Business & Premium Classes

The Complete Guide to United Polaris Business Class

By
JT Genter
|
Freelance Writer
United 787.
February 21, 2022
|
11 min read

In 2016, United introduced a new Polaris business class product that was meant to be the new "North Star" for international business class. The judges might give that decision to ANA’s The Room or Qatar’s Qsuite. But, in the years since it's been introduced, United Polaris has at least become the standard for United business class.

Not every internationally configured aircraft in United's fleet features the new Polaris seat. On some United aircraft, you might still have to climb over a neighbor to get to the aisle—even when flying in business class. However, all Polaris business class travelers get to enjoy the Polaris Lounge, lie-flat business class seating, Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, and more comforts of a true international business class product.

Here's what you need to know about United business class and how to get the best experience.

What to know about United business class

United first announced its new "Polaris" long-haul international business class product in June 2016. As part of the "departure-to-landing experience for intercontinental travelers," this United Polaris product includes a new business class seat on most aircraft, improved in-flight bedding, pajamas on ultra-long flights, premium in-flight dining and a new network of premium lounges.

United's rollout of Polaris was initially so slow that it became the butt of jokes in the media. Thankfully, that's now a thing of the past.

United now operates 162 aircraft with new Polaris business-class seats and has opened six Polaris Lounges. That's shy of the nine lounges United pledged to build and open by the end of 2017. But, most of United's international business class fliers can now enjoy a premium Polaris Lounge on the ground and an excellent business class seat in the skies.

Since United retired its international first-class product in 2018, the Polaris business class product is United's most-premium product. Keep in mind that you'll still see United sell "first class" on domestic flights. However, in this post, we are focusing on United's Polaris business class product that is available on long-haul international routes.

Examples of previous deals Scott's Cheap Flights has found in United business class

United Polaris routes

Which domestic routes have United Polaris business class?

Technically, United Polaris is only available on long-haul international flights. However, you can fly in a lie-flat seat and get premium business class service on four premium transcontinental routes:

  • Newark (EWR) to Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Newark (EWR) to San Francisco (SFO)
  • New York Kennedy (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX)
  • New York Kennedy (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO)

While you won't get premium perks, you can also fly in a lie-flat United business class seat on the following domestic routes within the continental U.S.:

  • Denver (DEN) to Newark (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Denver (DEN) to Houston (IAH) and Chicago (ORD)—and reverse
  • Newark (EWR) to Las Vegas (LAS), Orlando (MCO), and Chicago (ORD)—and reverse
  • Washington Dulles (IAD) to Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Orlando (MCO), Chicago (ORD), and San Francisco (SFO)—and reverse
  • Houston (IAH) to Los Angeles (LAX),  Orlando (MCO), Chicago (ORD), San Francisco (SFO), and San Juan (SJU)—and reverse
  • Las Vegas (LAS) to Denver (DEN)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Las Vegas (LAS)—and reverse
  • Chicago (ORD) to Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Chicago (ORD) to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO)—and reverse
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Denver (DEN) and Los Angeles (LAX)
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Las Vegas (LAS)—and reverse

In addition, United uses Polaris-configured aircraft for the following flights to Hawaii:

  • Denver (DEN) to Honolulu (HNL), Kona (KOA), and  Maui (OGG)—and reverse
  • Newark (EWR) to Maui (OGG)—and reverse
  • Washington Dulles (IAD) to Honolulu (HNL)—and reverse
  • Houston (IAH) to Honolulu (HNL)—and reverse
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL)—and reverse
  • Chicago (ORD) to Honolulu (HNL), Kona (KOA), Maui (OGG)—and reverse
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Honolulu (HNL), Kona (KOA), (OGG)—and reverse

Which planes have Polaris business class?

Most of United's widebody fleet has been retrofitted with new Polaris seats, and United expects to finish the last Polaris retrofits by summer 2022. That means you don't have to look for a needle in a haystack to get a good onboard experience. Just book one of the following aircraft types that are 100% configured with new Polaris business class seats:

  • 777-300ER
  • 767-300ER
  • 787-8 Dreamliner
  • 787-10 Dreamliner

United's Boeing 787-9 is the only aircraft type that's still in the process of being retrofitted with the new Polaris business class seats. Until this retrofit is complete in summer 2022, you'll find some aircraft with older lie-flat business class seats—particularly on domestic routes.

seat map on United 787-9

Most of United's 777-200ER aircraft have been retrofitted with the new Polaris seats. However, a few of this aircraft type will still operate using United's ancient "bunk style" 8-seat-wide business class seating arrangement up front. These aircraft typically operate domestic and Hawaii flights:

seat map on United 777

Although it offers comfortable lie-flat business class seats, you'll want to avoid United's Boeing 767-400 if you want to fly United's new Polaris business class seats. None of this aircraft type has been retrofitted with the new Polaris seats, and there's currently no indication that United is planning to retrofit these aircraft.

The United Polaris business class experience at the airport

Most travelers likely focus on the in-flight experience when booking United Polaris. But your Polaris ticket grants some nice perks in the airport—including Premier Access and the Polaris Lounge in six of United's hubs. Here's what you need to know about the airport experience.

United business class lounge

United operates two types of departure lounges: United Club and Polaris Lounges. When flying on a Polaris business class ticket on a long-haul international flight, you'll get access to the best possible lounge. In comparison, when flying upfront on domestic routes, you won't get access to either without a United Club membership, United Club credit card, or elite status on a Star Alliance airline other than United.

The United Club is United's standard airport lounge network with over 50 locations spread across 33 domestic and international airports. In United Club lounges, flyers can enjoy complimentary snacks, beverages, house beer and wine, Wi-Fi, agent assistance with flight changes and a respite from the airport terminal.

United Club lounge.

United Polaris lounges are a whole different story. These massive lounges include all sorts of amenities. You can grab a hot meal from the buffet or relax and enjoy table service. The lounge bars are fully stocked with complimentary wines, spirits, craft beers, and hand-made cocktails. You can rest in a daybed in United's Quiet suites and refresh in the lounge's private shower suites.

United Polaris lounge.

You can find United Polaris lounges in the following airports:

  • Chicago (ORD) —opened December 2016
  • San Francisco (SFO)—opened April 2018
  • Newark (EWR)—opened June 2018
  • Houston (IAH)—opened June 2018
  • Los Angeles (LAX)—opened January 2019
  • Washington Dulles (IAD)—opened October 2021

United business class check-in

United Polaris business and domestic first class, Star Alliance and Premier elites, certain credit cardholders, and travelers who purchase Premier Access can use United's Premier Access check-in line. This will fast-track your check-in process. However, it generally still means you'll check in at a kiosk rather than with a United agent.

United Polaris checkin.

The United Polaris business class experience in the air

Once you're done enjoying the Polaris Lounge, it's time to enjoy the real star of the show: United Polaris. Here's what to expect from the in-flight experience.

United business class seats

  • Boeing 777-200ER: The Boeing 777-200ER is the backbone of United's widebody fleet, and thankfully most have been retrofitted with United's new Polaris seats. United has completed the Polaris retrofit on 51 of its Boeing 777-200ER. The remaining won't be reconfigured. Instead, this subfleet will fly domestic flights with a horribly outdated 2-4-2 business class seating arrangement.
  • Boeing 777-300ER: All of United's 22 new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft have been delivered with the new Polaris business class seats. These business class seats are configured in a staggered 1-2-1 seating that allows couples to sit right next to each other in the middle of odd rows. These new 777-300ER aircraft feature a massive 60-seat business class cabin—the largest of the fleet.
United Polaris seating.
  • Boeing 767-300: While other airlines retired their Boeing 767 aircraft, United worked on making its Boeing 767s a much more desirable aircraft type of fly. The Polaris business class cabin is arranged in a 1-1-1 seating configuration where each seat has plenty of privacy. The downside of this arrangement: couples that want to sit together won't be able to do so. If you're hoping for an upgrade, book the "high J" configuration—which has a whopping 46 business class seats vs. just 99 economy seats.
1-1-1 seats in United Polaris.
  • Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner: This is United's only subfleet that's not fully retrofitted at the time of writing. As of early 2022, United has retrofitted 25 of its 38 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. Based on United's "Polaris Tracker", the remaining aircraft will be finished by summer 2022. Once complete, each United 787-9 will have 48 Polaris business class seats configured across two cabins in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration.
  • Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner: So far, United has taken delivery of 13 new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft with Polaris business class seats installed. In addition, United has another eight of this aircraft type on order. Business class seats are configured in a 1-2-1 arrangement. Couples that want to sit together will want to select middle seats in odd rows. Window lovers will also want to book odd rows to sit closer to the window. Although a larger aircraft than the 787-9, United installed fewer business class seats on the 787-10 (44) than the 787-9 (48). So, upgrade chances are slimmer on this aircraft type.
  • Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner: United only has 12 Boeing 787-8 aircraft—making it United's smallest widebody fleet. It's also the least-premium with just 28 business class seats of the 243-seat aircraft. Like with United's other 787 Dreamliners, Polaris business class seats are configured in a staggered 1-2-1 seating arrangement that makes it easy for couples to sit together and solo flyers to get privacy.

United business class beds

All United widebody aircraft have lie-flat seats in business class. On a vast majority of United's international fleet, you'll get to enjoy the new United Polaris seats which guarantee aisle access for every seat.

United Polaris seating.

In order to fit as many seats as possible, United staggers the seats side-to-side from row-to-row. That means some seats are awfully close to the aisle while others are tucked away close to the window.

beds in United polaris.

United's 767-400 fleet hasn't been retrofitted with new Polaris seating. Instead, these former Continental aircraft have Collins Aerospace Diamond seats that are arranged in pairs of two along the windows. That makes it great for couples traveling together. Solo flyers can opt for the single seat in the middle of the two aisle, but that means you won't get much privacy.

Polaris beds.

Unfortunately, United is maintaining a sub-fleet of Boeing 777-200ER with United's original business class seats. This awfully aging product is arranged with 8 business class seats in each row. The best that you can say about these seats is that they lie flat. But there's virtually no privacy—especially if you're stuck in the middle seats.

United business class benefits

United business class passengers will get in-flight amenity kits in premium cabins on long-haul international and certain domestic coast-to-coast flights. United partners with Sunday Riley to provide skincare products for everything from in-flight amenity kits to soaps and lotions in lavatories and lounges.

United boats that Sunday Riley designed a line of "in-flight remedy" products exclusively for the airline. You'll find products like face cream, hand cream, lip balm and a facial cleaning cloth in in-flight amenity kits.

Sunday Riley amenity kit on United.

Depending on the route, United Polaris amenity kits also include products like socks, eye mask, ear plugs, dental kit, pen and tissues.

United amenity kit.

United Polaris passengers get Saks Fifth Avenue bedding. In addition to a large pillow, passengers get a choice between a quilted duvet and a lighter throw blanket.

Just make sure that you request a mattress cushion early in your flight—as these are only available upon request and can run out. Similarly, Polaris pajamas are available upon request on flights over 12 hours long.

United business class baggage

United's baggage policy isn't clearly published. Instead, you'll need to enter their origin airport, destination airport, departure date, cabin and status or membership level to determine your exact baggage allowance.

baggage allowance info on United business class.


The upside of this system is that you can log into your MileagePlus account to easily find your check baggage allowance. For example, for my upcoming United Polaris flight from Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro, I can check two bags—up to 70 pounds each—for no charge.

United business class baggage calculator

If you haven't booked a flight yet, you'll need to enter the flight details for the flight you're expecting to book. However, you can generally be assured two free checked bags of up to 70 pounds each when flying United Polaris business class on long-haul international routes.

United business class meals

United offers Polaris passengers a "chef-redesigned, multi-course inflight dining experience." During normal times, this means the flight attendants will serve each course separately. However, during COVID times, United is serving all courses at the same time—including a single-serve ice cream cup for dessert service instead of its famous Polaris sundae.

meals in United business class.

If you're focusing on getting sleep during your flight, you have the option of dining in the Polaris lounge before your flight. Or, once multi-course service resumes, you can request Express Dining service to get all courses served at the same time.

United business class alcohol

In United Polaris business class, passengers can enjoy complimentary beer, wine, liquor and non-alcoholic drinks.

United doesn't publish a list of alcohol drink options, but boozy options are reported to include: White Claw Hard Seltzer; red, white and sparkling wine; gin; Bailey’s Irish Cream; amaretto; Kentucky and Scotch whiskey; cognac; vodka and rum.

How to book United business class

How much does it cost for a Polaris business class ticket on United? 

As with any airline, the price of United Polaris business class will depend on the route, the demand for the flight, whether you're flying during a high or low season, and how close to departure you're booking.

To get the best deals on United business class, become a Scott's Cheap Flights Elite member. That way, you'll get deal alerts when the price of United business class drops to enticing rates.

How to upgrade to Polaris business class on United for free

United offers two main ways to upgrade into United Polaris: MileagePlus Upgrades and PlusPoints upgrades. MileagePlus Upgrades let any United MIleagePlus member use miles to upgrade their ticket. More on that below.

United Platinum and 1K elite members earn PlusPoints upon qualifying for elite status and reaching certain additional thresholds. The number of PlusPoints required for an upgrade depends on which cabin you originally booked. Upgrades to United Polaris business class cost:

  • 30 PlusPoints from United Premium Plus.
  • 40 PlusPoints from United economy (fare classes Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, and W).
  • 80 PlusPoints from United discount economy (fare classes S, T, L, K, and G).

How much does it cost to upgrade to business class on United? 

If there's space in business class, United will sometimes offer travelers the option to pay to upgrade their flight to United Polaris business class. However, the price depends on many factors and isn't published.

How many miles to upgrade to United business class? 

The mileage cost—and whether or not you'll need to pay a co-pay—depends on which fare class you booked and which regions you're flying between. For example, between the U.S. and Europe, it can cost as few as 10,000 MileagePlus miles or as many as 20,000 miles plus $550 co-pay to upgrade into United Polaris business class:

upgrading to Polaris with miles.

What are the best credit cards to get free upgrades to United business class? 

The best way to get upgraded into United Polaris business class is to get elite status, and several United credit cards allow cardholders to earn credits toward elite status.

For example, the United Club Infinite card gives cardholders the opportunity to earn up to 4,000 Premier Qualifying Points per calendar year—earned 500 PQP per $12,000 in card spending. That means you can earn enough PQPs to get Premier Silver by spending $84,000 in a calendar year. Just note that you'll need to fly at least four flights on United to get that status.

graphic with link to join Scott's Cheap Flights

Frequently asked questions about United Polaris Business Class

What does United Polaris business class include?

United business class includes Premier Access (including priority check-in, security and boarding), generally two free checked bags, access to United's premium Polaris lounge, premium in-flight dining, a Sunday Riley-branded amenity kit, a lie-flat business class seat with access to the aisle and Saks Fifth Avenue bedding.

Do you get lounge access with United business class? 

United Polaris business class tickets include access to the Polaris lounge—or the United Club when a Polaris lounge isn't available. Just note that this is limited to Polaris business class tickets; domestic first class tickets don't include lounge access.

Is food served in business class on United? 

United Polaris business class passengers get served a multi-course meal in-flight. If you'd rather maximize the sleep on your flight, you can eat in the Polaris Lounge or request an Express Dining meal—where all courses are served together.

How many checked bags do you get in United business?

United does not publish baggage allowances by cabin. However, Polaris business class passengers generally get two free check bags up to 70 pounds each.

How can you cancel or reschedule your United business flight? 

United removed all change fees for flights originating in the U.S.—except for basic economy tickets. That means you can cancel your United Polaris ticket and get a travel voucher for future travel on United. Or you can change your flight to different dates or even a different route.

What are the best seats in United business class? 

Couples traveling together will want to snag the two seats next to each other in the center section of most United Polaris business class cabins. Window lovers should carefully choose seats that are closer to the window. To maximize your space, book a bulkhead seat.

When will the Polaris lounges reopen?

All Polaris lounges have now reopened. The Los Angeles (LAX) Polaris Lounge reopened in March 2022, meaning all six lounges—San Francisco (SFO), Washington Dulles (IAD), Newark (EWR), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), and Chicago (ORD)—are now open.

Summary

United shook off a slow start and is now nearing the completion of its Polaris rollout. Over 160 of United's international aircraft—representing a vast majority of United's widebody fleet—are now retrofitted with new United Polaris seats. And the remaining few aircraft are scheduled to be complete by summer 2022.

Add in some excellent Polaris lounges, comfortable Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, bespoke amenities and improved dining and United Polaris has certainly established itself as a business class product to seek out. Just make sure to avoid the few aircraft that still have old United (some 777-200ER) and Continental (767-400ER) business class seats.

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Last Updated 
February 21, 2022
The Complete Guide to United Polaris Business Class
JT Genter
Freelance Writer

JT has written about credit cards and points & miles since 2015. He published over 2,000 articles on The Points Guy and can now be found regularly writing for NerdWallet, Forbes Advisor, AwardWallet, and CNBC Select. Since June 2017, JT and his wife have traveled full-time as digital nomads—using points, miles, and credit card benefits to reduce the cost of living on the road.

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