Which United Airlines credit card should you choose?

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Whether you’re a frequent or occasional flyer, these are the United card options you should consider

By Dana Dratch  |  Published: July 9, 2018

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch tool to find cards matched to your needs.

If you regularly fly United Airlines or live in or near Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark or San Francisco – the airline’s hubs – you’re likely to benefit by considering a United Airlines branded card.

Not only can a United card help you earn and redeem MileagePlus miles faster, but you also get a few handy perks, including free checked bags.

United offers five different branded credit cards and one prepaid card. How do you know which would serve you best?

We spoke with three travel veterans about their favorite United-branded cards for both frequent and occasional flyers, as well as the best all-around travel card.

Here’s the roundup:

See related: United MileagePlus Dining Guide, MileagePlus X: A unique, mobile way to earn miles on United 

Best United Airlines credit cards

Guide to United Airlines credit cards

Compare fees, rewards, perks and extras:  

Chase United TravelBank

















Anual fee


Sign-up bonus

  • $150 TravelBank cash if you spend $1,000 in first 3 months.


In-flight discount


No foreign transaction fees


Extra bonus on certain categories

  • 2% TravelBank cash on United Airlines purchases.
  • 1.5% TravelBank cash on everything else.
  • Rewards earned can only be redeemed for United Airlines purchases.


Limit on miles earned


First checked bag free


Priority boarding


Reduced mileage awards


Redeem miles rebate


Benefits

  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance.
  • Car rental insurance.
  • Chase’s Luxury Hotel and Resort perks, including free breakfast for 2, free Wi-Fi, dining/spa credits and upgrades.


Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit


Card network

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer

















Anual fee

  • $95, waived the first year.


Sign-up bonus

  • 40,000 after you spend $2,000 in first 3 months.
  • 5,000 miles if you add authorized user and make purchase in first 3 months.
  • $100 statement credit after your first purchase.


In-flight discount


No foreign transaction fees


Extra bonus on certain categories

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on United Airlines, hotel and restaurant purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else.


Limit on miles earned


First checked bag free

  • Yes, for you and a companion.


Priority boarding

  • Yes, for you and companions on the same reservation.


Reduced mileage awards


Redeem miles rebate


Benefits

  • 2 United Club one-time passes.
  • Tickets bought using miles eligible for free upgrades.
  • Trip delay, baggage and auto rental insurance.
  • Concierge service.
  • Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection perks, including breakfast for 2, free Wi-Fi and meal/spa credits.


Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit

  • Yes, up to $100 every four years.


Card network

Chase United MileagePlus Club

















Anual fee


Sign-up bonus

  • 50,000 after you spend $3,000 in first 3 months.


In-flight discount


No foreign transaction fees


Extra bonus on certain categories

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets booked directly through United Airlines.
  • 1.5 miles per dollar spent on everything else.


Limit on miles earned


First checked bag free

  • Yes, 2 bags for you and 2 for a companion.


Priority boarding

  • Yes, for you and companions on the same reservation.


Reduced mileage awards


Redeem miles rebate


Benefits

  • United Club and Star Alliance lounge membership.
  • Priority check-in and screening.
  • Waived fees on last-minute tickets bought with miles.
  • Miles tickets eligible for free upgrades.
  • Trip delay, baggage and auto rental insurance.
  • Concierge service.
  • Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection perks, including free breakfast for 2, free Wi-Fi and meal/spa credits.


Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit


Card network

Chase United MileagePlus Go (prepaid)

















Anual fee


Sign-up bonus


In-flight discount


No foreign transaction fees


Extra bonus on certain categories

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on purchases if you choose the annual plan.
  • 1 mile per $2 spent on purchases if you choose the monthly plan.


Limit on miles earned


First checked bag free


Priority boarding


Reduced mileage awards


Redeem miles rebate


Benefits

  • No credit check required to apply.
  • No cost to order and no obligation to use the card.
  • FDIC insured.
  • Text or email alerts for account use and online account information.


Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit


Card network

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Business

















Anual fee


Sign-up bonus

  • 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in first 3 months.


In-flight discount


No foreign transaction fees


Extra bonus on certain categories

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on United Airlines, restaurant, gas and office supplies purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.


Limit on miles earned


First checked bag free

  • Yes, for you and a companion.


Priority boarding

  • Yes, for you and companions on the same reservation.


Reduced mileage awards


Redeem miles rebate


Benefits

  • 2 United Club one-time passes.
  • 10,000 bonus miles after spending $25,000 annually.
  • Trip, baggage and car rental insurance.
  • Concierge service.
  • Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection perks, including free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, dining/spa credits and upgrades.


Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit


Card network

Chase United MileagePlus Club Business

















Anual fee


Sign-up bonus

  • $100 credit after making a your first purchase.


In-flight discount


No foreign transaction fees


Extra bonus on certain categories

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on United Airlines purchases.
  • 1.5 miles per dollar spent on everything else.


Limit on miles earned


First checked bag free

  • Yes, 2 bags for you and 2 for a companion.


Priority boarding

  • Yes, for you and companions on the same reservation.


Reduced mileage awards


Redeem miles rebate


Benefits

  • United Club and Star Alliance membership.
  • Priority check-in and screening.
  • Concierge service.
  • Trip, baggage and car rental insurance.
  • Discoverist status in World of Hyatt loyalty program.
  • President-s Circle Elite status in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards loyalty program.
  • Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection perks, including free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, dining/spa credits and upgrades.


Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit


Card network

Best United Airlines credit card for frequent flyers

The unanimous choice for frequent flyers: United’s MileagePlus Club card from Chase.

Not only does it give you membership in the airline’s United Club lounges, but if you travel internationally, you will be able to access lounges for any airlines that are part of the Star Alliance, including Aer Lingus, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa.

“It’s an excellent perk to have if you’re regularly flying United and want access to the lounge,” says Julian Mark Kheel, senior editor with The Points Guy.

  • The Club card also gives you two free checked bags per person for you and a traveling companion, along with priority check-in, priority security screening and priority boarding.
  • It also eliminates some fees: With United, when you use miles to purchase a ticket less than three weeks out, you pay a $75 fee. If you have the Club card, the fee is waived.

The Club card is also “pretty good to use for everyday spending,” says Kheel. It gives you 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases.

What this card won’t give you is access to United’s new Polaris lounges, which is restricted to travelers in business and first-class.

“A lot of people don’t realize this,” says Kheel.

See related: Are you a VIP jerk? 10 things NOT to do in airport lounges

Best United Airlines credit card for occasional flyers

Fly occasionally but you want a few perks when you travel?

Your best choice is likely the Chase United Explorer card, which was revamped in June 2018.

“You get all of the perks for a lower fee,” says Bryce Conway, travel blogger and founder of 10XTravel.

The Explorer card gives you one free checked bag for you and a companion, plus priority boarding. You also receive two one-time passes to the United Club lounges.

“It’s a neat benefit, and the passes now come electronically,” says Kheel. “You don’t even have to remember to bring them. They’re in an app on your phone.”

This is a risk-free way to sample the United lounges, including the food and drink offerings, to see if you might want to join, says Walter Travers, a card blogger known as the Credit Card Maestro.

Also, the new version of the card, which launched June 1, now includes:

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on hotels and dining.
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on United purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
  • $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.

And through July 16, in addition to a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months, new cardholders can earn a $100 statement credit after making their first purchase.

“This is a good card for the regular traveler,” says Kheel.

See related: Global Entry card perk can help you fly through the airport

Best all-around United Airlines credit card

Which United card is the best all-around travel credit card? It all comes down to how much you travel.

Unless you’re spending a lot of time in airports and need a nice lounge retreat, the United Explorer card was the pick of our travel gurus.

For the casual traveler, “there’s no reason to pay $450 a year for that [Club] card,” Conway says. “[The Explorer is] $400 cheaper and all you’re giving up is lounge access.”

“If you’re going to fly United at least once a year, it makes sense to get the United Explorer card,” Kheel says. One checked bag per person each way “easily offsets” the $95 annual fee.

On the other hand, for the “business traveler road warrior” the United Club card makes a lot of sense, says Conway.

United also offers business versions of both the Explorer and Club cards. If you’re traveling for business, it pays to look at those cards, too, says Kheel.

But whether you choose the Explorer or the Club card, you’ll get special perks with the 900 hotels featured in Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resorts Collection – including free breakfast for two, food or spa vouchers, special check-in/checkout times and free Wi-Fi.

You’ll also have access to free upgrades when you buy a ticket with miles.

And both cards give you priority boarding and free checked bags for you and a traveling companion, “which is pretty awesome,” says Travers.

See related: Best airline credit cards, 5 ways to earn airline miles – without an airline rewards card




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