United Club “Improvements” = Bud Light For You

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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.

Playing in IAH United Club Family Room

Playing in IAH United Club Family Room

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.


Bar at the HNL United Club

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.

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  1. […] Mommy Points shared last night that United
    started rolling out its new product
    “enhancements” at the United Club bar. No
    longer will I be able to get a free gin and tonic with something
    better than lighter fluid. Instead, a drink made with Bombay
    Sapphire will set me back $11. ELEVEN DOLLARS for the same stuff
    that costs only $7 on the plane. The slightly lower quality
    selections that were previously complimentary are now $7. Here are
    some of the new changes: […]


  1. We are spoiled in Australia as if you hold mid level status (ie QF Gold or above) then lounge access is complimentary. Also, lifetime gold gets you club access for life and the bar is open from 1pm onwards – and ALL alcohol is complimentary. There would be a mutiny if it wasn’t. We also get better snacks (ie breakfast, light lunch, light dinner) and there are decent espresso machines scattered all over the lounges.

    Even after spending so much time here in the US, I still cant fathom why people pay for lounge access here and put up with so little.

  2. Bill, maybe a good call if you don’t like paying big prices for mid-tier alcohol. 😉
    eightblack, the US is pretty miserable on lounges compared to other corners of the world. I think you pose a good question – I know why I have done it, but it is interesting.
    Rich, not going to help me on most of my travels, though we do have access when flying AA via husband’s Amex Plat.

  3. Perhaps you should add up your visits to the lounge and see if it is wort putting 20k miles towards Aegean. My wife just qualified and will probably be star gold indefinitely with free access to all star alliance gold clubs.

  4. I’m not surprised, although I am annoyed. The United Club experience is fairly worthless anyway, except for the chance to get out of the seething scrum at airports. And, oddly, I find the coffee in the mornings to be just what I’m looking for.

    Sad about the beer, though. Probably worth an email to both United and Chase. I too have the Club card, although the *united* club access is actually not the big draw. The fact that it provides *primary* rental car insurance saved me the annual fee the first year when my car was attacked by a rock on the road in Maui. The 1.5 miles/$ spend is good as well, along with the no foreign xchange fees. But the club car membership comes into its own with international travel. I’ve gotten good value out of the SAS, Turkish and Air NZ lounges in the last year.

    Not that all of that can’t be gotten elsewhere, possibly at a lower cost, but it’s a nice package of benefits.

    And last time I was in a United lounge the premium wines were $3 off if you have a Mileage Plus Club card, so even the good wine wasn’t as bad a deal as it looks at first blush 🙂

  5. $9 for a gin and tonic…that’s on the high-end for a free-to-enter bar.

    All the more reason to make sure you’re aware of lounge reciprocity agreements since international carriers still think your business is worth something.

  6. At what point does the Justice Department see this whole airline business is full of collusion. Delta did not implement MQDs until they saw if someone would follow, isn’t that “messaging” illegal. Sure these are only drinks but it is collusion, not competition at it’s worse. I pray that the AA/US Air Merger is stopped, these businesses are completely out of control.

    And you ask why this has not had more press, the bloggers are so deep in the pockets of UAL/Chase, and for every blogger who says otherwise, don’t believe…

  7. $9 for Beefeater!! This was the complementary gin, what is the complementary gin now? This is a crisis for me. Although the do give me 2 little Bombay Sapphires every time I use my drink chits on-board.

  8. So the only complimentary liquor is now McCormick’s vodka? harsh… very harsh. I don’t drink beer or wine so this seems to be the only complimentary option? The chances that they get me to buy a drink in the United Club is zero. I am much more likely to cancel the membership than to buy a $9 bacardi and coke. All Jeff’ed up I tell you.

  9. This is truly laughable.

    Many complain about the value of sky pesos, but in every other regard Delta is clearly less chintzy than its competitors.

  10. With the exception of a few places most of the UA lounges are miserable places. I would not pay for them. Perhaps I am lucky not to need them.

  11. Not sure what a “First Class problem” is, but there’s certainly a Business Class problem for United in this. Posit a passenger wanting to fly in Business from, say, SFO to LHR. She has a choice of three airlines and three lounges – and three fairly similar onboard products. Two airlines have lounges which offer drinks and substantial snacks. UA offers a lounge with nearly no snacks and charges for pretty well anything drinkable. Which would she choose?

    Yet we keep on hearing that UA’s focus is to get more premium fare international busines.

  12. I gave up on being a member long ago. I get free access for business trips which are mostly international and for domestic I prefer to hit Smashbuger at EWR and hustle to the plane. Even on the international flights I have taken up Gallagher’s Steakhouse (EWR) to eat and drink so that I don’t have to deal with on-board food or drink.

  13. -I assume there are comp options for most types of liquor, but I haven’t yet seen a list as to what they are and don’t have another flight for a couple of weeks. Keep an eye on the wiki in this FT thread as I am sure the info will be spelled out there quickly.
    -I think many bloggers out there don’t actually fly United very often, and use United Clubs even less often, so may not be on their radar as much. I know Hack My Trip uses United frequently and he had a post go out this morning.
    -I also like the package of perks with the Club Card, but this did lessen the package for those of us who enjoy comp drinks from time to time.
    -I agree the options as they have thus far been reported are embarrassing, as are the prices for the “fancy” options.

  14. Pretty poor decision. Foreign carrier’s lounges are head and shoulders better than the US carrier’s lounges. If I had the Club card I’d surely be canceling now and seeking out the Amex Platinum (which I already have).

    Summer, do you plan on keeping the Club card? Seems silly when you could get the MPE and after $25K spend effectively earn 1.4 miles/$ for 25% of the annual fee. All other benefits but lounge access seem to be the same. That paired with the Amex Platinum seems like a winning combination.

  15. The biggest problem with this downgrade is:

    1. They are following Delta yet again. MQD/PQD’s were first, now this!

    Given how much Smisek has applauded Delta as of late and followed their “enhancements”, I wonder when their sacred mileage plus program is next on the enhancement list?

    If you told me they would follow DL on the above 2 enhancements, I would have laughed at you but now I’m not so certain that they won’t make further enhancements.

    So, we shouldn’t blow off this “enhancement” as a no big deal.

  16. I emailed United and complained. This was the semi-literate response:

    I am sorry to hear of your disappointment with the United Club products. We are monitoring our members concerns very closely and trust that the intent of your membership will turn out to continue to be a positive experience. Thank you for your feedback.

  17. And Chase responded much more politely (and literately) and gave me 3500 miles for my trouble. Probably because I suggested that since United had decreased the value of the lounge that Chase should refund me some of my annual card fee…

  18. $12 for Dewars?
    While other clubs like Delta’s have improved choices United is penny pinching.

    I own a small business and easily charge $50.000 yearly on my card. Guess what? MY AMEX Platinum can do the trick plus pays for itself reimbursing Airline fees and in flight charges.
    In December it’s bye bye United Card

  19. What’s next? Charging for uncontaminated drinking water. In 2012, United ranked the fifth most hated company in America. It would seem as if they are trying to hold on to that title. I can understand a surcharge on high-end luxury brands that come at a considerably higher cost to the company. However, Heineken and Shiner Bock do not fall into that category. I’ve questioned the competency of the new UA’s leadership team for the past two years. I think they’ve totally lost it. Let’s hope American Express opens more Centurion Lounges in the US. I only fly UA in domestic routes because I live in Houston. Thank goodness we have other options for international travel. No wonder UA’s profits and customer satisfaction lags Delta!

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