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United Airlines first announced its “reimagined” Polaris Business Class in June 2016, touting it as a game-changer in international business travel.
The airline began rolling out the flagship program’s redesigned features in December 2016, continuing on a staggered schedule with the introduction of new premium perks for business travelers.
Today, all international business-class seats aboard United flights bear the Polaris brand, but the full range of amenities offered through the program has yet to be extended to all of the airline’s flights.
In this article:
- What is United Polaris?
- How do you book a Polaris seat?
- Where are the Polaris lounges located and who gets in?
- Which credit cards offer United MileagePlus points?
- Can you transfer miles or points to United MileagePlus?
- The bottom line
What is United Polaris?
United Polaris is a premium business class service that’s designed to offer international business travelers a luxury travel experience. The program’s tagline is “Redesigned from Ahh to Zzz”, which reflects some of its key features and benefits, such as:
- Saks Fifth Avenue luxury bedding
- Restaurant-quality in-flight meals
- Easy aisle access at every seat
- Suite-like seating with ambient lighting and privacy dividers
- Ergonomically designed seats that convert from an upright position to a 6-foot-6-inch, flat bed
- Personal storage space for laptops or other belongings
- Premium amenity kits complete with slippers, noise-reducing headphones and ergonomic eye mask
- Pajamas upon request for flights lasting longer than 12 hours
- Mimosas and Bloody Marys upon request for daytime flights
- Premium wine selection for afternoon and evening flights
- Gourmet snack and dessert options a la carte
- United Polaris lounge access at selected airport locations
- Premier Access dedicated check-in counters and security lines
- Priority boarding and priority baggage handling
- United Wi-Fi
- Premium in-flight entertainment access
The goal of the program is to make international flights as comfortable as possible for business travelers. The full range of enhanced benefits and perks makes it considerably more attractive than the two programs it replaces, United BusinessFirst and United Global First service.
The catch is that the full range of Polaris perks isn’t yet available on all international business flights. United first began offering upgraded seats on its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, followed by flights aboard Boeing 787-10. The Boeing 777-300ER is the only aircraft that has been completely updated to include Polaris seating.
Polaris benefits have since been added to many but not all of the airline’s Boeing 767-300ER and 777-200ER planes. Retrofitting is planned in the future for Boeing 757-200 aircraft, 787-8 Dreamliners and 787-9 Dreamliners. United has said it will continue to add on average one aircraft with Polaris seating through 2020.
How do you book a Polaris seat?
Because the Polaris program isn’t yet available on all international business flights, you’ll first have to verify that Polaris seating is offered for the route you’re planning. You can use United’s Polaris tracker tool as a guide for determining which planes have available seating. If you’re booking on something other than a 777-300ER or a 787-10, it’s a good idea to call United first to verify that Polaris seating is available on the flight you’re scheduling.
Once you’ve identified a seat, you can book using United miles through the MileagePlus program or through one of United’s Star Alliance partners. United announced that as of November 15, 2019, it will no longer publish an award chart for international flights, so if you’re booking after that date, you’ll have to do some comparison between MileagePlus and Star Alliance bookings to see which one offers the best deal for your miles.
Upgrades to Polaris flights are available for Premier 1K members who meet all qualifying requirements, which includes flying 100,000 Premier Qualifying Miles or 120 Premier Qualifying Segments in the MileagePlus program and spending $15,000 on United flights in a calendar year. Eligible members can upgrade from a United economy fare to Polaris business class on selected flights. Keep in mind that if you request an upgrade to both Premium Plus and Polaris, United will offer whichever seat becomes available first.
Where are Polaris lounges located, who gets in and what can you expect?
One of the best pre- or post-flight perks associated with the Polaris program is lounge access. Currently, Polaris lounges are located at these locations:
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston Airport (IAH)
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
Future Polaris lounge locations include Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Washington, D.C., London Heathrow Airport (LHR), Narita International Airport (NRT) in Tokyo and Hong Kong International Airport (HKG).
Lounge benefits are available exclusively to Polaris ticket holders at all available airport locations. Star Alliance travelers booking with an international first or business class ticket can only access Polaris lounges at their airport of international departure.
See our full list of Credit Cards with Unlimited Lounge Access.
In terms of benefits, much of what you’ll find in the lounges echoes what you’ll experience on board. There’s a preflight dining option, complete with hot and cold buffet choices, as well as table side dinner service. Snacks and light refreshments are available in the mornings and afternoons. You can choose from cocktails, premium wine and spirits or craft beers, including regional selections. Lounges also feature shower suites for travelers who need a refresh between flights as well as Quiet suites, which offer a private place to rest or work away from airport crowds.
Which credit cards offer United MileagePlus points?
In the U.S., United partners with Chase to offer multiple credit cards for travelers who want to earn United MileagePlus rewards. Altogether, there are five cards to choose from, including both business and personal card options. Each card offers an introductory bonus for new cardmembers, though some are more rewarding for business travelers than others. They also vary in regards to ongoing rewards earnings and annual fees. This tabel highlights how the five United credit cards from Chase compare:
United Airlines credit cards
|United℠ Explorer Card*||United Club℠ Card*||United℠ TravelBank Card*||United Explorer℠ Business Card*||United Club℠ Business Card*|
|Annual fee||$0 Intro for First Year, then $95||$450||$0||$95||$450|
|Purchase APR||18.24% - 25.24% Variable||18.24% - 25.24% Variable||17.74% - 24.74% Variable
|17.99%-24.99% Variable||17.74% - 24.74% Variable|
|Rewards||Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.||Earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on purchases||Earn 2% in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1.5% per $1 spent on all other purchases||Earn 2 miles per $1 at restaurants, gas stations, office supply stores and on United purchases. Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.||Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases.|
|Signup bonus||40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.||Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.||$150 in TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open||Limited-time offer for small business owners: Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases.||50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.|
|Foreign transaction fee||$0||None||$0
The information related to this offer has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Can you transfer miles or points to United MileagePlus?
Aside from opening a United co-branded credit to earn miles for booking Polaris flights, there are some other options for banking miles for future travel.
If you have a rewards card that’s eligible for Chase Ultimate Rewards®, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can transfer points to MileagePlus on a 1:1 basis. Alternately, you can move rewards from a Chase cashback credit card to a Sapphire card, then make the transfer to the Ultimate Rewards. The minimum number of Ultimate Rewards points required to transfer to United is 1,000.
60,000 bonus points
2X points on travel and dining
1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
See additional details for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
$300 Annual Travel Credit, Airport Lounge Access, and Flexible Redemption Options
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
- Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
See additional details for Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Citi ThankYou® points cannot be used to book United flights directly, but there is a work-around available. ThankYou points can be transferred to a Star Alliance partner airline’s frequent flyer program, then used to book a United award flight. You just have to make sure award travel is available for the dates you plan to travel if you’re going this route.
Learn more about How to Use Citi ThankYou® Points for United Flights.
Marriott Bonvoy members can convert Bonvoy points into miles on a 3:1 basis. You can transfer between 3,000 and 240,000 points per day to United MileagePlus, as well as a select list of other airline travel programs. For every 60,000 points transferred, Marriott rewards you with an additional 5,000 miles as a bonus incentive.
You can also earn miles to transfer into the MileagePlus program by booking hotels and car rentals with United partners or booking flights aboard Star Alliance partners. The list of travel partners includes Hertz, Thrifty Car Rental, United Hotels, United Cruises, IHG Rewards Club, World of Hyatt and Amtrak.
The MileagePlus gift card exchange allows you to convert unused gift cards for United miles. You could also purchase miles through Award Accelerator, although for the money, you’re probably better off using a United credit card to earn miles or transferring them from an associated loyalty program.
The bottom line
United’s Polaris program has some attractive benefits for international business class travelers who want to fly in comfort. As more planes and seats are added to the Polaris fleet, there will be more opportunities to take advantage of the upscale amenities United has on tap.