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Like the other two legacy US carriers, United offers multiple tiers of co-branded credit cards. There’s the United Explorer Card and its business counterpart, the United Explorer Business Card, both of which have a $95 annual fee (waived the first year for the United Explorer Card) and benefits like a free checked bag and 2 miles per dollar on United purchases.
But there’s also the premium United Club Card (and a business flavor), which comes at the much higher price of $450 a year. It’s not cheap, but as you’ll see, it could be well worth it due to the full United Club membership it offers, unlike any other publicly available card out there.
Who Is This Card For?
It probably goes without saying, but the Club Card will mostly make sense for those who regularly fly United. Not only does the card earn United miles for all spending, but the majority of its perks are specific to that airline — from free baggage to Premier Access services.
Beyond that, this card is best suited for travelers who value airline lounge access; the United Club membership is the real standout perk here. Note that plenty of other premium cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express offer lounge options such as Centurion Lounge access and Priority Pass lounge access. However, if you prefer United Clubs and Star Alliance lounges over these other picks, or simply travel through airports that don’t have many other options, the Club Card could come in handy even if you have lounge access through other cards.
Also, keep in mind that this card beats most others out there for return on everyday spending — it earns 1.5x miles on all non-United purchases. We value United miles at 1.3 cents apiece, so that’s a 1.95% return on non-bonus category spending. The 2x miles (2.6% return) you’ll earn on United purchases is less than the 3x Ultimate Rewards points (6% return) you’ll earn with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but that card doesn’t offer United lounge access (only the version available to private banking clients).
For years, the Club Card offered no sign-up bonus at all, but in October 2017, it launched a 50,000-mile offer for new cardholders after they spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months. This makes now an especially good time to sign up. Based on our valuations, that bonus is worth $650. This more than cancels out the $450 annual fee, and you can use those miles to book flights both on United and other Star Alliance carriers.
Earning and Redeeming
The United Club Card strays a bit from the standard co-branded airline card formula of offering 2 miles per dollar on purchases with the carrier and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. With this card, you’ll earn 1.5 miles per dollar on non-United purchases, and 2 miles per dollar on spending with United. Based on our valuations, that equals a return of 2.6% on United purchases and a 1.95% return on all other spending.
If you spend $3,000 in the first three months to earn the 50,000-mile sign-up bonus, you’ll have at least 54,500 United miles in three months (more if some of your spending earns the 2x bonus for United purchases). In terms of using the miles from the sign-up bonus alone, a round-trip United domestic business-class award would be within reach, as would a round-trip economy award from the contiguous US to Hawaii, or one-way in economy to Europe on United or a Star Alliance partner carrier.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest feature of this card is the full United Club membership, but it also offers a surprising number of lesser-known benefits.
United Club Membership: Cardholders receive membership to the United Club, and can bring along two adult companions or one adult and dependent children under the age of 21. The membership also includes access to affiliated Star Alliance member lounges around the world. Club membership costs $550 normally (without elite status), so if this is important to you, this one benefit alone could be worth getting the card. Note that if you add any authorized users to your account, they won’t get a United Club membership of their own, though they will be able to access the lounge if they’re traveling with you.
2 Free Checked Bags: The primary cardholder and one traveling companion on the same reservation will receive both their first and second checked bags free on United-operated flights when the primary cardholder includes their MileagePlus number in their reservation and pays for the flight with the Club Card. Note that this perk differs from other co-branded airline cards that offer free checked baggage — with American Airlines and Delta cards, you don’t need to pay with that specific card to get the free luggage perk, since it’s tied to your frequent flyer account rather than the card itself.
Premier Access: When you fly United or United Express, you’ll enjoy priority check-in, security screening and boarding, as well as priority baggage handling. Note that this benefit isn’t available on codeshare flights. For check-in and security, Premier Access gets you access to designated lanes at the airport, while the priority boarding benefit puts you in Group 2.
World of Hyatt Discoverist Status: This is a nice-to-have perk you might not expect from a United card — and it probably has something to do with the fact that Chase is also Hyatt’s co-brand partner for The Hyatt Credit Card. Hyatt Discoverist status includes a 10% bonus on points earned on Hyatt spend, preferred rooms, free premium in-room internet and late checkout.
Additional Award Space: Like the United Explorer Card, the United Club Card offers the awesome benefit of enhanced award availability for cardholders. You’ll both be able to book any flight using miles at the standard (non-saver) level, and you should see better saver-level availability in economy as well when you log in to your MileagePlus account as a cardholder.
Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle Membership: The Club card used to offer Avis President’s Club elite status, but it’s switched to Hertz, and this status includes perks like guaranteed one-class rental upgrades and a 25% Hertz Gold Plus Rewards points bonus.
No Last-Minute Award Fees: United charges non-elites a $75 fee to book award tickets within 21 days of departure, which is when some great award availability usually opens up. So you could end up saving a lot of money with this benefit.
Primary Collision Damage Waiver: This card offers primary insurance on car rentals, which can be extremely valuable — especially in worst-case scenarios — and means you won’t have to purchase expensive insurance from rental agencies or rely on your personal auto policy.
No Foreign Transaction Fees: Pretty self-explanatory.
If you value United Club membership as well as making last-minute award bookings, this card could be a good option for you. Even if you’ve already purchased a United Club membership, you can apply for the United Club Card and once you’re approved, you can be reimbursed for the unused portion of your existing membership. So if you’re paying the same amount anyway, you might as well get the other perks that go along with this card. And 1.5 United miles per dollar is a pretty strong earning rate for day-to-day spending.
Overall, though, the United Club card can be a great addition to your wallet if United is your US carrier of choice and you value the lounge membership. Paying for United Club membership outright costs $550 without elite status, so if you want it paying $450 for this card is a no-brainer. Plus, the ability to earn a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus (compared to literally nothing before) makes now an ideal time to sign up.
Know before you go.
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