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United Club membership fees going up and spouse discount gone – what are alternatives?

by on Mon June 15, 2015 • No Comment
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When airlines add a benefit, it’s rarely done out of pure goodwill. And when United added new snack spreads to its clubs this year, we thought a shoe would drop.

And sure enough, United is raising the prices of United Club memberships.

  • Effective immediately, non-Premier members of MileagePlus have to pay $550 per year for a membership, up from $500 before.
  • Spouse memberships are no longer available for $250. Now all spouses must pay $550 per year for membership. This is the biggest price increase of this round – $300 extra per year.
  • Membership fees for Premier members will increase on August 18th, about $25 – $50 for most tiers – with no more discount for Silver and Gold members.
  • The new Premier fees will be: Silver / Gold: $550 (no discount), Platinum: $475, and 1K $450.

The ‘good news’ is that you can still bring along two guests or your spouse and children for free.

Last year Delta raised the prices of its SkyClub membership and eliminated the ability to bring free guests unless you buy a $695 Executive Level membership.

What are your alternatives?

Only you can decide whether a membership is still worth it given the new price and recently upgraded snack options in the clubs.

But here are some alternatives that might cost less than a standalone membership:

The United Club credit card. United is trying to make this choice painfully obvious, and if you don’t want to cancel your membership, this is the lowest cost way to get access, with an unchanged $395 annual fee and full United Club membership privileges. You can check if you are targeted for a special intro deal that gives you the first year free.

Pay with miles. You could use your miles to buy membership – but at 70,000 miles for a one year membership, it’s not a great value

Air Canada membership. If you just want U.S. / Canada access, you can buy a Maple Leaf Club North America Plus membership from Air Canada. That gives you access to all United Clubs in the U.S. and Air Canada Maple Leaf Clubs worldwide for $495 Canadian dollars. But with the favorable U.S. dollar exchange rate, that works out to about $400 U.S. dollars. The catch is you don’t get any guest privileges and you can’t access United Clubs outside the U.S. or other Star Alliance airline lounges.

American Express Centurion Lounges. This is a tougher substitute – but if you primarily visit lounges at San Francisco, New York La Guardia, Las Vegas, Miami, or Dallas-Fort Worth airports, then you may find the Centurion lounges a better deal. You get access to them by holding The Platinum Card from American Express, which has a $450 annual fee, but that’s offset by a $200 annual airline fee credit. The lounges themselves are better than any other domestic lounges – with full buffets of hot food and premium beverages.

Airport bars and restaurants. With wifi widely available and better restaurants appearing across airports worldwide, your money might be better spent on food and drinks at a nice dining establishment in the terminal.

A club closing

And just as it’s raising fees, United is closing its lounge in Melbourne, Australia. United Club members there can use the Air New Zealand Koru lounge.

 

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