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I’m a big fan of airline lounges as a slightly nicer place to wait between flights. If I am traveling with my daughter I love being able to get her some snacks and hopefully take advantage of the family room, when available. If I am traveling without my daughter I like being able to log on to decent internet to do some work and occasionally enjoy a “free” drink. It is free in the sense that you aren’t paying for it that day, but I do pay $395 per year for my United Club credit card that gets me access to the United Clubs, US Airways Clubs, etc.
Because I travel so frequently, and often with my husband and/or daughter with me, I get a decent value for what I pay for club membership, but a part of that decent value was the “free” drinks we enjoyed in the club. What we would get certainly wasn’t overly fancy, but my husband has been known to enjoy a Heineken or a Bacardi and Coke before a flight. Those drinks would probably be close to $7 from other outlets in the airport, so even if you just have one or two on your travels, it can still add up. It was nice being able to enjoy that perk without worrying about the price of every single drink.
However, when United announced they were revamping the internet access process and the alcohol selections in the clubs, most knew the complimentary offerings would be dwindling. The premium selections are actually increasing to include some local flavors (like St. Arnold’s in Houston), but I don’t personally pay for annual Club access only to have the right to buy a drink. I can do that anywhere.
I flew through the Honolulu United Club yesterday and it was business as usual at the bar, but the “enhancements” apparently kicked in today (September 10th) and thus far the reports from this Flyertalk thread have included the following info:
- Complimentary wine choices are Sycamore Lane Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon
- $9 for Beefeater gin drinks
- $11 for Bombay Sapphire gin drinks
- $9 Bacardi rum drinks
- $9 Tito’s vodka
- $9 Jim Beam whiskey drinks
- $11 Patron Silver
- $3 for Heineken
- Only complimentary beer choice is Bud Light (with Budweiser bottles potentially coming)
- Complimentary vodka is McCormick’s
These changes by themselves are trivial for most of us, but the message behind it that you need to pay above retail for a drink at a Club where you are a paying member is a bit crazy by my East Texan standards. Some folks are emailing their concerns to United and Chase (who issues the United Club Card). While this is a “first class problem” to be sure, it still is a reduction in benefits for those who enjoyed a decent drink in the lounge. Benefits go down, but the annual fee for many Club memberships actually just went up.
This alone won’t change whether or not I renew my United Club Card next year, but if it is a part of an overall downgraded experience then I could probably find a better use for my $395. Heck, I probably could find a better use for that money anyway, but I like to keep our traveling experiences as comfortable and seamless as possible, so airline lounges do play a part in that for our family….and a drink along the way didn’t hurt.
Whether you are a member, have access to the lounges due to Star Gold status, or are simply using a pass you got via your United credit card, just come in with low expectations for the complimentary drinks.