United flyers have been pleasantly surprised over the past year thanks to significant investment being made in the airline’s club network and amenities. When the airline merged with Continental years ago, it acquired several more clubs into its vast network, which spans North America and many international locations including Hong Kong, London’s Heathrow, and Tokyo’s Narita.
Use this as a guide to get the low down on how to get in and why now is better than ever to join if you’re a frequent traveler.
There are more than 45 clubs to choose from around the world: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago O’Hare, Cleveland, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale, Guam, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Houston’s Bush Intercontinental, Las Vegas, London’s Heathrow, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York LaGuardia, Newark, Orange County, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle/Tacoma, Tokyo Narita, Washington Dulles, and Washington Reagan airports. United Club members also get access to Amtrak Club Acela lounges and Star Alliance-branded lounges.
How to pay to get in:
United offers paid memberships in various packages including the option to add a spouse or to pay with miles. Discounts for elite-level fliers are a nice incentive, and the cost for full membership ranges from $450 for Premier 1K members $1,100 for general members and a spouse.
Full membership allows travelers to bring in a guest, but the spousal option is important if couples often travel separately.
An annoying initiation fee of $50 (or 7,000 miles) is tacked on for new members. Even members are subject to the new requirement taking effect in August that says they must be traveling on a same-day flight (any airline) to gain access.
Day passes are available for purchase online or in the lounge for $59, which is quite expensive unless you plan to indulge in a few alcoholic drinks.
How to get in for free:
It’s not only forking over for membership that gets you through those magical sliding doors. Passengers traveling internationally in business or first class and those that whole Star Alliance Gold status (no matter what class they are traveling in) get free access to the lounge. Canada and Caribbean destinations are excluded, however. If you have Star Alliance Gold with a non-North American airline (say, Lufthansa or Copa), you can access United Clubs even when traveling domestically because United considers you to be an international Star Alliance member.
Let’s not forget going the credit card route. Holders of United-branded credit cards with Chase enjoy access to the lounge depending upon the type of card. The United Club credit card gives unlimited access while other cards provide a couple of day passes to use during the year. Priority Pass members that have a full (not Select membership) can also access United Clubs.
Full members can bring their spouse and children under 21 into the lounge or up to two other people as guests. To enter the lounge, the member must have a boarding pass for present-day travel. Guests are not permitted when using a day pass.
Passengers traveling in international business class are not eligible to bring in a guest, but those traveling in international first class are permitted one guest. Star Alliance Gold members are permitted one guest if that passenger is also traveling on a Star Alliance-branded flight.
Various clubs around United’s system offer different features. Some have been updated in the new style of interior décor (like clubs in Chicago and Seattle/Tacoma) while others still boast older furnishings. Updates are being made progressively and include new furniture, work stations and more power outlets.
Separate ticketing desks in the clubs can be lifesavers when travel plans get disrupted and help to avoid lengthy queues in the terminal.
Many lounges in hub cities like Newark or Houston feature showers. All come with enclosed work carrels for added privacy, free wireless Internet access, plentiful power outlets, free local phone calls and fax machine use, printers, and conversational-style seating.
Many feature board rooms that can be rented out for a fee, and some of the largest clubs have kids’ play areas or family rooms. Clubs in Houston even feature cinema-style seating facing large-screen TVs.
Food and drink:
Now has never been a better time to join the United Club. United has expanded the food and beverage menu in its clubs. Each morning, a large buffet of fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, bagels, pastries, and hard-boiled eggs are laid out. Later in the day, the menu shifts to hearty soups, salads, couscous with sriracha sauce, crackers, artisan bread, cheese, snack mix, and even Skittles candy.
The airline is partnering with celebrity chef and restaurant owner Art Smith of Chicago’s Blue Door Kitchen to help design its food menu items.
Mixologist Adam Seger will oversee bartender training and guide the selection of complimentary and paid-for bar options. The open bar features a complimentary beer, wine and well drinks, but a separate menu offers premium cocktails, beer, and wine for an added fee.
Recent additions to the club menu include illy branded coffee and specialty drinks and cocktails, like the Moscow Mule, from Chicago’s Crafthouse Cocktails. A new rotating menu will also offer regional drink selections in certain clubs.
United is even partnering with the Disney Institute to help train the third-party staff that operate many of its clubs.
Clubs not to miss:
Some of the best lounges are those overseas like the new London Heathrow club and popular Hong Kong location, both of which have larger buffets, self-serve drinks, and a wider selection of snacks.
The multi-level club in Houston’s terminal E offers stunning views of the tarmac as does one of Newark’s terminal C lounges, but both can get quite crowded. Tokyo Narita’s club is fresh from a sorely needed makeover and offers a self-serve beer machine, sushi, and edamame. Chicago O’Hare’s new terminal E club is quite eye-catching.
United offers separate Global First lounges for travelers in international first class, and these are not part of the United Club membership program.
When departing LAX, the airport permits travelers to enter any terminal with a same-day boarding pass. This means that Star Alliance Gold fliers traveling on United (even domestically) can access the Star Alliance business class lounge in the Tom Bradley International terminal. It has an open-air viewing deck of the tarmac, self-serve drinks, and a much better buffet of meals and snacks. Save time though to re-clear security when going back to your United flight (although tunnels are soon to be available between terminals meaning you won’t have to clear security twice).
Did you know when traveling Newark to Los Angeles or San Francisco in BusinessFirst, you can access United Clubs on your travel days?