United Eliminates Contract Lounge Benefit For Star Alliance Customers

Star Alliance Gold members – elites with airlines like Lufthansa, Asiana, ANA, Turkish and Aegean – are permitted to access the lounges of any Star Alliance member airline with a same day departing boarding pass from any Star Alliance airline.

Frequently, however, an airline flies somewhere that they don’t have their own lounge – and their Star Alliance partners don’t have one either (or the partner lounge isn’t most convenient to the flight). Generally speaking, then, the airline will arrange for its passengers to use a ‘contract lounge’.

United has been inviting its business class customers to contract lounges in about 30 cities, and they’ve extended this option to Star Alliance members are well even though they aren’t required to.

Now United has mostly eliminated the practice. Except at two airports United no longer invites Star Alliance Gold members (who aren’t flying business class) to use contract lounges. This move (naturally) follows one made a few years ago by Delta.

The cities where United offers invitations to contract lounges, but will not do so for Star Alliance Gold customers, is: Amsterdam; Athens; Barcelona; Cape Town; Chengdu; Delhi; Dublin; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Lima; Madrid; Manchester; Milan; Mumbai; Naples; Nice; Osaka; Palermo; Pape’ete; Porto; Prague; Quito; Reykjavik; Rome; Santiago; Shannon; Stockholm; Venice; and Zurich.

Some of these cities have lounges operated by Star Alliance carriers that Star Gold members would be able to use. This includes Athens, Chengdu, Delhi, Osaka, Singapore and Zurich.

United says they’ve made this change “to make the access to these contract lounges similar to the access policy of our United Polaris lounges.”

United Polaris Lounge Houston

Star Alliance Gold members who aren’t flying in business class will still be given lounge invitations in two locations, a United spokesperson tells me, “because of the market.”

  • Singapore, where United business class and Star Gold members are both directed tot he SATS lounge.
  • Tel Aviv, where United business class customers are invited to the E lounge and Star Golds the B & C lounges.

It’s surprising to see this described as an effort to offer conformity with Polaris lounges, since United has international departures from hubs that will never get a Polaris lounge – like Denver, where business class passengers are invited to use standard United Clubs. Moreover there’s been no word about any progress on promised London, Tokyo, or Hong Kong Polaris lounges. In fact I’d be surprised if we ever saw more than one of those three.

Since this is not a benefit United is required to offer, and not a benefit competitors generally offer, it’s not surprising to see the airline make this cut. I’m tempted to say that Star Gold members have, in effect, been Kirbyed. However the cuts to benefits for Star Alliance elites at United have a long history that predates Scott Kirby as CEO-in-waiting. Star Gold members, for instance, used to receive complimentary access to Economy Plus seating at booking for instance.

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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  1. Arg, that’s a huge loss as a lot of those lounges are in the international wing and the Star Alliance lounges are in the “domestic” wing.

  2. Airports like ZRH and ARN have Star Gold lounges (not contract) and so I’m assuming aren’t really impacted as much

  3. Gary, this is very unfortunate. I’m * Gold through UA. If I’m flying through Mumbai on Lufthansa economy or UA economy, would I continue to have access to the GVK lounge in each instance? Singapore airlines gives access to the much worse Loyalty Lounge when flying in coach.

  4. Does this include UA*G? i.e. if I as a 1K am stuck in economy because my GPU (plus points) didn’t clear (as happened way too many times in 2019). While I understand the analogy to Polaris Lounges, in every airport where there is a Polaris lounge I can’t access, there is a United Club I can access.

  5. “Kirbyed” – that’s a keeper.

    The hits just keep coming. When Kirby left AA for UA, comments from UA fliers were similar to “Let’s give him a chance” while AA members laughed. Hard.

    This is just the beginning, UA fliers. Wait until Kirby starts shrinking seats and eliminating award space… oh. Never mind.

  6. To be fair the contract lounges have not always been good about honoring *G status and I’ve sometimes been turned away unless I had a ticket from specified carriers. For example this happened at CDG.

    Thankfully many of these cities have PP lounges so I think we will still have lounge options, but perhaps not as nice as some of the contract lounges.

  7. United says they’ve made this change “to make the access to these contract lounges similar to the access policy of our United Polaris lounges.”

    LOL. What are they smoking? Having been to some of these contract lounges, they generally are nice but not anywhere near the caliber of a Polaris Lounge IMHO.

    Just more of Kirby’s “death by a thousand cuts”……

  8. @VX_Flier
    +1 and LOL.
    Kirbyed is right. I posted in a different thread that Kirby was just getting started with cuts…He is envious of Delta’s profit margins and profit dollars, and thinks he can make as much money as Delta by charging the same and offering less. It doesn’t work like that.
    UA loyalists might see it sooner than later.

  9. From https://www.staralliance.com/en/lounge-access-policy, it seems to indicate Star Gold’s are entitled to access to contract lounges… what am I missing?

    “As a Star Alliance Gold customer travelling on a Star Alliance member airlines operated flight from such airports, you have access to these third party contract lounges, if the member airline you are travelling on has a contract with this lounge.”

    Is the detail just that the contract can exclude Star Gold? -.-

  10. Does the fact that United ranked #8, just above American at #9 with Delta at #1 in the recent Wall Street Journal Survey even get noticed by the idiot-jerk, Kirby? Is it too late to status match with Delta?

  11. When United stopped honouring my Lufthansa Gold baggage allowance, it made me move to Qatar one world. Even though I hit my gold status on Star every year, I parallely also run a One World account with Qatar where I am platinum. So my spend is now split and all because United showed how they don’t want to support the Star Alliance benefits.

    Don’t sacrifice service to make more money. Your won’t win.

  12. Just a data point, I was admitted to the Lima contract lounge as a 1K even though I was flying economy.

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