United Airlines defends banning frequent flyers from Polaris lounges

By David Flynn, April 30 2018
United Airlines defends banning frequent flyers from Polaris lounges

United Airlines says its decision not to allow frequent flyers into its new Polaris business class lounges was made “to protect the integrity” of the upmarket lounges. 

Instead, it plans to satisfy MileagePlus and Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers with improvements to its United Club lounges.

Under United's strict new access rules, Polaris lounges are exclusive to business class and first class flyers on United Airlines and its Star Alliance partners, and business class passengers do not even have guesting privileges.

Speaking with Australian Business Traveller at the opening of the new Polaris San Francisco lounge, United Airlines’ Director of Premium Services, Alexander Dorow, admitted the move to restrict Polaris lounge access to business class and first class passengers “was a bit of a challenge.

AusBT review: United Airlines Polaris San Francisco lounge 

“However, we have heavily invested in the Polaris experience, and not just the lounge but the overall business class experience.”

“And to protect the integrity of our product, we want to provide something truly unique and value-add to customers in that cabin… ensuring that customers who are travelling internationally in business class have a dedicated lounge product (just) for them.”

Darow says that a rolling upgrade to United Club lounges will begin to take on some aspects of the Polaris lounges.

“We would love to offer the (full) Polaris experience to our frequent flyers, but instead of bringing them to a Polaris lounge, what we're doing is investing even more into our United Club experience.”

“We want to make sure that we focus on food and beverage, on seating, on engagement. We just concluded the first pass of food and beverage quantitative research, so what you can expect in the Polaris-influenced United Club are learnings from Polaris that are scaled appropriately.”

With Polaris lounges at Chicago and San Francisco now open, Darow expects to see a ribbon-cutting at Polaris lounges in Newark in early June, Houston in the late northern summer and Los Angeles before December 2018.

AusBT review: United Airlines Polaris San Francisco lounge

David Flynn travelled to San Francisco as a guest of United Airlines


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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 134

So, can we expect more than carrots, celery sticks and tomatoes with dip to eat in United Clubs then? What a truly uninspiring airline.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2014

Total posts 214

United just keep going from strength to strength, eh?



16 May 2016

Total posts 65

This makes sense. If you're not flying Polaris, you don't get entry to the Polaris Lounge. UA is positioning Polaris as an exclusive product. Most Polaris flights are international long haul, so if you're a frequent Polaris traveler you don't want every man and his dog in the lounge when they're not even flying the Polaris product.


16 May 2016

Total posts 65

Have you flown Polaris seat or visited a Polaris Lounge? You'll be amazed, and inspired. I'm frequent Asia-USA and it's very good.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

04 May 2016

Total posts 7

Why would anyone willingly fly with Untied?

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 176

I fully support UA's decision.

Respective FF's have been provided for with The Club to use if they wish, as they are only flying and paying for a Y product.

Those who have been travelling since the 60's will remember airlines only rewarded F and J passengers with lounge access as they paid the premium fares for a premium product. There were no marketing FF schemes then for Y passengers to rely on for a lounge access or premium check-in privileges.

All UA is doing is rewarding passengers who pay for and fly in their J and F class, a simply and positive marketing tool.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2014

Total posts 214

Not wildly logical, and certainly no sound business reasoning...!

The point of having a status system is to reward continued loyalty; the entire concept is that your high status unlocks these great perks, such as F lounge access, regardless of travel class.

Who is more valuable to the airline, and who is more deserving of premium status perks (such as the enjoyment of a pre-departure lounge):

A). a loyal pax that consistently spends $30k with the airline each year
B). a one-time pax that never otherwise travels by air, but spends $4k on a single occasion for a "trip of a lifetime" in a premium cabin

It's a rhetorical question, we all know the answer. This is how and why "status" exists, and it makes a LOT of sense to have such an arrangement.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 176

I also fully believe in the value of FF schemes and their loyalty focus for repeat business.

UA's focus on providing an exclusive product for their regular F and J clients is a positive move, many of whom travel in excess of 500+ hrs per year generating revenues for UA exceeding 75-200k per annum, compared to frequent Y passengers generating 20-30K per annum, thus keeping the Polaris Lounge exclusive, and their updated The Club for their loyal Y passengers.

UA has, I am sure, profiled their passenger loads well and are responding to passenger feedback in all classes when creating this new business model.

Happy travels.

If they're upgrading their United Clubs somewhat to compensate, I don't see this as a huge problem. And given the cuts they've made to some aspects of Polaris' onboard service, they do need to make sure their ground experience is exceptional... the Polaris lounges are certainly above the minimum standard for a Business Class lounge and arguably approach First Class lounges in some respects, so I can see why United wants to make sure the lounges don't get crowded.

As long as the United Clubs are upgraded to a reasonably fair standard, this is a perfectly fine move.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Feb 2014

Total posts 4

A very similar approach to that of Singapore Airlines at Changi

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1245

And QR at DOH.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1378

Albeit both offerings are substantially better than a United Club which will always be effectively a domestic lounge given the lack of separation in most US airports.

What passengers need and deserve varies substantially from a 1hr hop to a 17hr flight (although granted both SIN and DOH serve both)


09 Mar 2016

Total posts 56

Little don’t devalues the front cabin experience as much as handing over thousands of dollars several times a year for business class travel and then having to use a lounge teeming with ffs from multiple airlines who are riding in coach, the seats all full with them. They gather over the buffet like seagulls over a bag of hot chips screeching about their status entitlements but quite unable or unwilling to afford a J or F seat. It takes almost nothing to earn Gold on UA travelling coach. I’m delighted my expenditures are getting recognition at last.


16 May 2016

Total posts 65

Couldn't agree more. Polaris Lounge is the lounge offering for Polaris business class ticket holders. Fair enough.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

21 May 2018

Total posts 10

Yes but extending this lounge to 1K and GS Members wouldn't hurt. They obviously are very loyal to the airline and being able to get a cocktail without shelling out $14USD would be nice since you're spending at least $10k a year with them.

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