Air Canada Will (Sort Of) Sell You A Day Pass To The United Polaris Lounge

Filed Under: Air Canada, United

The Polaris Lounge in Chicago is the first of a new network of lounges that United is building exclusively for their premium cabin travelers. These lounges feature daybeds, showers, and order-off-the-menu food service. My family recently had the chanced to sample everything on the lunch and dinner menu and we were highly impressed.

These lounges are all about exclusivity, however, so you need to be flying in business or first on a Polaris-marketed United long-haul flight, or in business or first on a Star Alliance carrier. That means your Star Alliance Gold status or United Club membership won’t help you. You also can’t ride your buddy’s coattails because there are no guesting privileges.

And United won’t sell you a day pass. But that doesn’t mean you can’t buy one anyway.


Who Can Use The United Polaris Lounge?

United only grants Polaris Lounge access to premium cabin passengers on Polaris-marketed flights which basically mean long-haul flights that cross an ocean (or go to southern South America). Just flying to Canada or Mexico won’t cut it, at least if you are flying on United.

The Polaris Lounge access guidelines also state that you can be flying in business or first on a Star Alliance member airline. Flying Chicago to Munich on Lufthansa in business class would get you access, for example.

Flying Air Canada works too. That’s because there’s nothing in the policy that says the Star Alliance flight has to be long-haul. So even just making the short hop from Chicago to Toronto will get you access, so long as you do it in business or first class.


How to buy a Polaris Lounge day pass from Air Canada

Air Canada sells one-way tickets business class tickets from Chicago to Toronto in the low $300s if you buy them in advance.


Of course a walk-up ticket can be quite a bit more.


But for now, let’s assume you plan ahead. So for a shade over $300, you can buy a ticket between Chicago and Toronto that just so happens to also come with a day pass to the United Polaris Lounge.

Is This Legit?

The rules state that business or first class passengers on Star Alliance member airlines get Polaris Lounge access. Air Canada is a Star Alliance member. And they sell business class between Chicago and Toronto. So while this may not be quite what United intended, it’s also within the rules.

But let’s be crystal clear on one thing: I am not suggesting that you refund the Air Canada ticket. That would be wrong on multiple levels. Instead, I’m suggesting you buy the ticket and use the day pass that comes with it to access the Polaris Lounge. Instead of paying $300 or so for a flight, you’re paying $300 or so for access to the lounge.

To me, it’s sort of like buying magazines that come with frequent flyer miles. You need to pay for the magazines, but you don’t actually have to read them.

And keep in mind, United says they are going to start cracking down on folks that refund tickets after using the lounge, and I would assume that will extend to Air Canada tickets as well. So don’t even think about it.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

But is it worth it?

The Polaris Lounge is a special place, easily the best lounge of any US carrier. Even the most casual traveler will realize this is no United Club. That said, $321 for a day pass is a lot of money.

Then again, there are a number of first class lounges around the world that cost even more. You can buy your way into the Air France first class lounge in Paris for 300EUR. And Daniel recently visited the VIP lounge in Frankfurt which has a similar price tag. Is the Polaris Lounge on par with those? I doubt it, but it’s at least in the conversation.

Another way to think think about the cost is to compare it to the price of a day pass to a regular airline lounge. United will happily sell you a one-time pass to the United Club — and there’s one next door — for $59. Plenty of people buy those every day even if I think they are way overpriced for what you get. Is the Polaris Lounge five times better than a United Club?

I mean, I certainly wouldn’t pay that, but then again, I also wouldn’t pay $59 to visit the United Club. But some might.

Seared ribeye at the United Polaris Lounge

Bottom Line

The new Polaris Lounge is an exclusive place. You need to be flying in business or first on a Polaris-marketed flight by United, or in business or first class on another Star Alliance carrier, to access the United Polaris Lounge. Interestingly, Air Canada will sell you just such a ticket for a little over $300 if you plan ahead. That’s still a lot of money but not insane when compared to other top-flight lounges around the world.

How much would you be willing to pay for a day pass to the United Polaris Lounge?

  1. Why would anyone pay $321 to access that lounge? I can have the best steak dinner in the city and a good bottle of wine for less. I could see it being a reason to upgrade your ticket if flying air Canada.

  2. This is probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. Along with your stern warning “don’t even think about refunding your ticket”. Who are you to tell people what to do. And how is United going to “crack down” on people buying refundable tickets just to use the lounge? What, are they going to send you to lounge jail?
    When will people stop going gaga over lounges? This is as bad as people getting so excited over Centurion lounges. There is more to life than sitting in a airport lounge. It’s certainly not worth spending $300 (if i “plan ahead”) to do so. Go to a restaurant and have a nice meal. Good god.

  3. Wow … never knew it was so easy to experience business class ($300-ish USD fares) … will definitely have to knock off this bucket list item sooner than planned!

  4. I wouldn’t pay $50 to access this lounge. Other than some complimentary food and booze, I don’t find airport lounges that appealing. I’d rather go buy a couple of drinks at a regular bar in the terminal, where I’m much more likely to have an interesting conversation with a fellow traveler. If I needed a daybed, I might pay for that (not $300 though), but I hope to never have that long of a layover at ORD.

  5. Yeah I don’t quite get the point of this. If you’re not telling people to refund the ticket, then you’re telling them to spend $300 for a ticket they won’t use just to experience a lounge? Either way it seems like poor advice.

  6. The link about paying 300 euro to access Air France’s first class is incorrect (it points to the Turkish Airline travel ban)

  7. Honestly have no idea why you would even use the term ‘day pass’ at all for this post, it’s completely misrepresentative. Basically this is a post on the cheapest way to access the Polaris lounge, nothing wrong with being upfront about that.

  8. If you’re actually going to Toronto or elsewhere in Canada it’s a great option. Or connecting in YYZ to Europe/Asia or elsewhere…why assume that buying a one way ticket you aren’t going to use is the best way to get in the lounge?

  9. Possibly the worst post I’ve seen on this blog. I award you no points…and may God have mercy on your soul…

  10. @Sebastian, I completely agree.

    @Travis, I enjoy your posts a lot, but this one was poorly thought out and executed. If you had framed it in a way that said, “Easiest way to access Polaris Lounge without flying longhaul” or something, it would’ve been so much better. Even with the disclaimer, it’s almost as if you’re *encouraging* people to buy/refund a flexible AC J ticket, which probably wasn’t what you intended.

  11. I hope this is not the view of the future of this site. What you are recommending is shady (at best) and is tacky at the very least. Is it in the rules, sure. Is it in the SPIRIT of the rules? NO.

    I guess it continues to be true that being in first class does not make one a first class person.

  12. Why would anyone spend $300 purely to go into this lounge? I genuinely do not understand. The advice in this article seems unnecessary at best, shady at worst.

  13. Be careful if anyone takes this advice and buys the ticket you could end up not even getting access to the lounge. Sure the written policy says yes, but it all depends on what United wants to say that day. No doubt that any trip within North America regardless of whats written may be challenged.

    This post should have read some thing like this:

    Great News! If you are on Air Canada Business Class departing Chicago, you may get access to the Polaris Lounge.

  14. The most stupid idea I have heard. You can get a good 4 to 5 star hotel in the city for that.

  15. Ben wouldn’t jump to that conclusion quickly ‘The Polaris Lounge is a special place, easily the best lounge of any US carrier.’

  16. Thanks Credit. That was indeed my intention with this post — to demonstrate outside-the-box-yet-within-the-rules thinking to obtain interesting perks at a discount within the travel space.

    Sadly, I guess those skills aren’t much appreciated anymore. Oh well.

  17. Oh come on Travis. This isn’t “out of the box,” this is just silly.

    If you were asked to place a valuation on use of the United Polaris lounge, would it be $300? Or anywhere close? No I don’t think so. I’d say you’d probably value it at $100. So your “out of the box” thinking is a way for people to lose $200. Would you also suggest that a great way to get 200 American miles is to buy $200 worth of stuff you don’t need and then throw it away?

  18. You realize that if you are encouraging people to buy a ticket they know they won’t use (even if you tell them not to refund it) to access a lounge that you’re not even sure they can access you’re encouraging people to perpetrate a fraud against Air Canada, right? Even if what you’re advocating isn’t illegal it’s certainly unethical.

  19. James K: My value of a pass to the Polaris Lounge is completely irrelevant. This post shows the cost, how to do it, and then it’s up to the reader to decide if that’s a good value based on their circumstances.

    But FWIW, I said in the post that I personally wouldn’t do it — not worth it to me. But I also know plenty of people for which $300 is literally nothing. And I try not to judge how others spend their money.

  20. The immaturity of Travis’ response says it all. He thinks he’s being clever when he’s acting like ‘that guy’ we all roll our eyes at. You know the guy, thinking he’s getting away with something when he’s really showing a low level of refinement.

    I will stick to only reading Lucky’s posts from here on out.

  21. 1) I agree with everyone else; $300 is way too expensive!

    2) This “trick” is illegal. You cannot buy a ticket without the intention to fly. Clear violation of CoC and possibly fraud.

  22. I for one, think Travis is a valuable member of this site. Who else will give us daily updates on the Polaris Lounge?

  23. Hmmm. What would you do if you were an Economy passenger and had an inexplicable urge to experience a lounge:

    United Polaris in Chicago for $300 (or $0, if the refund trick is pulled off), or
    Emirates Lounge in Dubai for $100, or
    Find a nice restaurant in either airport, spend less money, but still get a good meal in some peace and quiet.

    What to do, what to do??

  24. I had a flight from Chicago to Ottawa on United First and they denied me entry. Said it had to be a long haul flight :-(.

  25. Better advice would be to tell people to buy a one way ticket to Toronto and continue on to wherever the heck they are going on air Canada, booking the $300 business class ticket out of Chicago… This is a dumb post and makes no sense.

    Why not say book ORD-YYZ ($300 one way) and then book YYZ-XXX in Europe or Asia to enjoy the Polaris Lounge!?

  26. “to demonstrate outside-the-box-yet-within-the-rules thinking to obtain interesting perks at a discount within the travel space.”

    This is a ridiculously generous summary of this absurd post. To suggest that those calling it out for what it is “don’t appreciate” that “skill” is arguably even more absurd. Either come clean that you’re advocating people buy/refund and this is the cheapest route for it or get real and come to grips with the fact that access to this lounge is worth roughly the same amount as a meal at a decent airport restaurant and a pro-rated Boingo pass (assuming you don’t get it for free w/ Amex)–nowhere near $300+.

  27. I have to wonder how this article could be in the same daily posting with the earlier piece about someone wearing leggings. Maybe a phase of the moon ?
    Quality , not quantity , is a good rule for blog writing also.

    But, to give Travis credit for his better offerings, I submit that there are any number of good steak houses in the greater Chicago area.
    I do know that a good business lunch can had at Morton’s for the same three hundred or less.

  28. “How to get into the Chicago United Polaris lounge for around $300”

    See, was it that hard to tell the truth? No dishonesty, no bovine excrement, no waxing lyrical on a soap box.

  29. This piece is not well written. I mean, not just in terms of content, but also in terms of grammar. This entry is not on par with the others.

  30. It’s so funny that Travis can’t even defend himself. Wasn’t he the one bitching about the free breakfast at the Hyatt, and saying “children” are defined by Obamacare as being under 26? He’s a piece of work.

    And for the people who say it’s “illegal and fraud”, what law does this violate? Are people going to go to lounge jail?

  31. Hey Travis, this post made me realize I might be able to access the Polaris lounge during an upcoming trip when I will be flying Turkish business class from ORD to IST. Is this the case, even if I have an award ticket? I just don’t want to get my hopes up!

  32. Hi Erica.

    There is no distinction made for award or revenue tickets when determining access to the Polaris Lounge. So ORD-IST in TK business on an award ticket should qualify. That said, the TK gates are in Terminal 5 which is not connected airside to the other terminals where the Polaris Lounge is. So at a minimum, that might be an inconvenience unless you happen to be arriving on a connecting United flight.

  33. Wow this is a new low. First a post about how you ordered every single item on the menu. Now how to pay $300 to get into the lounge. Have you never had the privilege of eating in a decent restaurant? I can assure you it costs a lot less than $300.

    The blog readers would be happy to contribute to a go fund me charity on your behalf so you can finally experience a meal that isn’t in a) ‘free’ b) not in a airline or hotel lounge. Anything to never hear the word Polaris or how good the food in a lounge is from you again. This blog is turning into mile value 2.0 – How to get the most caviar on Emirates. How to get both western and Japanese option on JAL F

  34. Raymond James — Did you actually read the post about sampling the Polaris Lounge menu? My family was there. We had FIVE people. ALL of them entered on their own credentials. We ordered one dish per person. So what exactly is your point? Would you have rather everyone in my family order a burger and then posted five pictures of burgers?

    Please show me one other blog where you can get a review of the entire menu at a lounge. And BTW, reviews of airlines, hotels, and lounges are kind of the bread and butter of this blog.

    Thanks for reading.

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