The Top Credit Cards for United Passengers

If you fly on United, signing up for a branded credit card could help you earn valuable rewards and luxurious perks.
Last updated Aug 5, 2020 | By Kat Tretina
Passengers sitting in airplane seats

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United Airlines is one of the biggest carriers in the world, servicing 355 destinations and 158 million passengers in 2018. Customers keep coming back because of its robust loyalty program, MileagePlus, which offers elite travel benefits.

If you want to earn free flights and MileagePlus points, you may be considering a United Airlines credit card. There are several options available, but are they a smart choice? Find out more below.

What United Airlines credit cards offer

If you regularly fly on United Airlines, having a co-branded credit card can help you earn rewards, upgrades, and other travel benefits like free checked luggage.

There are five United credit cards currently available:

Card Annual Fee United Perks
United Explorer Card $95 (waived first year) 
  • Free first checked bag for the cardholder and one companion
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% back on inflight purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • Two United Club one-time passes each year
United Club Card $450
  • Free United Club Membership
  • Free first and second checked bags
  • Upgraded rental car company status
United TravelBank Card $0
  • 25% back on inflight purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 2% in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on airline tickets from United; 1.5% in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on all other purchases
United Business $99 (waived first year) 
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • Two United Club one-time passes each year
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
United Club Business $450
  • Free United Club Membership
  • Free first and second checked bags
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • Upgraded rental car company status

1. United Explorer Card

With the United Explorer Card, you can earn 2X miles at restaurants and delivery services, hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel, and eligible United purchases; and 1X miles on everything else. Plus, there’s the sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

And those extra miles can go a long way — currently, you can find one-way domestic flights on United for as little as 12,500 miles.

You’ll also get comprehensive perks and benefits, including:

  • $100 statement credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
  • Free first checked bag for cardholder and one companion booked on the same reservation
  • 25% back on inflight purchases
  • Two United Club passes — a $100 value
  • Auto rental damage collision waiver (primary coverage)
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Trip cancellation or interruption insurance
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • No foreign transaction fees

2. United Club Card

The United Club Card does have an annual fee that’s quite steep at $450. However, it offers valuable rewards that may offset the high cost.

When you use this card, you can earn 2X miles on United purchases, and 1.5X miles on all other purchases. These rewards rates can help you earn miles quickly. Plus your miles never expire, and there’s no limit to how many miles you can earn.

The card also offers a large sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

You’ll also get other benefits, including:

  • United Club membership, a $550 value
  • Free first and second checked bags
  • Priority check-in and expedited security screenings
  • Flight upgrades
  • Hertz President’s Circle Elite Status
  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Auto rental damage collision waiver (primary coverage)
  • Visa Concierge access

3. United TravelBank Card

The United TravelBank Card has a $0 annual fee. Rather than earning miles, you earn TravelBank cash back, which you can redeem for statement credits or flights.

You’ll earn 2% back in TravelBank cash on most United purchases, and 1.5% back on all other purchases. Earn $150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months as an easy-to-achieve welcome bonus.

Of the three cards, the United TravelBank card offers the fewest benefits:

  • 25% TravelBank cash back on inflight purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Auto rental damage collision waiver (secondary coverage in the U.S.)
  • Trip cancellation and interruption coverage

4. United Business Card

If you’re a business owner and frequently travel for work, signing up for the United Business Card offers a lot of perks for an annual fee of only $99 (waived first year).

The welcome bonus is also generous: earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You’ll earn 2X miles on United purchases, at restaurants, gas stations, office supply stores, and on local transit and commuting; and 1X miles on everything else.

The card comes with other benefits, including:

  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • Two United Club one-time passes each cardmember anniversary — a $100 value
  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Auto rental damage collision waiver (primary coverage)
  • Purchase protection
  • Extended warranty protection

5. United Club Business

The United Club Business Card has a high annual fee, but its comprehensive rewards and benefits may offset its cost.

When you sign up for the card, you’ll earn 100,000 bonus miles after spending $10,000 on purchases in the first three months (limited-time offer). You’ll also earn 2X miles on United purchases, plus 1.5X miles on all other purchases.

You’ll get other valuable perks like:

  • Free United Club membership — a $550 value
  • First and second free checked bags
  • Premier access travel services
  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle Elite Status
  • Trip cancellation and interruption coverage
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Auto rental damage collision waiver (primary coverage)
  • Purchase protection
  • Price protection
  • Return protection
  • Extended warranty

Other cards United flyers should consider

While United Airlines credit cards may be beneficial for some customers, they’re not for everyone. If you prefer to shop around with different airlines to find the cheapest flight rather than remaining loyal to a single airline, the United credit cards are likely not the best choice for you.

Instead, consider applying for a general travel rewards card that isn’t specific to one brand. You may pay a higher annual fee in some cases, but you’ll get more flexibility in how you can redeem your points — plus other cards may offer more robust benefits that can also enhance your travel experience.

For example, if you sign up for the Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll earn 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases. The ability to earn that much on airline purchases is a huge perk, potentially allowing you to earn more points than you could with a United-branded credit card.

The Amex Platinum card also offers premium benefits that the United cards don’t offer, such as:

There are many different travel rewards credit cards that offer fantastic rewards and benefits. Here are three of our favorites:

Card Annual Fee Other notable benefits
Amex Platinum Card $550
  • Access to 1,200 airport lounges
  • $200 in Uber credits
  • $200 airline fee credit
  • $100 in hotel credits
  • TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit
  • Gold Status with the Marriott Bonvoy program and Gold Elite Status with the Hilton Honors program
  • No foreign transaction fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve $550
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit
  • Access to over 1,000 airport lounges
  • Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection perks
  • Lyft ridesharing benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees
Capital One® Venture® Rewards $0
  • Shopping discounts
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver (secondary coverage)
  • Travel and emergency assistance services
  • No foreign transaction fees

Maximizing value with point transfers

Another perk of travel cards is point transfers. With this approach, you can transfer your points to a hotel chain or airline’s loyalty program. Completing a point transfer can sometimes give you more value for your points than you’d get with other redemption methods. In some cases, your points can have a higher value when transferred to an airline’s loyalty program, helping you snag better deals on flights.

United credit cards don’t offer this option — you can only use your points with United — so using a general travel card could allow you to better maximize your rewards.

Which card is right for you?

When deciding which of the best travel credit cards is right for you, consider your travel and spending habits. If you tend to stick with one airline and travel at least a couple of times a year, the United credit cards could offer a lot of value. If you tend to check your luggage, you could save hundreds of dollars per trip. And if you value lounge access, getting a free United Club membership is a $550 value.

But if you tend to travel with just a carry-on and like to shop around to get the lowest fares, you’re likely better off with a general travel rewards card. You can maximize your points or cash back by opting for cards such as the Amex Platinum Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, or the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Card.

Best Rewards for United

Benefits

  • 60,000 mile sign-up bonus
  • 2X miles on United purchases, restaurants, and delivery services
  • Free first checked bag
  • 2 United Club Passes annually