A classy new lounge act premieres in Vegas, courtesy of AmEx

InsightWhen it comes to luxury and air travel, it's no secret U.S. airlines can't even come close to competing with their overseas counterparts.

After all, business class on Emirates means feather beds, real cappuccino and duvets. First class on domestic carriers often means you are lucky to get a foot rest.

Ditto for airport lounges. But one company is trying to raise the bar in that arena. Or at least offer alternatives for discerning road warriors.

American Express recently opened its first domestic Centurion lounge at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, the test bed and flagship for what the company says will be a series of lounges it plans to open in key U.S. markets later this year.

Jeri ClausingThe company has several Centurion lounges overseas for people who hold the ultra-exclusive Centurion card but said its research "shows that there's a clear appetite among cardmembers for a differentiated airport lounge experience in the U.S."

"For us, this isn't about just opening a lounge," said company spokeswoman Desiree Fish. "American Express is recognized for its extraordinary service, and the lounge is one way we can demonstrate this commitment."

Fish said the McCarran lounge is still in its "soft opening," and the company is using it "test and learn" about who is interested and what amenities its cardmembers want.

They also are still evaluating the best markets for expansion but promise the new lounges will be in "in key markets where our cardmembers live and frequently travel through."

The website and photos of the lounge, which opened in late February, certainly promise a new level of luxury with buffets that go way beyond the cheese and crackers, cereal and apples offered in many domestic airport lounges.

Although details on the website are scarce during the test phase, Fish said services and amenities include a travel assistance desk; a five-star menu created by celebrity chef Scott Conant of Las Vegas-based Scarpetta and Food Network fame; free cocktails and wines; loaner tablets loaded with newspapers, magazines and travel content; a family room filled with board games, toys and video games; workstations and free WiFi; and showering facilities with plush towels and L'Occitane products.

Access is open to all Gold Centurion cardholders and guests. Other American Express card members can buy day passes for $50, space permitting. And certain cardmembers will get targeted invitations to the lounge, said Fish, as the company also works to test lounge access policies.

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