Why is American's Admirals Club Fare Not Fit For an Officer -- Or Anyone Else?

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For those fortunate enough to have airline-club access this busy holiday traveling season, the question must be asked: Why is the food selection at DFW-based American Airlines Admirals Club Lounges so shoddy?

When it comes to American Airlines, penny-pinching is no longer exclusive to baggage fees and on-flight services. Domestically speaking, the Admirals Lounge spread pales in comparison with its competitor from Houston, Continental's Presidents Club.

Let's compare. Step into an Admirals Lounge at DFW Airport -- the international hub of American Airlines -- and one would expect an impressive representative effort, no? Actually, no.

The Admirals Lounge offers complimentary apples, Chex Mix, and packaged cookies. Free beverages include water (not bottled), and a limited selection of sodas. All meals and alcoholic beverages must be purchased. All meals must be purchased. As of October 1, the Admirals Lounge started serving complimentary well liquor, domestic wines and beers. Premium liquor, wine and beers are still purchase-only.  Alcohol isn't even served until after noon. However, on the day of my visit, the bartender wouldn't serve me an alcoholic beverage until noon. Figuring a day-pass into the Admirals Lounge will set someone back $50, food and alcohol prices aren't cheap. An alcoholic drink averages around $7, while a sandwich costs around the $10 mark. A premium alcoholic drink averages around $7, while a sandwich costs around the $10 mark.

Down the terminal at rival Continental Airlines' Presidents Club, depending on what time of day it is, there's either a continental breakfast selection or a lunch spread laid out. Breakfast includes free muffins, bagels, cereals, juices and fruit, while lunch offers a variety of cheeses, crackers, granola bars, and chips with dips. All beers and wines are complimentary. Even with all the freebies at the Presidents Club, Continental's day-pass price is the same as the Admirals Club -- $50.

Internationally, the Admirals Lounge fares a tad better, but still in no way comes close to being competitive with foreign airline clubs. Japan's Narita Airport (Tokyo) Admirals Lounge delivers a selection of complimentary cheeses, finger sandwiches, fruits and a soup of the day. They even offer free alcohol -- from vodka to gin -- outside the various beers and wines. They even offer an open bar that includes everything from vodka and gin to beer and win. However, when it comes to Asian airport lounges, free liquor is just the norm, and the Admirals Lounge is just the bare minimum.

The holy grail of all airport clubs in Asia is, arguably, the Cathay Pacific Lounge in the airline's home of Hong Kong. If the DFW Admirals Lounge is an utter embarrassment to American Airlines, then Cathay Pacific's club is the airline's crown jewel. Cathay Pacific separates its Hong Kong lounges into two sections. The business section offers free pastries, alcohol, snacks, dim sum and a full-service noodle bar. That's right; a free noodle bar, with a chef who takes noodle soup orders.

In the first class section of the lounge, things get even fancier. Food service (again, complimentary) is split into three meals a day and is in the form of a buffet. Breakfast includes eggs, congee and bacon. Lunch offers cheese plates, noodles and gourmet flat breads. Dinner is an obscene display of riches with foie gras, prime rib and caviar. There's also a wait staff, just in case you'd like to order a bowl of noodles from the noodle bar or if you'd like to get a glass of wine with dinner. If after-dinner calls for something a bit stronger than wine, a full-service complimentary bar is available to patrons from both sections of the lounge.

Cathay Pacific not only pulls out all the stops at its hub, but it makes a valiant effort in other cities' airports, as well. Depending on the city, the airline provides menus catering to that countries' native cuisine. For instance, in Vietnam, it's not uncommon to find bowls of pho and dozens of spring rolls at the Cathay Lounge buffet.

So, again, why is the American Airlines Admirals Lounge so deficient in its selection? Also, what other airline lounges, aside from Continental and Cathay, do it better?

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