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The ultimate guide to United Club access

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 12/27/2020 Ethan Steinberg
a large room © Provided by The Points Guy
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

Airport lounges can be an oasis from a busy, crowded and outdated terminal. While many people have access to Priority Pass lounges through one or more of their credit cards, this generally won’t help with airline-specific clubs. If you frequently fly United, you might be looking to use a United Club instead. This is especially true if you live in one of United’s major hubs like Chicago O’Hare (ORD), where domestic travelers don’t have access to Priority Pass lounges.

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Today we’ll take a look at your different options for gaining access to United lounges, both by paying for it and receiving it as a complimentary benefit.

In This Post

Same-day boarding pass requirement

a group of people sitting at a table: United Club at London Heathrow. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy.) © The Points Guy United Club at London Heathrow. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy.)

The three legacy U.S. airlines — Delta, United and American — are engaged in a game of copycat, as they race to imitate each other’s devaluations and benefit restrictions. When Delta announced it would require a same-day boarding pass to access its Sky Clubs, American Airlines quickly followed with a similar restriction on its Admirals Clubs. So, it was no surprise to see United copy the move for its United Club locations.

Related: The best credit cards for flying United

Now, in addition to the requirements detailed below, you’ll need a same-day boarding pass on United or a Star Alliance or partner airline to gain entry to a United Club.

Credit cards

The United Club Infinite Card is the newest (and potentially most affordable) way to access United Clubs for frequent travelers. The card comes with a membership that allows the primary cardholder and two adult companions (or one adult and any dependent children under the age of 21) access to United Clubs as long as you hold the card. The United Club Infinite Card normally carries a $525 annual fee, which is lower than any elite status discount will qualify you for. The annual fee is currently waived on the card for the first year instead of a sign-up bonus in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its significant impact on travel.

If a big annual fee isn’t up your alley, you can get two annual, one-time United Club passes by signing up for the entry-level United Explorer Card. These day passes, however, don’t include guest access.

Paid membership

You can pay for a United Club membership with either cash or miles, though the price varies depending on your United elite status:

MileagePlus elite status Annual membership
General member $650 or 85,000 miles
Premier Silver $650 or 85,000 miles
Premier Gold $650 or 85,000 miles
Premier Platinum $600 or 80,000 miles
Premier 1K $550 or 75,000 miles
United Global Services $550 or 75,000 miles

While elite members (Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services) members do enjoy a discount, the prices are still very high. TPG values United MileagePlus miles at 1.3 cents each, so no matter your elite status and membership type, if you insist on paying for a membership instead of opening the Club Card, paying cash is almost always a better option than redeeming miles.


Gallery: Best airline loyalty programs, according to readers (USA TODAY)

If you don’t travel enough to commit to a full year membership, you can also purchase day passes for $59 at United Club locations or through the United app on your smartphone.

Elite status

United is very generous with giving its elite members access to United Clubs. (Note that this does not include Polaris lounges, as those locations have separate entry requirements that we’ll discuss in a moment.) United Premier Gold (and higher) members have access to United Clubs when traveling internationally on any Star Alliance carrier, regardless of their class of service. They are also allowed one guest who doesn’t even need to be traveling on the same flight; as long as that guest is traveling on a Star Alliance carrier and departing from the same airport, he or she is welcome in the lounge with the Gold member.

Note that this benefit extends to Star Alliance Gold members from other frequent flyer programs as well, though it’s even more lucrative in this case. These travelers can access United Clubs with any same-day Star Alliance boarding pass, including domestic travel on United. The same guesting rules apply.

Ticket type

Premium-cabin Star Alliance travelers can also gain access to United Clubs, though the exact terms and guest privileges vary by ticket type. Here is what the United website lists for access policies, and you can see that first- and business-class passengers are treated slightly differently.

graphical user interface, application, table © The Points Guy

Of course, Star Alliance premium-cabin passengers also have access to United’s Polaris lounges, which are a real step above United Clubs in terms of modern furnishings and an elevated food and drink experience. Currently, there are five Polaris lounges open with four more on the way (see below for more details), and there are three types of passengers eligible for Polaris lounge access in addition to United Club access:

  • Travelers in United Polaris business class: Available at departure, connecting and/or arrival airports (no guests)
  • Travelers in Star Alliance first class: Only available at the departure airport for first-class flight (one guest)
  • Travelers in Star Alliance business class: Only available at the departure airport for business-class flight (no guests)

If your itinerary falls into one of these three categories and you can access a Polaris lounge, you should seek out these locations instead of a United Club.

Locations

Of course, getting access to United Clubs and Polaris lounges is one thing. You also must be departing from, connecting through or arriving at an airport that has one of these oases. Where exactly are these lounges located? Well, naturally you’ll find a plethora of United Clubs in the carrier’s main hubs, including:

  • Chicago O’Hare — Three locations in Terminal 1 (near gates B6, B18 and C16) plus another in Terminal 2 across from Gate F8
  • Denver (DEN) — Two locations: One near Gate B32 and the other near Gate B44
  • Houston (IAH) — Five locations: One in Terminal A (across from Gate A9), one in Terminal B (south mezzanine), two in Terminal C (near Gate C1 and toward Gate C33) and one in Terminal E (between gates E11 and E12)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) — Two locations: One adjacent to Gate 71A and the other between gates 73 and 75A
  • Newark (EWR) — Three locations: One is a “pop-up” in Terminal C (near Gate C93), plus full clubs in Terminal A (Concourse A2) and Terminal C (upper level, near Gate C74)
  • San Francisco (SFO) — Four locations: Three in Terminal 3 (near gates E2, E4 and F11) and one in the international terminal (between gates G6 and G9)
  • Washington Dulles (IAD) — Four locations in the Midfield Terminal (near gates C4, C7, C17 and D8)

Note that five of these airports (Chicago O’Hare, Newark, San Francisco, Houston and Los Angeles) also have Polaris lounges, with four more slated to open in Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita (NRT), Hong Kong (HKG) and London Heathrow (LHR) in the coming years.

Most of the other clubs are scattered across the U.S., including in Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Philadelphia (PHL) and Phoenix (PHX), along with Delta’s Atlanta (ATL) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) hubs. However, you’ll also have access to hundreds of partner lounges around the world, including the Star Alliance lounge in Los Angeles.

For complete details on all of these locations, including hours of operation, you can visit this page.

Note that because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many lounges are currently temporarily closed.

As of the time of publishing of this article, only the following United Club locations are open:

  • Chicago O’Hare (near Gate B6)
  • Denver (near Gate B44 and near Gate B32)
  • Honolulu (above gates G2 and G3)
  • Houston Intercontinental (near Gate E11 and near Gate C1)
  • Los Angeles (near Gate 71A)
  • Newark (near Gate C74)
  • San Francisco (near Gate F11)
  • Washington Dulles (near Gate C7 and near Gate D8)

As lounges have reopened, there have been limited operating hours and amenities. You may want to check with United Airlines prior to travel for the most current offerings at each of these lounges.

Extending memberships

United Airlines has announced a six-month extension of all existing United Club memberships due to the pandemic. If you had an existing membership when the pandemic started, you should have automatically received an extension of your expiration and renewal date.

Bottom line

United offers different ways to access its United Clubs and Polaris lounges, both for paying customers and as a reward for premium-cabin travelers and loyal elite members. If you frequently travel with United, it’s worth figuring out which of these options is the best and most cost-effective way to get a relaxing lounge experience.

Featured photo courtesy of United

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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