December 19, 2013

New Travel Hotspot: Centurion Lounge at DFW

Today I’m finally traveling home to NYC after nearly a month in Dallas, and oh my goodness, this has been a crazy last few weeks. I thought that staying in Dallas for the month of December was going to be relaxing and give me a chance to catch up on everything, but as you can probably tell by my dearth of posting (pretty much just Links I Love and some reviews for products that had deadlines), I have barely had a minute to breathe. Fortunately, I’m working one more day (tomorrow) and then am on a holiday shutdown for two full weeks! (Well, minus some check ins with my team because my project is about to go through a very busy time in January and we need to be ready.)

A few years ago, my then-boss gave me some very sage advice. He said that if you miss more than one flight per year, you’re an idiot. But if you miss fewer than one flight a year… you’re spending too much time at airports! I love that rule, and while I don’t exactly try to follow it, I do cut it pretty close with my airport arrivals, and I try not to stress if I do miss a flight.

As luck would have it, I don’t think I’ve missed any flights this year. With my final flight of the year being today (it is very strange to me to think that I won’t be at an airport or up in the air for three weeks!), I figured that this year was just a year where I was either really lucky or spent too much time at airports. But then when some meetings ran late, I ended up leaving the office at a time where I knew I wouldn’t have made it to the airport in time and would have missed my flight! I guess technically I didn’t “miss” my flight, since I immediately called the Platinum desk and was able to arrange for them to preemptively move me to a later flight. But it definitely felt like I had “missed” the flight right in the nick of time before the calendar year ended 😉

Since I now had extra time to spare at the airport, I decided to head over to Terminal D, where American Express recently opened their second Centurion Club, a premium lounge that isn’t affiliated with any airline. There is no membership aside from being an AmEx cardholder, which is really nice. And while a day pass costs $50, AmEx Platinum and Centurion cardholders get in free! Sweet. (I also checked out the Centurion Club website later and learned that you can also bring two guests in for free too, which is really generous.)

The club was a little bit tricky to find. Although it’s listed as being at gate D17, it’s actually in the shopping area in the middle of gates D15-20. The club is located on the second floor, but confusing signage had me climbing a flight of stairs (to a dead end next to Pizza Vino) before I realized I had to go around the corner to where a gleaming silver escalator beckoned. But once I got into the club, it was smooth sailing!

Check in was pretty standard – AmEx credit card, picture ID, and boarding pass – and when the concierge learned it was my first time at the Centurion Club, he gave me a great short spiel of where everything was. To my right were (free) meeting rooms and a quiet work area, to my left was the bar and buffet, and while I didn’t end up seeing where these were, he told me that there was also a spa with complimentary massages, facials, and manicures. Um, excuse me?! This benefit alone would make the annual membership fee of the Platinum/Centurion cards well worth it.  The only downside is that you can’t reserve these services ahead of time, and they are first-come first-served. When I arrived at the club at 5:00pm on a Thursday, there was a 45 minute wait for a facial, and over 90 minutes for a manicure or massage! I asked the concierge if that wait was typical or if it was just that I was traveling during such a peak time, but he said no, it’s usually at least an hour. To me that seemed strange – I can’t imagine anyone getting to the airport early enough that they have 90 minutes or more to spend in the lounge! But I guess for a free Exhale Spa treatment, it might be worth it to consider going early 🙂 Also, it should be noted that the showers and bathrooms have similarly luxurious bath products – they are all L’Occitane, and the showers have rainfall showerheads. Nothing will ever beat my beloved Westin Heavenly Showerhead (which I ended up getting for my own home!) but the Centurion Club has definitely stepped up their game by adding those amenities.

Centurion DFW Spa Menu
All treatments are 15 minutes, which is the perfect length when you want to relax but still have a flight to catch.

Outside of the spa/bathrooms, a lot of the Centurion Club was designed just like any other airport lounge – lots of comfy chairs, plenty of outlets, and of course, free wifi. However, because the club is so new, the look is really modern and gorgeous, and I really appreciated the calming aesthetic. I especially appreciated that there is a separate children’s room. Regular airline lounges seem to add this only if the club is especially large or a flagship, but if parents are going to be allowed to bring little ones into a lounge, I think it’s a necessity. Half the point of getting lounge access is getting access to a quiet space, and I get really ticked off when I see kids sprinting around an airport lounge yelling at the top of their lungs while their parents ignore them. Children’s rooms allow the little ones to be as loud as they want, without inconveniencing others. Win win!

Centurion DFW Lounge
The calming green accent color is the same color that I used for the accent wall in my living room, which I shall take as a sign that I have good taste 🙂

While the Centurion Club may not have stood out all that much for decor or layout, the area that I took advantage of on this visit (and that really wowed me) was the buffet and bar. The buffet selection was chosen by Dean Fearing (formerly of The Mansion on Turtle Creek and now known for the eponymous Fearing’s in Dallas), and the recipes definitely lived up to his standards. It was so nice to get (free) hot food at a lounge instead of just light snacks or perhaps some sandwiches that had been left out too long! Most of the menu was Tex-Mex inspired, and I particularly loved the smoked barbecue brisket, pulled chicken enchilada casserole with roasted green chile sauce, and jicama carrot slaw salad. I dove in too fast to get a picture of my plate, but it looked like restaurant food rather than airport food! For dessert, the caramelized apple buckle was delicious… and I also couldn’t resist trying a few bites of a sticky lemon bar. Both were out of this world. Perhaps I shouldn’t make it a point to go to this club very often or I’ll be packing on the pounds like crazy! All the food is self-serve, but the lounge uses glass plates and real silverware (except for plastic knives, for safety reasons), which also contributed to making it feel even more upscale.

Centurion DFW Salads
Since when do airport lounges have salads? I am so happy with this new development! (And I love jicama!)
Centurion DFW Caramelized Apple Buckle
I love the plating, which is far more elegant than the traditional “pile everything on one serving plate and have guests use tongs to mess up all the other desserts while taking theirs.”

But the piece de resistance of the Centurion Club was definitely the bar. Though I don’t usually drink at airports, I wandered over to check out the menu, and I was blown away by the options. While most bars just offer you beer, wine, and perhaps a list of some low-shelf spirits with which they’ll mix you a gin & tonic or screwdriver, the Centurion Club has an extremely chic cocktail menu. I learned afterward that it was created by Jim Meehan of PDT, which is one of my favorite cocktail bars in NYC – these are some pretty upscale drinks! As with everything else in the club, all drinks are complimentary. I was blown away by that given how nice the cocktails are! I can’t wait to go back and try one sometime early next year.

Centurion DFW Cocktails
I’ll try… all of them. (Actually, the Tex-Mex looks like it will be my favorite.)

My short visit to the Centurion Club tonight definitely wasn’t long enough for me to try all that it has to offer, but I’m really psyched to go back and check it out longer very sooner. Perhaps even intentionally start flying from Dallas later or to Dallas earlier and getting manicures on arrival? Yes, please!


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