How To Access United Airlines Clubs

How To Access United Airlines Clubs

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Want to learn more about accessing US airline lounges? See my series about how to access Alaska LoungesAmerican Admirals ClubsDelta 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.

United Club Hong Kong

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:

United Club membership cost (in cash and miles)

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

The best United Airlines credit card for lounge access is the United ClubSM Infinite Card (review), which includes a United Club membership for being a cardmember.

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.

United Club Los Angeles

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.

A Maple Leaf Club membership could be a good way to access United Clubs

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.

Buy a United Club day pass directly at a lounge

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.

Premium transcontinental flights 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
  • Lima
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • São Paulo
  • Santiago

Meanwhile United business class includes flights to the following destinations, which are also eligible for United Club access:

  • Guam
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean
  • Central America
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
United Polaris tickets offer United Club access

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.

Star Alliance travel also comes with access, but with more restrictions

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.

Status with another Star Alliance member could also get you into United Clubs

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.

United Polaris Lounges are excellent

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.

United Polaris Lounge Newark

Bottom line

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.

Conversations (31)
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  1. Mo Guest

    Do you get access to United club in Chicago if you are flying business class on air canada from Chicago to Montreal?

  2. Alan Guest

    Thanks for the article. Some absurd rules as you’d expect. We have a first class ticket from ORD to Hawaii (which was booked from IAD originally but they stopped the IAD service and didn’t tell us) and no lounge access yet NY to LAX gets lounge access.

  3. Howard Guest

    What’s not right is that with American Airlines or Amex , you or YOUR AUTHORIZED USER not traveling with you can use the lounge domestically…. but with United even if you’re flying first class domestically, the authorized user cannot use the card to access the lounge… A really crummy deal by united since you’re paying over $500 for the card yearly. Kind of a ridiculous situation. Only can get in with the Primary present. United should change this !!!

  4. Carlos Rodrigues Guest

    I´m travelling from Brazil to Honolulu. My first flight will be on United Polaris Business Class (GRU-IAH), 9 hours of layover at Houston then, next flight is in economy from IAH to HNL. Can I get access to United Polaris lounge in Houston?

  5. Glennjanik Guest

    Hi still did not answer my question if I am
    Gold status can I go into the polaris lounge or do I have to stay only united club Traveling from Chicago to Sacramento
    Business and also have credit card that
    Admits me to the united club
    Can I go into the Polaris club to

  6. jns_15 New Member

    Thanks for this post, Ben. Wondering if you or anyone else knows of any cost-effective way to get club access for two people living in separate cities. I'm moving to Chicago so will be switching loyalty to United, while my partner will be in Atlanta. We'd both like UA club access, but won't always be at the airport together. Doesn't seem like the Infinite card would work even with him as an authorized user, since...

    Thanks for this post, Ben. Wondering if you or anyone else knows of any cost-effective way to get club access for two people living in separate cities. I'm moving to Chicago so will be switching loyalty to United, while my partner will be in Atlanta. We'd both like UA club access, but won't always be at the airport together. Doesn't seem like the Infinite card would work even with him as an authorized user, since have to be together to both use Club, unlike amex plat with skyclubs. Is there any way (aside from two cards/memberships) to get a membership (either thru UA or a card) that allows us to access United Clubs separately of each other?

  7. flyingrohit Guest

    Hey Ben small intricacy that might need a second look. If you have a day pass, you can use multiple clubs at the same airport. So with a day pass (given one has enough time) You would be able to visit all clubs at ORD or all clubs at SFO for instance but just not multiple airports as you already stated.

  8. ulliro Guest

    I bought a Lifetime membership in the 80ties.
    Could I get free entry with that Lifetime membership card?
    I live in Switzerland and not too often in the US.

  9. Bob Guest

    Interesting tidbit for those of us in Orange County, CA, that I learned from these lounge access articles: If you fly American from SNA to JFK, you get not only lounge access, but Flagship Lounge access. However, if you fly United from SNA to Newark, there's no lounge access, even when flying in business. For those of us who travel from OC to NYC, that's an important distinction.

    1. Peter Guest

      Based on the recent Finnair miles sale post, my understanding from Ben is you can only get AA Flagship First lounge access on domestic flights if you have Oneworld status via elite status with a non-US airline. Is this AA SNA to JFK access some transcontinental loophole?

    2. Eskimo Guest

      @Peter

      Not a transcon loophole, but a transcon exception when flying Business or First "flagship" product, i.e. 321T.

      But no AAdmirals club if you're flying domestic F on SNA-XXX-JFK.

    3. Theresa Guest

      @Peter I think he means based on class of travel not an elite status for Transcon. Essentially, American treats Transcon flights like international flights when it comes to lounge access and other benefits when you are flying premium cabin . United Only allows transcon Passengers in the united lounge but not the Polaris lounge, but in the contrary, American allows Transcon passengers in both regular and flagship lounges. Oddly though, when it comes to upgrades,...

      @Peter I think he means based on class of travel not an elite status for Transcon. Essentially, American treats Transcon flights like international flights when it comes to lounge access and other benefits when you are flying premium cabin . United Only allows transcon Passengers in the united lounge but not the Polaris lounge, but in the contrary, American allows Transcon passengers in both regular and flagship lounges. Oddly though, when it comes to upgrades, it seems United does not recognize Transcon as “domestic” as they do not offer a complimentary upgrades for transcon fights, but rather treat them as international flights. But not when it comes to lounge access. Bizarre

  10. DCS Diamond

    One way to reduce or offset the cost of the UA Club membership is to pay for it with an AMEX CC that gives you an airline credit for which UA is your registered airline. For me I can do that with the AMEX Plat ($200 credit) or the AMEX HH Aspire ($250 credit). The CSR's $300 travel credit could also qualify.

    That approach could be valuable for those who seem to have a hard time using up those credits...

    1. Peter Guest

      Thanks. Makes me wonder if there is a friendly customer service rep which would allow me to purchase a membership over the phone by using the two said credit cards.

    2. DCS Guest

      Don't need to do it over the phone. Pay for the membership with either card online and the credit is automatic from AMEX. I did it just a few months back using the Aspire credit and it was auto...

    3. DCS Guest

      P.S. Maybe you meant getting a CS rep to help you use the combined credits from both cards. If so, yes, you would need to call, but mixing different cards may not be permitted. However, the only way to find out is to call...

    4. Peter Guest

      Thanks! Good to know AMEX Airline Fee credits are applied to both Plat & Aspire when only charging with one of them. So if a card split purchase were possible, maybe all three cards reimburse the fee ($0 UA Club membership every year).

  11. classcair New Member

    @lucky, thank you for the post. As a UA Gold, I still find the policies confusing. Do you know, as a UA gold, traveling SEA-YVR-IST, in business on the 2nd leg, none on UA, would I be able to access in SEA? Or only in YVR, where I depart long haul international?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ classcair -- As a Star Alliance Gold you could access lounges at both airports, assuming all of your travel is same day. :)

    2. Glennjanik Guest

      Hi still did not answer my question if I am
      Gold status can I go into the polaris lounge or do I have to stay only united club Traveling from Chicago to Sacramento
      Business and also have credit card that
      Admits me to the united club
      Can I go into the Polaris club to

  12. DaninMCI Guest

    Seems like a GS wouldn't be very inclined to pay $550 if they get in (without guests) anyway.

  13. David Guest

    What's really ironic is I can access a Star Alliance lounge based on my Gold Status for a U.S. domestic flight. For example, when I fly DTW-IAD on UA, even in economy, I can access the LH lounge that is right next to the UA gates. Not sure if that is because there is no UA club in DTW or not?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ David -- It comes down to the complexity of the major global alliances. The policy is essentially that all Star Alliance Gold travelers can access all Star Alliance Gold lounges when traveling on any Star Alliance airline same day. The exception is when airlines carve out restrictive policies for their own members.

      So United can say that its Star Alliance Gold members can't access lounges when traveling domestically, but it can't apply that same...

      @ David -- It comes down to the complexity of the major global alliances. The policy is essentially that all Star Alliance Gold travelers can access all Star Alliance Gold lounges when traveling on any Star Alliance airline same day. The exception is when airlines carve out restrictive policies for their own members.

      So United can say that its Star Alliance Gold members can't access lounges when traveling domestically, but it can't apply that same policy to other Star Alliance lounges. So that's why a Star Alliance Gold through MileagePlus can access Star Alliance Gold lounges that aren't United Clubs when traveling domestically same day.

    2. Peter Guest

      Do you have Star Alliance Gold status via your United status or a non-US carrier?

  14. Peter Guest

    So it’s possible to get Polaris lounge access for Air Canada flights from US to Canada (like ORD- YYZ)?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Peter -- Whoops, that was my mistake. That should have read "long haul," and I've updated the post to reflect that. A Chicago to Toronto Air Canada ticket would get you access to the United Club, and not the United Polaris Lounge.

    2. Peter Guest

      OK. Thanks. Great summary.

      Guess I was just believing that anything’s possible since the recent SimplyMiles offer.

    3. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Peter -- Hah! Funny enough when Polaris Lounges were first introduced, a short haul Air Canada business class ticket did get you into those lounges. But that policy was quickly changed.

  15. Never In Doubt Guest

    Ben, jumping onto the SEO treadmill!

    Looks like you’ve been doing lots of SEO posts lately! Interesting to see how it goes. Best of luck!

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Never In Doubt -- Hah, to be honest, it's not even that intentional. It's a slow news week, so I'm taking the time to update some old resource posts that I have to make them accurate and comprehensive. :)

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Bob Guest

Interesting tidbit for those of us in Orange County, CA, that I learned from these lounge access articles: If you fly American from SNA to JFK, you get not only lounge access, but Flagship Lounge access. However, if you fly United from SNA to Newark, there's no lounge access, even when flying in business. For those of us who travel from OC to NYC, that's an important distinction.

1
DCS Guest

P.S. Maybe you meant getting a CS rep to help you use the <b>combined</b> credits from <b>both</b> cards. If so, yes, you would need to call, but mixing different cards may not be permitted. However, the only way to find out is to call...

1
Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ classcair -- As a Star Alliance Gold you could access lounges at both airports, assuming all of your travel is same day. :)

1
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