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While buying United miles without a promotion pretty much never makes sense, United will periodically run 100% bonuses on buying miles that can make the purchase point for miles worth considering for the right type of redemption.
When this happens, the question is: Which credit card should you use? We tested a handful of credit cards to determine once and for all which card is best. Here’s what we found:
Cards Earning a Bonus
United Explorer Card: 2x miles
The United Explorer Card is the new version of United’s $95 annual fee personal credit card (waived the first year), replacing the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. This card offers a ton of perks that makes the annual fee easily worth it for United travelers. In addition to earning 2x miles on United purchases, you now also earn 2x miles on restaurants and hotel accommodations. Perks like the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit, free checked bag, priority boarding, two United Club passes per year and expanded United award inventory should earn this card a place in many wallets.
But, what about buying miles with it? While the card earns 2x on United purchases, United mileage purchases are processed by Points.com instead of United. So, let’s check what the card’s terms and conditions say:
You’ll earn 2 miles total for each $1 spent on airline tickets purchased from United. The following purchases made from United also earn 2 miles total for each $1 spent: seat upgrades; Economy Plus® inflight food, beverages and Wi-Fi; baggage service charges or other United fees.
That doesn’t make it seem very likely that a miles purchase processed by Points.com will earn bonus points. But, we tested it anyways… and it earned 2x miles:
It’s important to note that we made sure to select the “MileagePlus Visa” option from the credit card drop down box:
United MileagePlus Club Card: 2x miles
The United MileagePlus Club Card sets itself apart from other airline co-branded cards by earning 1.5x United miles on all purchases — making it a great everyday card for United mileage collectors who don’t want to do a Chase Freedom Unlimited + Chase Sapphire Reserve combination. The card has a hefty $450 annual fee, but more than makes up for that by providing a United Club membership — which costs as much as $550 per year.
The card also earns 2x on United purchases, but we wanted to check if miles purchases processed by Points.com would count. Sure enough, the purchase earned that extra 0.5x:
United MileagePlus Club Business Card: 2x miles
As with its personal counterpart, the United MileagePlus Club Business Card earned 2x miles on the test purchase. The information for the United MileagePlus Club Card and the United MileagePlus Club Business Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: 3x miles
Just like in our testing for the best credit credit card to buy Starpoints and best credit card to buy IHG points, Chase’s Ink Business Preferred card earns 3x points on “Travel; Shipping purchases; Internet, cable and phone services; Advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines.” Although we aren’t sure which one, this purchase triggered one of these categories to earn 3x points:
Cards not earning a bonus:
The CSR has one of the most generous definitions of travel and earns 3x (excluding $300 travel credit), so we figured it was worth a shot. Unfortunately, the purchase coded as “Online, Mail, or Telephone transaction” and only earned 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards point per dollar.
Encouraged by the Points.com purchases coding as 3x on the Ink Business Preferred, we figured we should try out the Ink Business Cash to see if we’d get the same result. After all, the Ink Business Cash earns 5x points “at office supply stores” and “on internet, cable and phone services” — which has some overlap to the Ink Business Preferred‘s 3x points on “Travel; Shipping purchases; Internet, cable and phone services; Advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines.” Unfortunately, this was a swing and a miss — the purchase only earned 1x points per dollar spent. But that’s fine, we still love this no annual fee card.
Cards Not Tested
Since these test purchases cost a minimum of $75, we weren’t going to try as many cards as we have for similar buy points/miles tests. That said, based on all available Points.com purchases we have tested, the following cards would likely earn:
Which Card to Use
Combining our test results with TPG’s valuations, here are the definitive winners:
- Ink Business Preferred: 6% (3x Ultimate Rewards points @ 2 cents per point)
- The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express: 4% (2x Membership Rewards points on all purchases; up to $50,000 then 1x thereafter, @ 2 cents per point)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: 3% – 6% (3x Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases your first year up to $20,000 spent, then 1.5x points thereafter @ 2 cents per point)
- United Explorer Card: 2.6% (2x United miles on United purchases, which our test purchase counted as)
- United MileagePlus Club Card (or the business version): 2.6% (2x United miles on United purchases, which is how our test purchase coded)
The definitive winner here is Chase’s Ink Business Preferred. In addition to getting 3x points, the card earns valuable Ultimate Rewards points, scoring a 6% return on your purchase.
The best two options are business cards, which you might not assume that you qualify for. The good news is that the bar for getting a business card isn’t as high as you might think. And, if you apply for one of these now, a large United miles purchase during a discount offer will also help you toward meeting the minimum spending requirement.
Featured image by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy
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WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION: $1,600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 in combined spending on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
- Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases–with no limit to the amount you can earn
- Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more – your points don't expire as long as your account is open
- No foreign transaction fees
- Employee cards at no additional cost
- $95 Annual Fee