Review: United Polaris Lounge Houston

I was able to experience the United Polaris Lounge Houston earlier this month. A couple of weeks ago I visited the United Polaris lounge in Newark and last year I visited the Chicago O’Hare Polaris lounge. All are excellent. I still haven’t been to the lounge in San Francisco.

There are still Polaris lounges to open at LAX (later this year), Washington Dulles, London Heathrow, Tokyo Narita, and Hong Kong.

The United Polaris lounge Houston is the smallest United Polaris lounge so far at just 12,528 square feet. While the United Polaris lounge Houston is smaller scale, and in my opinion the food not quite up to Chicago and Newark levels, it’s still nicer than anything United has done previously here and nicer than business class lounge offerings from American and from Delta (which doesn’t have such a thing).

Accessing the United Polaris Lounge Houston

The United Polaris Lounge Houston is currently open from 5:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Access is available to United’s Polaris business class passengers and Star Alliance partner business and first class customers. It’s not open to short haul business or domestic first class customers. And it’s not open to premium transcon passengers.

Unlike at the Newark lounge, and the Chicago lounge when I visited, there wasn’t a minder outside of the club turning people away who didn’t have access.

united polaris lounge houston

There’s a large reception area, with agents working behind a desk checking your credentials to enter, and then an elevator just to the right that will take you upstairs. The lounge takes over the top floor of the United Club, but with a separate entrance and elevator it’s completely separated.

united polaris lounge houston

Sit Down Dining and Buffet

The United Polaris lounge Houston has a buffet, a sit down dining room with menu service, and a full bar. There are 14 tables with space for 28 people in the restaurant.

Tables against the wall were all taken, which disappointed me since I wanted to charge my laptop while I sat down to try some of the dishes on the menu. A staff member mentioned that there were actually plugs on the ground beneath each of the other tables, but another member of the wait staff said they didn’t work. We tried and they didn’t.

I sat down and looked over the menu:

What really impressed me was the wine selection, a number of nice bottles for a business class lounge.

I ordered a glass of Prisoner, the étouffée, and the Polaris burger. I was blown away that United offered this wine in their lounge, it came out right away and I swirled it a bit to get it to open up while I waited for my first course.

I’m torn about the étouffée. The rice seemed like instant. The dish was flavorful but not too spicy. It reminded me a bit of the jambalaya United serves on board, it wasn’t a standout as I hoped for the lounge but it certainly wasn’t bad.

I’m writing up the burger experience separately, and comparing it to American’s burger. The burger took quite some time to come out. A server kept checking in with me every few minutes to let me know it would be right out, though it took longer than she said each time. Still I appreciated the effort for her to come back.

I did also decide just to photograph a dessert.

The buffet included items like a chipotle mac and cheese casserole, sliders, crispy brussel sprouts, an Argentinian picadillo stew, and arepas. The arepas were excellent

The bar is gorgeous and well-provisioned, but a bit understaffed while I was there and once lounge traffic picked up customers had to wait for drinks.

Shower and Nap Suites

As with the Newark lounge, the interior walls and signage is reminiscent of a Cathay Pacific lounge.

I went and had a look at the shower suites and the nap (‘quiet’) rooms.

I saw the inside of one of the accessible showers. As with the other Polaris lounges restrooms were individual rooms that were much like the shower rooms (without the showers) so great for changing and privacy.

There are just two semi-private nap rooms here, everything is smaller in number due to the smaller size of the lounge, but these are nice spaces and well-appointed.

Work and Lounge

The United Polaris Lounge Houston is gorgeous with phenomenal views of the tarmac and a variety of seating options perfect for getting work done of just gazing.

There are 191 seats and 22 work spaces in this lounge, along with 324 power outlets and 264 USB ports so there’s power pretty much everywhere. They really got that one right. The only place power didn’t work was on the floor at the free floating dining tables. I let the lounge manager know about that.

Crowding

They call the United Polaris lounge Houston ’boutique’ which means small. It has only about 40% the seating capacity of the Newark lounge. However with fewer international flights and those flights space out more throughout the day that mostly works for the lounge. It only got crowded around 5 p.m. on the Thursday evening when I was there.

There was seating enough for everyone at peak time but when the lounge is packed it isn’t nearly as serene. Thunderstorms had rolled in so there were flight delays in addition to the usual evening bank of flights contributing to the number of people in the lounge. I still enjoyed it even when full.

However all of the dining tables were taken so if you wanted a sit down meal you would have had to wait.

A Great Place to Visit Before Your Star Alliance Flight

The staff here are friendly. The lounge is gorgeous. Tarmac views are fantastic. Everything about the Polaris lounge Houston is well designed.

There are showers and nap rooms, an extensive buffet and a sit down restaurant. What’s more even though the lounge is small most of the day it doesn’t seem to be crowded, since the airline’s flights are better space throughout the day rather than clustering solely around 5 o’clock.

My flight home to Austin was delayed so I spent more time in here than I had planned, and I didn’t mind it one bit. It just made me wish I had access on the rest of my flights. Now that United has shown that they can do this I think expectations for them should be higher — and premium customers should hold them to that standard.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. So domestic first class not allowed? I mean, how many first class Polaris flights are there going into Houston?

  2. “I mean, how many first class Polaris flights are there going into Houston?”

    It’s Polaris Business Class thst gets access. And how many flights? AMS, FRA, LHR (x2), MUC, GIG, GRU, SYD and NRT.

    Add to that Star Alliance J pax on CA, LH, NH, BR, SQ and TK.

  3. So if I read correctly it says your flight to Austin was delayed. That means you had access after the long haul flight? Reading the rules it is not completely clear for me if you can do that (not native English speaker). That would be good news for me this Friday as I’ll be connecting to a short flight from a long haul.

  4. I enjoyed the Houston lounge as well but definitely noted that the very small sit down dining area had a wait from 6:30-8:30p (the whole time I was there). They were cautious about getting people to move- for instance, one guy sat at his table for two hours working on his laptop, not eating (presumably having finished eating). I guess they didn’t want to ask him to move to the lounge area but that should be part of the training professional wait staff receives. The food was fine but, as you experienced, took awhile to come out. I was confused by the layout of the dining area between the buffet and other eating area (since people didn’t seem to know where they could eat their buffet food) and there really was zero view from the dining area. The stand out was the kind service by everyone I talked to and excellent wine. I still prefer Chicago’s booths and cozy dining area, but would rate Houston higher than Newark’s too large and crowded atmosphere. Thanks for your take on it, I look forward to trying it again.

  5. I was in the ORD P-lounge back in May. Impressive. Most of my spend has shifted to UA. They are actually trying hard to improve.

  6. The IAH Polaris lounge is a step up for United, although a small step and from about the bottom stair of global lounges. The shower was clean, neat, nice and very welcome after an overnight from Chile. You can for sure use the lounge coming or going in business. The food is average at best. I didn’t do the sit down dining but the buffet is so-so. Nothing special. The alcohol options are good with some great wines and liquor options. I was baffled as to why they don’t serve alcohol till 10 am (on Sunday). No idea where that came from. Kudos to United for at least making an effort but on the global stage, the Polaris lounge falls short of the competition.

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