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Airline co-branded credit cards lost a little luster for a while as transferable point cards with flashier category bonuses took their turn in the spotlight. Transferable cards are still kind of in the spotlight, but airline co-branded cards have been fighting back with increased bonuses, discounts on purchases, new bonus categories and more.

But still, some are better than others. The United Explorer Card is a very important card for someone in the family to have, even if your family only flies on United once or twice a year. This is true all of the time, but now is a great time to revisit because the card has a temporarily increased bonus of up to 65,000 miles. The first 40,000 bonus miles are awarded after spending $2,000 in the first three months, plus another 25,000 miles after spending $10,000 in the first six months. Based on our valuations, if you earn the full bonus of 65,000 miles, your sign-up bonus will be worth $910. This elevated bonus will be available until Jan. 8, 2019.

But — the bonus is just the beginning, here are three reasons why someone in your family needs a United credit card.

1. Increased Saver Award Availability

Earlier this year, we were booking 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 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 currently does not.

Those with United elite status, or even just a simple United credit card, are given access to extra United saver award inventory that non-card holders simply don’t have access to booking. These days, you either earn United elite status, get a co-branded credit card or expect to frequently spend additional miles to book simple award flights.

We just used my dad’s United miles to book the flight, but we could have also transferred points from my mom’s Chase Sapphire Preferred to my dad’s United account to book the awards. Thanks to those sort of options, you can use the perks from one United account for multiple family members in some cases.

2. Free Checked Bags and Priority Boarding — Even on Basic Economy

The primary card member and one companion on the same reservation will each receive a free first standard checked bag on United-operated flights when their MileagePlus number is on the reservation and the ticket was booked using the card.

If you use your United credit card to purchase your Basic Economy ticket, you get:

  • One carry-on bag no larger than 9 x 14 x 22 inches for you and each of your travel companions traveling on the same reservation
  • Priority boarding in Group 2 for you and your travel companions traveling on the same reservation
  • First checked bag free for you and one travel companion traveling on the same reservation when you book your tickets using your United Explorer Card or United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card
  • First and second checked bags free for you and one travel companion traveling on the same reservation when you book your tickets using your United MileagePlus Club Card or United MileagePlus Club Business Card

Those elements make United’s Basic Economy a little less basic. 

(Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

3. Save on United Wi-Fi and In-Flight Purchases

If you ever spend money while onboard a United flight, the United Explorer Card is a must-have as it provides 25% back as a statement credit on onboard purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi when swiped 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 in the family multiply.

4. United Club, Global Entry and More

The first two or three reasons are more than enough to make a United credit card a must for families flying United, but the card does a few more things, too. At each account anniversary, you get two one-time passes to the United Club, which can be a way to get a light meal before a flight without opening your wallet.

United Club
United Club

The card also covers 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 have lots of people in them who need these fees paid, so odds are good a family can put this perk to use.

Bottom Line

At the very least, one person in a family that travels on United needs to have a United credit card. The main reason is greater access to United saver award bookings from that account when only “XN” awards (awards available to elites and credit card holders) 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 when logged in as a United credit card holder (or elite) than without.


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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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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