4 Reasons Someone in Your Family Needs a United Credit Card

Mar 3, 2019

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Some airline credit cards are better than others, and one of the more valuable families of airline credit cards comes from United. If you fly United at least once or twice a year (especially if you don’t fly it quite enough to earn elite status), someone in your family needs to have a United credit card. Not only can you use it earn miles, but the cards can save you money on United and get you access to lower priced United award tickets.

There are a few options for those looking for a United card, such as the United Explorer Card that comes with a 40,000 mile welcome bonus awarded after spending $2,000 in the first three months. There’s also the small business version of the card, the United Explorer Business Card, that has an even better offer of up to 100,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open and 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.

Official application links: Earn 50,000 miles after $5,000 spent within the first 3 months and another 50,000 with $25,000 total in first six months with the United Explorer Business Card.

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

1. Increased Saver Award Availability

Recently, 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 for awards 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.

In our situation, we simply used my dad’s United miles to book the flight, but if he was running low we could have also transferred points from my mom’s Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to my dad’s United account to book the awards (he is both a household member and authorized user).

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 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 Club Card or United 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 these cards do a few more things, too. At each account anniversary with the United Explorer Card or United Explorer Business Card, you get two one-time passes to the United Club, which can be a way to get a light meal and a drink before a United flight without opening your wallet.

United Club
(United Club. Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

The cards also cover 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.

Of course, if you have a United Club Card, then and two guests or your immediate family members get regular access to the United Club network.

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



CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*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 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
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17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
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