VIP ONE at JFK Review

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.

VIP ONE security entrance at JFK Terminal 1.
Entrance to the VIP ONE security area at JFK Terminal 1.

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.

The VIP ONE security screening entrance area at JFK Terminal 1.
The VIP ONE security screening area is ultra private and luxuriously appointed.

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

VIP ONE security area at JFK Terminal 1.
The VIP ONE security area at JFK replaces the hectic line with a lounge-like atmosphere.

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.

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.

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.