How to Access Domestic United Clubs with Elite Status

Finally, I’ll spend some time today talking about how to access the United Club if you have Gold status. No, not Premier Gold status with United’s MileagePlus program but Gold status with another Star Alliance carrier.

As I mentioned earlier this week, one of the features that distinguishes United Airlines and US Airways from their international partners is that Gold elite members have access to international airport clubs but not to their carriers’ own domestic clubs. This is probably because the United States is so large that there are many elite domestic travelers who would be a massive drain on resources, though I can’t claim to know the real reason. As such, Premier Gold members — who automatically earn Star Gold status with the Star Alliance — are only granted access to domestic lounges on international itineraries.

The (not so) obvious solution is to get Star Gold status through some other carrier. That way your domestic itinerary will appear to be international for the purposes of access to the United Club. It doesn’t mean giving up your elite status with United Airlines, though it certainly helps if you already travel enough that you can afford to spread the love around by crediting a few flights to someone else. ;)

Aegean Airlines

The longest-running opportunity has been Aegean Airlines, which has unusually low qualification criteria for Gold status. Only 20,000 elite qualifying miles are required. Technically, though, the requirement is 16,000 elite qualifying miles after the first 4,000 — which earn you Blue status (Star Silver). And their qualification period is a moving 12-month period rather than a calendar year. Here are the program Terms & Conditions:

Chapter 2, Section B: Members who hold a BLUE Card and who have earned at least 16,000 Tier Miles within twelve (12) consecutive months from their first miles-accruing flight on the previous tier will receive the GOLD Card.

This means you have any 12-month period to accumulate 4,000 miles for Blue status, and then another 12-month period to earn the next 16,000 for Gold status (Star Gold). Furthermore, you can keep that Gold status without actually flying 20,000 or 16,000 or whatever miles every 12 months in the future. Instead, you just need to have some activity credited once every three years!

Chapter 1, Section 10: If a Blue or Gold Member has not flown for at least once within a period of thirty six (36) months from the date of his/her last registered and Account-validated flight, then his/her Card and Account will be automatically inactivated…

You can sign up for Aegean’s Miles&Bonus program right now and start with 1,000 miles!

Turkish Airlines

If you don’t want to wait to earn your 20,000 miles for Gold status with Aegean, Turkish Airlines will give you an outright match to Elite (Star Gold) status. What’s surprising is that they do this even for existing customers of other Star Alliance airlines, sort of like poaching from a friend.

You will need to create a Miles&Smiles account first, and then visit this website with a copy of your other program’s account statement to request the match. Although there were reports that status matches might be ending soon, this report from LoyaltyLobby says that they remain active and processing delays are being reduced.

Unfortunately, the catch is that requalification criteria are more onerous than with Aegean. You may get your status upfront but will have to credit 25,000 elite qualifying miles every year to keep it. This is still not the 50,000 required of United for Premier Gold, and it will get you access to domestic United Clubs, but it can be a lot. The requirement is reduced to 37,500 elite qualifying miles if you spread it over two years.

In order to re-qualify for Elite membership …Members residing out of Turkey need to collect 25.000 Status Miles either within the first year or 37.500 Status Miles within 2 years of the Elite membership.

You can sign up for the Turkish Miles&Smiles program right now and start with 1,000 miles!

Conclusion

Obviously these are not quite free means to United Club access. You are still paying for whatever flights you credit to Aegean’s program or for the elite status with United that you present for your Turkish status match. But it can be cheaper than buying access if you already travel quite a bit. Do you fly 70,000 miles a year and for whatever reason can’t make it to 75,000 for United’s Premier Platinum? Don’t let those extra PQMs go to waste: credit them to Aegean instead!

You should be sure to check the earnings tables for any airline before you try flying with one carrier and crediting to another. You might find yourself on less generous fares that earn under 100% or not at all. In that case, United may be a safer bet. But hopefully you will have a few tickets that can be put to greater use. Keep this trick in mind the next time you debate whether you should do a mileage run to reach the next level. It might make more sense just to plan ahead and use your leftover miles for something else.

Star Alliance Lounge Access Policy

Star Alliance Gold Customers Travelling in Any Class: Customers have access to any Star Alliance member carriers’ owned lounges with the Star Alliance Gold logo at the entrance.

  • Customer must present proof of Star Alliance Gold level status via a valid frequent flyer program Star Alliance Gold level card or other valid indication of Star Alliance Gold level status
  • Customer must also present a boarding pass for travel on a Star Alliance flight departing from the local airport
  • Customer is entitled to one guest
  • United and US Airways Star Alliance Gold customers may only access the United Clubs and US Airways Clubs within the U.S. when travelling in conjunction with a Star Alliance international flight.

About 

Scott created Hack My Trip while traveling on a budget during graduate school and continues to share his thoughts on better travel. He maintains elite status with American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hyatt, and Starwood.
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  • BradR

    A question I have always been curious to learn the answer to – if you pursue the Aegean route, can you get access to the domestic US lounges *while crediting your domestic program* or must you be crediting the carrier with whom you’ve got the gold status? It’s great to reach gold and all, but if it means I’ve always got to credit aegean and not united for the trips where I want to access a lounge, then it neuters the upgrade and other premier perks with UA/etc.

    • Scottrick

      I’ve updated the post to include the relevant access policy for Star Gold members. As I interpret them, at Gold membership card and a boarding pass for a Star Alliance flight are all that’s necessary. There’s no requirement that the membership number match on each of them.

      • BradR

        Cool. Thanks – makes it a bit more compelling to pursue that route, though comparing to doing 20k in mileage runs vs paying for a cc, still a tough choice. They’ve clearly figured out how to price membership :)

    • KevininRI

      I got status matched from United 1K to Turkish Airlines Elite (Star Gold) a few months ago and I’ve been to (I think) 3 different domestic United clubs with my Turkish Elite card and boarding pass for my domestic flight with my United 1K number on it and I’ve gotten into the clubs without a single issue.

  • Corey

    I know this isn’t really related but:

    I have the United MileagePlus Explorer card. I received the two free club passes and just wanted to know if I can only use them in American hubs and not abroad. Thanks

    • Scottrick

      You can use them at any United Club. United Airlines operates these at their hub airports, and several smaller airports, and also at some international locations.

      • Corey

        I read I wouldn’t be able to use them abroad. I was hoping to use them at NRT in Tokyo. Do you know if they’re offered there?

        • Scottrick

          What do the T&C say on the back? From what I can find online, the pass permits international use:

          This pass grants one person, one-time access to the United Club.

          Access subject to space availability.

          This pass is valid for entry at any United Club location worldwide.

          You must be 21 years of age or older to redeem.

          This pass is subject to United Club terms and conditions, which United has the right to amend or modify with or without notice to its customers.

          Valid only in United Clubs. Excludes United Arrivals Lounges and United International First Lounge

          • Corey

            Mine says the same but I remember reading on a blog that international clubs aren’t ‘run’ by United but by partner airlines and this the passes can’t be used. maybe I’m wrong and maybe I read it wrong. maybe the guy meant star alliance clubs abroad

          • James Kao

            Depends on the airport. United does run its own club at Tokyo Narita. But at Frankfurt, there are only Lufthansa lounges which probably wouldn’t accept your certificates.

  • Conly Davidson

    Hi Scott, I am a new subscriber to your blog and I wanted to say that it is very, very usual information. I appreciate you taking the time to document the information!

    I did have a question about the Turkish match and hope you might know the answer. Just this morning I was matched to “Elite Card” with Turkish without a problem. The process only took a week or so, so that nice! I don’t do much international travel so I really did it for United Club access, which leads me to my question. Am I able to just flash the Turkish Gold Alliance card and that’s it? I have read elsewhere that you must show a ticket too, but I have also heard that is very rarely ever enforced. Anyway, I thought you may be able to comment on that.

    Thanks again and I look forward to great blogs!

    • Scottrick

      The lounge access policies are described on the Star Alliance website here:

      http://www.staralliance.com/en/benefits/status-benefits/lounge-access-policy/

      To summarize, you must be able to present a current membership card indicating Star Gold elite status, and you must be departing on a flight operated by a Star Alliance member (key term there; most carriers won’t let you in if you are arriving). The rules do not say anything about it being the same airline for the membership card and the boarding pass.

  • Xavier

    The United Club lounge dragon at SEA just gave me a “warning” and “lecture” that I should credit miles to the program (SK in this case) which granted me domestic lounge access.

  • http://LukeRB.com/ Luke Bornheimer

    Scott, thanks for this post! My fiancé is UA Plat and it would be nice for her to get *G from Turkish for a year (likely wouldn’t credit the 25,000 miles needed to extend). Any idea if Turkish Airlines is still offering the match to *G for United Premiers?

    • Scottrick

      Unfortunately I don’t know, but usually with matches the rule is try, try again. Even without a public offer you can sometimes get an airline to match your status. (I got a match to Executive Platinum on AA and they have no formal program for that.)