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Key United Clubs are getting major upgrades with new designs, catering concepts

Jan. 19, 2023
8 min read
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It’s shaping up to be a very exciting year for the United Club network.

It started on Jan. 12 when the Chicago-based airline opened a brand-new lounge at its hometown hub of O'Hare International Airport (ORD).

The new space, located near Gate C10, spans more than 17,000 square feet and offers more than 400 seats. Upgraded amenities include a wellness space, self-scan entry gates and a unique Chicago-inspired design.

While the improvements kicked off just days into the new year, there's lots more coming to the United Club network over the coming months, including new and expanded spaces, an overhauled design and a revamped culinary experience.

Alex Dorow, United's managing director of lounges, premium services and hospitality, gave TPG the scoop – so here’s what you can expect from the carrier in the coming months.

4 new and expanded clubs

Perhaps most exciting is the news that United plans to unveil four new and expanded lounges throughout 2023, in addition to the space that already opened in Chicago earlier this month.

This year, the airline is focusing on redeveloping its exclusive spaces at two of its busiest hubs: Denver International Airport (DEN) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Denver upgrades

In the Mile High City, the airline will open a brand-new United Club in Concourse A. The new lounge will be "very large" and "multi-level," according to Dorow, who didn't share any more specifics.

In addition to the new space in Concourse A, the airline will also open a completely overhauled club in Concourse B near Gate B44.

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The so-called "B-East" outpost closed last year for renovations, and the finished product is poised to impress travelers, Dorow said. Perhaps the biggest improvement is that the space will double in size.

Once the two new Denver locations open, United will close the "B-West" club located near Gate B32 for a similar renovation and expansion project, though the timeline for that closure hasn't been solidified yet.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

All these upgrades to United's Denver lounges come as the carrier keeps growing its footprint in the Colorado capital. The demand among local and connecting travelers through Denver has been especially resilient throughout the pandemic, and the airline's capacity, as measured by available seat miles, is expected to be up 22% in 2023 relative to 2019, Cirium data shows.

Unfortunately, Denver remains the only domestic hub without a business-class-only Polaris lounge, and, at the moment, there are no plans to open one there, explained Dorow.

In addition to the new lounges, United and local airport authorities have unveiled big plans for modernizing the airport that includes new and expanded gate areas, upgraded amenities and redesigned security checkpoints. Some of these upgrades are already operational.

Newark upgrades

Meanwhile, in Newark, United's been on a years-long journey of redeveloping its lounges there. The first new club opened there last year near Gate C123, and it features a "one-of-a-kind" design spanning nearly 30,000 square feet with roughly 500 seats.

When the C123 United Club opened, the airline immediately shut down its existing outpost near Gate C74 for renovations. That work is coming along really well, according to Dorow, and the completely overhauled C74 space is expected to open later this year.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Once it does, there should be plenty of room for United Club passengers to spread out across the two lounges, making for a much more relaxing and inviting atmosphere in each space.

Additionally, Newark's spectacular new Terminal A, which opened on Jan. 12, and houses 12 United gates, will soon be home to an all-new United Club that's "substantially larger" than the previous one in the now-shuttered old Terminal A.

This facility will also open by the end of the year, according to Dorow.

Locally-inspired design

United isn't just opening new clubs; the airline is also changing what they look like inside.

Gone are the days of cookie-cutter layouts that were replicated nationwide. Instead, the airline is laser-focused on locally-inspired designs that are tailored to each market.

This new focus debuted with the C123 club in Newark and has since expanded to the outpost that opened in Chicago earlier this year.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

With the upcoming openings, the design will similarly be of the utmost importance, especially in Denver, which has historically been a major connecting market for United.

Because of the flow of connecting traffic, most United flyers passing through the Mile High City never really step foot in Colorado.

That's why "we want to ensure that we're bringing a collectively Colorado feel to the Denver lounge program," Dorow said. "The idea is that each of these clubs celebrates different aspects of what makes Colorado unique... we want to bring the best of what Denver and Colorado have to offer to showcase to our customers," he added.

The same design ethos will be true for Newark — and all other new United Clubs going forward. They'll each be designed with a local flair that feels much more unique than any of the legacy clubs.

Club Fly is a hit

In November, United opened a brand-new lounge concept in Denver, dubbed United Club Fly. This grab-and-go focused space spans roughly 1,600 square feet, and it's specifically designed for travelers to quickly grab a packaged snack and a drink before their connecting flights.

The concept was so novel that it won the TPG Innovation Award for aviation late last year.

While some travelers might consider this a limited-time trial, Dorow said it best: "this is not a test in Denver. This is a permanent fixture for us in Denver."

KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Given the high proportion of connecting passengers with short layovers, Denver made sense as the first Club Fly outpost, but it may not be the last.

"Internally, we are kicking around ideas of where could [another Club Fly] potentially fit? Do we need it someplace else?" Dorow mentioned.

United plans to collect feedback and data on Club Fly usage to see whether it makes sense to open one in other key airports.

New dining debut

United's premium flyers have rallied behind one chief complaint in recent months: catering.

While many complaints have been lodged against the airline's onboard offerings, the food in the United Club hasn't been all that much better.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Though the pandemic-era packaged food concept has been retired, the culinary offerings in the United Club pale in comparison to what Delta is offering at its Sky Clubs.

Improving the lounge catering is something on Dorow's mind. But making those improvements requires building larger back-of-house kitchen spaces in its clubs, which is something the airline is addressing with its new facilities.

Building larger clubs with new kitchens "allows us to actually shift more of that [food] production in-house and create menus that are much more bespoke to our types of customers," Dorow said.

For instance, Dorow mentioned that the new C10 lounge in Chicago O'Hare features a larger back-of-house space that's being used to produce better food offerings for all United lounge in O'Hare, not just the new facility in the C concourse.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

While the details are light, a United spokesperson promises "more [food-related] updates coming in the spring."

Bottom line

Airport lounges have become more popular than ever in recent years.

As travelers seek more elevated and exclusive travel experiences, demand to enter the club has grown so quickly that there've been long lines to enter in some cases.

Of the Big 3 U.S. airlines, lounge overcrowding has primarily hit Delta the hardest, though some United Club locations, especially those in major hubs, have also had long lines and packed relaxation areas.

As United plans for the future, the airline is doing what it can to build new and expanded outposts at its key airports, while also elevating the lounge experience once you're inside.

While we'll reserve judgment until the new facilities open and the catering gets upgraded, it's great to hear that the airline's internal teams are busy trying to improve the lounge experience — with major network-wide upgrades expected over the coming months.

For more about United Clubs, check out:

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees