4 reasons someone in your family needs a United credit card
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information.
Airline credit cards weren't always super exciting, especially when compared to other more flexible card options. Many airline cards earned just one mile per dollar on virtually everything and didn't provide many incentives to keep them around beyond the initial bonus.
But — things have changed.
While it is still true that some airline credit cards are simply better than others, there are several that are now quite compelling. Some of the most valuable airline credit cards out there now come from United Airlines. They have strong cards with four different options available in the personal card line-up alone. If you fly United at least once or twice a year, you need to strongly consider having someone in your family get a United credit card in order to make your experience both more comfortable and affordable.
A United credit card not only helps the cardholder earn miles, but the cards can also save you money on United flights and open up access to lower-cost United award tickets, a win-win-win for many travelers. As of very recently, there's another option on the tray table via the United Quest Card, currently available with 60,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
With cards ranging from no annual fee to one with a $525 annual fee, there are lots of options if you decide to add a United card to your wallet. But regardless of which United card you decide is the best match for you, here's why you may want at least one United credit card in your family.
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Available United credit cards
|Card||welcome bonus||annual fee||unique perks|
|United Gateway Card||Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.||$0|
|United Explorer Card||Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
|$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95|
|United Quest Card||Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
|United Club Infinite Card||Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.||$525|
|United Business Card||Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.||$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99|
|United Club Business Card||Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening||$450|
The information for the United Club Business has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related: The best United credit cards in 2021
But the bonus miles are just the beginning. Here are four other reasons why someone in your family needs a United credit card:
Discounted award tickets
A little while back, we booked a simple Houston to New York City award flight on United for my mom. United wanted 20,000 miles for the flight when we searched for awards from my mom's account. On a whim, I checked availability from my dad's account and it was just 12,500 miles for the exact same flight. The reason? He has the United Explorer Card and my mom did not have a United card.
Those with United elite status, or even just a simple United credit card, are given access to extra United saver award inventory that non-cardholders simply can't access. Even in the modern era of United's dynamic award pricing, saver awards are still a thing.
When there isn't saver award availability for the flight you want, your award price may vary based on whether you have United elite status, a cobranded credit card or nothing at all. Basically, expect to spend more miles if you don't have a card or elite status. In our tests, those with a United card or elite status saved close to 2,000 miles per flight on average.
Here is a recent search from Houston (IAH) to Orange County (SNA). On the date searched, there was availability on multiple nonstop flights for 12,500 miles each way when signed in as a United cardholder.
When not signed in, economy seats available that day cost significantly more at 16,200 miles each way.
Obviously, that's a very small sample set, but here's a look at more results from our United award availability tests conducted shortly after the program switched to dynamic pricing.
In our real-life situation, we simply used my dad's United miles to book the flight to save 7,500 miles, but if he was running low on miles an option would have been to transfer points from my mom's Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to my dad's United account to book the awards since he is both a household member and authorized user.
Free checked bags and priority boarding — even on basic economy
Basic Economy tickets are usually the cheapest available when using cash, but they are also the most restrictive tickets. Thankfully, many of the United credit cards can make your Basic Economy experience much less restrictive if you are on a United-operated flight with your United MileagePlus number on the reservation and you used your United credit card to pay for the ticket.
If you use your United credit card to purchase a Basic Economy ticket, you still get:
- One carry-on bag for you and each of your travel companions traveling on the same reservation. Those without a United card or elite status just get an included personal item, like a purse or small backpack.
- Priority boarding in Group 2 for you and your travel companions traveling on the same reservation. Otherwise, you'd be in the last group to board.
- First checked bag free for you and one travel companion traveling on the same reservation when you book your tickets for those United cards that typically confer that benefit.
Those elements make United's Basic Economy a little less basic and a little more tolerable.
Save money on United
If you ever spend money while onboard a United flight, a United credit card is a must-have as they all provide 25% back as a statement credit for onboard purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on United flights. I've paid close to $20 for Wi-Fi on some United flights, so that is $5 back right there.
If multiple family members are all in need of in-flight connectivity or snacks, then obviously the perks of having a United credit card multiply.
Related: Complete guide to United WiFi
With the United Business Card you can also earn a $100 United travel credit after purchasing seven flights each card member year (flights must be $100 or more in value). And the United Quest card offers an annual $125 statement credit towards United flights.
Make travel more comfortable
The first two or three reasons are more than enough to make a United credit card a must for those who fly the carrier, but these cards do a few more things, too.
At each account anniversary with the United Explorer Card or United Business Card, you get two one-time passes to the United Club, which can be a way to get a light meal and a drink before a United flight without opening your wallet.
Related: Inside the world's best United Clubs
The cards also cover your application fee for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck once every four years. This may sound a little ho-hum, as it is a perk offered by many travel credit cards, but families can have lots of people in them who need these fees paid, so odds are good a family can put this perk to use.
Of course, if you have a United Infinite Card or the United Business Club Card, then you and two guests, or your immediate family members, get regular access to the United Club network when flying United and Star Alliance partners.
At a minimum, one person in a family that travels on United even a couple of times per year needs to have a United credit card. The main reason is greater access to less expensive United saver award bookings from that account when only "XN" awards (awards available to elites and credit cardholders) are available instead of "X" awards that are available to anyone. You can check available fare classes when searching in United's Expert Mode.
Or, you can skip that nerdy talk and just trust us that you will see more saver awards and lower award prices when logged in as a United credit card holder (or elite) than without.
If you are wondering if it is worth it to have more than one United card, just know that cardholders who have both the United Business Card and a personal United credit card will receive a 5,000-mile anniversary bonus each year. So, that can be a little extra incentive if you like to keep your personal and small business expenses separate. Additionally, the way the terms on the welcome bonuses are worded, having one type of United card does not automatically disqualify you from getting another.