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Which United Airlines Credit Card Is Best for You?

Which United Airlines Credit Card Is Best for You?

*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated May 29, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

The information related to the United℠ Explorer Card, the United Club℠ Card, the United Explorer℠ Business Card, the United Club℠ Business Card, and the United℠ TravelBank Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply to Chase credit card offers. See chase.com for more information.

United Airlines is part of the Star Alliance network, the largest airline partnership on the entire planet. As a result, members of the United MileagePlus® loyalty program can book award flights with United and 27 other alliance airlines to almost 200 countries around the world.

If you don’t fly very often, you may be wondering how you can earn enough miles to book an award flight. That’s where United Airlines’ four main co-branded credit cards come in — the United℠ Explorer Card, United Club℠ Card, the United Explorer℠ Business Card, and the United℠ TravelBank Card. With a United MileagePlus credit card, you can earn an initial sign-up bonus as well as miles for each dollar you spend. And if you’re not necessarily into earning airline miles, United offers a card that lets you earn cash toward travel instead.

In this article:

In this United Airlines credit card review, we’ll go over the best United credit card offers, their pros and cons, and who they’re best for.

What you should know about United Airlines credit cards

What we like

  • Huge airline network. United Airlines is part of the Star Alliance, which is the largest airline network in the world. This means you can use the program to fly to almost 200 countries around the globe, which also means you can use your miles with partner airlines such as Asiana Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, and more.
  • Airline lounge access. The United℠ Explorer Card and United Explorer℠ Business Card give you two free United Club passes per year while the United Club℠ Card and the United℠ TravelBank Card include full membership to United Clubs. These benefits are substantial since the Star Alliance network has over 1,000 lounges worldwide, making it the largest airline lounge network in the world.
  • Flexible rewards program. The United MileagePlus program makes it easy to book award flights all over the world, but you can also use your miles for hotel stays and seat upgrades. MileagePlus program members with Premier Gold status or higher can also make 1:1 point transfers to the Marriott Bonvoy™ program.
  • Welcome bonuses. Each of the United MileagePlus credit cards has an initial signup bonus you can earn after meeting a minimum spending requirement within a few months. The United℠ Explorer Card, for instance, gives you 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.. And remember, these bonus miles are offered on top of the miles you earn for each dollar you spend.
  • Free perks. Various United credit cards offer cardholder perks that can make travel less expensive and more comfortable. We already mentioned airline lounge access, but all the United cards we’re highlighting include at least one free checked bag and both the United Club℠ Card and the United℠ TravelBank Card offer two free checked bags. The United℠ Explorer Card also offers a $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit. Some cards also offer priority boarding.

What could be better

  • Disappointing rewards for regular spending. While the United℠ Explorer Card allows you to 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., there is no way to earn more miles on purchases outside the airlines. The business version of the United℠ Explorer Card offers the same deal. Both the United Club℠ Card and the United℠ TravelBank Card allow cardholders to Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases. But they have a high annual fee. In summary, these cards don’t offer exceptional rewards for regular purchases.
  • Uninspiring rewards for United purchases. Each of the United MileagePlus credit cards caps out at 2 miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases. Considering you can sign up for a flexible card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and earn 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. and transfer your points to United Airlines 1:1, it’s worth considering other cards to rack up United miles.
  • Annual fees. Both the United Club℠ Card and the United℠ TravelBank Card  charge a $450 annual fee. You do get United Club membership as a cardholder perk, but that’s still a lot of money to fork over for a credit card.
  • So-so sign-up bonuses. The United℠ Explorer Card offers the most depressing sign-up bonus at 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..
  • No elite status bonuses. Where some airline credit cards offer co-branded credit cards that give you elite qualifying miles toward status if you meet a spending threshold, United credit cards don’t offer this benefit.

United Airlines credit card reviews

If you are on the fence about which United MileagePlus credit card might be best for your needs, it helps to see how their benefits, rewards, and fees stack up. Here’s a basic rundown of the best United credit card offers and how they work.

United℠ Explorer Card

Best for: The United℠ Explorer Card  is a fairly standard airline credit card for frequent flyers who want access to travel benefits. This card starts you off with 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., but you also 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.. Perks include a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation, as well as a $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck every four years.

United Airlines sweetens the pot with this card by giving you two free United Club passes you can use throughout each calendar year. You also get 25% back on United in-flight purchases when you pay with your card, priority boarding, access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, and access to exclusive events around the globe.

One big benefit to note about the United℠ Explorer Card is that this card really does offer a lot of premium perks. For example, you get auto rental collision damage waiver coverage, purchase protection, trip delay protection, extended warranties, lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, and trip cancellation/interruption insurance. There are no foreign transaction fees and this card comes with a reasonable annual fee of $0 Intro for First Year, then $95

United Club℠ Card

Best for: The United Club℠ Card is a solid option for frequent flyers who will make the most out of its benefits. Once you sign up, you’ll Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You’ll also earn Earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on purchases. This card does have a $450 annual fee, but you receive a United Club membership worth $550 as a cardholder perk. You also qualify for no close-in award booking fees on last-minute flights booked with miles, a first and second checked bag for free, no foreign transaction fees, access to the Luxury Hotels & Resorts Collection, and Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle elite status. There are no foreign transaction fees, either.

Signing up for the United Club℠ Card also gives you access to select Chase and United MileagePlus events as well as Visa Concierge Service. As an added bonus, you receive a variety of consumer protections as a cardholder. This includes trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, auto rental collision damage waiver, purchase protection, price protection, return protection, and extended warranties.

United℠ TravelBank Card

Best for: The United℠ TravelBank Card works differently than other cards on this list since it doesn’t let you earn United miles. Instead, you earn TravelBank cash you can use toward United airlines flights, and each $1 in TravelBank cash you earn is worth $1 in airfare.

Once you sign up, you’ll earn $150 in TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. You’ll also Earn 2% in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1.5% per $1 spent on all other purchases. Perks include $0 foreign transaction fees, $0 annual fee, and a 25% discount on in-flight purchases. You also get auto rental collision damage waiver coverage, price protection, purchase protection, and trip cancellation/interruption insurance.

United Explorer℠ Business Card

Best for: The United Explorer℠ Business Card works similarly to the personal version, except that this card is for business owners and the self-employed. Once you sign up, you’ll earn an initial Limited-time offer for small business owners: Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases. You’ll also earn 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. Cardholder perks include priority boarding, free employee cards, and a first checked bag free for you and a companion on your itinerary.

As an added bonus, you’ll get two free United Club passes per year of membership and access to exclusive cardholder events like concerts and celebrity meet-and-greets. This card comes with no foreign transaction fees and the annual fee is $95.

In addition to Visa Concierge access, you also receive the following protections as a cardholder: trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, auto rental collision damage waiver, purchase protection, price protection, return protection, and extended warranties.

United Club℠ Business Card

Best for: While the United Club℠ Business Card has a ton of consumer perks, it doesn’t come with a traditional sign-up bonus. 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. That may be hard for some cardholders to stomach since this card has a $450 annual fee, although you do get access to United Clubs as a cardholder perk, which is worth $550 per year. In terms of ongoing rewards, this card allows you to Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases.  That can could add up fast.

The United Club℠ Business Card also grants you and one companion on your itinerary a free first and second checked bag, no foreign transaction fees, access to the Luxury Hotels & Resorts Collection, and Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle elite status. Employee cards are offered at no additional cost, and you get to avoid close-in booking fees on last-minute trips. Other superior perks include Visa Concierge access, invitations to exclusive events from United and Chase, and premium upgrades on award tickets (when available).

Like other top United credit cards, this card also gives you trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, auto rental collision damage waiver, purchase protection, price protection, return protection, and extended warranties.

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

 

None None

Best credit card for flying United

We think the United℠ Explorer Card offers the most bang for your buck among co-branded United credit cards because you earn an initial bonus, ongoing miles for your spending, two free United Club passes, and plenty of perks. The best part is, the annual fee is actually waived the first year, so you can try out the benefits before you make a financial commitment.

Perks like a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation and the $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck every four years really set this card apart from the pack. Other important benefits you get for free as a cardholder include auto rental collision damage waiver coverage, purchase protection, trip delay protection, extended warranties, lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, and trip cancellation/interruption insurance. There are also $0 foreign transaction fees with this card, so what’s not to love?

Best non-United card that you can use for United miles

No United Airlines credit card review would be complete without a “best of” list, which is why we wanted to highlight which cards offer the most bang for your buck — at least in our humble opinion. However, the following alternative card was chosen due to its superior benefits and the excellent value it offers all year long.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a winning travel card anyway, but that’s especially true if you want to earn United miles. Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. And you also earn 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.

Points earned with this card can be transferred to the United MileagePlus program at a 1:1 ratio (as well as other loyalty programs), but you can also use them for gift cards, statement credits, merchandise, or travel booked through the Chase portal. There’s a $450 annual fee, but you get a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, a Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit, and more.

  • 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

Highlights
  • 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®

More Info

Bottom line

Any of the United MileagePlus credit cards could be a good addition to your wallet, but the right one for you depends on how often you travel. Paying more for one of their premium credit cards that offer lounge access can make sense if you know you’ll fly enough to use United Clubs frequently. If you only travel every once in a while, on the other hand, the United℠ Explorer Card or its business counterpart could be a better option.

Since premier travel credit cards from Chase also let you transfer points 1:1 to United Airlines, you can also look into cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card


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