American Express Opens Upscale Lounges at McCarran & Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l

Author: 
Victoria Soukup
Published in: 
September
2014

Just like the commercials insist, membership does have its privileges. And now those privileges include access to upscale lounges at two well-traveled U.S. airports.

Currently, American Express Corp. operates members-only Centurion Lounges at Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW) and McCarran International (LAS) in Las Vegas, but the credit card mainstay intends to create a network of similar facilities across the country. With amenities such as spa treatments and gourmet food that showcases each city's unique culinary flavors, the lounges are designed to cater to what American Express calls "discerning" travelers.

DFW officials welcomed the chance to add a new kind of amenity in the airport's D terminal.

"Opening up The Centurion Lounge was an opportunity to broaden our offerings outside of the airline clubs and a chance to further align with another premier brand," explains Zenola Campbell, DFW's vice president of concessions. "Travelers are finding greater value in selecting DFW as their choice for layovers or when connecting through an airport."

Officials at LAS echo that sentiment. "The American Express deal provided something we believed our customers were asking for," relates Scott Kichline, assistant director of aviation - commercial/business development at LAS. "American Express is a very good partner with our airport, because 70% to 80% of the people traveling through Las Vegas have that card in their wallet or in their purse."

American Express decided to enter the highly competitive lounge business to give its card members a "differentiated U.S. airport lounge," explains Lisa Durocher, senior vice president of consumer charge cards and benefits for American Express. "American Express is recognized for its extraordinary service, and the lounge is one way we can demonstrate this commitment."

With a number of proprietary airport lounges already in operation overseas, expanding to the U.S. market was a "natural extension," says Durocher. 

Where to Go, What to Do

The company selected its new U.S. locations according to where card members travel most, explains Kimberly Litt, American Express public affairs manager. The LAS lounge opened first, in February 2013, and the DFW location followed in October 2013.

Another lounge is scheduled to open at New York City's LaGuardia Airport in September and there are plans for facilities at Miami International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.

Entry to Centurion Lounges is open to all American Express cardholders. Members with standard cards pay a $50 daily fee; those carrying a Platinum or Centurion card enter without charge. Inside the wood-paneled walls, all services are complimentary.

The lounges feature large flat-screen televisions; magazines and newspapers; family rooms equipped with videogames, books, movies and toys; semi-private workspaces; Wi-Fi, printers and computer bars; conference rooms; and shower suites. Private chefs prepare hot and cold gourmet buffets; and the bars are stocked with top-shelf products and feature signature cocktails.

The DFW location also includes a spa that offers guests 15-minute treatments such as massages, manicures, pedicures and facials.

Tale of Two Cities

The Centurion Lounge at LAS is located in Concourse D, in space the airport created in April 2005 for an airline lounge. The space had remained empty until early 2012, when American Express approached the airport with its member lounge concept, Kichline recalls. The timing couldn't have been better for both entities.

"We were hearing from our customers that they wanted a first-class lounge, yet we didn't have an airline partner that was willing to step in and provide that," Kichline recalls. "The American Express deal provided something we believed our customers were asking for."

In addition, the exterior walls, plumbing and electrical were already configured for a lounge when American Express began interior construction. The completed facility's menu features items inspired by Executive Chef Scott Conant, owner of Scarpetta restaurants in Las Vegas, New York City, Miami and Toronto, and a frequent judge on Food Network's Chopped.

Work on the DFW lounge was more involved. Corgan, the project's design architect, began with an existing space on the upper level of the airport's South Concessions Village, which is divided by a pedestrian bridge. Previously, the south side contained a duty-free shop, the north side contained food/beverage establishments, and the two were connected in the middle by an open-air service bridge.

factsfigures
Project: American Express Cardholder Lounges
Name: The Centurion Lounge
Current Locations: Dallas-Fort Worth Int'l; Las Vegas McCarran Int'l
Future Locations: LaGuardia Airport; Miami Int'l; San Francisco Int'l
Lounge Size: 9,000 sq. ft.
Capacity: 125 guests
Complimentary Amenities: Gourmet food by local chefs; premium liquor; quiet areas; children's playrooms; televisions; shower suites; spa services (DFW only); business areas; Wi-Fi service; conference rooms
Daily Access Fee: $50 for standard American Express cardholders; complimentary for Platinum & Centurion cardholders
General Contractor: Turner Construction Co.
Design & Branding: Big Red Rooster
DFW Design Architect: Corgan
Benefits: Allows airport to provide premium lounge for passengers on all airlines


Corgan's redesign for the new American Express lounge placed the food/restaurant/bar and general relaxation area on the north side and everything else, including the Exhale Spa, business area, showers and children's play area on the south side. The service bridge linking the two areas was framed and enclosed to create an intermediate lounge area with open views to the concourse below.

Mark Lobel, Corgan's project manager, notes that the enclosed bridge was an important part of the project, because it creates a buffer between the two areas. "It adds to the perceived spaciousness of the lounge, despite the fact that it's 9,000 square feet - not really a lot of space for the amount of traffic they receive on a daily basis," says Lobel. "It also created a very nice transitional space for passengers moving between the two sides of the lounge." 

Guests access the second-floor lounge via public escalator or dedicated elevator. The cuisine is overseen by well-known chef Dean Fearing, of Fearing's Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas, which received "Restaurant of the Year" and "Table of the Year" honors from Esquire Magazine.

Bringing heavy steel framing to the second-floor project was a particular challenge, recalls Lobel.
"DFW asked for very minimal disruption to operations and passenger experiences, so we had to work a very limited nighttime schedule until we were fully enclosed," he explains.

Turner Construction was the general contractor for both the DFW and LAS projects. Each lounge is 9,000 square feet, with capacity for 125 guests.

Distinctly AmEx

American Express partnered with Big Red Rooster for design and branding services. In addition to ensuring that local chefs design menus that highlight local cuisines and ingredients, the company recommended materials, textiles, furnishings and fixtures for the lounges.

"Our team pulled iconic design furnishings and multi-sensory elements together in a modern, memorable environment that transports guests away from the concourse's hectic atmosphere," says Aaron Spiess, the company's president and co-chief executive.

To create a strong brand identity, designers outfit each location with a standard blue entryway, vertical planters known as "live green walls," and signature sounds and scents.

"This was a very important strategic venture for American Express," notes Spiess. "We dimensionalized the art of service with the American Express heritage of travel, and developed it into a very enriched customer experience. The lounges really position themselves around the creative and diverse expectations of the American Express brand."

American Express reports that its two current lounges are filled to near capacity every day and feedback from visitors has been very positive. "Our goal is to create a more seamless curb-to-curb experience for our card members in the airport - the Centurion Lounge is one of the ways we do that," Durocher says. "We've even heard from card members that they are more likely to book travel through an airport where we have a Centurion Lounge, driving more traffic into the airports in which we're located."

No Card Needed for Premium Lounge in JFK's Terminal 4

Like McCarran and Dallas/Fort Worth International, Terminal 4 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is banking on the appeal of premium common-use lounges. Last August, it converted one of the terminal's airline clubs into a $50-per-day lounge that caters to passengers flying any airline.

The switch literally occurred overnight. One day, the space was an airline-specific club, and the next it was a Wingtips Lounge, operated by Airport Terminal Services. The quick-change was engineered by JFK IAT, the private, non-airline company that operates Terminal 4.

"We wanted an experienced operator who was very knowledgeable in all airline services, including lounges, to provide our common-use lounge product," says JFK IAT Chief Financial Officer Michael Sibilia. "(Airport Terminal Services) was selected based upon their experience and their history of providing excellent services. We wanted the best, and we wanted them to concentrate solely on the airline passengers that have the ability to use a lounge and assist them in enjoying a premium experience."

JFK IAT contacted Airport Terminal Services shortly after it learned that one of Terminal 4's airline clubs would be closing. Changing operators in just 24 hours allowed JFK IAT to continue offering the popular passenger amenity with barely a blip in service and prevented an interruption in lease payments for the 7,000-square-foot space.

Airport Terminal Services gladly accepted the contract to begin operating the club-ready space. "We had been involved in third-party lounge management experience in the past, under someone else's brand and establishment," explains Ingrid Braeuninger, vice president of sales and business development for Airport Terminal Services. "Wingtips breaks us out of that limitation and allows us to create our own experience. It was a good opportunity, and the result has been fantastic."

The agreement between the two companies precludes Airport Terminal Services from performing any ground handling services at Terminal 4 to ensure that it remains "airline agnostic" and concentrates on creating a "passenger-focused experience," Braeuninger explains.

factsfigures
Project: Common-Use Lounge
Location: John F. Kennedy Int’l Airport (NY)
Terminal: 4
Name: Wingtips
Lounge Size: 7,000 sq. ft.
Terminal Operator: JFK IAT
Lounge Operator: Airport Terminal Services
Daily Access Fee: $50
Benefit: Allows airport to provide premium lounge for passengers without requiring specific credit card or airline membership
Of Note: Operator will begin comprehensive renovations this fall

Amenities at the 24-hour lounge include a buffet of hot and cold food, snacks and alcoholic beverages. Wi-Fi access is also included, as is a business center, newspapers and publications, restrooms and showers. "We look at it as a full-service experience and not just a sitting room where we offer cookies, a hot and cold beverage and a magazine," relates Braeuninger.

Sibilia explains that the new Wingtips Lounge makes Terminal 4 the "terminal of choice" for many JFK travelers, because it fills a void for passengers who do not have an airline lounge affiliation. He also notes that the lounge's no-membership-needed operating philosophy matches the common-use strategy JFK IAT uses for aircraft gates and check-in stations elsewhere in the terminal. "An airline lounge usually only allows certain carriers to operate within their lounge," he relates. "Wingtips allows all airlines equal opportunity and provides equal services to all."

Airport Terminal Services plans to leverage its experience at JFK to create a network of similar lounges at airports throughout the United States and Canada. "Our intention is to establish Wingtips as a brand," explains Braeuninger. "We want to have certain features of all future lounges tied together through our branding, yet localize each lounge specific to that airport, city and passenger demographics."

Based on its success to date, the company will begin a major renovation of the JFK lounge this fall, she adds. With work expected to take 9 to 12 months, a temporary lounge offering the same food and beverage options will be open elsewhere during construction.

The newly renovated lounge will be about the same size as its predecessor but will include additional amenities. "It will be more representative of the experience we are trying to create," says Braeuninger. "We have a beautiful view of the ramp where we can see airplanes coming in and taking off. We have a 24-hour hot and cold menu that changes throughout the day. We'll still have all of that, but we're just reconfiguring it and making it even more enjoyable."

Subcategory: 
Concessions/Retail

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