My $305 Ticket That Gets Me Access To United’s Polaris Lounge

I’d like to think I’ve been to most of the best airport lounges in the US. I’d argue the all around best lounge is the Qantas First Class Lounge LAX, which has beautiful decor and a fantastic food and drink selection.

While I’m not sure I’d call it a traditional “lounge,” I think American’s Flagship First Dining JFK is also up there for the great food, fantastic cocktails, attentive service, quiet atmosphere, and great views.

In terms of business class lounges, I think Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse JFK is probably the best, for the fun vibe, massages and haircuts, and a la carte dining.

In terms of just general airline-run membership lounges, I think the Delta SkyClub Seattle can’t be beat, as it has gorgeous decor, is spacious, and has great food.

However, there’s one airport lounge in the US that I most want to visit, that I suspect could also be pretty far up there on my list — that’s the United Polaris Lounge Chicago. Travis has reviewed this lounge in great detail, including every dish on their menu. However, I’d sure like to experience the lounge myself. I was supposed to fly Lufthansa first class from Chicago to Munich a few weeks ago, which I specifically planned around being able to use the Polaris Lounge. Unfortunately that trip with my dad got canceled due to Hurricane Irma.

So now I have a creative way I hope to check out the lounge soon. Access to the Polaris Lounge is limited to United longhaul international business & first class passengers, as well as Star Alliance premium cabin passengers departing Chicago the same day. As Travis has written about, this opens up a pretty affordable opportunity to visit the Polaris Lounge without flying longhaul.

Specifically, an Air Canada business class ticket from Chicago to Toronto comes with Polaris Lounge access, even though it’s a sub-500 mile flight. I need to go to Toronto soon to position for my EL AL flight to Tel Aviv, so that seemed like the perfect opportunity to try this out.

Air Canada, American, and United, all fly nonstop between Chicago and Toronto, and their paid business class fares are as follows:

  • United — $210
  • Air Canada — $305
  • American — $346

So that’s exactly what I did. I booked an afternoon flight from Chicago to Toronto, and I’ll be at the Polaris Lounge the second the lounge opens to review it. My real “out of pocket” on this is ~$280 (after factoring in the 5x points I’m earning on the airfare purchase), and at that price it seems like a great opportunity to review the Polaris Lounge while also positioning to Toronto.

I’m excited to visit the Polaris Lounge, though I’ve heard it tends to get ridiculously crowded (though they’re in the process of expanding it) and they’ve already done some cost cutting, so I look forward to seeing what it’s like firsthand.

So if you want to access the Polaris Lounge on the “cheap,” this is hands down the most affordable way to do so.

Has anyone used the United Polaris Lounge when flying Air Canada to Toronto?

Comments

  1. Nope. Your real out of pocket is the difference between the fares of flights going direct to toronto and the ones that are letting you stop in Chicago.

    Hi Anne!

  2. Without factoring in points, you’re paying $95 more just to review a lounge? How much is it to pay for a day pass?

  3. I flew ORD to HKG Polaris first this year and visited the lounge. What struck me was how enthusiastic the staff were! The nap rooms are very nice. No passes allowed for this lounge. But still too crowded. Lucky get there early!

  4. You’ve booked Air Canada, because United flight to Toronto doesn’t come with Polaris lounge access? United Club ORD is great anyway.

  5. been there just three days ago and was disapointed. Lounge was very crowded and staff quite unfriendly. took me about 45 mins to get a table in the dinning area.
    I would rather spent the US$ 95 which you pay extra at the bar oposite to the lounge. the one with the piano.

  6. They have biz class on Embraer’s? Lol, I’ve flew on those quite a bit from JFK-LOU, can’t imagine anything but a single row of seats fitting on that plane.

  7. WARNING: it has been reported by multiple lounge staff this week that effective tomorrow Sept 30th, AC business class flights to Canada no longer get access to this ORD polaris lounge.

    Here is a FT post http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/28868638-post141.html

    This likely will mean the SFO polaris lounge, when it opens, will have a similar restriction blocking AC J cabin passengers headed to Canada.

    We’ve been to the ORD Polaris several times by forcing a stop from a US feeder city into Chicago to Toronto, since we knew the deal was too good to last!

    Fantastic lounge, but they can not handle crowds or manage waits for the 20 or so tables eligible for food service from the 4pm-6pm rush to save their lives. They always put names on a waitlist, but whoever is near the table just sits down the second a guest leaves. Staff intervenes by saying “we had a waiting list but it is up to you if you would like to stay seated or get up.” Maybe United doesn’t want bad press from a video of someone being dragged out of their lounge dining area seat.

  8. Apparently AC business class passengers are no longer granted access to the Polaris lounge in ORD. You might want to research on that. There is a thread on FT in the AC forum on the subject with more details.

  9. Alonzo

    Sure, just one seat on the starboard side and two on the port side is how “First” works on a regional jet like that. The solo seat is pretty nice for a single, and the double for a couple.

  10. I flew ORD-YVR just after it opened and was denied access. It was early and it was the end of a long trip so I didn’t argue, even though it was technically international business class…

  11. @PJ – What airline are you flying? DFW-LHR would be AA (or BA) not UA. This is a United Lounge so you need to be flying on a premium cabin on an international flight on a Star Alliance carrier in order to access the lounge. If you actually mean you are flying DFW-ORD-LHR on United in Polaris, then of course you have access to the lounge! If not, then no.

  12. Canada bound passenger access to the lounge ends in October supposedly. Might want to cancel that flight. AC is probably tired of paying for it.

  13. Used it on my way to DEL via FRA a few weeks after it’s opening. Great lounge with a nice cool vibe – definitely my favorite lounge in the US. The on-demand lunch menu was good and the portions just right. The amenities (shower, sleeping areas, the private cubicles) were great. Best of all is that it wasn’t crowded, especially since the terminal is only open to those flying LH, UA overseas or ANA. Should be using it again in a few weeks on another travel to MUC.

  14. @Mark P @JL UA considers it’s own flights to Canada domestic, while since AC is an international airline it gets access to the Polaris lounge.

  15. Are you allowed to clear security at terminal 1 and access the Polaris lounge if you are flying in a premium cabin on a Star Alliance carrier departing from terminal 5, or do you need to be flying UA/NH/LH?

  16. $280 is cheap to visit a lounge? For you sure since its your business, but us regular folks might as well get a hotel at that point.

  17. “Without factoring in points, you’re paying $95 more just to review a lounge?”

    Uhhh… It’s Lucky’s JOB to review lounges… I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the lounge is worth $95. Or $280.

  18. Based on half the comments, does anyone actually read these posts for comprehension anymore? Lucky clearly states:

    A) NO access to Polaris is allowed with either a pass, *A gold, or UA business or first.

    B) Access is permitted ONLY on UA metal on longhaul travel in Business or first OR on international *A carriers in those classes.

    C) He bought a ticket on AC because reasons A&B.

    D) He’s spending $300 fly to YYZ to go to the lounge not because it’s expensive but rather because it’s the cheapest way to experience it, and a bit of a hack. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, activities like this are what he does, and why many of us read him daily.

    Jeez. Read. The. Post.

  19. Per employee memo, Polaris lounge access limited to longhaul flights only, no longer for Canada, Mexico, CenAm or Caribbean destinations. Clients to those markets can utilize United Club.

  20. @Jason – yes, I saw that. But it’s irrelevant to Lucky’s original post about why he was buying a $300 biz tix on AC metal out of ORD. Which is what half the posts question.

    That said, he might now wish to change his travel plans.

  21. I rented a car and drove to Toronto 8 at McDonald’s and had a lot more money left over and had a great time …lol

  22. @Michael C – Yes, you can access terminal 1 with a terminal 5 boarding pass and get into the Polaris lounge. I did this earlier in September with a Swiss business class boarding pass. And I live in Chicago so I used Terminal 1 security to visit the Polaris lounge and then use the new Terminal Transfer Bus from Terminal 3 to get to Terminal 5. Any passenger with a terminal 5 boarding pass and passport can ride the TTB, it is not specific to AA or OneWorld as some have thought.

  23. Saying, “…the Qantas First Class Lounge LAX…has…fantastic food…” is quite a stretch — it’s really QUITE bad.

    Similarly, but not AS bad is the food assessment of DL’s SEA lounge.

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