Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.
If you fly United Airlines, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with its comfortable and spacious Polaris class: lie-flat seats, elevated dining options, bedding and plenty of comfortable amenities. But depending on where you’re traveling, you may also have access to one of United’s Polaris lounges, a distinct upgrade on the typical United Club lounge.
But how can you get in before your flight? In short: Fly Polaris class.
Fortunately, there are a few other ways to enjoy all the Polaris amenities, even if you didn’t book a Polaris fare from the get-go.
What is Polaris?
Polaris is what United calls its premium travel product, which extends beyond class of travel to encompass the entire travel experience: a personal on-board suite, sleep-centric amenities, upscale dining options and of course — United’s Polaris lounge access.
But while there are more than 45 United Clubs (plus participating Star Alliance lounges), there are far fewer Polaris lounges. In fact, there are only six located across the U.S.:
What makes Polaris lounges different from United’s normal lounges? For starters, they're exclusively for international premium cabin passengers. These lounges offer dining through a hot and cold buffet, as well as drinks like wine, spirits, craft beer and cocktails. If it’s calm and rest you’re after, there are also showers and quiet suites with daybeds.
» Learn more: Things to know about United Airlines lounge access
How to gain United Polaris lounge access
While any United passenger with a valid same-day boarding pass can buy a one-time pass for United Club lounges (or a United Club membership), not just anyone can get into the coveted Polaris lounge. There are no United Polaris lounge day passes.
So then, who can access United Polaris lounge? United Polaris class flyers, premium cabin flyers on Star Alliance partner airlines, miles redemption upgraders, certain credit card holders and elite status members who snag a free upgrade. Let's look closer.
Fly United Polaris class
Passengers traveling in United Polaris business class on long-haul international flights are allowed complimentary lounge access before departure, during connections and upon arrival.
» Learn more: The best first class airline in the U.S.
Fly long-haul international premium class on a Star Alliance member airline
Passengers flying internationally in business or first class on a Star Alliance partner airline can get into United Polaris lounges, too, but only at the departure airport of their international flight.
If you’re looking to upgrade to business or first class on a Star Alliance flight using a Star Alliance Upgrade Award, not all flights are eligible. The flight must be on a participating airline, and even then, some routes on participating airlines are excluded. Check to make sure before you book if you’re hoping to upgrade.
» Learn more: Your guide to the Star Alliance
Upgrade to Polaris class using miles
The easiest way is to request an upgrade during booking. On the United website, navigate to Advanced Search and select the “MileagePlus Upgrade Award” upgrade type under “Upgrades, certificates, and promotion codes.” You’ll then be able to see whether a MileagePlus Upgrade Award is available for the flights you want. If it is, book — and your upgrade request will be confirmed instantly.
Even if you didn’t request an upgrade during initial booking, there are still ways.
Simply sign into your MileagePlus account and pull up an existing reservation to request an upgrade. Or, head to the airport within 24 hours of departure to request an upgrade directly at the check-in counter or gate.
Do note, though, that not all tickets are available for an upgrade. For instance, MileagePlus Upgrade Awards aren’t available when flying on award tickets or if you booked a basic economy fare. Money + Miles tickets aren’t upgradable with MileagePlus Upgrade Awards, either.
» Learn more: The current United miles value
Premier status and credit card upgrades on award tickets
While award tickets aren’t normally eligible for MileagePlus Upgrade Awards, Premier elite status members who also have one of these United-Chase credit cards may score a complimentary upgrade if available:
United Presidential Plus Card.
United Presidential Plus Business Card.
Once you upgrade, you’ll have access to United’s Polaris lounges.
Score a complimentary upgrade
Some travelers can even enjoy free upgrades, including to United Polaris class, which will grant you access to a Polaris lounge. If you're a Premier member, you may be automatically upgraded for free if you booked an eligible flight.
The higher your elite status level, the earlier you become eligible for complimentary upgrades. These range from 96 hours before your flight as a top-level 1K member to day-of upgrades as a lower-level Silver member.
Just make sure that if you’re traveling with more than one other person, your party is comprised of more Premier members than nonmembers. Complimentary Premier upgrades only include one companion; if there are more non-Premier travelers on your reservation than Premier members, book additional non-Premier members on another reservation or you'll lose your eligibility for the award.
» Learn more: Is a United credit card worth it?
The bottom line
While you may not be able to purchase a day pass or flash a credit card to get into a United Polaris lounge, there are several ways to gain entrance by flying in Polaris class — even if you didn’t originally book a Polaris fare.
Photo courtesy of United Airlines.
The information related to the United Club℠ Business Card (annual fee: $450) has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card