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I visited the new American Express Centurion Lounge at JFK airport and saw why a $550 annual cardholder fee is worth it – see inside

I visited the new American Express Centurion Lounge at JFK airport and saw why a $550 annual cardholder fee is worth it – see inside
  • American Express just opened the first Centurion Lounge at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
  • The 12th Centurion Lounge in the US offers JFK passengers complimentary hot food and alcoholic beverages before departure, in addition to wellness offerings and the first airport speakeasy bar.
  • Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders, as well as Delta Air Lines Amex Reserve cardholders, can access the lounge up to three hours before their flight.

American Express celebrated the opening of its newest Centurion Lounge at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday, the latest in a nationwide expansion that's brought its total number of lounges to 12 in the US with two at New York City airports alone.

Located in Terminal 4, flyers on Delta Air Lines and other international carriers utilizing the terminal can enjoy over 15,000 square feet of plush seating, complimentary hot meals, unlimited alcoholic beverages, and a reprieve from the crowds in the main terminal.

Centurion Lounges are among the greatest-selling features of American Express' most expensive credit cards. Geared toward frequent travelers, cardholders pay a high annual fee typically greater than $500 and receive perks such as access to the Centurion Lounge, travel credits, and travel insurance, among other benefits that help offset the yearly cost.

Access is restricted to American Express' top cardholders, including those with Platinum or Centurion cards, instead of passengers flying on a specific airline. Delta Air Lines Reserve cardholders can also access the lounge and in turn, American Express Platinum cardholders can use Delta SkyClub's when flying the airline.

New COVID-19-related safety protocols have been implemented across the lounge including capacity restrictions, plexiglass dividers, and reduced self-service capabilities. Entry is also limited to 3 hours before departure, though connecting passengers are exempt from that rule.

Take a look inside the newest Centurion Lounge.

American Express launched construction on this Centurion Lounge in 2018 with a projected opening in 2019 but after around a year of delays, it finally opened on October 9.

American Express launched construction on this Centurion Lounge in 2018 with a projected opening in 2019 but after around a year of delays, it finally opened on October 9.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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The famous blue doors welcome passengers to the newest addition to Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport.

The famous blue doors welcome passengers to the newest addition to Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport.
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Flyers visiting a Centurion Lounge during the pandemic will immediately notice new safety features including plexiglass partitions and social distancing floor placards at check-in.

Flyers visiting a Centurion Lounge during the pandemic will immediately notice new safety features including plexiglass partitions and social distancing floor placards at check-in.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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A new push towards touchless is allowing guests to check into the lounge via their phones, reducing interactions with Amex staff.

A new push towards touchless is allowing guests to check into the lounge via their phones, reducing interactions with Amex staff.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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This premium lounge is one of 12 in Terminal 4 and building it required an extension of the terminal itself.

This premium lounge is one of 12 in Terminal 4 and building it required an extension of the terminal itself.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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The angled floor-to-ceiling windows mark the terminal building's former perimeter with most of the lounge requiring a newly constructed appendage.

The angled floor-to-ceiling windows mark the terminal building's former perimeter with most of the lounge requiring a newly constructed appendage.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Weekday mornings would normally see this lounge packed from wall to wall but during the time of our visit on its opening day, less than 10 passengers filled the two-level lounge.

Weekday mornings would normally see this lounge packed from wall to wall but during the time of our visit on its opening day, less than 10 passengers filled the two-level lounge.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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New COVID-19 safety features in the lounge include blocked seats to ensure social distancing throughout.

New COVID-19 safety features in the lounge include blocked seats to ensure social distancing throughout.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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And larger spaces and tables, including the multi-purpose room that's typically reserved for families – are available on-request and reserved for groups of three or more.

And larger spaces and tables, including the multi-purpose room that's typically reserved for families – are available on-request and reserved for groups of three or more.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Building a majority of the lounge from scratch allowed for unique spaces, including these treehouse-style hideaways.

Building a majority of the lounge from scratch allowed for unique spaces, including these treehouse-style hideaways.
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They're found throughout the lounge and are typically one to two-person spaces ideal for getting work done in private or taking a phone call.

They're found throughout the lounge and are typically one to two-person spaces ideal for getting work done in private or taking a phone call.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Each is also themed with a specific year that could be important to American Express or New York City.

Each is also themed with a specific year that could be important to American Express or New York City.
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This one is themed 2016, for example, the year in which the Oculus opened next to the World Trade Center and across the street from Amex's downtown Manhattan headquarters. The iconic building can just about be made out along the back wall.

This one is themed 2016, for example, the year in which the Oculus opened next to the World Trade Center and across the street from Amex's downtown Manhattan headquarters. The iconic building can just about be made out along the back wall.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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The 223-seat top level is the main floor where the bulk of the amenities are offered. Various seating types line the space along the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The 223-seat top level is the main floor where the bulk of the amenities are offered. Various seating types line the space along the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Seats include leather couches, standalone chairs, and private cubicles to accommodate a variety of travelers.

Seats include leather couches, standalone chairs, and private cubicles to accommodate a variety of travelers.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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For solo travelers, these seats offer additional privacy in the form of high walls, a reminder that social distancing was popular in lounges even before the pandemic.

For solo travelers, these seats offer additional privacy in the form of high walls, a reminder that social distancing was popular in lounges even before the pandemic.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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The lounge's location at the edge of Terminal 4 also provides visitors with unobstructed views of the tarmac below.

The lounge's location at the edge of Terminal 4 also provides visitors with unobstructed views of the tarmac below.
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Business travelers can avail themselves of the complimentary printer services...

Business travelers can avail themselves of the complimentary printer services...
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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And a conference room area tucked away in a corner of the lounge away from the high traffic areas.

And a conference room area tucked away in a corner of the lounge away from the high traffic areas.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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It's an ideal space for a pre-trip business meeting but can also be used by large families enjoying a meal together before their flight.

It's an ideal space for a pre-trip business meeting but can also be used by large families enjoying a meal together before their flight.
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The conference room table, like most seating areas in the lounge, is peppered with pop-up power outlets and USB charging ports.

The conference room table, like most seating areas in the lounge, is peppered with pop-up power outlets and USB charging ports.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Magazines and newspapers would normally be kept here but the lounge is going digital to reduce touchpoints for visitors.

Magazines and newspapers would normally be kept here but the lounge is going digital to reduce touchpoints for visitors.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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The opposite end of the top floor is home to the main dining area and one of the lounge's three bars.

The opposite end of the top floor is home to the main dining area and one of the lounge's three bars.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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This is where the Centurion Lounge sets itself apart from other lounges as visitors can enjoy hot meals that are not only complementary but crafted by renowned chefs including Ignacio Mattos.

This is where the Centurion Lounge sets itself apart from other lounges as visitors can enjoy hot meals that are not only complementary but crafted by renowned chefs including Ignacio Mattos.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Normally self-serve, lounge staff now serve patrons to avoid crowding in the area. First on the menu during our visit was soup, with two options including a farro soup and chicken broth with butternut squash crostini.

Normally self-serve, lounge staff now serve patrons to avoid crowding in the area. First on the menu during our visit was soup, with two options including a farro soup and chicken broth with butternut squash crostini.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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The starter was then a fennel salad...

The starter was then a fennel salad...
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Followed by the main course of steak and potatoes...

Followed by the main course of steak and potatoes...
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Or a fried maitake mushroom po' boy, a vegan dish...

Or a fried maitake mushroom po' boy, a vegan dish...
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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And chocolate cake with whipped cream to finish. A veritable feast.

And chocolate cake with whipped cream to finish. A veritable feast.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Another feature of the buffet is the avocado toast station, a growing trend in airport lounges. Toppings include mozzarella balls, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

Another feature of the buffet is the avocado toast station, a growing trend in airport lounges. Toppings include mozzarella balls, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Here's what the finished result looks like.

Here's what the finished result looks like.
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Even during the pandemic, the commitment to quality was evident. Not only was the steak dish perfectly plated on a mini cast iron pan but the meat was cooked to perfection, with the potatoes covered in a savory cheese sauce that also didn't disappoint.

Even during the pandemic, the commitment to quality was evident. Not only was the steak dish perfectly plated on a mini cast iron pan but the meat was cooked to perfection, with the potatoes covered in a savory cheese sauce that also didn't disappoint.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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One bite of the steak and I couldn't believe this was being served in an airport lounge and complimentary.

One bite of the steak and I couldn't believe this was being served in an airport lounge and complimentary.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Opposite the buffet is a small dining area, with half of the tables blocked off for social distancing.

Opposite the buffet is a small dining area, with half of the tables blocked off for social distancing.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Hungry diners would do well to grab a seat here as the menu will encourage multiple trips to the buffet.

Hungry diners would do well to grab a seat here as the menu will encourage multiple trips to the buffet.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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It's also directly adjacent to the first of three full-service bars.

It's also directly adjacent to the first of three full-service bars.
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Plexiglass partitions are featured at each bartender station but all the barstools have been blocked to prevent crowding in the area.

Plexiglass partitions are featured at each bartender station but all the barstools have been blocked to prevent crowding in the area.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Alcoholic beverages are complimentary in the Centurion Lounge while airline lounges will often charge for cocktails and high-end beers, wines, and liquors.

Alcoholic beverages are complimentary in the Centurion Lounge while airline lounges will often charge for cocktails and high-end beers, wines, and liquors.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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But while sitting at the bar is a no-go, for now, high-tops throughout the lounge offer better views of the tarmac.

But while sitting at the bar is a no-go, for now, high-tops throughout the lounge offer better views of the tarmac.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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And unlike the bars, these tables – located on both levels – feature pop-up power outlets and USB charging ports.

And unlike the bars, these tables – located on both levels – feature pop-up power outlets and USB charging ports.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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The lounge also features multiple full-service coffee machines with capabilities to make drinks like espresso, cappuccino, and hot chocolate.

The lounge also features multiple full-service coffee machines with capabilities to make drinks like espresso, cappuccino, and hot chocolate.
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For water drinkers, a multi-use tap offers sparkling and still options.

For water drinkers, a multi-use tap offers sparkling and still options.
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And this is only the top floor, there's more to see downstairs.

And this is only the top floor, there's more to see downstairs.
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The lower floor of the lounge is arranged in the same style as the top with the same variety of seating along the windows.

The lower floor of the lounge is arranged in the same style as the top with the same variety of seating along the windows.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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It was even more deserted than the main level but would typically house more visitors than upstairs thanks to greater availability of seats.

It was even more deserted than the main level but would typically house more visitors than upstairs thanks to greater availability of seats.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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There's also more seating away from the window on the lower level.

There's also more seating away from the window on the lower level.
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But the great views do remain throughout.

But the great views do remain throughout.
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Instead of a conference room in the corner, this floor has a colorful cubicle-style seating area, again ideal for solo flyers.

Instead of a conference room in the corner, this floor has a colorful cubicle-style seating area, again ideal for solo flyers.
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The lower floor also features a smaller buffet station, though the selection is slightly limited than the one above.

The lower floor also features a smaller buffet station, though the selection is slightly limited than the one above.
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The dining area is just slightly smaller than the one above with four tables instead of six.

The dining area is just slightly smaller than the one above with four tables instead of six.
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And here's the second complimentary bar in the lounge, with a similar selection to the one located directly above.

And here's the second complimentary bar in the lounge, with a similar selection to the one located directly above.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Directly adjacent is a copper wall, which one might think is the lounge's end. But just beyond is actually one of the lounge's coolest features...

Directly adjacent is a copper wall, which one might think is the lounge's end. But just beyond is actually one of the lounge's coolest features...
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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A hidden speakeasy bar.

A hidden speakeasy bar.
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There's no secret passcode to enter and you don't have to be Eliot Ness to find it but the location isn't exactly advertised. Case in point, I walked right by the door without knowing the secret beyond it.

There's no secret passcode to enter and you don't have to be Eliot Ness to find it but the location isn't exactly advertised. Case in point, I walked right by the door without knowing the secret beyond it.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Named "1850," after the year of American Express' founding, the hideaway is the first speakeasy in an airport and offers a more unique drink offering from the bars above.

Named "1850," after the year of American Express' founding, the hideaway is the first speakeasy in an airport and offers a more unique drink offering from the bars above.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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Whiskey, vodka, and gin drinks are the main focus of the cocktail list, curated list by award-winning mixologist Jim Meehan. Wines are selected by Anthony Giglio.

Whiskey, vodka, and gin drinks are the main focus of the cocktail list, curated list by award-winning mixologist Jim Meehan. Wines are selected by Anthony Giglio.
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Back on the main floor is the Equinox Body Lab, a health and wellness experience that's also complimentary for passengers.

Back on the main floor is the Equinox Body Lab, a health and wellness experience that's also complimentary for passengers.
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Inside is a large workout room with self-guided exercises for fitness-oriented travelers...

Inside is a large workout room with self-guided exercises for fitness-oriented travelers...
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Yoga room...

Yoga room...
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And a relaxation room where flyers listen to meditation guides while resting on a vibrating lounge chair.

And a relaxation room where flyers listen to meditation guides while resting on a vibrating lounge chair.
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To help get cleaned up after a visit to Equinox or a long day of traveling, the lounge also has shower rooms.

To help get cleaned up after a visit to Equinox or a long day of traveling, the lounge also has shower rooms.
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They're closed now for safety reasons but in normal times, lounge patrons can make a reservation to use these showers.

They're closed now for safety reasons but in normal times, lounge patrons can make a reservation to use these showers.
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Aviation enthusiasts and New York City locals alike will also notice the themed artwork across the facility, hearkening back to the golden days of flying and New York in its heyday.

Aviation enthusiasts and New York City locals alike will also notice the themed artwork across the facility, hearkening back to the golden days of flying and New York in its heyday.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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The JFK lounge is just one of many that American Express plans to open or has opened in 2020 as the Centurion Lounge network continues to grow and the company gives frequent travelers even bigger reasons to become cardholders.

The JFK lounge is just one of many that American Express plans to open or has opened in 2020 as the Centurion Lounge network continues to grow and the company gives frequent travelers even bigger reasons to become cardholders.
Inside the Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
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