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United Airlines

United Cut Lounge Access for Economy Flyers. Here’s How to Get in Anyway

United Cut Lounge Access for Economy Flyers. Here’s How to Get in Anyway
Joe Cortez

Elite United flyers are in for a big surprise when they try to visit Star Alliance partner lounges when flying on an economy ticket. Since the beginning of 2020, United is limiting partner access to just business class customers. However, there are still ways to enter clubs – if you have the right hardware.

United Airlines is cutting lounge access even further when flying abroad on their aircraft. On the United website, the airline announced a major change to their lounge access policy: members can only visit partner lounges if they are flying in the United Polaris business class.

Lounge Access Devalued for All United Elite Customers

Under old Star Alliance rules, the policy was: What applied to one gold-level elite flyer applied to all Star Alliance Gold-level elite flyers. So if you were a Star Alliance Gold flyer aboard United and wanted to visit one of the “Partner Lounges,” (third party lounges) you were allowed to (even if you were flying economy) because the policy applied universally.

Partner Lounges are those operated by Star Alliance airlines and have the “Star Alliance Gold” sign on the front of their doors. The “Partner Lounges” referred to by United are just those where United has a special arrangement with that lounge for the comfort of their United Polaris flyers. This includes the third-party lounges and those operated by other airlines entirely (like Alitalia and British Airways).

With Star Alliance’s new change, only United Polaris flyers can access the “Partner Lounges.” Economy flyers, no matter their status, are out because the new Star Alliance policy defers to the airline policy on lounge access. And United’s policy bans Economy flyers from lounge access regardless of their status.

The only way to get into third-party lounges–such as Aspire lounges in foreign airports–a flyer must be flying in the United Polaris business class cabin. But, the changes aren’t limited to just third-party lounges. United is also limiting non-partner lounge access as well. For example: United Polaris flyers are the only ones allowed to visit the British Airways lounge at Cape Town International Airport (CPT) prior to travel. The same policy applies to Casa Alitalia Roma at Rome-Fiumicino International Airport (FCO) and the Marco Polo Club at Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE).

Star Alliance Changes Policy for United

The change also has major repercussions for other Star Alliance flyers because, as View From the Wing reports, Star Alliance changed its lounge access policies to accommodate United’s policy change.

While the old policy forced United to allow Star Alliance Gold not flying United to their lounges, the wording under the “Contract Lounges” section of Star Alliance’s Lounge Access Policy page is now changed under the to reflect airline policies.

“At airports where neither a Star Alliance branded lounge nor a Star Alliance member carrier offers a lounge, third party lounges are contracted by some of our member airlines. As a Star Alliance Gold customer traveling on a Star Alliance member airlines operated flight from such airports, you may have access to these third party contract lounges,” the website now reads. “Please refer to the Lounge Finder to identify which lounges you may have access to, according to the policy of each airline.”

An asterisk then refers readers to an important note: “Check the current policy of the airline which you are flying.” Thus, it would appear that airline policy now overwrites Star Alliance Gold policy for lounge access.

If you are a Star Alliance Gold member (Miles & More Senator, Turkish Airways Miles & Smiles Elite, etc), you can still visit Star Alliance Lounges under the alliance policies prior to your flight. However, with the United Airlines policy change, you cannot visit a United “Partner Lounge” unless you are flying in United Polaris.

United Club members and Star Alliance Gold members no longer allowed into United’s contracted network of “Partner Lounges.” The downside of this is that elite flyers and United Club members who are flying international aboard United can’t access the “Partner Lounges” in places where a Star Alliance Lounge may not be available. That means they have to wait outside among the great unwashed.

How to Still Get in Lounges With United Economy Tickets

If you are flying United economy, there are ways to get into lounges. It all depends on your international status and what you might have in your wallet.

According to the Star Alliance website, Star Alliance Gold customers can still access “any member airline lounge at the airport where your flight departs.” In order to do so, you must present your boarding pass showing travel on a Star Alliance carrier, a valid Star Alliance Gold card (if your boarding pass does not designate membership) and the lounge displays the Star Alliance Gold logo at the entrance.

In certain situations, your United Club membership can also get you into lounges. At select train stations, members can access the Acela Club by showing their United Club card.

View Comments (16)


  1. catocony

    January 29, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    This is apparently just contract lounges. For example, a United Gold/Platinum/1K flying in economy internationally can still use any Star Alliance lounge, such as Senator on Lufthansa. But, in economy, you can no longer use the contract lounges or non-Star airline lounge like the one in Rome if you’re flying economy.

  2. htb

    January 29, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    I think the article should have started with an explanation of the term “partner lounges”.
    I’m still almost unsure: a lounge operated by the partner Lufthansa is for some unclear reason not considered to be a “partner” lounge?

  3. am1108

    January 29, 2020 at 4:49 pm

    If this is only for third party contracted lounges then it’s not too bad, still bad, but not as much as Star Alliance lounges.

  4. A321neo

    January 29, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    I dont think the author of this article has a good grasp on the nuances of *A lounge access.

    EX: “Partner Lounges are those operated by Star Alliance airlines and have the “Star Alliance Gold” sign on the front of their doors. The “Partner Lounges” referred to by United are just those where United has a special arrangement with that lounge for the comfort of their United Polaris flyers.” Which one is it? These are two totally separate definitions of “Partner Lounge”.

    EX: “United Club members and Star Alliance Gold members no longer allowed into United’s contracted network of “Partner Lounges.” I think this is a fragment.

    EX: Perhaps differentiate between Polaris passengers and *A Gold passengers (which, as a group, includes UA Gold and above, as well as elites from other *A programs). Then distinguish between non-UA lounges operated by *A partners (such as the Turkish and Lufthansa lounges) and the contract lounges operated by non-*A entities (unaffiliated/non*A airlines, independent lounge operators, etc.)


  5. A321neo

    January 29, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    And OY, do we really need to complicate this by saying “In certain situations, your United Club membership can also get you into lounges.”

    This statement is highly misleading. The article goes on to state, to the best of my knowledge, the *only* example of this being true: a lounge that exists for when you’re not flying. It is further obscured by the fact that Acela lounge access is available at select train stations. This isn’t true, it’s available wherever an Acela lounge is — which is a whopping total of three train stations (DC, NY, Boston).

  6. FlyingNone

    January 29, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    As usual, only United can make these rules/ definitions about as convoluted as a basket full of snakes. I would have to read this
    3-4 times to understand it.

  7. jsds

    January 30, 2020 at 6:03 am

    I’m a proud member of “the great unwashed”


    January 30, 2020 at 6:53 am

    Confusing article, but policy change doesn’t impact me.

  9. wh6cto

    January 30, 2020 at 7:25 am

    Seems SIN (SATS) and TLV (Dan Lounge B/C) still accept *G. But yeah, that’s about it.
    I’m happy that there’s no change in access to Star Alliance lounges!

  10. ORDnHKG

    January 30, 2020 at 10:20 am

    Also, you need not have a star gold card to enter lounges if UA*G wasnt printed on the boarding pass, UA for one has stopped issuing premier gold card as of 5 years ago, ever noticed that ?

  11. Jimfish

    January 30, 2020 at 4:49 pm

    A321NEO is correct. According to the State Alliance page, United Club member have access to partner lounges. “As holder of an eligible Paid Lounge Membership, you have access to any Star Alliance member airline’s Business Class Lounge* at the airport where your flight departs. Eligible paid memberships are United Club and Air Canada Maple Leaf Club – Worldwide.” A ridiculous article.

  12. snn47


    January 31, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    Thank you pointing out that *A (contract) lounge access is not as clearly defined any more. However a table that identifies the on which basis the limitations apply and a link to Uniteds webpage that states this changes/restrictions would be helpfull too.
    I just checked *A webpage for Lounge access for an upcomming departure for PPT. It still lists the contract lounge “PPT Airport Authority Lounge” for UA flights leaving PPT for SFO as LH-Gold member flying in Eco on an UA ticket/metall. However by adding ” identify which lounges you may have access to, according to the policy of each airline* all search result are now as worseless as using a crystal ball, until *A webpage lists those *A airlines that customers have to check for restrictions and provide a direct link to the airline page where those exceptions are stated.
    Furthermore it may be necessary to be precise. What are the definitions for those restrictions, flying on an UA aircraft or having a United Eco ticket, independent which (*A) airline operates the aircraft, or also for tickets issued by other *A airlines using United operated airplanes or …… ?

  13. SPN Lifer

    February 5, 2020 at 1:46 am

    There is a fourth Acela station for which United Club membership gains admittance: the Philadelphia 30th Street Station.

  14. hyho61

    February 5, 2020 at 6:22 am

    This is a big deal in airports where there are no *G lounges, the most prominent is BOM. There are no airline specific (or alliance) specific lounges in BOM so even some one who is 1k flying on Premium Plus will not get access to the lounge in an important frequent flyer heavy route. Even AI does not have a lounge in BOM.

    We have to hope that this does not spread to other Star alliance airlines as it appears to be UA specific.

  15. ijgordon

    February 5, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    I agree the article is confusing bordering on misleading.
    We’re only talking about removing access from lounges that are not operated by Star alliance carriers, right?
    Frankly, I’m surprised Star Gold status got passengers into those lounges in the first place. I’m pretty sure that the SkyTeam and OneWorld lounge policy for elites only relate to lounges operated by airlines in those respective alliances. So this just harmonizes the policies, right?

  16. rylan

    February 20, 2020 at 6:12 pm

    Unfortunately this same restriction on 3rd party (contract) lounges was instituted by Delta a couple years ago… so now UA flyers are in the same boat. No access to non alliance lounges unless you’re in business class.

    I’m surprised it took UA that long to follow.

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