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United recently announced that it’s removing the award charts for travel on United-operated flights that depart on or after Nov. 15, 2019. Going forward, the airline will use dynamic award pricing for flights it operates. As might be expected, some awards can be found for fewer miles on particular dates, but on the flip side some awards may now be much more costly.

This shift from award charts to dynamic pricing may leave you wondering what credit cards are best for flying United. United cobranded cards are still a good option for unlocking better award availability, free checked bags and priority boarding. But, United miles may become more useful for partner awards — which will still follow published award charts (at least for now). So, if you want to fly United-operated flights, you may have better luck booking through the Ultimate Rewards portal, earning fixed-value points or earning transferable points and miles that you can transfer to Star Alliance partners to book awards on United-operated flights.

So, today we’re considering the best credit card choices for United flyers. Some of these cards unlock benefits that are useful when flying on United and using United miles, while others earn valuable transferable points. The cards are presented in no particular order, as the best card for you will depend on your spending habits, travel needs and redemption goals. Let’s dive in!

The Best Credit Cards for Flying United in 2019:

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve

Annual Fee: $450

Sign-Up Offer: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months

Reasons to Get It: Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United and Singapore KrisFlyer at a 1:1 ratio, this card can be a great choice if you’re eyeing future award travel with United. Or, if you prefer the simplicity of cash fares, you can redeem your points for 1.5 cents of value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals or cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

The Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points on all travel and dining purchases (and 1 point per dollar on everything else), so if you spend a lot in these two categories you could be ready to book a flight in no time. The card does have a high ($450) annual fee, but that’s offset by a $300 annual travel credit that will automatically be applied to any eligible purchases — from airfare to hotel stays to sightseeing tours. You’ll get lounge access through Priority Pass Select membership, plus the card’s excellent travel protections will cover you when you put the airfare, or the taxes and fees on award flights, on your card. See TPG‘s full card review for more details.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

2. Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Annual Fee: $95

Sign-Up Offer: 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases within three months of account opening

Reasons to Get It: This card is extremely popular among award travel enthusiasts, as it offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points on your first $150,000 spent in combined purchases in certain categories like travel, shipping, internet, cable and phone services and advertising purchases made with social media sites. Earn 1x points elsewhere. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign-transaction fees.

You can book flights and other travel though the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, but you’ll only get a value of 1.25 cents each for your points. So, you may get better value by transferring your points to United or Star Alliance partner Singapore KrisFlyer if you want to use your Ultimate Rewards points to book a United-operated flight. See TPG‘s full card review for more details.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

3. United Club Card

Annual Fee: $450

Sign-Up Offer: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months

Reasons to Get It: As this card’s name implies, card holders enjoy United Club membership along with eligible travel companions. It also offers the first and second checked bag free for the primary cardholder and one companion traveling on the same reservation on United-operated flights when the flights are purchased with the Club Card. Other perks include Premier Access travel services, no close-in booking fees on award tickets and expanded award availability.

The United Club Card offers a better rate of return on everyday spending than the United Explorer Card (1.5 miles per dollar spent vs. 1 mile per dollar), although it earns just the standard 2x miles on United purchases. See TPG‘s full card review for more details.

The information for the United Club 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.

4 & 5. United Explorer Card and United Explorer Business Card

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Sign-Up Offers: The personal card is offering 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. The United Explorer Business Card is offering a bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

Reasons to Get It: These are the entry-level United cards, but they have some outstanding features not found with other airline cards at this price point. The personal card earns 2 miles per dollar spent on restaurants, hotels and United purchases, while the business version earns 2x miles at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores. Both cards offer 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.

Other perks include a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation, so long as you purchase your ticket (or any taxes and fees on an award ticket) from United using the Explorer Card. You’ll also get priority boarding, two United Club passes each year and the unpublished benefit of additional award space. The personal version also offers a 25% discount on inflight United purchases, including Wi-Fi, food and beverages. See TPG‘s full card reviews for the personal card and the business card for more details.

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

6. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Annual Fee: $95

Sign-up Offer: The current sign-up bonus is 60,000 points after new applicants spend $4,000 within three months of account opening.

Reasons to Get It: This card offers double points on all travel and dining purchases (not just United tickets), which is 1 point per dollar fewer than the more premium Chase Sapphire Reserve. As with the Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred, the points can be transferred to United as well as other airline and hotel programs. You can also book flights and other travel though the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, but you’ll only get a value of 1.25 cents each for your points. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also features primary rental car insurance and some solid purchase-protection benefits. See TPG‘s full card review for more details.

7. The Platinum Card® from American Express

Annual Fee: $550 (See Rates & Fees)

Welcome Bonus: 60,000 points after new card holders spend $5,000 within three months of account opening. Keep in mind that you may be targeted for an Amex Platinum with 100,000-point welcome bonus through CardMatch (offer subject to change at anytime).

Reasons to Get It: Although the Membership Rewards points earned by this card can’t be transferred to United MileagePlus, they can be transferred to Star Alliance partners Air Canada Aeroplan, Singapore KrisFlyer and Avianca Lifemiles. You can then use points in any of these programs to book award tickets on United-operated flights.

The Platinum Card earns 5x Membership Rewards points on all flights booked directly from airlines or with American Express Travel, as well as prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com. Other card holder benefits include a $200 annual statement credit toward incidental airline fees (though not actual airfare), monthly Uber credits, bi-annual Saks credits, Marriott elite status, Hilton elite status, Centurion Lounge access, Priority Pass Select membership and much more. See TPG‘s full card review for more details.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

8. Citi Prestige Card

Annual Fee: $495

Welcome Bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 within three months of account opening.

Reasons to Get It: This card earns 5 Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent on air travel and dining, as well as 3 points per dollar spent on hotels and cruise lines, and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. You’ll get a fourth night free on paid hotel stays, although starting this September you’ll be capped to two bookings per year and bookings will need to be made through ThankYou.com instead of through the concierge.

Citi ThankYou points can be transferred to Star Alliance partners like Avianca LifeMiles and Singapore KrisFlyer for booking United-operated flights. The Citi Prestige has excellent travel protections that will protect when you put the airfare, or the taxes and fees on award flights, on your card. You’ll also have lounge access through the Priority Pass Select membership that is provided as a card member benefit. See TPG‘s full card review for more details.

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Choosing the Best Card for You

As always, the best option depends on your specific situation and your travel preferences. If you don’t have elite status with United but fly the airline occasionally, the United Explorer Card and the United Explorer Business Card are great options due to valuable perks like a free checked bag, priority boarding and a couple of United Club passes each year. I have the personal Explorer card primarily for the increased Saver award space, which makes my United miles much more valuable.

If you have any level of elite status with United, the above-mentioned features are redundant, and you’d be better off with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has the same $95 annual fee but offers double points on not just United tickets, but all travel and dining purchases. Or, if you’re able to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve‘s $300 annual travel credit, the Sapphire Reserve will likely be a better choice since it offers 3x points on travel and dining as well as better travel protections.

Another alternative for those with or without elite status is the United Club Card, which offers 2 miles per dollar spent with United and 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases as well as some premium travel perks with United.

Finally, the Ink Business Preferred is a no-brainer for any small business owner who wants to earn points that can be transferred to United, while the Amex Platinum or Citi Prestige is ideal for those who are able to charge large amounts of airfare to their credit card, either for themselves or for others. For example, a person who purchases primarily business and first-class tickets won’t have much need for the perks offered by the United cards, and can earn more valuable rewards using one of these cards. Although the Amex Platinum gets a massive 10% return, the Citi Prestige’s 8.5% return is still solid and the Citi Prestige offers much better travel protections.

Recap: The Best Credit Cards for Flying United

The best card for you depends on how often you fly United and which perks you value the most.

Bottom Line

By examining both spending habits and travel needs, United flyers can choose the cards that offer the best combination of rewards and benefits. Hopefully this post has given you some ideas on how to maximize your United purchases, earn miles that can be used to book flights on United. Here are some other posts that may be useful:

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

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The Platinum Card® from American Express

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
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Annual Fee
$550
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Recommended Credit
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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