Review: American Airlines Admirals Club SFO

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.

Appearance

Entrance to the Admirals Club, American Airlines' lounge at SFO.
The entrance to the Admirals Club SFO at San Francisco International Airport.
Gas burning fireplace at the American Airlines Admirals Club.
The entryway to the Admirals Club SFO contains a gas-burning fireplace, an elegant touch, but a bit out of place for sunny California.

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.

Admirals Club SFO atrium area with trees
The center of the lounge features an open area studded with trees.

Food

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.

Avocado toast with smoked salmon, hard boiled egg, and feta cheese as provided by the Admirals Club lounge SFO.
The avocado toast with smoked salmon wasn’t that impressive.

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.

Hard boiled eggs, fruit, and yogurt at American Airlines' Admirals Club lounge in San Francisco.
Fruit and yogurt options were typical for a domestic lounge.

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.

Cereal at American Airlines lounge at SFO.
Cold cereals offered included a low-fat granola, Fruity Pebbles, and off-brand Cheerios.
Toasting station including bagels, English muffins, and pound cake at the Admirals Club SFO.
Toasting station including bagels, English muffins, and pound cake.

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.

Fresh fruits, brewed coffee, and hot oatmeal.

Beverages

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.

Drink tickets provided at the Admirals Club SFO.
Drink tickets provided to premium long haul passengers upon entry.

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.

Bar selection at the Admirals Club SFO
A variety of top shelf liquors were available for purchase or with drink vouchers.

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.

The premium mixed drinks were available only with a drink ticket.

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.

Work Areas

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.

Seating at the Admirals Club SFO with runway view.
There was ample seating for getting work done.

The prototypical printer station was provided, allowing those that still use dead trees in their work to print.

The printers and copiers at the Admirals Club in San Francisco.
Multifunction copy/printers were available.

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.

Computer station and standing desk at the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge.
A computer station was provided… do people still use this?

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.

Summary

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.

What It Cost

$0 USD

Admiral’s Club lounge access was free with our purchase of an American Airlines Transcontinental First Class ticket.

How We Paid

American Express PlatinumAmerican Express Platinum

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.

Rating

full starfull starfull star

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.

American Airlines Transcontinental First Class Review

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.

Jump ahead to what interests you the most:

Booking

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

American Airlines First Class check in line at SFO airport.
Although American provides a separate line for JFK First Class passengers at SFO, the wait was still substantial as there was only one agent available.

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.

Lounge

Admirals Club Lounge at SFO
The Admirals Club lounge at SFO is adequate, a standard domestic lounge for an American mainline carrier. The decor is a little dated but the food and drinks were decent.

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.

For all the details, you can read our full review of the Admirals Club SFO.

Seating

American Airlines Flagship First transcontinental First Class seat
Seat 5F on American Airlines Airbus A321, transcontinental 3 cabin configuration.

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.

Blankets and bedding on American Airlines Transcontinental First Class
The bedding and pillows supplied to First Class on American Airlines are very comfortable.

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.

Meals

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.

Warm nuts and a cocktail served onboard AA First Class.
Warm mixed nuts and olive with rosemary were served.

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.

Full meal service aboard American Airlines First Class transcon routes.
The goat cheese croquettes along with a pretzel roll and serving setup.

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.

Sad-looking salad, a large bowl of greens, served on American Airlines First Class transcon routes.
Perhaps the least inspired dish of the flight, was this “salad” which was just greens.

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.

Delicious butternut squash served in AA transcon first class.
A delicious and delicate butternut squash soup was served after the appetizer.

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.

Lamb chops served aboard American Airlines First Class flight from SFO to JFK.
Delicious lamb chops, albeit slightly overcooked. Forgivable because it’s impossible to keep lamb chops medium to serve aboard a flight.

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.

Chocolate sundae from American Airlines, made with Haagen Dazs ice cream.
Haagen Dazs ice cream sundae with chocolate, nuts, and whipped cream.

In-Flight Entertainment

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.

American Airlines First Class transcontinental in flight entertainment.
A large, 15.4″ screen is provided in American First Class.

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.

Speed test results showing 8.4 Mbps download speeds on American Airlines.
Internet speeds were excellent on American Airlines A321 via Viasat.

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.

Warm chocolate chip cookie and glass of cold milk served aboard AA 16.
Milk and cookies served aboard our First Class flight on American Airlines.

Service

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.

Gold-tone "Flight Crew" pins provided to passengers in First Class on American Airlines.
Cute little “Flight Crew” pins were provided in the lavatory. A little souvenir to take home as a remembrance of an exquisite experience.

Summary

Flight Details

Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA 16
Aircraft: Airbus A321 (32B Layout 3)
Route: SFO to JFK
Schedule Departure Time: 11:20 AM PDT
Schedule Arrival Time: 8:19 PM EDT
Flight Time: 5 hours 59 minutes
Full details available on FlightAware.

Our route taken in American Airlines transcontinental First Class on flight 16 from San Francisco SFO to Ne York JFK. Thanks to FlightAware for the map image.

What It Cost

$658.30 one way for Business Class
$281.40 upgrade for First Class
$939.60 total

How We Paid

American Express PlatinumAmerican Express Platinum

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

AmericanExpress Membership Rewards
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.

American Airlines AAdvantage
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.

Rating

full starfull starfull starfull starfull star

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.

LGA Centurion Lounge Review

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.

Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia Airport
Entrance to the American Express Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia Airport, Terminal B.

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.

Food court on the first level at LaGuardia Airport.
Signage to the somewhat hidden elevator which leads to the Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia.
The LGA Centurion Lounge entrance is in a back service hallway on the third 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.)

LGA Amex Lounge staff were friendly, fast, and helpful.

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.

A narrow hallway with small tables and couches leads to the main lounge and bar area.

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.

The buffet has both hot and cold foods, a good selection with a variety of choices.

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.

Summary

What It Cost

$0 USD

Centurion Lounge access is free with the American Express Platinum card which costs $550 per year.

How We Paid

American Express PlatinumAmerican Express Platinum

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, so no points earned.

Rating

full starfull starfull starfull star

We rate the Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia airport 4 ½ stars. It has great food and drink but is a bit small and it’s location before security is inconvenient.