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United offers a fantastic new hangout at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), called the Polaris Lounge. But there’s only one available so far, and access is limited to business or first-class passengers traveling on a long-haul United Polaris or partner flight. Even top-tier elites aren’t able to get in unless they’re booked on the “right” flights, and there’s no option to join as a member or pay for a one-time pass — if that’s something you’re hoping to do, the United Club is for you.
While the Polaris Lounge is top-notch, the United Clubs vary significantly in quality — from the outdated but currently under-renovation Newark (EWR) lounges to the outstanding space at London Heathrow (LHR). Rather than pay for a membership outright, mine’s courtesy of the United MileagePlus Club Card, which comes along with a $450 annual fee but is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months, which more than offsets the fee.
Now, as I mentioned, some lounges offer a far better experience than others, from the overall space to the amenities and food. So much so that there are a few United Clubs that I’ll go out of my way to visit — particularly the location in London — while I’ll actively avoid others, such as the overcrowded and outdated spaces in Newark. Of course, most flyers haven’t had an opportunity to visit all of the lounges available to cardmembers, so I wanted to highlight my five favorites to give you an idea of just what’s out there, and when you might want to add a few extra minutes for a pre-flight visit.
1. London Heathrow Airport (LHR)
The London Heathrow location is hands-down my favorite United Club in the world. It almost feels like a Polaris Lounge, though the food selection is far more limited. This space really is a step above the rest, with a full bar with excellent cocktails and loads of seating, and they’ll even press your clothes while you shower. There’s also a Global First Lounge around the corner, which will be converted to a Polaris Lounge soon.
2. Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT)
This one falls under the “oldie but goodie” category — it’s a bit past its prime, but it’s one of the largest lounges out there, and still one of my favorites. There’s a decent food selection, including hot items and sushi you might actually want to eat. Members also have access to ANA’s lounges, which are more modern and offer different amenities, such as a made-to-order noodle bar.
3. Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
If you have access to Hong Kong’s new Amex Centurion Lounge, I’d definitely head there, instead — especially if you’re a Centurion cardmember — but United’s own HKG lounge is worth a visit if you can’t get into the Amex space around the corner. The spread is far more generous than you’ll find at some US lounges, and with a balcony that opens out over the terminal, it’s a decent place to do some plane spotting.
4. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
The LAX location is one of United’s latest and greatest US clubs. The bar design is similar to the airline’s London offering, though just as with the rest of the domestic locations, only a few drinks are included here, such as house wines, well liquor and one or two draft beers.
United Club members also have access to the Star Alliance Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which is far superior to United’s own offering at LAX. There you’ll find an expansive buffet, well-stocked bar, showers, a super-cool terrace and more. It’s a 15-minute walk from the United gates, and I recommend making the trek if you have some time to kill.
5. San Diego International Airport (SAN)
I’ve spent a lot of time at the SAN lounge recently, ahead of Newark (EWR) redeye flights home, and even though it’s small it’s still one of my favorites. The design is fresh and the staff there tends to be especially friendly — plus I’ve always found plenty of seating available, especially late at night.
United’s global lounge network can be a bit hit and miss, but this list will likely grow as the years go on — and the airline works through its backlog of renovations. For now, the United MileagePlus Club Card remains one of the most-used cards in my arsenal — even though most of my travel spend goes on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, that bundled United Club membership ends up getting quite a bit of use.
Feature image of London’s United Club wine cellar. All photos courtesy United Airlines.