How to Get Into a United Polaris Lounge Before Your Flight

There are a few ways of getting Polaris lounge access even if you didn't originally book a Polaris fare.
Alisha McDarris
By Alisha McDarris 
Edited by Jeanette Margle

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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 United 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.:

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • Houston Intercontinental.

  • Los Angeles.

  • New York-Newark.

  • San Francisco.

  • Washington-Dulles.

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.

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4 ways 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 and those who use PlusPoints can snag an upgrade. Let's look closer.

1. 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.

2. 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.

🤓Nerdy Tip

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.

3. Upgrade to Polaris business class using miles

If you didn’t book a United Polaris or Star Alliance business or first class ticket, you may still be able to upgrade to Polaris class using MileagePlus miles or PlusPoints (more on these upgrades below).

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.

4. Upgrade to Polaris business class using PlusPoints

Once you reach Platinum or 1K status, you will receive PlusPoints, which can be used to upgrade your ticket into Polaris business class. The amount of PlusPoints required depends on the cabin you're upgrading to/from and the destination. For example, if you want to upgrade from basic economy to business class, it will cost more PlusPoints than upgrading from Premium Plus to business class.

If you're a 1K member and you use PlusPoints to request an upgrade, and get put on a waitlist, you can use additional PlusPoints to skip the waitlist. This benefit is exclusive to 1K elites.

Naturally, once you've been upgraded into Polaris, you can access the United Polaris lounge.

Final thoughts on United Polaris Lounges

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.

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