Sydney - Kingsford Smith
- Much larger than the previous AMEX lounge
- A la carte menu and tended bar
- Ample AC/USB power sockets
- Some travellers won’t appreciate the location
- Lacks the warm aesthetics of the previous lounge
- Sydney Airport’s ‘boutique’ lounge gets bigger
When American Express opened its first Sydney Airport lounge in December 2014, it quickly became regarded as a cosy ‘boutique’ lounge with a pleasingly different vibe from crowded airline-based business lounges (we’re looking at you, Qantas).
But then the AMEX lounge began to attract a crowd of its own, especially during morning peak periods, and losing some shine in the process.
With space for only 60 travellers and a waiting list that often stretched to 30+ minutes, until each flight was called, it wasn’t the premium pre-flight experience which so many American Express Platinum card-holders (or invitation-only Centurion members) expected.
Almost five years on, and American Express – and its local lounge management partner, Plaza Premium – aim to bring back that shine with an all-new lounge that’s not only substantially bigger but in almost every respect better.
Location & Impressions
Sydney Airport’s new American Express lounge is located in the ‘southern’ wing of Terminal 1, which houses gates 50-63.
That puts it at the opposite end of T1 compared to the original AMEX lounge at gate 24, and the degree of convenience or otherwise will depend on which gate your flight is departing from. That said, Sydney’s not a large airport and at most you’ll be a 20-minute stroll to the most distant gate.
To get to the AMEX lounge, head to the Starbucks cafe and take the escalator (or lift) down one level, to the same floor as the Emirates lounge and the transit desk.
The entrance to the AMEX lounge has a crisp, clean look, and incorporates the green living wall which has become a signature feature of the Sydney and Melbourne lounges.
However, the 600m² footprint affords three times the space of the previous AMEX Sydney lounge, and with a variety of seating to cater to everyone from solo flyers to couples and groups.
The layout is gun-barrel straight, apart from a dogleg at the far end of the lounge which overlooks gate 58 – which sometimes means you’ll have a very close-up view of an aircraft’s nose, just beyond the glass wall between the lounge and the arrivals walkway from that gate.
This end of the lounge is given over to casual seating plus a long green snaking settee and a circular orange seating feature.
The central section of the lounge is flanked by a set of large video screens playing looped American Express commercials and promo material – thankfully with no sound – and a handful of banquette seating nooks.
Between these are two long benches which are ideal for working away on your laptop or a keyboard-equipped tablet, to the point of being conveniently outfitted with AC/USB outlets – not that the rest of the lounge doesn’t have its fair share of power sockets.
The lounge’s third zone begins with the bar and segues into the dining room, beyond which is the self-serve buffet and an open kitchen.
All up, there’s a sense of the space being open and flowing – hopefully, even the busiest times will bring a bit of buzz rather than the lounge just being loud.
At the same time, and this is more of a personal observation, the new American Express lounge seems to have lost a little of the warm aesthetic of its predecessor, which was decked out with a lot of carpet and made extensive use of woods and ash-grey tones.
The American Express Lounge at Sydney International Airport is open from 6am to 10pm, and entry is restricted to eligible AMEX card-holders and their guests.
If there’s an AMEX Centurion, Platinum Charge Card, Platinum Business card or Corporate Platinum Card in your wallet, you’re good for unlimited entry to this lounge (and its Melbourne counterpart), along with ‘children up to 17 years' and two adult guests.
A broader set of AMEX cards allow two free entries per calendar year, with additional visits at $55 per adult and $35 for each child aged from 2-17 (children under two years get in free).
- American Express Explorer credit card
- American Express Business Explorer credit card
- American Express Platinum Reserve credit card
- David Jones American Express Platinum card
- Qantas American Express Ultimate card
- Qantas American Express Corporate Platinum card
- American Express Velocity Platinum card
- American Express Airpoints Platinum card
- American Express Westpac Altitude Black card
Each of these includes complimentary access for the card-holder’s children between the ages of 2-17, with children under 2 years entering free of charge.
Extra space aside, the dining proposition is where the new American Express lounge makes its greatest strides.
In addition to a selection of self-serve dishes, travellers can choose from an à la carte menu. These made-to-order dishes take 5-10 minutes to prepare at the open kitchen and are delivered to you, even if you’re sitting somewhere other than the dining area.
Breakfast is served from when the lounge opens at 6am through to around 10:30am, with allowances made for extensive flight delays. After that, an all-day menu stretches through until the lounge closes at 10pm.
If you’re headed out on a morning flight, the breakfast buffet offers scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, hash browns, cereal, fruit and yoghurt, plus a few juices.
Ordering off the menu? The chefs can whip up omelettes and fried eggs, French toast and avocado on toast (here paired with a healthy ‘green’ juice).
From 10:30am the self-serve buffet moves to the likes of pasta salad, a healthy freekeh and edamame salad, pumpkin risotto, Korean beef stew and a pasta and beef ragu.
Pizza looks to be a mainstay of the new American Express lounge, with a range of small single-serve pizzas from Margherita to pepperoni, meat-lovers to supreme, plus a vegan variation of zucchini, red onion and house-made macadamia cheese.
There’s also a strong Italian influence for the live cooking station’s à la carte menu, which lists five types of fettuccine (including a rich beef ragout, smoked salmon, and pesto) plus wonton noodle soup (seen below), spiced plum chicken stir-fry and teriyaki chicken don.
Other dishes you’ll see on the menu as it’s switched around will include beef sliders and arancini balls, seen here with some of the pizzas.
The tended bar completes this lounge experience. There’s barista-pulled coffee with optional flavoured latte syrup shots, single-origin Ethiopian cold brew, and the lounge's ever-popular espresso martini, along with a solid selection of sometimes less-obvious spirits instead of the same-old same-old (two examples are Squealing Pig rose gin and Sauza Gold tequila).
A dozen on-tap drops range from Four Pines Pacific Ale and Pirate Life’s hoppy Throwback IPA to the Squealing Pig rosé, which turns out to be a pleasingly crisp sip on a warm day.
However, unlike at some other American Express lounges, there’s no under-the-counter stash of Champagne set aside for Centurion card-holders: everybody is served the same Seppelts The Drive sparkling white, which is the same Australian drop found in many Qantas Clubs and Qantas International Business Lounges.
Dual AC/USB outlets are almost everywhere you look: at the dining booths, individual seats and banquettes. However, laptop users will gravitate towards those two long benches in the middle of the lounge.
A recess in the centre of each bench houses AC/USB power outlets which also boast a USB-C socket (in addition to the more common USB-A jack).
Slow WiFi can be the Achilles Heel of many lounges, but not here. During visits mid-morning and mid-afternoon, Executive Traveller clocked speeds averaging 40Mbps (the actual range was 30Mbps-60Mbps) in both directions.
AMEX describes the section of the lounge closest to the window as a ‘relaxation zone’, and it’s true that this is a little more free-form than anywhere else in the lounge.
Again, there are comfortable chairs for solo travellers, couples and groups – and AC/USB outlets are almost always within easy reach, usually built into side-tables.
If you want to freshen up before your flight, there are three spacious shower suites stocked with L’Occitane amenities. This is a marked improvement over the the original Sydney AMEX Lounge, which shared its showers with the adjacent SkyTeam Lounge.
There’s plenty to like about Sydney Airport’s new AMEX lounge, especially in comparison to its predecessor. Just note that it’s a silent lounge and your flight could be 10-20 minutes’ walk away, if it’s departing from the other end of the terminal, so keep an eye on the time.