Sometimes, the airport lounge is just a place to escape from the terminal. But we all recognize that a few lounges are better than others, and some are maybe even good enough that you'll consider adjusting your itinerary. Within the US, these ten lounge stand out among the rest for offering superior service and amenities - and more are being added or renovated every day.
A few of these lounges are only accessible to travelers on international itineraries. However, we made a special effort to include lounges that you will be able to visit regardless of your final destination.
The Centurion Lounge - Various
American Express currently operates six lounges in the United States. The Centurion Lounge network focuses on cities where its cardmembers travel most, including big hubs and also leisure destinations like Las Vegas.
The Dallas Centurion Lounge has several different zones to sit, work, and socialize. / Credit: American Express
Access to The Centurion Lounge is limited to American Express cardmembers and is complimentary to those with a Platinum Card or Centurion Card. (Other American Express cardmembers must pay $50.) For a "free" lounge network accessible to domestic travelers, it's easily one of the best around. Expect to find a large buffet with hot food and specialty cocktails. Most locations have a unique feature, such as the Exhale Spa in Dallas and the wine bar in San Francisco.
The Exhale Spa at the Dallas Centurion Lounge offers a menu of complimentary treatments. / Credit: American Express
The San Francisco Centurion Lounge includes an expansive selection of Northern California wines. / Credit: American Express
Locations include Las Vegas (LAS), Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW), New York-La Guardia (LGA), Miami (MIA), and San Francisco (SFO). How long until American Express reaches your city? More locations are opening, with Chicago rumored to be coming in the future.
Airspace Lounge - Various
If you just want a quiet place to relax, Airspace is one of the most affordable options in the US. This small, independent network has locations in JFK (T5), Cleveland, and San Diego. Airspace is unusual in that it charges for snacks and alcoholic beverages, a departure from the usual all-inclusive model. However, admission starts at just $20-25 depending on location and includes a $10 credit toward your bill.
The Airspace Lounge in JFK is a compact but affordable option for most travelers. / Credit: Travel Codex.
Travelers with the American Express Platinum Card receive complimentary access for the cardmember and a guest at all locations. In addition, the San Diego lounge is co-located with the American Airlines Admirals Club, so access is complimentary for Admirals Club and Alaska Airlines Board Room members at this airport.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse - New York (JFK)
Many of the best airport lounges in the U.S. are actually operated by international carriers for complimentary use by their business and first class passengers. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK's Terminal 4 is among the best. Opened in 2012 and with over 10,000 square feet of space, the lounge provides much more than free food and drinks to enjoy in comfortable seats.
The enormous lounge has a modern design that encourages socializing before your flight. / Credit: Virgin Atlantic
Passengers can order specialty cocktails and meals to-order before their flight, and those with more time might decide on a game of pool. Pamper yourself before you fly with a free haircut or short massage.
Enjoy a complimentary service at the salon. / Credit: Virgin Atlantic
Though intended primarily for Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class passengers, complimentary access is also provided to Delta's Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallion frequent flyers on flights to the U.K.; Singapore Airlines Suites Class passengers; and TAM business and first class passengers. Virgin America is technically a separate airline, but their first class passengers and frequent flyers may also enter for a $75 fee. Learn more on the Virgin Atlantic website.
Delta Sky Club - New York (JFK)
If you can't get into the Clubhouse, Delta opened its own standout lounge in Terminal 4 that features a SkyDeck for passengers to relax on an outdoor patio while viewing airport operations; it's perfect for avgeeks. This unusual feature is found at only a handful of airport lounges around the world.
The Sky Deck at Delta's flagship club in JFK / Credit: Delta Air Lines
It's also a fairly good lounge in its own right as it is recently renovated and one of the largest in Delta's Sky Club network. Complimentary drinks and snacks will hew closer to what you might find at other domestic lounges; however, there are many other options available for purchase.
Access is complimentary to Sky Club members, customers with the American Express Delta Reserve Card or American Express Platinum Card, and to SkyTeam Elite Plus passengers. Other travelers may purchase day passes for $50.
United Club - Chicago (ORD)
Chicago can suffer some horrible weather delays but is home to two major carriers, United and American, so where do you go to wait it out? The United Club in Terminal 2 was among the first to be renovated following the airline's merger with Continental. This new aesthetic brings in lots of natural light with bright surfaces and colorful finishes that resemble a modern hotel lounge.
Dividers help create more privacy and reduce volume. / Credit: United Airlines
United has also been working to improve the food and beverage selection across its lounge network. Last year they added new menu options, including Greek yogurt, scones, cured meat and cheese, and fresh hummus.
Whether a hosting a small discussion or looking out on the runway, United offers plenty of choice for seating. / Credit: United Airlines
Access is complimentary for travelers with a United Club membership, international Star Alliance first or business class passengers, and anyone with Star Alliance Gold status when on an international Star Alliance itinerary. Day passes can be purchased for $50. Learn more in LoungeBuddy's Ultimate Guide to United Club.
Admirals Club - San Francisco (SFO)
American Airlines has a relatively small presence in San Francisco, but it is the only carrier to offer three-cabin service to New York-JFK with dedicated business and first class cabins. It's no surprise that the Admirals Club here, in the fully renovated Terminal 2, was designed to be a step up from ordinary. It also avoids the crowds that might accumulate at American's hub airports.
Enjoy a drink among the trees at this environmentally conscious airport lounge. / Credit: American Airlines.
The entire space runs along floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the airport taxiways and the San Francisco Bay, but your first look will be at the small "forest" that surrounds the chairs in the foyer. Rows of chairs provide more seating to the left while office cubicles, computer terminals, and printers are to the right. A walk-up bar has sustainable and fair trade options on the menu.
Access is complimentary for travelers with an Admirals Club or Board Room membership, Citi Prestige cardmembers, international oneworld first or business class passengers, and anyone with oneworld Alliance Emerald or Sapphire when on an international itinerary. Day passes can be purchased for $50. Learn more by reading LoungeBuddy's Ultimate Guide to Admirals Club.
Delta Sky Club - San Francisco (SFO)
Delta Air Lines has been building up its West Coast presence in recent years and just opened a new Sky Club at San Francisco. This enormous two-floor lounge in Terminal 1 has plenty of seating broken up with modern screens and chandeliers. High ceilings, light finishes, and big windows create an airy feeling.
The new Sky Club in San Francisco is Delta's first LEED Gold certified lounge. / Credit: Delta Air Lines
A wide mix of custom furniture ensures you'll find exactly what you need to stay comfortable - and enough electrical outlets to stay connected, too. The dining area is huge, with a hot and cold buffet featuring Asian-inspired option, lots of dining tables, and a selection of local beer and wine. Even the restrooms received special attention: white and red tile create a striking look, and stacks of neatly bundled towels wait for those who want to freshen up after a long flight. It's a great example of bringing features often found in only international lounges to a domestic location.
Enjoy wine from California's many diverse regions as well as locally brewed Anchor Steam beer. / Credit: Delta Air Lines
Access is complimentary to Sky Club members, customers with the American Express Delta Reserve Card or American Express Platinum Card, and to SkyTeam Elite Plus passengers. All travelers may purchase day passes for $50.
Cathay Pacific - San Francisco (SFO)
Cathay Pacific operates many excellent airport lounges, including two amazing first class lounges at its Hong Kong hub. But this story is about the U.S. You can still enjoy Cathay's legendary hospitality at its San Francisco lounge in the international terminal's A gates.
Cathay Pacific's signature Solus chairs create an intimate work space without claustrophobia.
Take advantage of the made-to-order Hong Kong-style noodles and complimentary beverages that are a notch above your typical domestic airport lounge. The carrier even worked with Foster + Partners to create its custom Solus Chair that balances the need for privacy during work without being claustrophobic.
The main dining area features a clean design that reflects traditional Chinese styles.
First and business class passengers with Cathay Pacific and other oneworld Alliance carriers have complimentary access to this lounge. Domestic travelers can also enjoy some noodles before they fly: Alaska Airlines recently closed its lounge at SFO, so now Board Room members may use the Cathay Pacific lounge when traveling on a same-day ticket with Alaska.
oneworld Lounge - Los Angeles (LAX)
Individual carriers operate most lounges, although they make them available to passengers on other airlines as a courtesy. We'll end this post with two unusual lounges in Los Angeles that have a more direct relationship with the airline alliances.
Relax in one of several sitting areas, where you're only steps for dining and entertainment. / Credit: oneworld Alliance
The oneworld lounge at the Tom Bradley International Terminal has capacity for roughly 600 passengers with separate business and first class sections, as well as several shower suites to freshen up after a long flight. It's easily the largest lounge at LAX. Multiple zones let people catch up on work, socialize, or relax. For example, a ring of padded benches surrounds a communal fireplace in one section of the lounge.
The fireplace provides a unique social gathering point. / Credit: oneworld Alliance
Although operated by Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and British Airways, this lounge is accessible to all premium cabin travelers on oneworld Alliance members as well as to travelers with oneworld Emerald or Sapphire status in any cabin class.
Star Alliance Lounge - Los Angeles (LAX)
The Star Alliance Lounge at TBIT is a touch smaller than the oneworld lounge with space for just 400 people. However, it boasts an outdoor terrace and waterfall much like Delta's JFK SkyDeck. It helps that travelers can enjoy the terrace with Southern California's famously mild weather.
Enjoy a warm evening with drinks and company on the outdoor terrace. / Credit: Star Alliance
Indoors, you'll find complimentary snacks and drinks, separate media and dining areas, and even a library. If your entertainment preferences lean to the electronic, the lounge offers a wider selection of content on iPads. Showers are available here, too, before or after your trip.
Inside there are several different areas to work, dine, or share a drink with friends. / Credit: Star Alliance
Access to the Star Alliance Lounge (business, first), which is managed by Air New Zealand, is restricted to business and first class passengers on a Star Alliance carrier as well as to travelers with Star Alliance Gold status in any cabin class.