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The best credit cards for United Airlines flyers:
|Best if you’re not loyal to United:||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®|
|Best for non-elite flyers:||United℠ Explorer Card|
|Best for business travelers:||United℠ Business Card|
|Best for lounge access:||United Club℠ Infinite Card|
|Best for budget travelers:||United Gateway℠ Card|
|Best for business travelers who don’t always fly United:||Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card|
|Best for luxury travel:||The Platinum Card® from American Express|
United flyers are spoiled for choice when it comes to credit cards that offer perks with the airline. United’s co-branded Chase cards include perks like lounge access, free checked bags, and priority boarding, as well as earning multiple miles on everyday purchases.
Looking beyond just United-branded cards, however, the ability to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program means that cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card are also strong contenders thanks to great earning rates and strong travel protections.
Which card is right for your needs just depends on the benefits you will value and use the most, and which one’s earning rates you will best be able to maximize with your typical travel and spending activity.
We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.
Best if you’re not loyal to United: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
The card earns 2 points per dollar on dining and a wide range of travel purchases including airline tickets. That means you can rack up extra points not just on United tickets and at hotels like with the United℠ Explorer Card, but on all airline purchases, as well as on things like train tickets, parking, rideshares, and more.
To find out how much your United miles are worth (along with 28 other airline, hotel, and bank programs), check out Insider’s guide to points and miles valuations for 2021.
If you’re a very frequent traveler, you could also consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. It’s now harder to recommend this card to everyone since the annual fee increased to $550, but it still offers some great benefits, including 3x points on travel (after earning the $300 travel credit) and dining, plus 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022, and up to $300 in statement credits for travel purchases each year. Chase has also added annual statement credits for DoorDash food delivery, as well as a complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership.
Best for non-elite United flyers: United℠ Explorer Card
United℠ Explorer Card
That’s because the card offers elite-style perks like a free checked bag for the cardholders and a companion on the same reservation (when you pay with the card), priority boarding, and a 25% discount on inflight food, beverage, and Wi-Fi purchases. Cardholders also receive two one-time United Club passes each anniversary year, which can help lighten day-of-travel stress on the occasional trip.
The card is a good earner in general, accruing 2x miles not just on United purchases, but also at restaurants and hotels. It earns 1 mile per dollar on everything else. When it comes time to put those miles to use, cardholders can also access expanded award ticket availability, which can save tens of thousands of miles on some trips.
Best for business travelers: United℠ Business Card
United℠ Business Card
First and foremost, it’s currently offering new cardholders 75,000 bonus miles after $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. This card carries an annual fee of $99, waived the first year. It also fields some interesting bonus earning opportunities, racking up 2 miles per dollar on United purchases as well as at restaurants, gas stations, and office-supply stores.
Cardholders and a companion can check a bag for free when traveling on United, and receive priority boarding privileges. They also get two one-time United Club passes each anniversary year.
Best for United Club airport lounge access: United Club℠ Infinite Card
United Club℠ Infinite Card
Cardholders and a companion on the same reservation can check up to two bags for free and enjoy Premier Access priority check-in, security screening, and boarding. The card earns 4 miles per dollar on United purchases, which is pretty stellar.
Best for budget travelers: United Gateway℠ Card
United Gateway℠ Card
Though you won’t get free checked bags or priority boarding, the card does offer 25% savings on inflight food, beverage, and Wi-Fi purchases. It also waives foreign transaction fees, and having this card gets you access to expanded award availability, just like other United cards with an annual fee.
Best for road warriors: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Not only is it offering a welcome bonus of 100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, but it also racks up a phenomenal 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 total spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone services, and advertising on social media sites and search engines each account year (then 1x). In short, if you’re a small-business owner whose spending habits fit into these categories, you could make a killing on points and then transfer them to United for award travel.
Aside from that, you can also just redeem Ultimate Rewards points earned with this card directly for reservations made through the Chase travel portal at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece, which could make sense for some cheap airline tickets on United. The card also waives foreign transaction fees and comes with primary insurance on car rentals for business purposes.
Best for fancy flyers: The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card accrues 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel (starting January 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), which makes it the top earner in this category. It also includes up to $200 per year in statement credits toward airline incidentals like checked bags, seat assignments, and club lounge passes, so for occasional United flyers without elite status, this is a big benefit.
Although it won’t get you into United Clubs, it does grant access to Priority Pass lounges around the world as well as Amex’s own Centurion Lounges, so you can usually find a quiet place to work or relax before flights no matter where you travel. Those are just a few of the card’s benefits, but there are plenty more to take advantage of.
Eric Rosen is a travel and credit card expert who has been helping readers reap the rewards of loyalty programs for over a decade. Eric is based in Los Angeles, though you’ll often find him globetrotting to destinations like Australia, Kenya, and Laos on assignment.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
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