The ultimate guide to United Club access
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information about the United Club Infinite card. It was originally published on Nov 22, 2019.
At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information you need to make educated decisions about travel and your rewards-earning strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route network. But we are sharing this card launch because it is a great offer that could provide value to cardholders for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.
Airport lounges can be an oasis from a busy, crowded and outdated terminal.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.
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.
Same-day boarding pass requirement
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 that it would require a same-day boarding pass to access its SkyClubs, American Airlines quickly followed with a similar restriction on its Admirals Clubs, and it was no surprise to see United copy the move for its United Club locations.
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.
If you’re looking to pay for a United Club membership, your best bet is to do so indirectly by opening the brand-new United Club Infinite Card from Chase. In exchange for a $525 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 plus your dependent children under the age of 21 — when you access the club.
The United Club Infinite Card is offering a limited-time sign-up bonus of 100,000 United miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, worth $1,300 based on TPG’s most recent valuations. This offer is only valid until May 18, 2020. You’ll also enjoy 4x miles on United purchases and 2x on all other travel and dining 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 also get two annual, one-time United Club passes by signing up for the entry-level United Explorer Card. However, these day passes don’t include guest access.
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, and almost everyone eligible would be better off simply opening the United Club Infinite 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.
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/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.
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 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 departure airport for first class flight (one guest)
- Travelers in Star Alliance business class: Only available at 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.
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 (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 (IAD), Tokyo-Narita (NRT), Hong Kong (HKG) and London-Heathrow (LHR) over the coming years.
Most of the other clubs are scattered across the U.S., including American hubs 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.
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 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 Infinite Card. In addition to the sign-up bonus and elite-like perks, this is the cheapest way to get a Club membership. Unfortunately, the new requirement for a same-day boarding pass on United or a partner airline might limit the value proposition of a membership for some people, so make sure to factor this into your decision-making process before spending any money or opening a new credit card.
Featured photo courtesy of United.
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