CarefulBuilder14 wrote:It seems smart to me to spend $50 to try the perk once before making the leap to Platinum.
How crowded do the Centurion lounges tend to be compared to airline-specific lounges?
I'm a points convert, but I still look for the cheap seats. I was going through LGA not long ago, and would have tried it if not for a tight schedule and the extra security delay.
It really varies based on the time of day, airport, and which airline lounge were comparing to. I'm an Admirals club member as well because of my unfortunate smoking habit. Two of the admirals clubs in DFW have smoking lounges, and are the only place behind security at Dfw you can smoke. Since I use DFW as my hub I get a lot of use out of this. So for DFW during peak business travel, both Centurion and Admirals clubs are crowded. Admirals club maybe less so, since there are four of them at DFW but crowded nonetheless. However, I've never had an issue finding a seat at either, whether it be at the bar or in the general seating area.
AMEX does a great job keeping the buffet stocked even during busy times. When items run out they are generally replaced quickly. The food is also pretty decent, and each location has a regional type menu. The cocktail menus are also regional. Also it is quite nice to be able to get a substantial meal for "free". At the admirals club it's generally a veggie tray and some snack mix, or something similar, although I did recently receive an email that they're going to be adding soups and a few other things soon for free. Otherwise you have to buy your food there, and it's really not all that good.
The only free booze at the admirals club is well liquor and your typical lower cost beers like bud light, as well as house wine. Centurion offers complimentary higher end booze, like Bulleit, Belvedere, Bombay, etc. as well as some local beer selections and what is probably halfway decent wine, although I don't usually drink wine so I'm just guessing. This may or may not be important to you. You only get the higher end stuff for free at the admirals club if you're on a transcontinental or international flight in a premium cabin, or coach with some status.
So to answer your original question I would say the crowding is comparable to an airline lounge. I've noticed the centurion lounges getting busier lately as it's caught on, but for the most part AMEX has done a decent job of keeping up with the demand.
One other perk to airline lounges that people forget about is ticket assistance. AMEX simply can't compete in this area since the airline lounge employees actually work for the airline. It can be invaluable when your flight gets cancelled, and there are 200 passengers lined up to see the two reps at the gate to get their flight rebooked. You simply pop into the airline lounge and essentially cut the whole line. I've had some amazing service from admirals club employees actively monitoring my flight status and rebooking me as necessary before an official announcement is even made.