|Want to learn more about accessing US airline lounges? See my series about how to access Alaska Lounges, American Admirals Clubs, Delta SkyClubs, and United Clubs.|
Understanding United Airlines lounge access can be quite confusing, especially with the distinction between United Clubs and United Polaris Lounges.
United operates over 45 United Clubs and six United Polaris Lounges, and in this post I wanted to look at everything you need to know about how to access them, given all the options available.
What should you expect from United Clubs?
I’d say United Clubs are about average as far as US airline lounges go. In my opinion they’re on par with American Admirals Clubs, and not as good as Delta SkyClubs. Conversely, United Polaris Lounges are exceptional, and the best business class lounges offered by any US airline.
At United Clubs you can expect complimentary Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, free drinks and snacks, and some premium drinks available for purchase.
How to access United Clubs
United Clubs are membership lounges, meaning that they’re primarily intended for members. However, there are lots of other ways to access United Clubs, including with eligible tickets, with elite status, through day passes, or in conjunction with the right credit card.
Below are all the best options for United Airlines lounge access.
Buy a United Club membership (with miles or cash)
The most obvious way to access United Clubs is to outright buy an annual membership. This can be done with miles or cash, and the cost varies based on your elite status.
Here’s the cost to purchase a United Club membership:
With this you’re paying anywhere from $550 to $650 annually, depending on your status. If you are going to buy a United Club membership, I’d highly recommend paying cash over redeeming miles. As you can see, you’re getting under 0.8 cents of value per MileagePlus mile this way, and that’s just a really bad value.
There are a couple of things to be aware of for United Club members:
- You can only use United Clubs when flying same day on United Airlines or a Star Alliance partner airline
- You can either bring your immediate family members with you (one adult and dependent children under 21), or up to two guests
Get the United Club Infinite Card
Regardless of your status, this is a less expensive way to get a United Club membership than paying for a membership outright, given the $525 annual fee. This card offers a full membership, so all of the terms for United Club access are otherwise identical.
Get the JP Morgan Reserve Card
The JP Morgan Reserve Card is an invitation-only credit card that most of us will never have access to. However, the card does offer a United Club membership, if you are someone lucky enough to get it.
Buy an Air Canada Maple Leaf Club membership
Those who have an Air Canada Maple Leaf Club membership also get United Club access. However:
- This only gets you United Club access in North America
- You need to be flying a Star Alliance airline same day from the airport where you’re trying to access the lounge
- Your guesting privileges are limited; Maple Leaf Club members with a North America Plus membership aren’t allowed any guests, while those with a Maple Leaf Club Worldwide membership are allowed one guest
For some people this could be a good option, as a North America Plus membership costs 495 CAD (~383 USD) per year, while a Worldwide membership costs 665 CAD (~514 USD) per year.
Buy a United Club pass
You can buy a United Club pass for $59 per person. These passes are valid for one person each, and are only valid for entry at one location.
Unlike American Admirals Club day passes, you can’t use these to enter multiple lounges (including in multiple cities) the same day. Children under two may accompany someone accessing a United Club with a pass at no additional cost.
You can buy a United Club pass directly at the lounge, though there may sometimes be capacity controls on these. Alternatively, you can buy a United Club pass through the United app.
Like all other methods of accessing United Clubs nowadays, you also need to be traveling on United or a Star Alliance partner airline the same day.
Get United Club passes with credit cards
Some of United’s credit cards with reasonable annual fees offer United Club passes as a perk. For example, you get two United Club passes annually if you’re the primary cardmember on the following cards:
These are valid for 12 months from when they’re issued, and you can either show the passes to an agent through the United app, or you can print them from your MileagePlus account on united.com.
Book a United Airlines premium transcontinental flight
A standard domestic first class ticket won’t get you access to United Clubs. However, there are certain domestic tickets that will get you United Club access.
Specifically, if you’re traveling business class nonstop on one of the following routes you receive United Club access on arrival and departure (though not beyond that if you’re connecting):
- Between Newark (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX)
- Between Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO)
- Between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX)
- Between New York (JFK) and San Francisco (SFO)
You can’t bring any guests with you into the lounge, though. You can access no matter how you ticketed that business class flight, whether you paid cash, redeemed miles, or upgraded. Note that at JFK, United Airlines uses the Alaska Lounge in Terminal 7 for premium passengers. These are the only types of exclusively domestic tickets that offer United Club access.
Book a United Polaris or business class ticket
If you are taking a same day United Polaris or United business class flight, you get access to United Clubs throughout your same day journey, on departure, at connecting points, and even on arrival. You can’t bring any guests with you, though.
What’s the difference between Polaris and business class for these purposes? United Polaris is the name of United’s long haul international business class product, and you’ll see the flights marketed as such. Meanwhile international flights where the forward cabin isn’t marketed as Polaris, instead have the forward cabin marketed as business class.
Polaris flights include all international transpacific and transatlantic flights, as well as flights from the United States to the following South American destinations:
- Buenos Aires
- Rio de Janeiro
- São Paulo
Meanwhile United business class includes flights to the following destinations, which are also eligible for United Club access:
- Central America
Book a Star Alliance business or first class ticket
Traveling in business class or first class on a Star Alliance partner airline also potentially offers United Club access, but with more restrictions.
When traveling on a Star Alliance partner airline in business or first class you can access United Clubs, but only on departure at your international gateway.
In other words, if you fly United first class from Houston to Chicago, and then Lufthansa first class from Chicago to Frankfurt, you could only use the United Club in Chicago.
Personally I find the policy to be ridiculous, as Star Alliance is more punitive here than oneworld and SkyTeam. That’s especially true when you consider the joint ventures that United has with other carriers, where they essentially split revenue.
When eligible for access, business class passengers can’t bring any free guests, while first class passengers can bring one guest with them.
Have United MileagePlus elite status
Those who earn Star Alliance Gold status through United MileagePlus (including Premier Gold, Platinum, and 1K members) can access United Clubs during same day international travel.
Access is allowed on departure, during connections, and upon arrival, and these members can bring one guest with them. All international itineraries are eligible for this.
Have United Global Services status
In addition to the above access perks for United MileagePlus elite members, invitation-only Global Services members can access United Clubs on entirely domestic itineraries. They aren’t allowed any guests when accessing lounges this way, though.
Have Star Alliance Gold status with an airline other than United
If you’re a Star Alliance Gold member who earns status through any program other than United MileagePlus, you can access United Clubs whenever you’re flying Star Alliance same day, even if you’re not traveling internationally.
Eligible Star Alliance Gold members can bring one guest.
Be an active duty military member
Active duty US military personnel with a military ID can use United Clubs when traveling on United within 24 hours, assuming one of the following is true:
- They are dressed in uniform
- They have leave orders
- They have rest and recuperation papers
Eligible military personnel can bring family members with gate passes or traveling on the same flight.
What about United Polaris Lounge access?
In addition to United Clubs, United Airlines also has Polaris Lounges in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington. These are the best business class lounges run by US airlines, in my opinion, as they have beautiful decor, and offer excellent a la carte dining.
While these lounges were closed during the pandemic, they are now starting to reopen, with most Polaris Lounge locations once again welcoming guests.
How do access requirements for United Polaris Lounges compare? United Polaris Lounge access is available to:
- Those traveling same day on a United Polaris ticket, either on departure, at a connecting airport, or on arrival; no guests are allowed
- Those traveling same day on a long haul Star Alliance partner first class ticket, though only at the international departure gateway airport; one guest allowed
- Those traveling same day on a long haul Star Alliance partner business class ticket, though only at the international departure gateway airport; no guests allowed
There’s no way to access Polaris Lounges based on status — not even if you’re a Global Services member.
As you can see, there are a variety of ways to get United Airlines lounge access, particularly for United Clubs.
You can outright buy a membership, you can buy a day pass (which you can also get as a credit card benefit), or there are lots of premium cabin tickets and elite tiers that will get you access to United Clubs.
Hopefully the above clears up everything you could want to know about United Airlines lounge access. If I missed anything, please let me know.