38 comments on “Topic of the Week: Are United Clubs More Crowded?

  1. Will tell you on Monday!

    Seriously, in January the T4 lounge in LHR wasn’t that crowded – and was nicer than the Star lounge in T3 (which was, essentially, windowless).

    1. The United Club at IAH is a dump – overcrowded, just about nothing available for free (apart from iced water). I left after sending a few e-mails to sit in the main lounge by the gate – there were less people outside of the Club than in it!

  2. This would seem unlikely. First, there’s basically been no capacity growth — which would mean more passengers to fill lounges.

    Second, about a year before the merger deal was announced, CO joined the Star Alliance. With reciprocal lounge access, that might have slightly bumped up lounge visitation. But even that was probably minor: the CO members were still mostly flying from CO’s hub airports, and still using their lounges.

    I don’t believe that one, very-expensive credit card that gives you unlimited lounge access is particularly popular — and wouldn’t simply replace folks who would otherwise buy lounge membership. I guess UA does include a couple of passes with their other credit cards, but I doubt this is enought to materially increase lounge crowdedness.

    A more accurate indicator would be how many lounge memberships UA is selling. Anyone have stats on that?

  3. I think the free access with the credit card is just 2 free passes, like Delta first did with its AMEX credit card a few years ago. Basically gives you a chance to sample the club, but if you want to keep using it, you have to pay up.

      1. Delta and AMEX offer the same thing, but again, the rules of getting that card (a high annual fee, excellent credit, minimum spend rules and a high credit limit) pretty much rule out anyone who wouldn’t already be in there.

  4. Perhaps the reason for the perceived crowding is actually that UA is seeing an increase business travelers. Usually those are the ones that will use a club since we can just charge it back to the travel budget.

    The last club I was in was the Alaska Air Boardroom in Seattle thanks to a free pass I got from Cranky. It was an absolute zoo. That is my experience with most club lounges, so I’m not a big enough fan to purchase membership anymore, nor do I fly as much as I used to.

    1. My wife & I fly Alaska a lot and also use the Seattle boardroom a great deal. We have never seen it in a condition I would call a “zoo”. It is often times crowded but we’ve always been able to find places to sit and get snacks & drinks without problems.

    2. Compared to the zoo that are the concourses, I’ll take the Alaska Boardrooms any day of the week. It’s worth the yearly fee to have access to a quiet space, read a paper, sip some wine, recharge the smart phone, plug in the laptop or just snooze.

  5. It doesn’t seem that much more crowded, at least at SFO, LAX and PDX, where I visit most frequently. SFO is always fairly busy, same for LAX (and ORD in the C Concourse). I do get tired of the incessent smug advertising for their card, however.

  6. What card gets you club access? Is this a premium card with a high annual fee or more of the standard airline card with a nominal or no annual fee? I know the Platinum Amex advertises that it’ll get you into any club anytime…all for that $450 annual fee which IMO keeps the riff raff out. I’d consider if I were traveling more (I get a mailing from them almost weekly). My std. Delta Amex just gave me several free pass coupons back when I got the card. Nice, but nothing that would crowd the clubs.

    I for one think the clubs are largely over priced, at least the ones I’ve been in; Delta, UA, AA. It’s more humane than the bus station look of the outside terminal but annual/daily rates seem way too high for a couple free drinks and a nicer chair to lounge around in. Free wi-fi and a newspaper isn’t really a big seller for me. I for one would welcome the clubs either going more up market and keeping the current elitism, or opening them up to the more “casual” business travelers (i.e. lower prices) and stay as-is. I’ve never felt crowded in a club so I think the airlines have room to fill and potentially make some more $$$ on volume.

    1. Your suggestion of keeping them as-is and lowering the price has merit. If they wanted they can add a higher level club for those passengers they feel need it. Already this is accomplished on international First or Business with separate clubs for those passengers over and above the usual clubs. It seems to work well, so by that nature it would make sense to create a larger spread in the club. Perhaps a separate area for those actually in domestic first.

  7. I’ve seen a huge increase in traffic, particularly at IAD… Lounges are overloaded on a more regular basis, and even the concourses seem busier… And upgrade lists are longer and upgrade clearing is harder… Being a 1K ain’t what it used to be..

    1. The increase in volume at IAD started before the merger with CO. Typically in mid-afternoon its really packed for the TATL flights. It got worse when free booze started flowing in the clubs, but only more so at the bar area. YMMV :)

  8. The United Club at NRT has been standing room only most of the time when I’ve gone through there (about twice (coming and going) a quarter this past year). The bank of several 747s and 777s meeting each other to/from Asia and the US all arrive and depart within a 4-5 hour period (or less) and there isn’t an empty chair to be found until the major flights have departed. With only minimal food offerings, a comfortable seat is about the only thing that makes that club attractive. So, don’t buy a membership just so you can use the NRT club.

    1. Yes, I concur. I passed through Narita twice during November 2011 en route from San Francisco to Jakarta. Although a large facility it was difficult finding a single seat in a club that was worn, noisy, and marginally maintained. Two months ago I used JAL through Haneda, having been impressed with an ambiance of quite comfort and polite service in the general waiting areas.

  9. As for card access, it should be a wash, UA pulled out of the AMEX Platinum deal just before they introduced the UA card perk. I cant imagine there are so many more people as a result of that alone. As for the merger, possibly, but I think its likely just due to the increase in travel demand over the past 2 years, and the growth of elites that corresponds to the growth in population

  10. I would say Yes for the most part.. ORD, SFO, LAX, DEN have had more people
    this year compared to the last 3-4 years…
    Even at SYD using the Air New Zealand Lounge on Star Alliance almost
    every seat was full last week..
    I agree the food offerings have gone down hill past 2 years…I will re think
    this for next year…

  11. delta has now gone to charging for drinks that are so called premium i bet they are making lots of $$$ also they seem to be consolidating lounges. In atlanta 2 weeks ago i was in E for international flight-business class but only the regular lounge is there the business one is closed so all u got weres olives and hummus… maybe F has a business lounge… at least with us airways making international business a regular lounge in philly u got a drink ticket..not so with delta…

  12. I have found the United Lounges to always be quite busy… If they wanted to make them less busy, they could stop selling passes and limit access to those with tier levels and those flying in biz and first. [The three least busy — and generally tranquil lounges –are the First Class lounges in LAX, ORD, and SFO… and while the one in ORD is rather tiny, the staff more than make up for it. And Rebecca at LAX is always incredibly upbeat and chipper — even when she told me that my luggage would arrive in Australia a day after me because of my delayed connection out of ORD.]

  13. I would say yes for the domestic clubs. My membership is up for renewal and am debating whether it is worth it anymore. I find it next to impossible to find any workspace and end up just going out to the terminal.

  14. United Clubs also give access to Priority Pass members, which I’m sure boosts the number of visitors here and there. I believe there’s only one club that’s not included (I think in Japan somewhere, I can’t exactly remember but it’s not at NRT), otherwise we enjoy system-wide access.

    1. Surprised more people don’t use Priority Pass, really flexible system that can end up being both cheaper and more useful (especially for people who aren’t married to one airline/alliance)

    2. Are you sure about that? I’m pretty certain that Priority Pass (which I have thanks to Amex Plat card) doesn’t get you access to UA clubs. At least not in the United States.

      1. That’s not Priority Pass from Amex, it’s Priority Pass Select. A bare bones version that doesn’t get you in UA clubs and charges $27 per guest at others. Priority Pass directly from Priority Pass costs a good amount and does get in you in UA.

  15. I flew UA F to ZRH a few weeks ago and could not believe how crowded the lounge was. Standing room only, no food to speak of, dirty showers… I never thought I’d long for a Maple Leaf Lounge!

  16. Writing as a lifetime Red Carpet member, the difference to me is international versus domestic club rooms. Everywhere we have been overseas, the club rooms have been great with good food, drinks, and sometimes even showers. Most recently we spent five hours at the Star Alliance/ Maple Leaf Club in Vancouver because of weather. If you have to be stuck somewhere, it was a positive experience.

    However, the domestic clubs generally feel cheap. They are crowded and the snacks are minimal. Don’t know if this is because of credit card guests, the merger, or probably just penny-pinching.

  17. I can only report on the UA clubs that I use most often (I have a lifetime membership bought for $1000 more than 30 years ago). ORD at C16 is huge, 900+ capacity, and is never full, even in the private room of laptop cubes. Same for ORD at B6 or B18. Same within the last three months at SFO’s main club, which is huge, same at BOS by C19 or LGA (bad for being outside security).

    Many of us want a desk and laptop internet access in these clubs, and I’ve never had a problem in the last few months. Secondary is the availability of free drinks as long as you stick to the house wine and house brands.

    The most crowded club I’ve experienced of interested to UA fliers is the LH “Tower Lounge” near A65 at FRA. This is typically standing room only between about 10:30a and noon. But that was true a year or two ago and has nothing to do with recent credit card offerings.

    Bob Gordon

  18. I flew through ORD twice last week to and from MCO. I didnt really see that full of a club as I have seen in ATL or LAX. The club on the south side of concourse B was pretty empty where my wife and I went into the corner to read her nook and me on my ipad. Then on the way home the concourse F club was full, but its a very small lounge, but we found a table to sit at near the bar.

  19. United lounges have never been much more than glorified cafeterias anyway, why anyone would pay the outrageous fee is way beyond me

  20. The question is what is the point of a lounge? Seriously. In an era of being able to tote ones office in ones hands lounges will have to adapt to accomodate the connected traveler beyond snacks and free booze.

  21. Yes, totally United slubs more Crowded now and the attendants in the club also forgot their customer service skills. They just seemed stressed all the time and barely have time to answer any questions you have.

  22. I joined the RCC over 30 years ago when a lifetime membership including your spouse was only $250. Now it seem anyone can join even though you aren’t a FF and just buy UAL’s Credit card. The clubs are crowded and exclusiveness is lost.

  23. Hey Mike,

    Believe me, you couldn’t join the UA club 30 years ago for $250. I joined all three (AA, TW, and UA) between 1977 and 1984 and the flat rate was $1000 for lifetime. AA provided a card for my wife but neither TW or UA did so. Because the entry procedure in the old days just involved waving a card, which was not scanned (because it had no magnetic strip), they were transferable. Indeed, I gave my TW card to my younger brother who was based in NYC after TW shut down its hub operations and sold its ORD-LHR route to AA in 1991.

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Cranky Flier