Emirates Lounge SFO Review: An Impressive Buffet

Even without elite status or a premium class airfare, you can get in the Emirates Lounge by purchasing a day pass.
Sally French
By Sally French 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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The Emirates Lounge at San Francisco International Airport stands out for two key features: showers and a robust buffet. And it’s quite exclusive, accessible to passengers flying in Emirates business class or first class, as well as those who hold certain levels of Emirates Skywards elite status.

Day passes are available for $125 to $155 per person.

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We got a look inside the Emirates Lounge at SFO during a press tour. Here’s what it’s like.

Emirates Lounge SFO location

The Emirates Lounge at SFO is located post-security in International Terminal A, between gates A2 and A6.

International Terminal A is also connected post-security to Terminal 1, which hosts the airport’s B gates. That makes it possible to access connecting flights in those gates without having to go through security again.

Spaces to relax

(Photo by Sally French)

Though the design of the Emirates Lounge is a bit bland, it’s not bad, with lots of beige and warm wood colors. The large leather armchairs feel like they came out of your classy relative's sitting room.

With the gentle flow of the waterfall that sits in the lounge’s center, it’s a pretty relaxing place to kick back before your flight.

Food and drink at the Emirates Lounge SFO

Unlike many airport lounges that serve sad prepackaged snacks, the SFO Emirates Lounge serves a buffet that rivals any top hotel or restaurant buffet.

(Photo by Sally French)

Food choices are diverse in terms of cuisine and healthiness, but everything I tried was quite tasty. Travelers seeking a lighter meal might fill up on the roasted asparagus or cauliflower, which is cooked with minimal oil or seasoning. People yearning for a rich meal might rather load up their plates with mushroom ravioli in tarragon cream sauce.

(Photo by Sally French)

Being a Dubai-based airline, Emirates features plenty of Middle Eastern dishes in its buffet, including za'atar flatbreads.

(Photo by Sally French)

There’s also a salad bar where you can fill your plate with greens and Mediterranean-inspired salad toppings such as grilled eggplant and roasted olives.

(Photo by Sally French)

Or you might opt for one of the premade salad options, such as a burrata and tomato salad, or a kale Caesar salad.

(Photo by Sally French)

There’s also a few choices of desserts, from a plate of fruit to a decadent chocolate cake.

(Photo by Sally French)

Drinks, including alcoholic beverages, are complimentary. A refrigerator offers canned sodas and beers. There’s also a DIY-cocktail bar with standard liquors such as Baileys and Campari. The bar is stocked with some liquors made in the San Francisco Bay Area, such as vodka from Hangar 1.

Spaces to work

(Photo by Sally French)

Travelers who need to get work done before departure might visit the separate business area and set up at a desk. There’s also a printer that’s free to use.

Bathrooms — with showers

(Photo by Sally French)

The bathrooms are elegant and well-maintained with fresh flowers and towels.

(Photo by Sally French)

If you need toiletries but left them in your checked baggage, the Emirates staff can come to your rescue. Shower packs, shaving kits and toothbrushes are available upon request.

(Photo by Sally French)

There’s also a standout feature that you won’t find in many U.S.-based airport lounges — showers. Shampoo and conditioner are mounted to the shower wall so you won’t have to bring your own, and there’s also a blow-dryer available.

How to get into the Emirates Lounge at SFO

At SFO, complimentary Emirates Lounge access is offered to:

  • Emirates Skywards Platinum members in any cabin class on Emirates flights, as well as up to one adult guest and two guests younger than 17 on the same flight.

  • Emirates Skywards Gold members in any cabin class on Emirates flights, as well as up to one guest on the same flight.

  • Passengers traveling in Emirates first class.

  • Passengers traveling in Emirates business class.

If you didn’t purchase a premium airfare, one of the best ways to get Emirates Lounge access is by holding the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard®, which has a $499 annual fee. That’s one of two Emirates-branded credit cards, the other being the Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard®, which has a $99 annual fee.

The cheaper of the two cards gets you Silver elite status, which won’t help you get into this specific lounge at SFO.

But the pricier of the two cards, the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard®, entails automatic Emirates Skywards Gold tier membership for one year from when you open the card, giving you Emirates lounge access when you fly the airline. However, you’ll need to spend $40,000 on the card in a year starting with your card account anniversary to retain Gold status for subsequent years.

Plus, the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® is currently offering the following sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus Skywards Miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. Considering NerdWallet values Emirates Skywards miles at 0.6 cent each, you’d need to fly Emirates often and visit the lounges regularly to justify the card’s $499 annual fee.

Additionally, the card offers other perks that frequent travelers love, including a credit toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (up to $100 every five years) and access to Priority Pass lounges, which can be useful for when you’re flying with other airlines.

Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card

Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard®

Annual fee


Emirates Lounge day passes

As long as you’re flying Emirates, you’re eligible to purchase a day pass to the lounge. But it’s pricey. Day passes at the SFO Emirates Lounge will set you back $125 if you’re an Emirates Skywards member (and $155 if you’re not).

🤓Nerdy Tip

There’s almost no reason not to get the $30 discount by becoming a member. Blue is the entry-level status in Emirates Skywards, and it’s free to join. Simply sign up on the Emirates Skywards website and you’re in.

Travelers can stay in the lounge for up to four hours before their flight.

Is the Emirates Lounge SFO worth it?

(Photo by Sally French)

If you are flying in first or business class anyway, then it’s absolutely worth making the time to pop into the lounge for a high-quality meal before your flight.

Sure, you will dine like a king in-flight anyway. In Emirates first class, you can even order caviar. Business class food offerings are slightly more limited than first class, but still incredibly high-quality — all the way down to the Royal Doulton fine bone china it’s served on. But for folks who’d rather fill up on the ground versus in-flight, the Emirates buffet is the place to be.

But it’s probably not worth applying for an Emirates credit card or purchasing a day pass purely to get inside. The International Terminal A at SFO has plenty of excellent dining options. Many are local San Francisco eateries, including Gott’s Roadside and Boudin Bakery. You could purchase eight orders of clam chowder in Boudin’s famous sourdough bread bowl for the cost of one Emirates Lounge day pass for Skywards members.

However, you might find the Emirates Lounge access to be handy for your circumstances. Maybe you need a shower between flights. Perhaps you’re desperate to print something. You might just be hankering to fix yourself a cocktail. If one (or all) of the above applies and you’re flying Emirates, you have the option to pay up to visit.

Then again, if you’re sitting on a trove of credit card points, you might not need to hand over cash for a lounge pass at all. It’s entirely possible to book Emirates first class with points.

(Top photo by Sally French)

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