Can You Still Get The Benefits of the United Club Card Even If You Don’t Use It To Purchase Tickets?

by on February 9, 2014 · 17 comments

in American Express, Sunday Reader Questions, United, Video Blog Post

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Airline credit cards come with lots of great perks, but many folks don’t know exactly what they’re entitled to. TPG reader Cuong tweeted me and asked if it’s necessary to use his United Club Card to purchase the airline ticket in order to get the card’s benefits when traveling. Here was his question:

“@thepointsguy, Is it true that you don’t get premier access level if you don’t use United MileagePlus Club card to purchase tickets?”

The good news is, you can still get the card’s benefits even if you purchase your ticket without using the United MileagePlus Club card. Here’s how it works:

United Club

Once you apply and get a co-branded card for an airline, they attach that profile to your frequent flyer account. Anytime that frequent flyer membership number is associated with a ticket, you get most of the benefits of the card you carry – whether you purchase your ticket with the card or not. Therefore, it’s not purchasing the ticket with this card that gives you the benefits, it’s simply having the account open that will allow you to take advantage of these perks. The one exception with the club card is the free checked bag waiver. Per the card’s terms, “To receive first and second checked bags free, the primary cardmember must include their MileagePlus number in their reservation and use their MileagePlus Club Card to purchase their ticket(s).” So be sure you do. You also wouldn’t earn extra miles that you would by purchasing United tickets using the card, which is 2 miles per $1 (and 1.5 miles per $1 on everything else).

For example, having a Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express card will give you the option to pay with miles that only Delta cardholders can get. Once you get approved for the card it will automatically be linked to your SkyMiles account. Now that the new Medallion Qualifying Dollars program is in effect, your account information will also show you how much you spend throughout the year since you can spend $25,000 on a co-branded Delta Amex instead of meeting the tier-based spending requirements on Delta tickets.

You can take advantage of the benefits like a free checked  bag and priority boarding even if the ticket wasn’t purchased with your Delta Gold American Express card.

You have access to benefits simply by having the card open.

You have access to benefits simply by having the card open.

So, to put it simply, just having the co-branded credit card open will usually allow you exercise a card’s extra benefits whether you use it to purchase your ticket or not. In fact, in many instances, it might be better to use another card to make those ticket purchases anyway. For instance, in Cliff’s case, he might want to use a Sapphire Preferred instead since that gives him 2.14X points per $1 (including the 7% annual points dividend) on travel purchases including airline tickets, and he can then transfer those to his United MileagePlus account if he so chooses, and he’ll still get the premium access he wants, though not hte baggage fee waiver.

If you’re a Delta flyer and have the Amex Premier Rewards Gold, you earn 3X points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines and can transfer those to your Delta account, so that’s an extra mile per $1 right there compared to the Delta Gold SkyMiles Amex. For more information, check out my post on the best sites and credit cards to maximize points on airfare purchases.

Let me know if you have any other questions by messaging me on FacebookTweeting me or emailing me at [email protected]

Disclaimer: 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.

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  • Jasmine

    You get all the perks except the free bags. In order to get free bags you need to purchase tickets using the specific co branded card with the airline. And as I see it unless you don’t carry luggage it is always better to use the co branded card. 1 piece of luggage is 25 one way so 50 round trip. Just make sure the value of the points is more than 50 dollars

  • Jason

    Yes, unlike with the Delta AMEX, you must purchase with the Chase card to get free checked bags. Verified Sep 2013.

  • Mingus Domingus

    Completely misleading post. To get a free bag for each passenger on the reservation, you MUST use the United card to pay for the tickets. Not a big deal though, as the Chase referral link seems to work and that is probably more important than an accurate answer to the question.

  • David

    Are you sure? I was able to check two bags without paying on United. I didn’t have elite status at the time and I did not pay with my Chase United Explorer Card

  • David

    If I have the City AA executive card that provides lounge access, do I have to fly AA to entire their lounge?

  • Nick

    I have both the legacy CO OnePass MC and the UA explorer and I get free checked bags without using the card. Wife had both and closed the Visa, now she doesn’t get the checked bag without using the card.

  • AlwaysNever

    “Anytime that frequent flyer membership number is associated with a ticket, you get the benefits of the card you carry – whether you purchase your ticket with the card or not.” This is at COMPLETE odds with the free checked luggage policy of the United Club card. When I think of the United Club card I think of the free baggage and the free access to the United Airport Lounge. I know that I can get into the lounge even if my ticket is on Southwest Airlines if I flash this card. I also know that I don’t get the free checked bags because the policy says this clearly “The primary Cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation will receive their first and second standard checked bags free – calculated as a $25 value for the first checked bag and $35 for the second checked bag, each way, per person – on United-operated flights when purchasing tickets with their United MileagePlus Club Card.”

    This post is confusing and misleading.

  • Jasmine

    It’s stated in the fine print that purchase must occur with united card. Maybe you got lucky and it didn’t get noticed but if its gets noticed you would have to pay if they pushed the issue. Depends on the airport I imagine.

  • Dave

    UA/chase did not want to waive the AF after first
    year so only option I got was to downgrade to the free card which has no
    benefits so with no choice I agreed they said I can review and decide if I want
    or not when card comes, now few days before I got the new downgraded card they
    have issued the AF credit back to my account already, so my question now is if
    I decide not to take this just continue with the original explorer card will
    they charge me again the AF ?

  • Tom J

    I would like to know this as well.

  • Miles

    No, at least not the time I tried it. You do need an airline ticket, but not necessarily on AA.

  • Duncan

    Thank you for this clarifying an issue that had to have been on many minds. Information like this is why I continue reading your blog, TPG. And I don’t read many. Of course, I have a few more credit cards, now, including this one which I may have accessed from your site. Not sure. But I am traveling well for next to nothing. You would think that makes everybody happy. Except some people.

  • SuperKirby

    I agree with Jasmine. Some places (or staff member) make you pay for bags if you didn’t purchase with the co-branded card. Some don’t care. It’s random it seems!

  • BTM

    I have a similar question regarding AA 10% miles refund for Citi Carholders when redeeming AA miles. Do I have to pay the tax with the AA Citibank card in order to get the 10% miles refund? Or do I recieve the 10% miles refund by simply having the AA Citibank card even if I pay the tax with another credit card. Thank you.

  • Marc

    Do you know if I can still get the United MileagePlus Exporer Card baggage waiver if I pay for United tickets partially with United gift cards and partially with the MileagePlus card?

  • Jessica

    I spoke with Chase and United today since I cannot book work travel on a personal card…they both explicitly said they will NOT give Premier access as a perk on the Club card unless you buy a ticket on it.

  • TV

    can i get free baggage if I use my merrill lynch points for 99% of the ticket and use united club card to purchase 1% of the ticket?

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