My Impressions Of The United* Private Suite At LAX

Filed Under: Airport Lounge Reviews, Trip Reports

The Private Suite LAX, which Ben reviewed in November 2017, is a fascinating concept. A private terminal operated by security specialists Gavin de Becker and Associates, the Private Suite allows you to skip LAX altogether by accessing the facility via Imperial Highway (the southern boundary of the airport, where the cargo facilities and hangars are accessed), rather than World Way, the heavily congested terminal loop.

Once you’ve pulled up to the gate, the professionals at the Private Suite take care of your bags, check you in, and give you a private (or, as I’ll explain below, semi-private) room stocked with snacks, booze and other goodies, to wait in until it’s time for your flight, at which time they’ll whisk you through a private TSA screening and drive you to your plane in a BMW.

That all, of course, comes at a pretty penny. Advertised rates are steep. With a $4,500 annual membership, access to the Private Suite is $2,700 one-way for domestic and $3,000 one-way for international journeys, for up to 4 passengers.

Without the annual membership, access is $3,500 one-way domestic and $4,000 one-way international for up to 3 passengers. (Membership comes with additional perks like complimentary pre-ordered meals, valet parking, limited spa services, and such.)

I’m curious how many people at the Private Suite are paying full freight, myself. For a reason that I suspect has to do with both United Airlines buttressing its limp hub status at LAX, and the Private Suite sensing a synergetic opportunity, United and the Private Suite launched a partnership in May, essentially giving United passengers the opportunity of buying into a shared United suite for $1,250 per person for a domestic flight, and $1,495 per person for an international flight, provided you were flying on a business or first class fare.

You can guess that this probably had limited appeal to United passengers, since in December the airline made the shared suite experience more tempting — United opened up its shared Private Suite to all of its passengers, and while the $1,250 per person rate for a domestic flight is still quoted, first-time users got a special offer — $375 for a one-way domestic itinerary for up to 4 people, and $500 for a one-way international itinerary.

Since I had cross-country travel in December for the holidays booked on United, I thought I would take advantage of the offer.

Booking the United Private Suite

The booking process couldn’t have been simpler. I emailed [email protected] to inquire about the offer, and received a response within less than three hours confirming the promotional pricing of $375 one-way for a domestic flight, valid for up to 4 passengers, with the caveat that the promotional pricing is good for travel on United metal only originating or concluding at LAX. The email contained a link with a promo code that I could use to fill in passenger details and flight information.

Once I completed the form online and provided my credit card information, I got a confirmation email immediately, and the process at this point transferred over to the Member Services team at the Private Suite.

A couple of days later (my travel was still weeks away), I received an email with a “booking promise” from the Private Suite with arrival and check-in details. The email suggested I arrive as close as possible to 90 minutes prior to departure, in order to allow time to drive to the plane and deliver my checked bags. The email also requested a copy of each passenger’s ID (in order to secure the permissions required to check us in, print luggage tags and the like) and contained directions to the terminal.

Although it was just two of us traveling on our itinerary, the week before the flight I learned that a friend would also be on the same flight, so I called the Private Suite to see if we could add him to the reservation, which was easy. I just emailed the team a copy of his ID and his record locator number, and we were all set.

Arriving at the Private Suite

We were flying out of LAX the Friday before Christmas, one of the busiest days of the year for travel. But we didn’t flinch. Our Uber driver flew by the exits on the 405 for Century Boulevard, which were already backed up, and we glided on the westbound 105 and exited onto a quiet stretch of Imperial Highway. We didn’t hit congestion once.

It’s abundantly clear that Gavin de Becker takes security and privacy very seriously from the moment you pull up to the terminal gate. There’s a guard booth and a friendly (but imposing) fellow who checked our names against the roster, which took about 3 or 4 minutes.

To be noted, signs everywhere confirmed that no photography was allowed past the gate (which is why this is a …. text-heavy report). The steel gate (the sturdiness and unbreachability of which would make Ann Coulter shiver with excitement) opened and we were waved through.

On the other side of the gate, there’s essentially a big circular driveway backing onto a breezeway, and we pulled right up to the breezeway, where we were greeted by a number of friendly Private Suite staff, who immediately got to unloading our Uber. The staff asked us which bags we were checking and which we were carrying on — the checked bags got whisked away, while our carry-on bags got wheeled to our suite.

Breezeway at Private Suite terminal (courtesy The Private Suite)

*The Suite…

So this is where, dear reader, I fail you (if I didn’t already fail you at the Ann Coulter joke above). I was expecting to review a shared suite, which I’d been told was about double the size of a regular private suite.  From what I’ve read on FlyerTalk, I was expecting:

  • A not-uncrowded room, potentially, depending on the time of day
  • Free booze and snacks, but the “goodies” (earphones, toiletries, etc.) that Ben described would be available for a charge
  • A potentially shared ride to the plane, if other passengers were on the same flight

But — miraculously — we were led into what I quickly deduced was an actual private suite. Our friend had already checked in and was doing work in the room, and we took a look around. I asked our Private Suite representative and he confirmed that we were upgraded; I certainly wasn’t going to ask questions and wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The upgrade had zero to do with OMAAT (no one at OMAAT knew I was using the Private Suite, and no one at the Private Suite knew I write for OMAAT from time to time), and seemed to be a one-off circumstance of extreme serendipity.

I would definitely not expect to be upgraded to an actual private suite if I were booking a United Private Suite, although I would go out on a limb and say the shared suite experience is nothing to sneeze at. (I’d also argue that the suite itself, shared or private, is the least sexy part of the experience anyway.)

Our suite, or a very similar suite to ours (courtesy The Private Suite)

Ben has reviewed the suite before, but I’ll provide my quick impressions. Spacious and relaxing for 4 people, with a daybed along the window and four chairs surrounding a coffee table. Plenty of room to move around, and killer views of the tarmac. Decor that recalls a Summerfield Suites (i.e., pleasant and comfortable but decidedly neutral).

The bar was well stocked with Stag’s Leap red wine, half-bottles of Pommery champagne, and high end brands of liquor including Bulleit bourbon, Tito’s vodka and Casamigos tequila. The fridge was stocked with juices, sodas, and pre-made cocktails in cans (which were more delicious and less sugary than you’d think, and far from the Spirit Airlines BuzzBalls Ben has reviewed).

Snack-wise, we had an array of “higher end” chips, dips, snacks, and sweets — nothing resembling a real meal, but all the sorts of brands you’d find at Whole Foods, and perfectly tasty for our purposes.

That said, if you think that booking the United Private Suite, or even the Private Suite at full fare without a membership, means you’ll be treated to a buffet feast akin to The Wing lounge in Hong Kong, you’d be incorrect. If you care less about privacy and convenience and more about food and beverage selection before boarding your United flight, you’d actually be better off at the United Club (which would cost you substantially less, anyway).

But food and beverage aren’t really the point of the Private Suite.

The bathroom was perfectly nice — it does lack a shower, as Ben has pointed out — and is stocked with a ton of travel-sized toiletries, all for the taking. I’m not ashamed to say we loaded up.

Similarly, the room itself is stocked with useful gadgets free for the taking, as well. I’d forgotten my earbuds so was pleased to see that they’d supplied pretty decent ones (far better than the earbuds United would give you for free in First).

I was most excited about grabbing a few of the Carry-On Cocktail Kits that Ben had swiped from the Private Suite on his visit, but disappointed (and I say “disappointed” with a HUGE grain of salt, since we were positively giddy the whole time we were there) that they no longer seem to stock the kits.

In any event, we had about an hour in the suite to relax and catch up and gear up for our holiday trip home, and it was the greatest indulgence of all not to have interacted with anyone other than an efficient Private Suite employee, and not to have set foot inside an LAX public terminal. As we all mused to each other, “I never realized how much I hate other people until I realized I could avoid the airport altogether.”

The Security Process

I understand that the Private Suite has scheduling down to a ballet, since they try to shuffle parties through the TSA security clearance room in such a way that no two Private Suite customers will ever interact or even see each other unless they’re in the same party.  (I’d imagine multiple United Private Suite passengers on the same flight, however, would undergo the security check together.)

About 50 minutes before our scheduled takeoff, a Private Suite representative gently knocked on our door and gave us a 5-minute heads up to gather our belongings, which we did.

The representative handed us our boarding passes and IDs (which we’d given to him when we arrived) in a sleeve and led us down the breezeway to a small facility with a couple of TSA agents who checked our passes, whisked us through the security check (which, as you could imagine, was quick) and led us to the waiting SUV, which they’d already packed with our carryon bags.

Driving to the Plane

To be honest, as cool as the entire experience is, it all pales in comparison to driving across the LAX airfield in a private (or even shared) vehicle. That we happened to be doing it during magic hour was even better. It was a 5-10 minute drive that I wanted to last forever. Beyond the views of the aircraft, the experience of circumnavigating LAX and seeing facilities and features you’d never otherwise see was priceless.

Because we were out of the Private Suite “secure area,” I was able to snap some photos of the drive.

Eventually the SUV pulled directly up to our plane, which was a pretty jaw-dropping experience. We unloaded and walked up a set of metal stairs that led directly to the door at the end of the jetbridge where it meets the aircraft.

Pulling up to the plane (courtesy The Private Suite)
Getting onto the jetbridge (courtesy The Private Suite)

And then we made our way to our seats on a United 737 and back to reality.

Bottom Line

We were truly lucky and fortunate to have been upgraded from the shared United suite to an actual private suite, but I’m not sure that the experience itself would have been radically different, other than that we might have seen a couple of other passengers here and there, and perhaps been a little less likely to hoard toiletries and freebies since they wouldn’t have been complimentary.

Those are minor factors that make the experience “fun,” but not critical, particularly since we had no real exigent need for privacy or solitude.

To me, the value in the Private Suite is:

  • Avoiding LAX altogether
  • Stress-free, easy security process
  • Being driven to your plane across the tarmac

Others may find value in the extreme privacy and security measures taken by the Gavin de Becker team, although that was immaterial (and unnecessary) for me personally.

It’s hard to overestimate how wonderful it is to avoid stress points on those factors, even for a veteran traveler. For pre-Christmas travel and a way to unwind after some exhausting weeks at work, the Private Suite experience was a real treat.

At $375 for 3 of us, it was also a bit of a no-brainer. Would I do this for $1,250 per person, the quoted United non-promo rate? No. (And, frankly, for three of us it would be cheaper to just book a private suite directly with Gavin de Becker.) And it’s worth noting that the promo rate is only valid for first timers.

To me, this was a magnificent one-off I’ll likely never experience again, like Steph’s ride on Delta’s Porsche. If you have upcoming United travel out of LAX (or into LAX, although I see far less value in that experience), I think it’s strongly worth considering if you have $375 burning a hole in your pocket and want to geek out at the experience.

It’s also strongly worth considering if you are traveling with an injury, a small child, a dog, a fragile and priceless carry-on, or any other situation in which you’d appreciate ease, lack of commotion, and point-to-point delivery.

I wish the Private Suite all the success in the world, as I think it fits a unique niche in air travel, particularly out of LAX. That said, the pricing is ordinarily prohibitive for most travelers, and I’m not sure what the Venn diagram of “can afford a Private Suite membership without flinching” and “can afford private air travel” looks like (I suspect there’s massive overlap). Still, the United promotional pricing is way too good to pass up.

This is a phenomenal experience, and I’m already sad about the next time I have to fly out of LAX out of Terminal 7, Terminal 4 or god forbid, Terminal 3…

Have you taken advantage of the United Private Suite promotional deal at LAX? If so, what was your experience like?

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Comments
  1. FYI, this article loaded very quickly by OMAAT standards, presumably because of the lack of pictures of a glass of water or a cup of coffee.

    This format gets my vote. Some articles take a looooooong time to load on my laptop.

  2. So you can’t even take pictures once you’re in the private suite with no one else but your party?

  3. My customers and I experienced the service as a promo for charter jet operators. The experience had its highs and lows. The exclusivity and ease was valuable to my customers. However, many of them found little added value compared to what is already offered from the private jet terminal at LAX. All found the actual amenities beyond privacy to be underwhelming – the furniture reminded me of something at a Holiday Inn or similar.

    From my personal experience with family during travels on commercial, I like the ease and stress-free environment (especially since LAX is an airport I dislike greatly). However, I would not use it if I were traveling with my only my wife or myself. I do value the ability to have a good quality meal if I choose to and the added perks of a terminal.

  4. Sorry for the stupid question, but why wouldn’t the goodies have been complimentary if it was a shared suite?

  5. Again, aside from exclusivity and the avoidance of others, is there really much benefit over traditional lounges? For instance, would someone traveling in *A or OW F, or even in EK F, with access to the first class lounges find this to be a good value proposition? It would appear the food and drink are better in most of the airline/alliance lounges, and I’m sure VIPs would be able to arrange private rooms within the lounges themselves. So really you’re just omitting the TSA portion of the journey. I’d love a side-by-side comparison.

  6. @AR

    It’s really for (rich) people who want as little interaction with people as possible, not for people looking to have lush accommodations. The *A and OW F lounges are a better way to spend your time IMO.

    Nick, if you liked the view, take the AA shuttle over to the Eagles Nest, that also provides some pretty good views and is free.

  7. Sound like a colossal rip off. If traveling internationally You can get way better food and Bev in the one world or *a lounges at TBIT. For domestic flights, I try to arrive as close to boarding time as possible, with a reasonable margin of error for traffic.Yes, we all hate dealing with the riffraff, but I would rather keep $400 in my pocket.

  8. We used the Private Suite coming back to NYC from LA after Xmas week. The main reason we wanted to do this was because we were traveling with my wife’s ESA. It’s always tough threading the needle: we need to get to the airport early enough to let the dog have a walk and get through security, but if we get there too early, then we have to exit security to walk the dog again, which is a pain. One thing most Private Suite reviews fail to mention is the *large* outdoor play/dining area. It was absolutely perfect for us. The dog could run around (there are plenty of dog toys she could choose from) while we sat at a lovely picnic table snacking on chicken salad and seltzer water in the warm sun. A *perfect* way to end a holiday week before heading home to cold NYC. So few lounges have outdoor options and are in warm climates, so this was 100% the way to go!

  9. I’d still rather be at a decent FBO, flying private.

    I’ve spent time in one of these suites and the review is pretty spot-on, but I found it less than impressive for the price they’re trying to get. It’s just not worth it… Folks with enough to sequester themselves like this are already flying private. They go from their SUV to the steps of their Gulfstream. They don’t need a suite in-between.

    Like I’ve said before, this is a lot of sizzle and no real steak.

  10. I can’t help but think that the sweet spot for this service is catering to C and B level celebrities. A listers can probably swing flying private, even internationally, but below the Tom Cruise/Rihanna level, a lot of celebs fly commercial, especially transcon and transoceanic.

    Having grown up in LA, I’ve always known I never wanted to be famous. The idea of boundaries is really unknown to fandom and it’s only gotten worse in the internet age. A couple grand would be a small price to pay to avoid being hounded for selfies (or worse).

    TL;dr This isn’t an alternative to a lounge for regular travelers. It’s a product that’s uniquely suited to a market like LA.

  11. @AR: As far as a value proposition goes, it depends on what you’re looking to get out of the experience. If I were flying Lufthansa First Class out of LAX for a vacation, I’d absolutely rather get to the airport early and enjoy the *A first class lounge, but that’s because I’d want the full on luxury experience, the food, the array of drinks, etc.

    But for a domestic itinerary, flying around the holidays, and as @Aaron S. points out above, flying with an ESA — the Private Suite is the better alternative. Yes, it’s packaged snacks and mini-bottles of (very good) booze, but the seamless ease of arrival to boarding is unparalleled. And yes, while you’re waiting to board you can easily step out of your suite and grab some fresh air, take a smoke break, walk your dog, etc. — you just don’t feel like you’re in an airport.

    So, to make a long comment short, correct — if flying internationally and with time to spare, I’d value the lounges more. If I’m on a United domestic flight to IAD and the airport is a cluster, I’d value the ease of the Private Suite tenfold.

  12. I did the United Private Suite offer at the $375.00 rate. The only difference on my trip was that I was in the shared suite. The service, snacks and beverages seemed to be about the same as you described with one annoying difference. There are two areas in the shared suite, each with a table various seating arrangements and each with a large format TV. While I was by myself, there was another family in the suite that had their respective TV blasting on a news channel. It was not restful until they left and I turned off the sound. Anyway, with that kind of noise, I think I’d just prefer the regular United Club in the main terminal.

    I did enjoy all the other amenities including the tarmac drive, but I think its a “one and done”

  13. Enjoyed this post, until I read the following statement:
    “As we all mused to each other, “I never realized how much I hate other people until I realized I could avoid the airport altogether.””
    What an incredibly sad statement to make. But considering the location (LA and LAX), it’s not surprising. I’m hopeful it was more directed toward the state of LAX facilities, rather than hating people, who all are thrust into that singular experience.

  14. @Kelly: no, none of us actually hate other people. It’s just a turn of phrase– I hate the masses of people crowding LAX and it was nice to have a couple hours not interacting with other humans.

  15. Did you settle into your cozy economy seats after this? I wonder what other pax thought if they saw you come out of the private car in a suit and then settle into economy. I would have LMAO!

  16. At what point in the boarding process did you arrive? Were you able to board before anyone else, or is it really just whenever your car happens to arrive (i.e. when Group 3 or 5 or something is boarding)?

  17. @Benjamin makes no sense.

    “I’d still rather be at a decent FBO, flying private.”

    Ummmm, yeah. That’s like saying, “I’d still rather be in Emirates First than in economy.” Ok. Yeah, everyone would. And it’s a whole lot more expensive. What’s your point?

    “Folks with enough to sequester themselves like this are already flying private. They go from their SUV to the steps of their Gulfstream. They don’t need a suite in-between.”

    This is not true at all, especially for international travel. The price differentiation is so large between a $10k first class seat and a $200k charter trip, that there are certainly many people who would do the former and not the latter.

    In fact, if someone was going to charter transcon, but instead flew private suite + lie flat, they would literally spend $2 or 3k instead of $30k or 40k, which, even for extremely wealthy people, makes sense a whole lot of the time (Flying alone, etc.).

  18. Is it my imagination, or is this a little more interesting than Lucky’s review? (Much as I like Lucky’s posts in general.) Write more frequently, Nick.

  19. @Mallthus hit the nail on the head. This is ideal for celebrities who don’t fly private. And if you fly out of LA, I’m sure you’ve seen them all. There are still a ton of celebs who fly AA from LA to JFK regularly, and even those who fly private domestically, still end up flying commercial for int’l. And if they can’t get private included in their contract, they may well be able to get the Suite written in – just to avoid paparazzi. I imagine the studios may have negotiated rates for their talent. Not unheard of.

    Of course the entre Kardashian crowd LOVES to be photographed at LAX, after all, they are famous for ….. um …… oh never mind.

    I personally wish the Private Suite well, even though I will never darken their door. It’s nice being a nobody 🙂

  20. Did you ask how your ID info is kept secure?
    Did you ask who will have access to it?
    How long will they keep that info?
    Boy you are quick to give divulge that info…

  21. So you sent your ID through a non secure website / email.

    You would think they would have a secure website that you could upload that information. I guess privacy only extends to who you see at the lounge not the Nigerian Prince that now has all your personal information. ‍♂️

  22. What about wheelchairs? I could see this being attractive to wealthy older people who primarily want to avoid the hassle of a huge airport, but how would you get from the tarmac to the plane?

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