Travelers have a wide selection of credit cards to choose from, which can make it difficult to figure out which one to apply for. Frequent travelers may think that a co-branded credit card from the airline that they are most loyal to is the best option, but that’s not always the case.
There are a number of things to consider when deciding which card is best including the benefits, rewards and annual fee of the card. When reviewing card offers, it’s important to compare features, but it’s equally important to keep in mind which benefits will serve you best.
In this article, we are focusing on credit cards that are a good fit for people who frequently fly on United Airlines. We’ll take a look at the most popular benefits you can expect to receive, and we’ll tell you which card is best for that travel perk.
We’ll also run through the airline’s co-branded credit cards and explain what they offer. If you are a frequent flyer on United Airlines, this guide will help you find the best card or cards based on your preferences and needs.
Best Premium Card for Lounge Access
United Airlines has a premium card that offers unlimited access to its more than 45 United Club lounges, but those are only in the busiest airports the airline serves. If you don’t see your major city on the list, it may be currently shut down. For example, SeaTac International Airport of Seattle has a United Lounge on concourse A but it is closed until further notice due to COVID-19. You can see a full list of United lounges that are currently open here.
The American Express Platinum card may be a better fit for United flyers because you get access to over 1,300 Priority Club lounges in 600 cities across 148 countries, and you can also use any of the 13 American Express Centurion lounges which are primarily in the US.
The card does have a very high annual fee of $695, but it comes with a $200 annual travel credit, elite status in Marriott and Hilton loyalty programs, and up to $200 a year in Uber credits, $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits and reimbursement of TSA PreCheck or Global entry fees. There are also other credits and perks to offset the annual fee including discounts on flights on over two dozen airlines through the International Airline Program.
The sign-up bonus on the Amex Platinum card is 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months after getting approved. The value of those bonus points and other benefits will definitely offset the annual fee the first year if you use all the credits.
Best Premium Flexible Points Card to Earn United Airlines Miles
You may think that having a co-branded United Airlines card would also be the best option to earn maximum rewards for your travels. But the Chase Sapphire Reserve can really help you boost your United MileagePlus balance because the Reserve card earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points on all your travel and dining and one point on all other purchases. United is a Chase partner, so you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to your MileagePlus account and turn them into miles at a 1:1 ratio.
The card also has some great travel protection including trip cancellation/interruption insurance of up to $10,000 per person or $20,000 per trip. It also has trip delay reimbursement of up to $500 per ticket if the delay is more than 12 hours. If your bags are delayed more than six hours, you will be reimbursed up to $100 a day for up to five days. And it provides primary car rental insurance.
The Sapphire Reserve card does have a $550 annual fee, but you get a $300 travel credit to help offset the fee. It also comes with a 60,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months, so that bonus and the other benefits and earning opportunities will more than cover the cost of holding the card the first year.
Best Mid-Tier Flexible Points Card for Earning United Miles
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the mid-tier card in the Chase Ultimate Rewards family of credit cards. It is a good choice if you want to earn flexible points that can be transferred to United, and it has the same travel protections as the Sapphire Reserve for a much lower annual fee.
The Preferred card costs $95 a year, and it is currently offering a limited time bonus of 100,000 points if you make $3,000 in purchases in the first three months of having the card. The Preferred card earns 2x points on travel, dining and food delivery and one point on everything else.
Best Card With No Annual Fee for United Flyers
Chase also issues the best card with no annual fee for United frequent flyers. The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns points in the same Ultimate Rewards program that the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards do, but there is no fee to hold the card.
You earn 5x points on grocery store purchases up to $12,000 per year. Travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal will also earn 5x points, and all other purchases earn 1.5x points which transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio like the other cards in the UR family.
The Freedom Unlimited card has a $200 bonus offer after spending $500 in the first three months. The card also has a 0% introductory APR so this may be a good choice if you plan to carry a balance or just don’t want to pay an annual fee.
Best Small Business Card for United Airlines Frequent Flyers
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express also does not charge an annual fee, and it lets you earn 2x Membership Rewards points on all purchases up to $50,000 a year, and one point per dollar after that.
Membership Rewards points can’t be transferred directly to United, but MR points do transfer to Star Alliance partners, so you can book a United award seat through one of those carriers. Or you can use the points to book travel on United through Amex Travel.
The welcome bonus is 15,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. And like the Freedom Unlimited, it also has a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months.
United Airlines Co-Branded Credit Cards
There are some key credit card benefits that will make your flights more enjoyable and save you money. Popular perks for frequent flyers include free checked bags, lounge access and upgrades. Frequent flyers on United may already have some of these perks because of the type of fare they book or because of their MileagePlus elite status.
But if you’re not flying in business or first class and/or don’t have elite status perks, a United Airlines co-branded card can help you access those types of benefits. Now that we’ve covered which non-United cards are best for earning, lounge access and other benefits, let’s go over the perks of holding a United Airlines co-branded credit card.
United offers several co-branded personal credit cards through Chase, which include everything from premium cards to ones with no-fee. Benefits vary as you would expect, with the most expensive card in the lineup offering the greatest perks. We’ve outlined which cards are the best for the benefits most sought after by United passengers.
Best Credit Card for United Club Access
If you primarily travel from an airport that has a United Club lounge, then the United Club Infinite card is probably your best choice for lounge access. This premium United credit card has a $525 annual fee, but the annual United Club lounge membership alone (valued at $650) can justify the cost if you use it frequently.
Plus there are other benefits. You’ll get two free checked bags, which is a valuable benefit if you travel with multiple pieces of luggage or other goods that need to be checked. United Airlines charges $35 each way for your first bag, and $45 for a second checked bag, so the savings can really add up.
You’ll also get Premier Access priority check-in and boarding, 25% back on in-flight purchases, Premier Upgrades on award tickets and a $100 credit toward TSA Precheck or Global Entry. There are also other benefits including Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle elite status and access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.
The Infinite card comes with a 75,000 point sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. This card will earn you 4x miles per dollar spent on United purchases, 2x miles on other travel and dining and one mile per dollar on everything else purchased using the card.
Best Co-Branded Card for Elite Status and Upgrades
Elite status in the United MileagePlus loyalty program (referred to as MileagePlus Premier) offers many benefits for frequent flyers including upgrades, but most miles earned through spending on credit cards do not help travelers achieve status.
The United Quest Card can help you move to the next tier in the airline’s frequent flyer program. You can earn up to 3,000 Premier qualifying points (PQPs) every year, which is enough points to move your status up one tier from Silver to Gold or Gold to Platinum. You’ll also receive 500 PQPs for every $12,000 spent on the Quest credit card.
This card has a $250 annual fee, but you get a $125 statement credit towards United purchases including airfare. It also includes up to two free checked bags on every flight and free Premier Upgrades if available. You’ll also get priority boarding and 25% off in-flight purchases. This card earns 3x miles on United purchases, 2x on all other travel and dining including eligible food delivery, and one point per dollar on everything else.
The Quest card actually currently has a slightly larger sign-up bonus than the premium Infinite card, but the minimum spend to get the bonus is also more. You’ll receive 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months after the card is approved. You can also get 20,000 more bonus miles if you spend $10,000 total in the first six months for a whopping 100,000 United miles.
Best United Card for Free Checked Bag
All of the United Airlines credit cards that charge a fee come with a free checked bag, but the United Explorer Card offers the best value for most consumers who only need to check one bag when flying.
This Explorer is the airline’s mid-tier co-branded card. It has a $95 annual fee which is waived the first year, so your bag won’t cost you anything to check. And if you take at least two roundtrips on the carrier and check a bag, you’ll cover the cost of holding the card in the second year and beyond.
You’ll also have access to other card benefits which include priority boarding, a 25% discount on in-flight purchases, two United Club passes a year and TSA Precheck or Global Entry every four years.
This card comes with a 60,000 mile bonus once you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months after opening the account. If you spend at least $6,000 total in the first six months, you’ll get 10,000 additional bonus miles. The Explorer card also earns 3x points on United flights, 2x on hotels and dining and one point per dollar spent on other purchases.
Best United Credit Card With No Annual Fee
If you’re trying to avoid an annual fee but you still want a co-branded card to earn miles, the United Gateway Card is a good option. It’s also a good card to downgrade to if you don’t want to keep paying the annual fee on a United card.
The sign-up bonus is not as impressive as the other United co-branded cards, but the minimum spend is also much less. You can earn up to 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on the card within the first three months of having it. And if you spend a total of $3,000 in the first six months, you’ll earn 15,000 more miles for a total of 30,000.
This card is the only United card that does not come with a free checked bag or priority boarding, but it does earn 2x miles per dollar spent on United Airlines, at gas stations and on transit including local commuting charges. You’ll also get a 25% discount on in-flight purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi as you do with the other United co-branded credit cards.
Best United Small Business Card
If you own a business, you should consider the United Business card, which currently has a sign-up bonus of up to 150,000 bonus miles. The card includes a free checked bag, priority boarding and two United Club passes for one-time use every year. Employee cards are free, and like other United cards you get a 25% discount on in-flight purchases. The annual fee for this card is $99, and you can earn a $100 credit if you book seven flights a year that cost over $100 each.
The sign-up bonus is 75,000 miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months, and an additional 75,000 miles if you spend a total of $20,000 in the first six months of having the card. You’ll also earn two miles per dollar on United purchases, dining, gas stations, office supply stores and on local transit, and one mile per dollar on everything else.
Credit Card Issuer Rules
There are also a few considerations depending on what company is issuing the credit card. All of the cards we consider the best for United Airlines frequent flyers are issued by either Chase or American Express. Both card issuers have some rules that could block you from getting approved or getting a sign-up bonus.
For example, Chase has a 5/24 rule, so if you have applied for more than five cards in the past two years you will not get approved for a Chase credit card. Also, you can only get one sign-up bonus every 48 months for a card in the Chase Ultimate Rewards family, so keep this in mind when planning your credit card application strategy. All of the United cards and Ultimate Rewards earning cards we covered are issued by Chase, so this is an important consideration.
Many people who plan on applying for several cards to earn bonus points and miles will often get their Chase applications in first so they don’t run afoul of the 5/24 rule. And if you don’t remember the last time you got a bonus on a particular Chase card, check your credit report to pinpoint the month and be sure to leave a little extra room to make sure you’ve cleared the four-year limit since earning your last bonus on a Chase Ultimate Rewards card.
Also, most business cards don’t count in the 5/24 rule, so this might be a good choice if you are over the limit and still want a Chase card that earns Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to United.
American Express will only let you hold five credit cards at a time including personal and business cards. This rule is not as strict as Chase’s rule, so you may be approved for a sixth card, but it’s not likely. This only applies to credit cards, so your Amex charge cards don’t count.
Also, Amex only lets you earn a sign-up bonus once per lifetime for each of its products, so if you’ve previously held the Amex Blue Business Plus card but you still want a business card, then the Chase United Business card is probably a better option.
Credit Score Needed
One last important consideration is to make sure you have the right credit score to obtain the card you want before you take a hit on your credit score for applying. Most travel cards require a good or excellent credit score, so your FICO credit score should be 720 or better. You’ll also be asked about your income, and issuers will review your credit history to make their determination.
In general, premium cards require a better credit score and history than mid-tier and no-fee cards, so don’t shoot too high if your credit score is borderline or your history is too short or has some negative items. For example, it’s harder to get the premium Amex Platinum card than other cards in the Amex Membership Rewards family, and the same is true for the Chase Sapphire and United co-branded cards.
Check your credit score and history before you apply to make sure there are no challenges to obtaining your card of choice, or go down a tier or two on the card you’re thinking of getting if you don’t think you’ll get approved. For example, you might be better off applying for the Chase Freedom Unlimited or the Chase Sapphire Preferred instead of the Sapphire Reserve if your credit score is closer to 700.
Travelers have different needs and priorities, so it’s important to think about what you need or will use when selecting a credit card. If you don’t check bags because United offers a free carry-on and you travel light, then free checked bags will not benefit you.
Also, if you don’t arrive at the airport early enough to use a lounge and/or your flights do not usually have layovers, then lounge access is not valuable. And if you fly United regularly, you may have elite status that comes with some of the benefits that credit cards offer.
The sign-up bonuses offered can be very attractive, but you need to balance the value of those extra miles or points and the card’s benefits against the annual fees you have to pay to hold some of the cards we covered. You should also consider your spending categories to determine which card might help you maximize rewards.
If you’re a frequent flyer on United for your business travel, but have another carrier in mind for your vacation plans that you want to fund with rewards, then a card with flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards might be a better choice. You can always transfer those miles to United or use them in the card issuer’s portal to book travel.