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Airport lounges can be an oasis from a busy, crowded and outdated terminal.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 gain access to a United Club instead. This is especially true if you live in one of United’s major hubs like Chicago O’Hare (ORD), where travelers don’t have any Priority Pass lounges from which to pick.

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.

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Credit Cards

If you’re looking to pay for a United Club membership, your best bet is to do so indirectly by opening the United Club Card from Chase. In exchange for a $450 annual fee, you’ll enjoy a full United Club membership, giving you access to both United-branded lounges as well as hundreds of affiliated partner lounges around the world. As a member, you can bring either two guests or one adult guest and your dependent children under the age of 21 when you access the club. Unfortunately, the carrier did recently announce a change in access policy. Following the lead of Delta and American, starting Nov. 1, 2019, you and your guests will need to show a same-day boarding pass for United or one of its partner airlines in order to enter a United Club.

To further sweeten the deal, the Club Card is offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 United miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, worth $650 based on TPG’s most recent valuations. You’ll also enjoy double miles on United purchases, two free checked bags for you and a companion traveling on the same reservation (when you use the card for your ticket), Premier Access (priority check-in, security, boarding and baggage handling) when flying United, access to additional award inventory, and more. You can read a full review of the United Club Card here.

You can also get two annual United Club passes by signing up for the entry level United Explorer Card  or the United Explorer Business Card. However, these day passes don’t include guest access.

The information for the United Club card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Paid Membership

You can pay for a United Club membership with either cash or miles, though there is an initiation fee of $50 or 7,000 miles for all new memberships or renewals that are more than 30 days past expiration. The price varies depending on your United elite status and whether you’re buying a single membership or a joint one with your spouse as well:

MileagePlus Status Annual membership Annual membership with spouse
General Member $550 or 70,000 miles $1,100 or 140,000 miles
Premier Silver $550 or 70,000 miles $1,100 or 140,000 miles
Premier Gold $550 or 70,000 miles $1,100 or 140,000 miles
Premier Platinum $500 or 65,000 miles $1,050 or 135,000 miles
Premier 1K $450 or 60,000 miles $1,000 or 130,000 miles

While elite members (Premier Platinum and Premier 1K) members do enjoy a discount, the prices are still very high, and almost everyone who’s eligible would be better off simply opening the United Club Card. 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 the better option than redeeming miles.

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, though this does not include Polaris lounges, as those locations have their own 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/she is welcome into 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.

Of course, Star Alliance premium cabin passengers also have access to United’s Polaris lounges, which are 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 fore more details), and here are the 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 departure airport for first class flight (1 guest)
  • Travelers in Star Alliance business class: Only available at departure airport for business class flight (no guests)

If you’re itinerary falls into one of these three categories and can access a Polaris lounge, you should absolutely seek out a 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 into an airport that has one of these oases. Where exactly are these lounges located? Well, naturally you’ll find a plethora United Clubs in the carrier’s main hubs, including:

  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) — Three locations in Terminal 1 (near Gates B18, B6 and C16) plus another in Terminal 2 across from Gate F8
  • Denver (DEN) — Two locations: one near Gate B32 and the other near Gate B34
  • 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) — Four locations: two are “pop-up locations” in Terminal C (near gates C93 and C124, respectively) plus full clubs in Terminal A (concourse A2) and Terminal C (upper level, near Gate 74)
  • San Francisco (SFO) — Four locations: Three in Terminal 3 (near gates 60, 71A and 80, respectively) and one in the international terminal (between Gate G98 and Gate G100)
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD) — Four locations in the Midfield Terminal (near gates C4, C7, C17 and D8, respectively)

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) over the coming years.

Most of the other clubs are scattered across the US, including American hubs 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.

Bottom Line

United offers a number of 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 you a relaxing lounge experience. In almost all cases, if you aren’t granted access automatically based on your ticket type or elite status, the best option you have is to open the United Club Card. In addition to the sign-up bonus and elite-like perks, this is the cheapest way to get a Club membership.

Featured image courtesy of United.

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