Although traveling definitely makes us richer with experience, knowledge and memories, our bank accounts usually shrink with each trip proportionally. It’s good to know that there are some ways on how to make these financial setbacks less painful and get some extra value out of your travels.
Travel credit cards are increasingly popular with all kinds of travelers. They come with many attractive rewards that can be tempting especially for frequent travelers, who can usually utilize them the best. But deciding on a particular credit card provider and product can be pretty difficult, since there are currently dozens if not hundreds of them on the market.
Today, we are going to focus on the best United credit card options. What they have in common is that they are all issued by United Airlines, founder of the world’s largest airline alliance (Star Alliance) and one of the largest airlines in the US.
In this post, you will learn the following:
- What are travel credit cards used for, and how to recognize a good one.
- What rules apply to United travel credit cards.
- What products does United currently offer.
- Which United credit card will suit your traveling routine the most.
- Which one of them do we recommend the most in general.
If you have little or no previous experience with travel credit cards, you can’t really make an informed decision without understanding how these cards work. That’s why we’ve put together general description of this concept in the following section.
Travel credit cards: What are they, and why are they important?
Travel credit cards represent a very practical and popular way to diminish your travel expenses and earn some benefits, which can be used either immediately or during your next travels. This is usually provided by some sort of points-based system, which rewards you with a certain amount of points for each dollar spent.
There are usually some further incentives too, e.g. to make purchases at associated stores / use certain affiliates’ services etc. As your points accumulate, you can exchange them for goods, services, or even flight tickets based on some general rules and tables.
Besides this, the best credit cards for travelers (premium types) also come with various perks and incentives such as access to airport lounges, gratuit hold baggage, priority boarding, accommodation discounts and/or upgrades etc.
But travelers also appreciate how smoothly and inexpensively they can resolve unexpected situations abroad with these cards – they are not charged any fees for paying in different countries, and their card works as a reliable source of finances in case of emergency.
Although travel cards are generally associated mainly with business travelers, they can actually be equally beneficial for individual tourists too. Especially those who travel frequently, for longer periods of time, or to distant destinations can feel the advantage of using a card quite soon.
How to choose the best travel credit card: The most important qualities
Comparing qualities of different travel credit cards might look easy at first, but when you dive in, you will soon discover that it’s not all about the numbers. The most important thing to consider is whether you particularly would be able to utilize the benefits that come with the card you are looking at.
Of course, this will depend on your ability and possibility to use or combine provided benefits. But first, you should know what to look at. These are the most important factors you should check before signing-up:
1. Co-branded or General?
General cards let you earn rewards directly from the card’s provider, and they can be used literally on any travel-related expenses. Co-branded cards can be easily recognized by having a name of certain airline, brand or hotel chain imprinted on them. They let you earn points from the branded company (plus selected partners) only, and they will also limit your options for spending the points.
At first glance, you may automatically presume that your best option is general card due to the freedom it provides. But co-branded cards usually give significantly more attractive rewards and plenty of extra perks.
If you’re using certain company regularly and don’t plan to change this habit, co-branded cards (such as the United cards we are about to compare in this article) will probably be the best option for you.
2. Fees vs. rewards
Some of the basic travel credit cards for individuals can be arranged for free, but usually there is some annual fee associated with this type of products. This can be anywhere from tens to hundreds of dollars per year.
Of course, the higher fees you pay, the more advantages and options you would expect to have, right? But the ratio mustn’t always work like this in practice. Again, you need to understand your own traveling and spending habits first to know whether certain program will be cost-effective for you.
3. Sign-up bonus
Sign-up bonuses are quite attractive incentives – basically, it means that you will get a certain amount of points (or travel cash) for free from the card’s provider.
Of course, terms and conditions apply. Mostly, you have to spend a certain amount of money on purchases in, say, first three months after signing up for the program. Many travelers actually can’t make this work and end up losing their bonus. But if you plan well (timing is crucial!), you might get up to 100,000* miles for free (*note: this is currently maximum with United).
4. Worldwide acceptance
If you plan to stay only in the US, you probably mustn’t worry about this too much. But if there’s just a slight possibility of embarking on some overseas trip, you should definitely check if your card will be accepted in your destination.
In general, you should be fine with Mastercard and Visa cards (United currently offers Visa-based cards) anywhere around the world. Other brands are a bit more risky, so you should always do your research upfront.
5. Other advantages
Most of travel credit cards offer various other benefits besides the miles/points. These bonuses can include attractive discounts, VIP treatment, extra services for free (such as checked baggage or priority services), including travel insurance, and many other incentives.
Although these are not usually the main reasons for setting up your account, when you sum these side-bonuses up, they can sometimes even outweigh the advantages of the miles/points.
If you want more information on travel credit cards in general, read our comprehensive guide here.
United Credit Cards: General rules of use
All United credit card products belong under the MileagePlus® program. Signing up for any of United credit cards will require your acceptance of its rules. These rules cannot be superseded or changed, and you should check their most up-to-date version regularly on the United website.
United reserves the right to terminate, change, limit, withdraw, modify or cancel the program, its parts and associated conditions anytime with or without prior notice. Of course, any abuse of the program, its rules and conditions, law and regulations, may (and most certainly will) result in termination of the violator’s membership and/or cancellation of any accrued mileage, benefits or awards.
You cannot sell, barter or otherwise transfer any mileage or awards to any unauthorised personnel. You can collect any rewards only as a result of your own utilization of United / Affiliates services.
Any miles you might have collected before assigning for the program will NOT be awarded retrospectively once you set your account, so think well before you buy your ticket or service, and do everything in the correct order.
Some fares/purchases may be excluded from the eligibility for miles. Awards are valid only to destinations, which are served both at the time of the ticket issuance and at the time of departure. Also, don’t expect to receive and rewards for flight cancellations.
Mileage has its expiration period. If you fail to engage in any activity with your account for the period of 18 consecutive months, your account will be terminated and any remaining mileage will forfeit. Although United usually notifies you before this happens, the company reserves the right not to, so you cannot make any objections.
Note that this was just a brief excerpt of some of the most important or interesting points in the rules. Please refer here for the full and actual version. You should also pay attention to several differences between rules for individuals and businesses, which are also clearly stated on the page indicated above.
United travel credit cards: Overview
Many frequent travelers consider United their favorite travel credit cards provider. It’s given mainly by the fact that it belongs to the world’s largest airline alliance (Star Alliance), so your opportunities to earn and spend rewards are almost unlimited.
This company is also known for not passing on fuel surcharges for award flights with partners, which makes it your best option for overseas flights. Their awards are also perceived as some of the most advantageous on the market.
Before we focus on each of the United’s product separately, take a look at this summarized table:
United TravelBank Card
United Explorer Card
United Club Card
United Explorer Business Card
United Club Business Card
Now let’s focus on each of these products in more detail.
United travel credit cards: Reviews
United TravelBank Card is the most basic credit card product you can get from United. As such, it is probably the most commonly used one too. Zero fees and straightforward rules make this the safest choice for a total beginner.
Of course, its advantages and extras might not be as attractive in comparison with some of the advanced programs. On the other hand, it’s much easier to reach them (for example, to put your hands on $150 welcome bonus in TravelBank cash, you need to make purchases for only $1,000 in the first 3 months). This bonus can, however, be used only on your future purchases with United.
Unlike the other United products, this program works more like a cashback than standard miles collecting. You will get 25% back on food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases onboard both United and United Express-operated flights; 2% in TravelBank cash for each $1 spent on airline tickets, food, seat upgrades, wifi and other United services; and 1.5% for each $1 spent on other purchases.
Of course, you can also benefit from no foreign transaction fees and some other standard advantages related to travel credit cards.
Who is it good for?
If you’re new to travel credit cards, United TravelBank Card is your safe and simple starting point. You can see for yourself if you’re actually able to use this sort of product effectively without subscribing for any payment plans. Some customers also like to downgrade to this plan from other (paid) products when they don’t use their cards as much as they initially expected.
On the other hand, your advantages with this card will be very limited both in quantity and usability. Once you’ll get used to it and familiarize with all of the rules and schemes, you will probably feel the urge to upgrade.
This is the “Golden Mean” among United credit cards – and the preferred choice for thousands of travelers. With very affordable pricing ($0 intro fee for the first year, then $95 annually), this card offers a great range of incentives that are relatively easy to utilize and enjoy to the fullest.
Firstly, United will award you 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Then expect to get 25% back on food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases onboard United / United Express-operated flights; 2 miles for each $1 spent on airline tickets, food, seat upgrades, wifi and other United services + selected restaurants and accommodation; and 1 mile for each $1 spent on other purchases.
This credit card comes with some other perks too. You can enjoy free first checked baggage AND priority boarding for you and one traveling companion, and you’ll also get two one-time passes for the exclusive United Club each year.
Free foreign transactions and no blackout dates come with this card as a standard too.
Who is it good for?
This is one classy travel card, which can be easily recommended to any individual traveler who travels at least 2-3 times per year. This card will make your traveling experience so much better in all th different aspects. Booking award flights is straightforward and easy, time spent at airports becomes much more effective and pleasant. You can also benefit from various extras, which can surely come handy too.
If you’re unsure about subscribing for a paid program, you can take advantage of Explorer Card’s zero fee for the whole first year. You will have enough time to measure the effectivity and usability of this product and decide, whether you want to continue using it (and pay for it). The best choice currently out there for sure.
This is the most prestigious (and expensive) program currently available for individual United Airlines travelers. If you’re a total beginner, you probably won’t even consider this product due to its price, but the most frequent and/or experienced travelers (or those who seek the most expensive and luxurious services) can benefit from this card greatly.
If you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 3 months, United will reward you with 50,000 bonus miles. You can also enjoy up to two hold bags for free and get pampered by the complex Priority Access services (boarding, screening, baggage handling etc.). As this is literally a club membership, you will automatically get access to United lounges and save up to $650 per year for their use.
You will also get 2 miles for each $1 spent on airline tickets, food, seat upgrades, wifi and other United services + 1.5 mile for each $1 spent on other purchases. Additional bonuses include comprehensive Purchase & travel protection insurance, luxurious upgrades on accommodation with The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, and some other perks.
Who is it good for?
Fancy luxurious lounges, free drinks and meals, priority, and prestigious accommodation upgrades? If you’re used to paying for all these extras separately, you will surely benefit from this card enormously.
Although its annual fee is rather steep, it can save much more in practice. You can also share the costs with your stable travel partner, since most of the benefits are available to you AND your companion/s at the same time.
Of course, to fully benefit from what this card has to offer, you should have certain type of habits and routine – and travel quite frequently.
Travel credit cards are very popular with business travelers, since they usually travel regularly, which makes collecting miles much more effective. United offers specific products for this type of customers too. The basic one is called United Explorer Business Card, and it works quite similarly to the individual Explorer card (with several exceptions).
With this card, you are obliged to pay $95 annually from the very start. In exchange, you can get as much as 100,000 bonus miles with this card – 50,000 after you spend $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months + additional 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 total in the first 6 months.
With single business account, you can get additional Employee Cards at no extra cost (which makes miles collecting much faster). You will earn 2 miles for each $1 spent on airline tickets, food, seat upgrades, wifi and other United services – and the same amount for every purchase at gas stations, office supply stores and restaurants. Additionally, you will also earn 1 mile for each $1 spent on other purchases.
You can benefit from insurance and luxury accommodation upgrades, free first checked bag, priority boarding, Anniversary United Club passes (one-time), and several other perks too.
Who is it good for?
If you own a small business and your routine includes regular traveling (with United), you will surely find this card very helpful. Not sure if you’re eligible? Qualifying for the business account with United is actually very easy. It’s enough to have some independent side job (such as cab driving or cake baking)!
For a very affordable price, this card provides you with tons of useful benefits. You can also set additional cards for your colleagues/employees and accrue miles super-fast. Just like its individual counterpart, Explorer Business card from United can be highly recommended.
As its name suggests, this is a businessman’s alternative of United Club Card. For $450 annually, you will get generous benefits such as comprehensive Priority Access services, United Club membership (value up to $550 per year), two checked bags for free, insurance and various upgrades on accommodation / services with many partners.
If you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, United will send 50,000 bonus miles your way. You’ll get 2 miles for each $1 spent on airline tickets and other purchases with United and 1.5 mile for each $1 spent on other purchases. No blackout dates and transaction fees apply to you.
This card also comes with access to premium membership at Hertz and some other bonuses that may come handy on your business trips. Again, it’s easy (and free!) to get more cards for your employees and collect your miles even faster.
Who is it good for?
If your business includes regular traveling, and you (preferably) have more traveling employees or colleagues, this card will allow you to enjoy the best service and the most luxurious perks currently offered by United.
Annual fee is relatively high, but it’s justified by tons of discounts and benefits that come with the card’s ownership. It’s also much easier and faster for a business to earn miles and qualify for the bonuses in comparison with individual travelers.
United Travel Credit Cards: FAQs
Still, have some unanswered questions regarding the United credit cards? Here are some fast Q&As:
In general, United credit cards are accepted globally in more than 200 countries. You should be able to use them effectively on most of your trips both in the US and abroad.
Yes, you automatically get Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Trip Cancellation / Trip Interruption Insurance, Price Protection, and Purchase Protection with any of United cards.
Yes, except for the United TravelBank Card. However, you get only 2x one-time passes a year with Explorer cards. For full access, you will have to get the United Club Card/United Business Club Card.
Only United TravelBank Card is for free. Explorer Card for individuals comes with $0 fee for the first year, then prepare to pay $95 annually. Both Club Cards come with $450 annual fee.
Which United credit card is the best? As you probably already know by now, that’s very individual. The best travel credit card for you is the one that provides you with the most practical advantages.
There’s no point in paying high annual fees for a premium card, if you travel only rarely. To fully enjoy the Club Card benefits, you would also have to book luxurious accommodations, rent cars, and make some other purchases with various United partners, so additional expenses should be expected.
On the other hand, its relatively inefficient to earn your rewards with the most basic card, since it offers only limited benefits and usability.
In our opinion, United Explorer Card (both individual and business version) is the best option for most travelers. It’s versatile, and it offers perfect price/value ratio. You can even try it for free during the whole first year.
But whichever United credit card do you personally prefer, the fact is that all of United products boast high quality and attractive incentives. Unlike some of the competition, their VISA-based cards can also be used (almost) anywhere around the world, which is very important if you travel abroad regularly.
Of course, aside from the credit cards and bonus programs, there are many different factors that should be taken into account when choosing an airline. Our guide to finding the best one will explain this in detail.
If you like this article, make sure to check our other guides and comparisons too! Some of the other articles you might find interesting: