Cost/Benefit of United Club Pass
October 1, 2021 6:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm doing some air travel later this month, and have a 3 hour layover at O'Hare. I tend to eat and drink during layovers in airports, and airport food and booze can be expensive. The United Club Pass is $50, and offers free drinks and food. I don't know what kind of drinks and food are offered in United Club Lounges, but I'm considering buying a Pass to save money. Is this a thing that would work?
posted by hippybear to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
Best answer: Lounges are nice for better chairs and outlets and wifi and such, but especially during COVID, I wouldn't do it for the food alone. They probably offer something like crappy packaged sandwiches and, like, little cups of pasta salad. If you like to drink a lot, it might be more worth it (I can't speak to that as much, I'm not a big drinker when traveling). You can look up pictures and reviews of the specific club(s) at loungebuddy, which may help you decide.

I'll also note that a lot of the people you see in lounges tend not to be paying full-freight - they're getting lounge passes from their frequent flier status, flight class, annual passes, credit card benefits*, etc. - it's not the kind of thing that's worth $50 to most people, at least at the basic American lounges (some international ones can be much swankier).

*Since united club passes are offered as a benefit on United credit cards, and can be transferred to other people, you might be able to just get one by asking around - especially this year, when many people won't have been traveling. Or you can buy one on eBay for cheap, although who knows what United's terms would have to say about that.
posted by mosst at 6:51 AM on October 1, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I guess it depends how much you're likely to spend on food and drinks during a 3 hour layover - if you don't mind grabbing a seat at an airport bar, you can probably get a better meal and a drink for under $50.

It looks like there's more than one United Club at O'Hare - here's a recent review of the one in Terminal 2. There's complimentary beer and wine, and the food is sort of cafeteria-y prepackaged stuff, seems like.
posted by mskyle at 6:53 AM on October 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're looking for better food and care less about a quiet space to work/nap I would skip the club, take the $50 budget, and have a great meal at Rick Bayless' Tortas Frontera. It's through the psychedelic tunnel and up the escalator on the left in the B concourse of Terminal 1 (since I'm assuming you're travelling on United, but there's one in T3 as well)

ORD is my home base and I'll get deliberately there early to have me a torta on the company dime before I fly out.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:59 AM on October 1, 2021 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Tortas is one of my five top restaurants and probably the best airport dining in the world so I would use your $50 there.
posted by sandmanwv at 7:01 AM on October 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Three hours is not worth it.

During the summer I had a six-hour layover at ORD, and for that I used one of my free club passes at United. The food was grab-and-go type stuff (microwaved burrito, foil-wrapped hot dogs, fruit cup, granola cup, vending-machine chips). The beer, however, was worth it and the quieter environment was also worth something to me.

...but in all seriousness, I wouldn't do it unless I were going to be there long enough to drink enough "free" beer to zero out the expense.
posted by aramaic at 7:16 AM on October 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think I can solve your dilemma- check your MeMail!
posted by artificialard at 7:17 AM on October 1, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: The United domestic clubs at O'Hare tend to have slightly more substantial food options, but they're still pretty limited, even pre-COVID (like, adding some soup was an exciting improvement). I wouldn't call it a proper meal at all. Drinks are well drinks for the most part. Not worth $50 in itself. You'd need to value the relative peace and quiet, too.

There's probably a fairly detailed discussion of the lounge offerings on Flyertalk if you want more information.
posted by praemunire at 7:49 AM on October 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: before COVID, domestic lounges were... barely worth that.

now they most definitely are not worth that in terms of food. Last time I was in a United lounge, a few months ago, they were serving little bags of Doritos (not even Cool Ranch!!) and like little baggies of carrot sticks.

Booze might be a different story if you are super into drinking.

The one thing that makes a lounge better than a terminal, when you take food out of the equation, is that they don't have blaring PA announcements. But there is usually some jackass blabbering loudly and incessantly on a Facetime call, so it's not a tranquil haven.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:06 AM on October 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've had a full United Club membership for years. I find it worth it for a variety of reasons (more related to improved service and shorter lines when there's an issue with a flight than to the food and drink), but there's no way I'd pay $50 for a single 2-3 hour visit.
posted by primethyme at 8:13 AM on October 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not worth it right now, unless the airport is HELLA crowded. I have the credit card so I get some free passes each year and was most recently in one in August, and they have no hot food (everything is still packaged grab-and-go because of COVID), the lounge was pretty crowded because people were trying to avoid the chaos out in the terminal, and service seemed slower/more limited than normal, probably due to staffing issues. Like, I'm glad I used my pass because otherwise it would've expired, but I wouldn't have paid money for that experience.

I would just pick the nicest bar/restaurant in the airport to hang out in instead. You'll get much more bang for your buck.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 8:14 AM on October 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We get it through a United credit card and it's nice to have but probably not worth $50. The food is unremarkable but the seats are comfy and the bathrooms are clean.
posted by octothorpe at 8:52 AM on October 1, 2021

Best answer: it sounds like artificialard may have hooked you up, but FWIW, the passes seem to be $59 now, which skews the math worse a bit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:22 AM on October 1, 2021

Response by poster: FWIW, the passes seem to be $59 now, which skews the math worse a bit.

My flight got rescheduled, and I think they priced it at $50 as part of the "sorry we fucked up your carefully planned life" thing. But yes, they are normally $59. I poked around their website a LOT and found that $50 deal only available directly through the "reschedule your rescheduled flight" portion. Maybe if I do click through on that I'll find the price is suddenly higher. I have no idea. Airlines are their own tyrannical fiefdoms of Things Not On Land Or Water.
posted by hippybear at 4:58 PM on October 1, 2021

Best answer: You can do much better for $50 at one of the many bars and restaurants than what you can get at the United Club. I like airport clubs and have annual membership access to pretty much every other airport club but United. The 2-3 times a year a United guess pass is my only club option, I will buy one only if I have a long time to wait and really need a quiet(er) place to work. I'd put maybe a $15 value on the food and drink, if that.
posted by MattD at 7:54 AM on October 2, 2021

Best answer: I used to think a three-hour layover was way too long, but not anymore. Not at O’Hare. It can take a lot of time to get around a huge and busy airport like that, and I never seem to get inside the terminal on the predicted schedule, either from delayed takeoff, taxiing around waiting for an open gate, or some other reason.

At least one United Club has been closed for renovations the last several times I’ve been through ORD. It is also perhaps worth noting that when air travel is busy and the clubs are full, one-time pass holders are lowest priority and may not be admitted in deference to the high-mileage regulars.

I do appreciate the clean bathrooms, quiet workspaces and (in some clubs) a dedicated customer service rep when I need flight or gate info. But I don’t even use my free passes unless the club is very near my departure gate, I have work to do and still have hours to wait (much as MattD say above, on preview), and am really hankering for unlimited coffee and cookies.
posted by obloquy at 3:43 PM on October 2, 2021

Response by poster: This has been a really great discussion and I feel I know what to expect. I did indeed get hooked up, thank you artificialard. (The offer was made publicly, so I don't think I'm betraying anything here.)

I'll check it out, maybe it'll be a space for me. A clean bathroom will be welcome, I'm sure. I have surprisingly never flown through ORD before so this will be interesting to begin with.

Thank you, all of you, for your answers here. I'd start picking best answers, but I'd just mark the entire thread because it's all been informative.

Oh what the heck, I'm doing it!
posted by hippybear at 8:45 PM on October 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

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