Skip to content

Points of View: Which credit card should you use for United flights?

Nov. 07, 2022
11 min read
United Planes Boeing 737
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

You're about to buy a flight and you have a credit card with that airline's name stamped on the front. That's the best card to use for this purchase, right? Or would you be better served if you used some other credit card?

You have options for earning extra points and miles when you pay. Conversely, there are options for enjoying additional perks during your flight. Some credit cards can give a mix of both.

Let's take a look at the best credit card to use for United flights so you can see your options.

Comparing credit cards for United Airlines flights

Aside from using a United Airlines credit card, you could also pay using an all-around travel rewards card that earns transferable points on travel purchases, including your next flight reservation with United Airlines. Here are some cards you might pay with and what you could get when using these cards:

Card nameEarning rate on United flightsValue of the rewards earned*United-related benefits from the cardAnnual fee
United Club Infinite Card4 miles per dollar.4.84 cents.United Club membership allows you to visit these lounges regardless of what cabin you're flying in (but you must be on a same-day flight with United or a partner).

Premier Access provides priority check-in, security, boarding and checked baggage delivery wherever these services are available.

First and second checked bags are free for you and a traveling companion (but you must pay for the flights with this card to receive the benefit; the benefit is not attached to your loyalty account).

25% back on inflight purchases and premium drink purchases in the United Club.

10% discount on saver award redemptions for economy seats on United and United Express flights in the continental U.S. or between the continental U.S. and Canada.

Earn up to 4,000 Premier qualifying points for status by earning 500 PQPs for each $12,000 spent on the card. This benefit is valid up to the Premier 1K status level.

$525.
United Quest Card3 miles per dollar.3.63 cents.Up to $125 in statement credits to reimburse United purchases each cardmember year.

5,000 miles back in your United MileagePlus account (starting after the first cardmember anniversary) if you make an award reservation with United or United Express — available up to two times each account anniversary year.

First and second checked bags are free for you and a traveling companion (but you must pay for the flights with this card to receive the benefit; the benefit is not attached to your loyalty account).

25% back on inflight purchases and premium drink purchases in the United Club.

Earn up to 3,000 Premier qualifying points for status by earning 500 PQPs for each $12,000 spent on the card. This benefit is valid up to the Premier 1K status level.

$250.
United Explorer Card2 miles per dollar.2.42 cents.Two one-time passes to the United Club each cardmember year.

First checked bag is free for you and a traveling companion (but you must pay for the flights with this card to receive the benefit; the benefit is not attached to your loyalty account).

25% back on inflight purchases and premium drink purchases in the United Club.

Earn up to 1,000 Premier qualifying points for status by earning 500 PQPs for each $12,000 spent on the card. This benefit is valid up to the Premier 1K status level.

$0 introductory annual fee, then $95.
United Gateway Card2 miles per dollar.2.42 cents.25% back on inflight purchases and premium drink purchases in the United Club.$0.
The Platinum Card® from American Express5 points per dollar(on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.)10 cents.None, but you can choose United as your preferred airline to cover up to $200 per year in airline incidental credits for things like checked baggage or preferred seat fees.$695 (see rates and fees).
Chase Sapphire Reserve3 points per dollar (or 5 points per dollar if booked via the Chase travel portal).6 cents (or 10 cents).None.$550.
American Express® Green Card3 points per dollar.6 cents.None.$150 (see rates and fees).
Citi Premier® Card3 points per dollar.5.4 cents.None.$95.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card2 miles per dollar (or 5 miles per dollar if booked in the Capital One Travel portal).3.7 cents (or 9.25 cents).None.$395.

* Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

The information for the Amex Green 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.

Which card should you use for United Airlines flights?

Typically, earning transferable points (which you can use in many ways, not just with United) is probably your best approach. And if you use a card that earns Ultimate Rewards points — such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — you would be able to transfer these points to United Airlines later on if you want to make a redemption through the MileagePlus program.

But what if you need to check a bag? Do you get free checked luggage in some other way, due to flying in a premium cabin or having status with United? If not, paying with a United card might make sense.

The buffet at the United Club in Newark Liberty International Airport. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Consider the checked baggage benefit available on United's own credit cards. Unlike holding a Delta Air Lines credit card — where the checked baggage benefit is attached to your loyalty program number — you must pay for your United flight with your United credit card to use the free checked baggage benefit. Simply having the United Club Infinite card or United Explorer card in your wallet doesn't confer this benefit.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

There are other benefits that require paying with your United credit card. These include earning bonus PQPs through credit card spending, receiving 25% back (as a statement credit) for inflight purchases with United Airlines and getting up to $125 in statement credits each year for United purchases made with the Quest card.

Related: United Airlines baggage fees and how to avoid paying them

A credit card that has annual travel credits can also help to offset your checked bag fees. If you don't need to check a suitcase, consider whether you're losing out on other benefits. Have you used your Quest card's $125 in United credits so far this year, for example? If you aren't losing out on benefits like this, aim for the card that will give you the best return on your spending through miles and points.

If you choose to pay with your Amex Platinum Card to earn 5 Membership Rewards points for each dollar, you'll earn more value (in terms of rewards) on the money you spend but won't get free checked bags — even if you have a United credit card in your wallet.

Related: The ultimate guide to earning elite status with United cards

Some benefits exist regardless of which credit card you actually use to pay for your flights. These include eligible visits to the United Club lounges, priority boarding and priority check-in benefits, getting 5,000 miles back in your account if you make an eligible mileage award redemption while holding the Quest card and gaining access to saver award bookings with a 10% discount thanks to the Club Infinite card.

Related: United changes how it shows saver awards online — how to tell if flights are bookable with a partner

ZACH HONIG/THE POINTS GUY

Another benefit available to all cardholders — and also available to those with United Airlines elite status — is access to additional award space when redeeming miles for United flights. Plus, those who both have elite status with United and have a United credit card can receive Complimentary Premier Upgrades when using miles for award flights. That can make holding a United credit card worthwhile even if you also receive numerous benefits as an elite member.

Related: The single reason I'd open a MileagePlus credit card as a United elite

Meal service in United's Polaris business class. ZACH HONIG/THE POINTS GUY

Related: 4 reasons someone in your family needs a United credit card

Bottom line

TPG values United miles at 1.21 cents apiece. Even the best-earning option for United credit cards yields just 4.84 cents in value for each dollar spent on United purchases, yet more general travel rewards credit cards can earn at a higher rate. But, you need to pay with your United credit card to take advantage of certain benefits, such as free checked bags and statement credits toward eligible purchases.

Related: The best credit cards for paying taxes and fees on award tickets

Evaluate whether you would be sacrificing benefits to earn more valuable rewards and how important this is to you. Earning fewer points but keeping more cash in your pocket will make sense for most people. For those who don't need to check a bag, you're probably free to use whichever credit card has the best earnings on your next United purchase.

And whenever the planned Star Alliance credit card is released, we'll see if that changes any of these considerations.

Editor’s note: “Points of View” is a series evaluating decisions on which credit card to use. If you’re facing a dilemma about which card is best for an upcoming payment, email us at tips@thepointsguy.com.

Also in this series:

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

BEST FOR DINING AND GROCERY REWARDS
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

Earn 60,000 points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There’s a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It’s been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you’re hitting the skies soon, you’ll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there’s no reason that the foodie shouldn’t add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x).
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel.
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months.

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories.
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits.
  • Few travel perks and protections.
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
BEST FOR DINING AND GROCERY REWARDS
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

    Earn 60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There’s a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It’s been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you’re hitting the skies soon, you’ll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there’s no reason that the foodie shouldn’t add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x).
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel.
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months.

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories.
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits.
  • Few travel perks and protections.