The best lounges in the US that are worth going out of your way for

More than ever, I’ve been skipping the airport lounge and heading straight to the gate.

With so many lounge-eligible travelers taking to the skies, many outposts are once again suffering from overcrowding. This leads to waitlists for entry, dirty tables inside and understocked (and underwhelming) buffets.

If I arrive at the airport early, I’ll usually pop by the lounge to see how crowded it is. If it’s not too busy and I can find a quiet seat, I’ll enter. If not, I’ll just head to the terminal to find a quiet space to sit and catch up on work.

However, there are some lounges that are always worth visiting, regardless of the crowding situation. Assuming that I have access, I’ll even get to the airport early to enjoy one of these nine lounges.

Delta Sky Club — LAX

Delta Air Lines opened its new Sky Way terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last year. While every Delta flyer now uses the upgraded departures and arrivals hall, those with access to the Sky Club are in for a real treat.

That’s because the new terminal is home to a stunning 30,000-square-foot Sky Club, which features some of the snazziest amenities you can find in an airport lounge.

My personal favorite is the massive, year-round, open-air Sky Deck that features a retractable roof, edge-to-edge bar and endless views of the apron, runways and Hollywood hills in the distance.

This Sky Deck has become one of the best places to spot planes in all of LAX.

Inside, the lounge features two massive buffets, a stylish coffee grotto lined in Italian mosaic tiles, plenty of private phone booths, spacious shower suites and much more.

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Other Sky Club outposts, such as the new ones in Boston and New York, made the shortlist, but the one in LA is the gold standard.

Related: First look at Delta’s new Sky Club in Los Angeles

American Express Centurion Lounge — JFK

American Express has built a network of lounges that cardmembers want to visit. The result is overcrowding, which can be especially frustrating when you need to grab a bite to eat or refresh during a connection.

While the issuer’s outposts are a cut above the airline membership lounges in the same airport, there’s one in particular that I always try to visit.

That’s the location at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Split across two levels, the JFK Centurion Lounge is my favorite. With lots of seating, fantastic views of the jets in Terminal 4, six private phone booths and an Equinox Body Lab, you’re bound to enjoy your time in this space.

Be sure to visit the hidden speakeasy at the lower level for a drink in one of the trendiest bars in all of Queens.

Related: First look at the brand-new Amex Centurion Lounge at JFK

American and British Airways Chelsea Lounge — JFK

Terminal 8 at JFK has essentially become the de facto home to the Oneworld alliance airlines at JFK, including American Airlines, British Airways, Qatar, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Iberia and more.

When British Airways colocated with American, the two carriers unveiled three new lounges (two brand-new spaces and one rebranded, expanded one).

The fanciest and most exclusive of the three is called the Chelsea Lounge. It’s essentially a first-class lounge that replaces American’s Flagship First Dining facility and BA’s Concorde Room.

The Champagne bar is especially striking, and the food and drinks on offer are some of the best that the two carriers serve on the ground.

The menu is curated by chef Ayesha Nurdjaja, who became famous for her New York City hits, Shuka and Shukette.

Related: American Airlines, British Airways unveil 3 gorgeous lounges in JFK’s Terminal 8

United Polaris Lounge — IAD

United’s Polaris Lounges are dedicated to those flying in premium cabins on long-haul routes (with even stricter access rules than the Flagship Lounge).

They feature sit-down bistro restaurants, upgraded seating areas, stylish bars and more.

The newest Polaris Lounge is in the Washington, D.C., area at Dulles International Airport (IAD). It builds on a strong foundation set by the carrier’s existing six Polaris Lounges.

Thanks to its luxurious design, locally inspired artwork and eye-catching bar, the Dulles location is my personal favorite in the entire network.

I can’t wait to see what United does in Denver — the only United hub that doesn’t yet feature a Polaris Lounge.

Related: First look inside the new United Polaris Lounge in Washington Dulles

Capital One Lounge — IAD

For years, American Express was the sole credit card issuer with airport lounges. But that changed when Capital One revealed it was getting into the lounge game.

While the issuer already operates an outpost in Dallas-Fort Worth, Capital One opened its second — and arguably more exciting — lounge at IAD this year.

That’s because IAD doesn’t currently have any other credit card-branded lounges; aside from the United Polaris Lounge, I’d say that the Capital One outpost is the nicest in the entire airport.

Capital One has all the basics covered, but I’m especially a fan of the lounge’s grab-and-go fridge and the delectable tapas-style eats in the lounge.

Related: What you can expect inside Capital One’s airport lounges

American Admirals Club — DCA

American has an all-new lounge design that first debuted at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

This new DCA lounge features a signature fireplace, lots of wood and muted tones that promote a sense of relaxation.

American has also been working to upgrade the food on offer at its Admirals Clubs, and I’ve definitely appreciated some of these improvements over the past few months.

That said, if I’m passing through DCA, I’m coming to this lounge to find a quiet nook to catch up on some work, while enjoying the ambience.

(My lounge choice in DCA might be changing soon, though, with the upcoming opening of the American Express Centurion Lounge.)

Related: Inside American’s stunning new DCA Admirals Club, the 1st of its kind

Chase Sapphire Lounge — BOS

Earlier this year, Chase opened the doors to its first-ever domestic airport lounge.

Dubbed the Sapphire Lounge by The Club, Chase’s outpost in the Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is one you shouldn’t miss.

From the delicious food options to the massage rooms to the marble-clad shower suites, the first domestic Sapphire Club checks nearly all the boxes.

Combine that with a show-stopping design and floor-to-ceiling windows with endless tarmac views, and you’ll find me relaxing here before my next flight from Boston.

Related: Chase’s splashy Sapphire Lounge is opening in Boston — here’s a first look

Qantas First Lounge — LAX

Some savvy travelers believe that the Qantas First Lounge at LAX is the best in the U.S.

While I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, it does offer spectacular food and beverage options in a spacious dining room. There’s also a long bar stocked with top-shelf liquor.

The downside to this lounge is that the seating and relaxation areas can often get quite crowded. Plus, the interior terminal views don’t offer any natural light (or planespotting opportunities).

Top-tier Oneworld Emerald elites can use this lounge, subject to some notable exceptions for American Airlines travelers.

Related: Reviewing the Qantas International First Lounge in Los Angeles

Bonus: Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge — Moynihan Train Hall

Though this technically isn’t an airport lounge, Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge in New York’s Moynihan Station deserves special mention.

In fact, when compiling this guide, this was the first lounge I identified as one worth arriving early for.

The club’s locally inspired design beats most domestic airport lounges, and the food and beverage offerings are actually quite impressive for Amtrak.

There’s even an open-air deck that overlooks the train station, along with a wide range of seating areas inside.

It’s just too bad United axed its partnership with Amtrak — part of which included reciprocal lounge access. Otherwise, this could indeed be loosely considered an airline lounge.

Related: NYC’s hottest new bar? Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge

Bottom line

These days, most airport lounges aren’t necessarily worth visiting due to overcrowding. With demand for travel at record levels, there are many more eligible travelers than there are seats in lounges on the busiest travel days.

In many cases, I don’t think it’s worth spending extra time in the airport to visit a lounge. However, there are nine exceptions within the U.S.

Whether it’s the unique amenities or above-average culinary offerings, I find myself adding time to the travel journey to stop in one of the nine lounges listed above.

If there are any domestic lounges that I missed, be sure to let me know.

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