U.S. based airlines have some of the most confusing lounge access policies and the reason is simple – they want to make as much money as they possible can by getting people to buy memberships to their clubs, even though some people already might have complimentary access. For the average traveller, the rules are super complicated to understand and even your average United elite doesn’t understand they might not have access even if they’re Gold or higher. I’ve seen Premier 1Ks turned away from the club because they were flying on a domestic itinerary, I mean if you are a 1K shouldn’t you know how lounge access works? In cases as such, I usually am a nice person and will bring in the poor 1K as a guest and thoroughly explain the access rules.

Since even top-tier United elites easily get confused, here is exactly how access into the United Airlines United Clubs work:

Access based on Class of Service

  • United Global First and BusinessFirst passengers (international)
  • United p.s. BusinessFirst (may only access lounge at JFK, SFO, and LAX)
  • United Business (international North/Central America flights)
  • All other Star Alliance First and Business Class passengers (access at departure airport only)

Access based on Elite Status

  • United Star Alliance Gold Members travelling on an international itinerary (at least 1 segment must be international)
  • All other Star Alliance Gold Members (can be travelling on United domestically and will have access)

Access based on everything else

  • United Club Membership
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club Membership
  • United Club One-Time pass
  • Priority Pass (ends 15 May 2015)
  • Select U.S. Military personnel
  • Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Plus member card

So here is more clarification: if you are travelling on a United itinerary domestically only and you are a United elite, you do not have access. If you have a non-United Star Gold card and are travelling domestically you do have access. This is the biggest confusion – United does not let its own elites into United Clubs unless they are flying internationally. The first segment does not have to be international. Also, United domestic First Class passengers do not have access to United Clubs. More details about United Club access can be viewed here.