United Airlines clarifies Polaris airport lounge access rules

By David Flynn, June 6 2016
United Airlines clarifies Polaris airport lounge access rules

United Airlines has confirmed that its new Polaris business class lounges won't be open to top-tier MileagePlus or Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers travelling in economy.

The new lounges – unveiled this week as part of the airline's ambitious Polaris international business class concept (below) – will in effect be 'business class only' lounges, except for those flights where United still operates its slowly shrinking  first class fleet.

Fly Polaris in the air, enjoy Polaris on the ground
Fly Polaris in the air, enjoy Polaris on the ground

When asked about Polaris lounge access for Gold-grade members of United's Star Alliance partners, United Airlines' spokesman Koji Nagata told Australian Business Traveller that "Star Alliance Gold customers traveling on Star Alliance carriers in a premium cabin will have access to the United Polaris lounges."

(There's also a caveat that Polaris-eligible travel must be on international flights longer than six hours.)

"Other customers with lounge privileges will be invited to United Club locations."

That 'take a walk' list includes United's own Premier Gold, Platinum and 1K card-holders flying in economy, although it's suspected that members of the invitation-only Global Services tier will be exempt from the 'premium cabin only' access rules.

Each Polaris lounge will feature a tended bar
Each Polaris lounge will feature a tended bar

United's move creates a clear delineation between high-paying passengers booked into the pointy end of the plane, and high-flyers who hold status in its loyalty program but are seated down the back of the bus.

The upscale Polaris lounges will run alongside United Clubs, and in many locations will replace the airline's Global First first class lounges.

Each Polaris lounge will sport a dining area with a buffet selection and a la carte meals...

... and banks of bespoke seats with a coat hook and bag storage, a pull-out table with integrated tablet holder, and AC/USB charging points.

Need to rest up before your flight? These semi-private relaxation nooks with daybeds and soft lighting could be just the ticket.

All Polaris lounges will also feature shower suites stocked with Cowshed products.

The first new Polaris lounge will open on United's home turf of Chicago on December 1.

Additional Polaris lounges will roll out the welcome mat at Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York/Newark, Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong and London Heathrow throughout 2017.

Star Alliance CEO Mark Schwab, a former Senior Vice President at United Airlines, welcomed United's Polaris push.

"It signals a very strong commitment on the company's part to invest in their customers, especially in the premium end of their customer base" Schwab told Australian Business Traveller on sidelines of a gathering of member airline CEOs in Zurich.

"So I think it's good for United, it's good for their customers and it's also very good for Star Alliance, because part of that package is enhanced lounges and so the Star Alliance carriers who fly into the locations where they are building or refurbishing those facilities are going to see an enhanced product not only for United's customers but also the rest of the alliance."

David Flynn travelled to Zurich as a guest of Star Alliance

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Oh look, United is going all Qatar on us. Good luck with that! LOL

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 327

Look forward to these new lounges  Since the demise of GlobalFirst to/from Australia and the shift to EWR instead of JFK as UA's transcontinental hub,  its been a steep slope downhill  - good to see they are doing something to satiate those of us loyal to the largest airline alliance and also to United

I wonder; with United going to this new "Polaris" service, will this put pressure on Air New Zealand?

When United start flying Polaris to Auckland, they'll have a superior product to ANZ. I don't think ANZ would want to lose their premium passengers to a fellow Star Alliance member. Since ANZ has been doing a lot of work on lounge upgrades... could a new Business Premier cabin be next?

Hopefully they'll bring back the pyjamas too...

I don't think NZ has to worry. Just look at the loads on AA for the LAX/SYD sector compared to QF's loads. AA and UA is not materially different from a service perspective. And going forward Gold grade members are able to use the superb Star Alliance lounge at TBIT, but not the Polaris lounge. Who would you fly with if you had to fly Y? If the price in J is not materially different, who would you fly with?

The statement from the spokesman seems to indicate that Business Premier passengers on ANZ will be able to use the Polaris lounge. So that means, for J passengers, the only differentiator between is onboard product.

And by that metric, ANZ will have better food, booze and service, but United will have better hard product and amenities.

If I were flying Economy and had Star Gold status I'd pick Air NZ, obviously (since ANZ is better in Econ). Ditto for NZ Premium Econ vs. United Main Cabin Extra. But in J? United Polaris wins over ANZ Business Premier, at least at present.

And from what I know, Trans-Pac is ANZ's highest yielding market. They wouldn't want to be the second preference in the premium cabins. I'd expect, at the very least, they'd try and re-introduce pyjamas, but honestly I think they'll be seriously looking at new seats soon.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 356

"Star Alliance Gold customers traveling on Star Alliance carriers in a premium cabin will have access to the United Polaris lounges."

What about star alliance nobody traveling on Star Alliance first/business class? I have a flight coming up ORD-NRT on ANA first class redeemed from Lifemiles. Do I get access?

I think you will (if the lounge is open). The response around the Star Alliance Gold bit is sort of marketing fluff.

They employ such talk, when they don't really want to say directly that only premium cabin pax have access, which infers the Gold status is worthless for the purposes of Polaris access.

If you listen to politicians enough you'll get the hang of it.

Its highly unlikely that Polaris access is only for premium pax who are also Gold members, given that UA pax travelling in Polaris class (let's just call it that...there are too many caveats with the term Business class) can access the lounge despite not having an existing status.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2540

No problems with access if you're in Star Alliance F or J regardless of status - the spokesman's comments were specifically geared around Star Alliance status travelers in non-premium cabins.

09 May 2015

Total posts 33

This will be a nice benefit for truly Business Class passengers. It's a PITA mucking in lounges together with mileage queens.

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