Review: United Polaris Lounge Houston Airport

Filed Under: United

United has been doing a spectacular job the past few months with opening new Polaris Lounges, which are their new international premium cabin lounges.

United opened their first Polaris Lounge in Chicago in December 2016, and then it was about 18 months until they opened their next lounge, which is quite a while to wait. However, then they opened three lounges just weeks apart — they opened the Polaris Lounge San Francisco on April 30, 2018, the Polaris Lounge Newark on June 4, 2018, and the Polaris Lounge Houston on June 29, 2018.

I had visited the Polaris Lounge Chicago last year, then a few weeks ago had the chance to check out the Polaris Lounge Newark, and was excited to now have the chance to visit the Polaris Lounge Houston.

United Polaris Lounge access rules

United’s Polaris Lounge is intended to be an international premium cabin lounge, so there are two primary ways to access it:

  • If you are flying United longhaul business class the same day; you can use this even if your longhaul United flight isn’t actually out of Houston, but also if you’re connecting (so you could use it if flying Frankfurt to Houston to Tampa, or if flying Houston to San Francisco to Sydney, for example)
  • If you are flying nonstop Star Alliance business or first class out of Houston the same day; under this circumstance (if not flying United), you can access it only prior to the international longhaul segment, and not after, in the event that you’re connecting onto another flight

This lounge isn’t open to any elite members, so Star Alliance Gold members, Global Services members, etc., can’t use the lounge.

Houston is served by several Star Alliance airlines, so you can potentially use this lounge if flying with Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, EVA, Lufthansa, Singapore, and Turkish. Most of these airlines leave from a concourse just a short walk away, and you don’t even have to clear security again.

The catch is that in most cases those airlines won’t send you to the Polaris Lounge proactively, but rather you have to know that you can visit it. That’s so worth it, because the contract lounges at the airport are pretty lousy.  Regardless of the strict access requirements, Polaris Lounges tend to be some of the best airport lounges in the US out of the big three domestic airlines.

United Polaris Lounge Houston location

The United Polaris Lounge Houston is located in Concourse E behind security, near gate E12.

Here’s a map showing the location of the Polaris Lounge:

This can easily be accessed airside from virtually all United and Star Alliance gates. Visually, the entrance to the lounge is near the large oval-shaped area of the terminal.

Houston Airport terminal

The entrance to the lounge is pretty small, and the lounge is on the second floor, so there’s not much to see on the first floor. As a result, it can be easy to miss.

United Polaris Lounge Houston exterior

United Polaris Lounge Houston signage

United Polaris Lounge Houston hours

The Polaris Lounge at Houston Airport is open daily from 5:30AM until 10:30PM. Not only does this cover all nonstop longhaul United flights out of Houston, but it should cover virtually any connecting flight anyone could take as well.

Most longhaul flights out of Houston depart midday to Asia or in the evenings to Europe and South America, so in the mornings and early afternoons the lounge is quiet, which is great.

United Polaris Lounge Houston review

United has done a remarkably consistent job in designing their Polaris Lounges (it’s about the only area in which they’re consistent), so even though it was my first visit to the lounge, it felt familiar. The reception desk was on the first floor, and I was welcomed and promptly admitted by the friendly employee.

Even though my flight was only in the afternoon, I arrived at the lounge at opening time, since I wanted to get pictures of the empty lounge.

United Polaris Lounge Houston reception

The entire lounge is up one level from the main concourse, and best I could tell you could only take an elevator up. I imagine there are emergency stairs or something, but ordinarily the elevator is the only option.

United Polaris Lounge Houston elevator

The Polaris Lounge Houston is smaller than both the Newark and San Francisco ones by a long shot. It’s only about 12,000 square feet, with seating for about 190 people. So that makes it less than half the size of some of the other lounges.

Inside the entrance and to the left was one section of the lounge, which had a combination of chairs arranged next to one another, dining tables with two chairs each, and also a cool couch that essentially created a booth for multiple tables. Seriously, is this an impressively designed lounge (especially by US airline standards), or what?

United Polaris Lounge Houston seating

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

United Polaris Lounge Houston seating

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

In this section and along the side of the lounge were some individual seats facing the windows. Unfortunately these windows looked at the interior of the terminal, rather than outside. This is also where the customer service desk was, should someone need help with a reservation.

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

Inside the entrance and in the opposite direction were more seats arranged in rows facing one another.

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

United Polaris Lounge Houston seating

This led to the area of the lounge with my favorite seating arrangement, which are these semi-private chairs/workstations. They’re so comfortable and versatile, since they’re comfortable for just relaxing, working, or eating. Each of these also has a 110v outlet and two USB chargers.

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

Then as you work your way back around the lounge there’s another small seating area.

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

There are also some more chairs along the walls here.

United Polaris Lounge IAH seating

This entire side of the lounge has beautiful views of the apron, and runway in the distance.

United Polaris Lounge Houston view

United Polaris Lounge Houston view

Then as you continue along the exterior windows of the lounge, there’s the bar, which has both high-top seating as well as a few tables by the windows.

United Polaris Lounge Houston bar

United Polaris Lounge Houston bar

United Polaris Lounge Houston bar area

I love that United has proper espresso machines in their Polaris Lounges.

United Polaris Lounge Houston cappuccino machine

Then there’s the self serve buffet, where food is displayed throughout the day.

United Polaris Lounge Houston buffet

United Polaris Lounge Houston buffet

Then lastly there’s the dining area, with just over a dozen tables.

United Polaris Lounge Houston dining area

United Polaris Lounge Houston dining area

There are also a couple of self serve drink stations, with water, soda, and coffee.

United Polaris Lounge Houston self serve drinks

United Polaris Lounge Houston coffee

United Polaris Lounge Houston showers, nap rooms, and bathrooms

The seven bathrooms in the lounge (located near the buffet) are individual and all-gender, which I’m a huge fan of. United has done this at all of their Polaris Lounges. There are cleaning staff constantly refreshing these, so they’re also among the cleanest-looking bathrooms you’ll find in a US airport lounge.

United Polaris Lounge Houston bathroom

The individual bathrooms are on one side of the lounge, and on the opposite side of the lounge are the showers and nap rooms. These are in a separate room, and there’s a staff member there who takes down your flight details when you ask for a shower or nap.

United Polaris Lounge Houston shower & nap room area

The lounge only has two daybeds, which is significantly less than the other lounges. They didn’t seem to be too heavily utilized, so I don’t think this is an issue.

United Polaris Lounge Houston nap room

Then there are also six spacious shower suites. I had a shower, and the water pressure and temperature control were excellent.

United Polaris Lounge Houston shower room

United Polaris Lounge Houston shower room

United Polaris Lounge Houston shower room

United Polaris Lounge Houston shower room

United Polaris Lounge Houston shower room toiletries

United Polaris Lounge Houston dining

You have two options for dining in the Polaris Lounge. Throughout the day there’s a self serve buffet, and while in the lounge I had a look at both the breakfast and lunch selections.

Breakfast options included yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit, croissants, pastries, cold cuts, bagels, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, as well as some more regional inspired dishes.

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast selection

Lunch options included bruschetta, vegetables, a variety of salads, pulled pork and chicken sliders, picadillo stew, crispy brussel sprouts, chipotle mac and cheese casserole, and more.

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch selection

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch selection

The dessert selection included cookies, berry cobbler, and dulce de leche arroz.

United Polaris Lounge Houston dessert selection

One of the other awesome things about the Polaris Lounge is that it offers a la carte dining throughout the day.

The breakfast menu read as follows:

The lunch and dinner menu read as follows:

The drink list (available throughout the entire lounge) read as follows:

Since I spent so long in the lounge, I had both breakfast and lunch here. For breakfast I had a cappuccino to drink, which was excellent.

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast — cappuccino

Then to eat I had both a three egg omelet with veggies, as well as the frutas licuado bowl, both of which were excellent.

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast — three egg omelet

United Polaris Lounge Houston breakfast — frutas licuado bowl

My dad joined me around noon (he was arriving from Tampa), so we then had lunch together. To drink I had the Caliente on the Rocks, with tequila and jalapeño.

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch — Caliente on the Rocks

To eat I had the fresh shrimp lettuce cups, with lemongrass shrimp, fresh vegetables, and sweet chili sauce.

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch — fresh shrimp lettuce cup

Then I decided to have the avocado caprese salad, which could be ordered with chicken or shrimp. I ordered the chicken to go along with it. While it wasn’t what I’d traditionally call an avocado salad, it was excellent.

United Polaris Lounge Houston lunch — avocado caprese salad

I was really impressed by both the food quality and service in the Polaris Lounge. I thought the a la carte dining was a step up from what I had at the Newark Polaris Lounge, though that may have just been luck of the draw.

United Polaris Lounge Houston service

Across the board I have to give the staff in this lounge so much credit. Employees clearly take pride in working here, and that’s refreshing to see for a US airline.

Servers were constantly roaming the lounge to clear plates and see if anyone wanted anything. The bartenders were friendly, the servers in the dining area were friendly, and overall I have nothing but good things to say in that regard.

United Polaris Lounge Newark crowding

I was concerned that crowding would be an issue in this lounge, given that it’s only 12,000 square feet. Much to my surprise, this was a non-issue, all the way from 5:30AM until when I left at 2PM. It’s not just that the lounge wasn’t crowded, but it was actually quite empty. Like, I don’t think it ever got more than 20% full.

I imagine it gets a bit busier in the afternoons, but United doesn’t actually have that many flights to Europe from Houston.

Now, here’s the thing. If Star Alliance airlines actually sent their passengers to this lounge, it could be crowded as hell. Lufthansa’s A380 alone has 86 first & business class seats, so if all those passengers visited the lounge, that would take up nearly half of the lounge.

But Star Alliance airlines generally don’t send their passengers here, but rather send them to contract lounges. You have to know that you’re allowed to visit this lounge if not flying United. So as long as this remains somewhat of a secret, I can’t imagine crowding will be an issue.

I briefly visited the “Executive Club” before my flight, which is the lounge that Lufthansa sends their passengers to. It’s awful, and just a five minute walk away. I wanted to go in there with a loudspeaker and tell people what they were missing out on.

Executive Club Houston Airport

United Polaris Lounge Houston random thoughts

These are all minor things, but:

  • The Polaris Lounge was kept really cold; even with a sweater I was freezing
  • I wish Polaris Lounges would have proper sparkling water (and not just soda water), and that they’d have more than one type of milk for cappuccinos
  • I love the ambient music that United has in their Polaris Lounges; it’s relaxing and not annoying, which is something very few lounges get right

United Polaris Lounge Houston bottom line

United continues to impress me with their Polaris Lounges, which are in a league of their own as far as US airline business class lounges. As I’ve said before, every time I use one of these lounges I pinch myself, since these are truly among the best business class lounges in the world. The decor is legitimately beautiful, and the food and service excellent.

It was especially funny to have my dad visit this lounge. He was disappointed when he learned we’d be using the United Lounge, and once we were actually in the lounge having an a la carte lunch, he was confused/thought we were lost/though I was lying about this being a United lounge.

Lastly, I was expecting the Houston Polaris Lounge would be my least favorite of the locations, given that it’s smaller, and therefore I assumed it would be more crowded. That wasn’t the case at all. This might just be my favorite, as it was empty the entire time I was there, service was excellent, and I loved the views.

  1. Thank god someone else who Doesnt like when served soda water when asking for sparkling water. Quite a difference. Great review Ben!

  2. Just wondering, besides the entrance sign were there any United logos in the lounge or was it just the polaris logo?

  3. Like you want Perrier vs soda water from the soda gun/machine?

    I prefer the later personally. I can’t stand when you get a refill on the plane and you just know the can has been sitting open for the last couple hours and the water is practically flat.

  4. Has anyone noticed that DL is behind the 8-ball when it comes to premium lounges? All they have are SkyClubs, which are definitely not in the same league as the Polaris and the AA Flagship lounges. It’s not like DL to be a follower in the US industry.

  5. I wonder what the rate is for other carries to pay United per passenger admitted. Since it’s not a *G club I assume it’s higher.

  6. Mike you definitely aren’t the only one to notice. Skyclubs are pretty good for what they are, better than the Admirals Club, but nowhere near the quality of Flagship or Polaris and with so many Amex cardholders gaining access they are crowded too. It would be nice to see a “DeltaOne lounge”.

  7. Mike – while Delta leads in a lot of things, I wouldn’t say they have ever led when it comes to offering luxury perks. For example I don’t think they led in terms of offering premium transcons (I believe that was American). Delta was also one of the first to eliminate international “first class” entirely. Delta also has a ton of people who have access to its clubs via Amex Platinum, and I’m guessing they may want to avoid confusion about what clubs those members can access. Honestly I think you will see Delta expand or improve the clubs it knows have a lot of international business before creating a new class of clubs.

  8. This is wonderful, they did a really neat job with this gorgeous lounge, hope I can visit soon.
    IAH is one of my favorite airports in the world (an my favorite in the U.S.) so this is wonderful addition. Thanks for the detailed report and plenty of photos, it makes justice for this beauty of a lounge.
    Also find the meal selection quite impressive.
    Looking forward!.

  9. So did the Polaris Lounge in IAH completely replace the United Club in Terminal E (which had escalator to 2nd floor and steps to 3rd floor?

  10. @Anthony
    Imo B6 is the premium transcon with their mint biz prodict and 34” pitch in economy.
    AA never led the premium transcon market, especially with their “lobster”“rolls”.

    Tbh, I would rather see DL expand their skyclubs food offerings (seating options/plug availability are great at the newer skyclubs imo, especially at SEA) to at least the Amex Centurion or AA flagship lounge level than starting a new lounge for a small percentage of travelers (int’l biz).

  11. Soda machine can give you strep throat depending on if it is cleaned regularly. Some of the soda machines are germ factories.

  12. Ben are you quite certain about the floor? I believe that the 2nd floor is a United Club and the third floor is the Polaris Lounge. I can imagine the elevator doesn’t even go to the 2nd floor, so you perceive it to be the 2nd floor, but I think (haven’t been there) that it’s the third floor which is where they had showers before. Can you confirm?

  13. @Mark, looks like there is still a United Club of sorts in Terminal E.
    The original club had escalator’s to the 2nd floor, then steps to the 3rd floor.
    The bar was on the second floor, showers on the 3rd floor.
    The Elevator originally went to both the second and third floors.

    Possible they blocked the stop on the 2nd floor – or maybe they added a new elevator.

    Based on the pictures – if they just took over the third floor, then I don’t think the space would have been as big as soon. Maybe they got more space from the airport.

  14. Lucky and everybody else’s opinion is fine, but only one opinion about his lounge matters, Debit posting as Endre’s…

  15. Delta has probably recaptured bottom spot for a US airline, other than the ULCCs. Substandard lounges and ratty old planes. Plus their hubs are in cities most people do not want or need to go to.

    I think AA Flagship lounges just pips United Polaris lounges, but both are competitive internationally, which of course they should be

  16. NZ29 to Houston (the run that was going to return Continental to New Zealand before the merger) dep 22.15. Perfect for Air NZ’s Business Premier and qualifying Star Alliance pax. Another trip, via Houston’s BBQ joints with a local friend, to add to the bucket list.

    Very comprehensive review and loads of good photos.

  17. The late EVA flight allows some time to visit before close and I was actually directed to the lounge or I would’ve forgotten I had access.

  18. I have the new United Explorer Mileage Plus CC. It comes with two passes to a Polaris Lounge. Can I use them for admission even if I am flying in economy?

  19. @Paul B, those are passes for United Club that you get from United Explorer credit card. Not the same as Polaris Lounge (significantly less nice). Polaris can only be accessed by Business Class and three cabin First Class passengers of Star Alliance member airlines. Even Star Alliance Gold elite members do not have access.

  20. Hi Lucky thanks for the review. I have used the Houston Polaris lounge when flying on United business class once and flying Turkish business class once. Both times it was later in the day and the evenings were quite crowded (but never loud like in Newark’s Polaris lounge). You did have to wait for seated/full service dining however which took some of the shine off the excitement.

    My favorite is still the Chicago lounge, it seems the perfect happy medium between the small Houston lounge and the large Newark one. And I especially love the cozy sort of wrap-around booth seats they have for the dining area in Chicago. I’ve yet to try breakfast and some of the options look amazing! So frustrating but I seem to mainly be transiting Houston at lunch time or later. Glad to hear you liked both lunch and breakfast offerings.

    Now I will insert my usual lament that Delta and American both have great business class seats/layouts and United has great lounges but terrible business class seats (unless you fly one of their 15 or so planes that have actually been upgraded to Polaris).

  21. I absolutely loved this lounge, and I didn’t mind that it was smaller than the other Polaris lounges. I’ve only been in the Newark location. I was flying LH first class, which also allows you to be able to guest someone in who is flying Star Alliance, and their ticket doesn’t have to be on a business international flight.

  22. I have looked in lots of places and have yet to find an answer to this question: is there a time limit to my stay in the Polaris lounge? If I arrive at noon for my 6:40pm flight to Manchester, will the United employees be cool with that? Or will they tell me to come back at 3:40 (or some other time)?

  23. @Tom,

    I know this is almost a year after your post, but what are you smoking when it comes to DL hubs?

    -Los Angeles
    -New York

    I don’t think these really qualify as “cities most people do not want or need to go to.”

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