Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.
For frequent travelers, the airline lounge represents a quiet place in the storm of travel. Behind the glass doors lies the promise of luxury, where comfortable chairs and power outlets are everywhere.
But is it worth the price of admission?
On previous trips, I’ve spent time in other lounges at San Francisco International Airport, but not the Admiral’s Club lounge in Terminal 2. I was curious to find out how this experience would stack up against others.
How I got in
Because I didn’t have the right credit card or status with American, I had to pay the $59 day-pass fee to get into the lounge. Even though my flight was in domestic first class, I didn’t qualify for complimentary entry – only first- and business-class passengers flying between Los Angeles International Airport or San Francisco International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport are extended complimentary entry into the lounge.
There are plenty of other ways to qualify for complimentary entry. Qualifying AAdvantage and Oneworld alliance elite members can enter lounges when traveling abroad. Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® authorized users can also enter as part of their membership, while U.S. military personnel traveling in uniform are also invited to use Admiral’s Club lounges for free.
» Learn More: Find the best airline credit card for you
After entering, my first thought was how small the lounge seemed. The San Francisco Admiral’s Club is divided between two sections: A lounge area and a dining area.
To the left of the entry, the lounge area offers a combination of benches, comfortable swivel-chairs and side-by-side deep lounge chairs. All of the options are much more comfortable than what you will find anywhere in Terminal 2. The specialty coffee machine and snacks are also located in the lounge area.
As with every lounge, a complimentary selection of magazines and newspapers were available for flyers to take with them. But the magazines and newspapers were limited; the only publication in abundance was the airline magazine.
» Learn more: When should you splurge on a lounge day pass?
The dining area looks much like any restaurant, with a bar area and assorted tables. Much like the lounge area, the dining area offers power outlets at nearly every table and under the bar. These were limited to standard power outlets – USB outlets are only available in the lounge area.
» Learn More: Here's how much your points and miles are worth
The food options
As with most lounges, the Admiral’s Club offers complimentary hot and cold options. In addition to the assorted snack mixes, flyers could choose from a quinoa salad, cheese cubes and hummus with veggies or pita chips. The complimentary hot options were limited to two soups, one with meat and a vegetarian option.
I made two runs at the complimentary options, trying the chicken enchilada soup and hummus. The hummus was creamy and full of flavor, and I enjoyed dipping the veggies with the hummus. But wish I wasn’t limited to just pita chips — it would have been nice to have other chips or soft pita bread to go with the hummus.
The chicken enchilada soup was also good; not too spicy and it featured distinguishable chunks of chicken. The only thing I could have asked for was a bread selection to sop up the broth.
Alongside the food options, travelers had plenty of beverages to choose from. Coffee, sodas and water were all self-serve, while alcohol was available at the bar. Complimentary options included domestic beer, house wines and well spirits.
» Learn more: How to make sure you have lounge access before departure
The premium options
While I was comfortable in the lounge and enjoyed the complimentary options, it’s still a profit center for American. This was most obvious at the bar, where menus offered more substantial options for the hungry and thirsty traveler.
But it comes with a price. A bottle of water will run you $3 (despite the fact water is available for free at the soda machine and in the terminal) while sparkling water and premium coffee are $4. Premium domestic and craft beer costs $7, cocktails start at $10, but a premium glass of wine can cost $14.
That’s not to mention the food menu. On one hand, it’s nice to have premium to-go options for long flights. The grilled chicken chopped salad and American club sandwich looked like two nice options to make flying in economy easier. But how good were they? While I should have opted for the lobster mac and cheese, I went for the michelada beer cocktail and the roast beef and swiss wrap.
I wasn’t expecting a warm sandwich, but it was a nice touch. Getting it with a bag of chips cheapened the experience. And the side of salsa was … confusing. Was I supposed to dip my wrap, or pour the salsa over?
Unfortunately, the salsa didn’t help the sandwich. The swiss cheese takes over the wrap, making the roast beef, lettuce, tomato and red onion. In flavor alone, this was not a $10 sandwich. The michelada wasn’t a great addition either. I found that the free options had much more flavor.
Perhaps the most underrated reason to go to an airport lounge is the clean and private restrooms. In this respect, the lounge did not disappoint.
Each stall featured European-style doors for privacy, and everything was very clean, including the wash basins with C.O. Bigelow products. The lounge also offered two private showers that were available by request.
While the Admiral’s Lounge in San Francisco was nice, it wasn’t $59 nice. Even by San Francisco standards, the lounge was incredibly small. I wouldn’t want to be in here in the event a flight gets delayed or canceled, as I can see it getting very crowded, very quickly.
The two highlights of the lounge were the abundant number of power outlets and the clean restrooms. Every airport I’ve visited around the world is often short on both – and getting power outlets at nearly every seat and a clean restroom was an excellent benefit.
The downside is the lounge can be expensive if you allow it to be. The sandwich and cocktail I paid $25 for (including gratuity) were not worth the price. All of the self-serve items were better and came at a better price. It made me realize that without complimentary access to the lounge, the restaurant credits available to Priority Pass members may be a better deal.
Overall, If I had a lounge pass, was flying internationally on American, or direct to JFK, I would stop in the lounge for a free drink and a phone charge before my flight. But $59 is too much to pay to access this lounge.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card