate the entire thing.
A disappointing “salad” was served after the appetizer but it was hardly a salad and more just a bowl of baby greens with a light dressing. The greens were not accompanied by anything at all, and the bowl was deep so after about four bites, I was pretty tired of it.
The soup was the most delicious course of the day and one of the best soups I have ever had in the air. Delicate and flavorful, I wanted to ask for 2 or 3 more bowls of it, it was that good.
Our meals were fairly well paced, though there was a longer delay than we would would have hoped before the main courses came out. However, the service was otherwise attentive and we were consistently asked if we wanted drink refills. It really makes a different in the service level when the attendant asks me rather than me having to chase them down.
Eventually the mains did come out. My lamb chops were panko crusted and served with micro greens along with wild rice. Everything was delicious, although the lamb chops were overcooked. However, I expected that as it’s pretty much impossible to serve medium rare or even medium meat of any kind on an airplane. One of these days I will find an airline that manages to do it.
After dinner, dessert was served. Several choices were offered, including a cheese plate and two cakes. But when ice cream is offered, I find it hard to refuse, so an ice cream sundae was prepared for me after I chose from a variety of available toppings. The vanilla ice cream from Haagen Dazs was delicious, of course.
American’s in flight entertainment in First Class is of course the same content available in other classes, however displayed on a large 15.4″ HD screen. Many airlines, including American, are removing seat back screens, but on these longer, hyper-competitive transcontinental routes, they are still prevalent. It was great to see American have a pretty comprehensive selection of movies and television, both current and classic.
The most important part of any inflight entertainment system for us is the recent movie selection. Watching recently released movies on airplanes is one of our favorite ways to pass the time. On this route, I was able to watch Free Solo and The Bill Murray Stories.
Wifi access was available and it was better than expected. In fact, it blew away every other flight we have taken in the past decade in terms of speed and price. The price for a full flight (6 hours) was $16, and a speed test showed more than 8 Mbps download speeds, good enough even to stream. Internet access is provided by Viasat, a competitor to the more prevalent Gogo. Our other recent flights have cost as much as $40 for a shorter flight and service speeds that tops out at less than 1 Mbps, so these prices and speeds were a welcome change.
Just when we thought the meals and food service were over, there was more to come. While we were watching some movies and relaxing, the cabin crew offered warm chocolate chip cookies and asked if we wanted a cold glass of milk with it. What a perfect snack to accompany movie time. There was also a basket of granola bars, chips, pretzels, nuts, and fruit presented in the cabin several times during the remainder of the flight.
Delicious food, a generously sized seat, and the latest inflight entertainment are all essential components to a premium flight experience. And just about any airline Business or First Class can deliver these relatively well. But where American Airlines Transcontinental First Class stands apart from the pack is with its service. The level of attention received in a cabin with only 10 seats is extraordinary. We were attended to by the flight’s purser, who is the most senior attendant on board, and typically the one with the most experience. In this case, the experience and attention to detail really showed.
Our drinks were constantly refreshed, without asking, our food was prepared and presented in a timely fashion, all of our needs were attended to without hesitation. And we were constantly referred to by name with every interaction. Nothing makes you feel more special than when being greeted by name by someone you’ve barely met. “Can I get you another drink, Mr. Bartlett?” “Do you need another pillow, Mr. Bartlett?” Ultimately, this pampering is what you’re paying for in these premium cabins on these premium routes. American Airlines Transcontinental First Class is truly the most luxurious way to fly.
We used our Amex Platinum card because it earns 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare. Apply now through our link and you can get 60,000 Membership Rewards points and we can get 15,000.
Points We Earned
4,698 American Express Membership Rewards points
We value Membership Rewards points as at least $0.02 each because we usually redeem them for Business Class international flights. That means we earned at least $93.96 in Membership Rewards points by booking with our Platinum card.
3,000 American Airlines Miles 600 American Airlines EQD (Elite Qualifying Dollars) 5,172 American Airlines EQMs (Elite Qualifying Miles) 1 American Airlines EQS (Elite Qualifying Segment)
It looks like American doesn’t count dollars spent on upgrades as EQDs (Elite Qualifying Dollars) which is a little disappointing. But since we don’t fly American enough to achieve status anyway, it won’t impact us.
American Airlines Transcontinental First Class is simply the best premium cabin available in the US. There is no better way to fly across the United States.
A minuscule but welcome respite in an otherwise horrid airport
The American Express Centurion Lounges at LaGuardia is small and poorly located, but nonetheless a comforting spot to hangout and relax. Well known for being one of the poorest rated airports in the United States, LaGuardia was built in the mid 20th century, before airports had robust security protocols and before modern post-security amenities became commonplace. It’s for that reason that the Centurion Lounge at LGA is unique among American Express lounges in the United States in that it is positioned before security. The location of the lounge is the first strike against it, as travelers must be sure to account for adequate time to navigate security to their gate.
The LaGuardia Amex Centurion lounge is located in Terminal B on the 3rd floor, one level up from the 2nd level you enter on from the Departures lane. The lounge is accessed via an elevator somewhat hidden to the right inside the main terminal doors, near to the food court, which is below on the 1st floor.
Upon entering the lounge, visitors are greeted by a smiling representative who quickly verifies your access to the lounge. We were able to visit this lounge because we have the American Express Platinum Card, a premium rewards credit card that comes with a hefty $550 annual fee, but with benefits that far outstrip the costs. If you travel often, we do recommend this card because. (If you sign up through our referral link, you can get 60,000 rewards points and we can get 15,000.)
We entered the lounge on a Friday evening around 7:30 PM and were immediately told that the lounge was closing very shortly and that bar service was being discontinued. The lounge is open from 5:30 AM to 8 PM on weekdays and only until 6:30 PM on Saturdays. That’s a bit disappointing, as LaGuardia has many regular Friday departures until 10 PM and our own flight was at 9 PM, necessitating an extended time in the terminal.
The food and beverage selection at the Centurion Lounges is generally quite good and the LGA outpost is no exception. The bar features a variety of branded liquors, wines, and beers. Unlike cheaper lounges that may charge and try to up-sell you to top shelf liquor, everything is included free of charge at the Centurion Lounge. It’s nice not be sold to for once, especially when you’re already paying $550 a year for the privilege.
The buffet has a variety of cold and hot food items, many of which are unique to this lounge. We’ve been to this lounge a number of times and never seen the same food twice. The dishes are generally not what you’d find in a typical airline or Priority Pass lounge and therefore the food is always a cut above the rest at the Centurion Lounges.
At the LaGuardia Centurion lounge, the food is crafted by Cédric Vongerichten, son of legendary chef and restauranteur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and a world-class chef in his own right. The food really shines and it’s one of the many reasons to make time to visit the Centurion Lounge at LGA, despite it’s obscure location.
After a quick bite and drink, we were shooed out of the lounge, a disappointingly short stay at an otherwise welcoming oasis. Not much needs to be improved about the Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia. The one thing that would make it better is to reposition it after security, however a substantial airport overhaul (now in progress) would be required to accommodate that.
If you have an American Express Platinum card and find yourself at LaGuardia with some extra time, it’s worth making an excursion to the Centurion Lounge for the welcoming environment, delicious food, and top shelf beverages.
What It Cost
Centurion Lounge access is free with the American Express Platinum card which costs $550 per year.