United credit cards: stupid, pointless, or worth having?

You know you’ve heard me knobjob cards that earn transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, but do airline cards ever make sense? I dunno. That’s why I’m writing this. One post per airline. First up…United. Duh.

In general, United cards are dumb to spend on, because you could instead be spending on a Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Preferred, or Freedom Unlimited, or Ink Business Preferred, and earning more Ultimate Rewards points than you would United miles, and you can always transfer those points to United, but you can also transfer the points to some other airlines, or use them as cash towards any airline ticket. So are the United cards worth having at all?

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer: Mostly, it’s dumb to spend on this $95/year card, when you could instead earn Ultimate Rewards points with other cards. However, it can be helpful to have the Explorer card, because, if you don’t have Premier Silver status on United, it opens up a ton more award ticket availability than you’d otherwise have. It might also pay to spend on this card if you fly a lot of cheap flights on United, because if you drop $25K on it, not only will you net 10,000 bonus miles, but you’ll waive the $3,000 spending requirement for Silver (or $6,000 for Gold, etc). Finally, the Explorer card has some decent perks, like two United Club visits per year, a checked bag (if you charge your flight to the card), a 20% discount at all the iPad-encrusted restaurants at Newark Terminal C, and of course it has a signup bonus, currently 40,000-60,000 miles. Worth having if you don’t have Premier status, and worth spending on if you’re chasing higher status with cheap tickets.

Chase United MileagePlus Club: Same benefits as with Explorer card minus the 10K miles bonus when you spend $25K, plus Club access, two checked bags, no close in booking fees (hooray), priority checkin/security/baggage, and 1.5 miles per dollar spent, for $450/year. You can decide if that’s worth it to you, but as I’ve said elsewhere, it gives you most of the convenience perks of being Silver. Worth having if you don’t have Premier status or use the lounge a lot. Worth spending on if you’re chasing higher status with cheap tickets, or if your only purpose for Chase Ultimate Rewards points would be to convert them to United miles.

Chase United MileagePlus: This card costs nothing, but you can only get it by converting to it from the Explorer or Club card after a year. Its one considerable benefit is that it gets those without Premier status access to more award seats, like the annual fee cards. It will also get you 20% off most meals in Terminal C at Newark. Worth having if you don’t have Premier status, and/or want to preserve your credit line and history from another card without paying another annual fee. Very stupid to spend on, except for a meal at EWR Terminal C.

Chase United MileagePlus Awards: This is sort of like an inferior Explorer card for a little less money, that you can only get by converting an Explorer or Club card after a year. It offers a checked bag, priority boarding, expanded award availability for non-Premier members, and meal discounts at Newark Terminal C.. Not recommended compared to one of the above three cards, but there’s nothing specifically wrong with it if you like what it offers for what it costs. But I’d rather have the free one, or for $35 more get two yearly lounge passes that the Explorer offers. Worth having if you don’t have Premier status. Stupid to spend on.

Chase United TravelBank: Even though it’s free, this card is garbage and you should not waste your time with it. Stupid to have, stupider to spend on.

3 thoughts on “United credit cards: stupid, pointless, or worth having?

  1. Tom

    Specifically regarding the discounted food at EWR terminal C, do you have any idea if either the United MileagePlus Club card or the no-annual-fee United MileagePlus card also has this benefit, or is it strictly just the MPE card?

    P.S. I love your blog and your writing style.. You write all of the things that I am thinking in my mind (and probably everyone else too, but are afraid to say in this manner). Please don’t ever change!

    1. Ivan X Post author

      @Tom, I just tried my no-annual-fee MP card today at Newark, and got the 20% discount, so I’d have to assume the Club card also offers it. The language on the iPads simply says “MileagePlus cardholders,” which seems inclusive of all of them.

      Thanks for the kind words about the blog!

      1. Tom

        Thanks for the follow-up, I’m glad to hear that all of the MP cards most likely offer the discount. I usually travel out of Newark at least 90% of the time, and my SO and I usually grab a meal or at least a snack before every flight, so this benefit alone could actually be quite valuable. Sounds like I need to head over to a Chase branch soon to check for pre-approvals… fingers crossed!


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