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United Airlines Credit Cards: Everything You Need To Know

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United Airlines Credit Cards

United Airlines is one of the big three carriers in the United States. You can earn United MileagePlus miles through several co-branded credit cards and with transfers from partner programs.

Once those miles post to your account, United’s MileagePlus miles offer exceptional value on short-haul flights outside of the U.S. and flights from the U.S. to Europe. We’ll share details on the sweet spots in the United Airlines award chart below so you can get maximum value from the miles you earn.

Credit Cards that Earn United Airlines MileagePlus miles

You have many options to earn United Airlines MileagePlus miles to boost your account. United offers 4 co-branded credit cards (3 personal and 1 business) and the ability to transfer points from partners like Marriott, SPG and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Besides these cards have no foreign transaction fees, which makes them perfect for spendings abroad.

The United Airlines Co-Branded Credit Cards

For the best perks when flying United Airlines, you’ll want a United Airlines co-branded credit card. These credit cards offer perks that other cards do not, such as free checked bags, expanded flight award availability, priority boarding and 25% discounts on in-flight purchases.

United Explorer Card

The United Explorer card is a perfect option for the occasional flyer with United Airlines. For a low annual fee of $95 (waived the first year) you’ll earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months. As an added bonus, you will receive a $100 statement credit after your first purchase that effectively makes this credit card free for the first two years.

You’ll also earn an additional 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user and they make one purchase within the same 3 months. And the two complimentary United Club passes you receive each year are a nice touch that co-branded credit cards from other airlines do not offer.

When Chase and United released the new Explorer card, they wanted cardholders to use it on a regular basis, so it now offers 2x miles at restaurants and hotels, on top of the 2x miles earned when you spend with United Airlines. It provides up to $100 in reimbursement for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, too.

While traveling, you’ll get your first checked bag for free for yourself and a companion and you’ll receive a 25% discount for purchases made in-flight, such as food, drinks or Wi-Fi.

United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card

The business version of the Explorer card offers very similar benefits with a few extras for the same $95 annual fee. This annual fee is also waived for the first year, so you can test drive it before paying a fee.

The biggest differences, other than it being a business card instead of a consumer credit card, are the larger sign-up bonus, bonus categories, the ability to earn bonus miles based on spending and complimentary upgrades for United Premier members.

With the Explorer Business card, you will receive a 50,000-mile bonus after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months. This card earns 2x bonus miles with United and at restaurants, gas stations, and office supply stores. Sorry, no bonus for hotel reservations.

Businesses usually spend more than consumers, so it shouldn’t be too hard for your business to earn an additional 10,000-mile bonus each year when you spend at least $25,000 in a calendar year with business credit cards.

United MileagePlus Club Card

The Chase United MileagePlus Club card is designed for frequent travelers on United Airlines that are considering purchasing a United Club membership and want to earn United MileagePlan miles faster. The current offer provides 50,000 MileagePlus miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months.

United Club membership normally costs $450 to $550 per year, depending on your MileagePlus status level. But you will receive an annual membership for free with the Club card.

Because this is a premium credit card with a premium annual fee ($450), there are plenty of additional perks available for the cardholder. United Airlines will waive the $75 close-in booking fees for you. Your status will also be upgraded with complimentary Hyatt Discoverist status and Hertz Presidents Circle Elite status. Hyatt Discoverist is the first level above standard members and is the same status level provided by the Hyatt co-branded credit card.

There is a business version of this MileagePlus Club credit card as well, but you cannot apply online. Apply for the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card first, then call the Chase customer service number on the back of your credit card to perform a product transfer once sign-up bonus posts to your United account.

United TravelBank Card

The United TravelBank Card was recently launched so that United Airlines could offer a co-branded credit card that has no annual fee. It doesn’t directly earn United MileagePlus miles, but purchases with United earn 2% in travel credits that can be used towards future travel on United Airlines. All other purchases earn 1.5% in travel credits.

This credit card does offer a 25% discount on in-flight purchases like the United co-branded cards with annual fees. In my opinion, you’re better off with using the United Explorer card free for two years—first year annual fee is waived and the second year is free when factoring in the $100 statement credit you received after your first purchase—to see how you like the other benefits.

Credit Cards That Are Transfer Partners of United Airlines

If you want United Airlines MileagePlus miles, you don’t always need a co-branded credit card to earn those miles. Some people prefer the flexibility of earning points that can be used to pay for travel, including airfare, hotel rooms and car rentals, or transferred to other partner airlines or hotels.

Personally, I like to have a mix of both airline miles and flexible points so that I can find the best deal and book my trip based on whatever path will cost me the least amount of points.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Credit Cards

United Airlines is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly into United MileagePlus miles at a ratio of 1:1.

There are several credit cards from Chase that earn Ultimate Rewards. The three most popular are the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Preferred. Between these three credit cards, you could earn 180,000 Ultimate Rewards points—50,000 each from the Reserve and Preferred and 80,000 from the Ink.

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus

The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus credit card is currently offering the largest sign-up bonus I’ve ever seen. You’ll earn 100,000 Marriott Rewards points after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months.

The business version of the Marriott credit card is offering 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. And both Marriott credit cards provide a free hotel night each year upon renewal.

Marriott Rewards can be converted into United MileagePlus miles in one of three ways:

  • Flight & Hotel Packages
  • Transferring directly
  • Through SPG (see next section)

With Flight & Hotel Packages, you’ll receive United miles and a one-week stay at a Marriott property. Redemptions start at 200,000 Marriott Rewards points for 55,000 United miles and 7 nights in a Category 1-5 property. You can receive up to 132,000 United miles when you redeem more Marriott points.

Marriott also provides an option to convert Marriott Rewards points into United MileagePlus miles. The minimum number of Marriott points you can transfer is 8,000, which will provide 2,000 United miles. The best conversion rate is to redeem 25,000 United miles in exchange for 56,000 Marriott points.

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card

The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card earns points that are really valuable because you can use them to book hotel rooms, but they’re also flexible like Chase Ultimate Rewards because they can transfer to 35 different airlines. You’ll even receive a bonus of 5,000 miles for every 20,000 miles that you redeem.

Most airlines transfer at a ratio of 1 SPG point to 1 airline mile. However, United has an unfavorable ration because it requires 2 SPG points to redeem for 1 United Airlines mile. Because of that, I would recommend saving your SPG points for hotel nights or for transfers to other airlines with better transfer ratios.

Earn 239,000 United Airlines Miles in 4 Months

To book your next trip on United Airlines, you can earn a lot of MileagePlus miles in a short timeframe if you get the right credit cards. You’ll need to have excellent credit to make this strategy work since you’ll need to apply for several credit cards to earn all of these miles.

For example, these 239,000 miles are enough for 2 round-trip tickets in Business Class on United Airlines to Europe. These tickets would normally cost several thousand dollars each! Ok, at 60K per person each way, it’s really 240K miles vs 239K, so you may need to spend an extra $1,000 on a card if you don’t earn extra miles on bonus categories.

Step 1

First Month: Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card with the first year’s annual fee waived. Spend $4,000 dollars during this month and you’ll have a balance of 54,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points—50,000 points from the sign-up bonus and 4,000 points from using the card. Transfer the 54,000 points from Chase to receive 54,000 United miles.

Step 2

Second Month: Apply for the Chase Ink Business Preferred credit card to receive 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 this month. After meeting the minimum spend, you’ll have another 85,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that you can transfer to your United MileagePlus account.

Step 3

Third Month: Apply for the United Explorer Card and meet the minimum spend of $2,000 this month. You’ll receive 40,000 MileagePlus miles as a sign-up bonus plus 2,000 miles from meeting the minimum spend this month. The first year’s annual fee is waived and you’ll receive a $100 statement credit after your first purchase posts to your account. When you add an authorized user and they complete one purchase (even for as little as $1) this month, then you’ll receive an additional 5,000 miles.

Step 4

Fourth Month: Apply for the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card with the first year’s annual fee waived. You’ll have another 53,000 MileagePlus miles after spending $3,000 on the card and earning the 50,000 sign-up bonus.

In four months, you’ll have at least 239,000 United MileagePlus miles that you can use to book some amazing travel with. But where will you go?

Best Uses for United Airlines Miles

These are some of the best redemption options to really stretch your United Airlines miles and receive great value. Of course, the best redemption is always the one that gets you to wherever you want to go. But, if you need some inspiration, here are our favorites.

Short-Haul Partner Award Flights for 8,000 Miles

Outside of the United States and Canada, you can redeem United miles for short-haul partner award flights within Europe for only 8,000 miles one-way in coach. Flights less than 800 miles can be really expensive, so using United miles can be a huge money saver.

Economy Saver Awards Within the United States

Within the U.S., you can book one-way Economy Saver Awards for 12,500 miles. If the flight is less than 700 miles, the price drops to just 10,000 miles for awards within the 48 contiguous United States.

Flights to Europe From North or Central America

Award flight prices to Europe have increased, but United Airlines’ standard award price is still competitive with American Airlines and Delta. You can fly Economy on United or any of its partners for only 30,000 MileagePlus miles each way from anywhere in the continental United States or Canada.

When flying on United “metal,” Business Class tickets are only 60,000 miles each way. And if you choose to fly with one of United’s Star Alliance partners, there’s a small increase, making the Business Class award tickets cost 70,000 miles each way.

I used United miles to fly Business Class on Lufthansa to Germany a few years ago to pick up a friend’s S550 from the Mercedes Factory in Stuttgart. We turned his Mercedes European Delivery into a European tour with stops in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam and Brussels before flying home from Paris. It was an amazing use of miles and a trip we’ll never forget.

Which Alliance Is United Airlines a Part of?

United Airlines is a partner in the Star Alliance, which has 28 members and serves over 1,300 airports across the globe. Partner airlines include:

Which Alliance Is United Airlines a Part of?

  • Air Canada
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Singapore Airlines

With so many partner airlines to choose from, we are confident you can find a flight redemption to visit the city you’ve been dreaming of.

Remember, if you are flying with any Star Alliance partner, you can credit your flights to United Airlines to earn even more MileagePlus miles towards a future flight redemption.

Which United Airlines Credit Card Is Best for You?

With so many credit cards to choose from, you may be asking which United Airlines credit card is best for you if you had to pick a single credit card?

My recommendation to most travelers that are looking to fly on United Airlines within the next two years is to apply for the Chase Explorer card. After factoring in the $100 credit with first purchase, Chase and United Airlines are paying you $5 to try out all of the benefits of this card, such as priority boarding, free checked bags and two United Club passes, for the next two years.

If you’re loyal to United Airlines and value United Club lounge access, then the Chase United MileagePlus Club card is the one for you. Not only do you save money on your United Club membership, you’ll also get upgraded status with World of Hyatt and Hertz rental cars.

For those travelers who are considering flying on United Airlines, but want to keep their options open, then the Chase Sapphire Preferred will give you the flexibility that you are looking for. If you often fly on a different airline, check out our recommendations here.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

UGC Disclosure: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.