4 reasons someone in your family needs a United credit card

Jan 28, 2020

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Airline credit cards weren’t always super exciting. Many earned just 1 mile per dollar on virtually everything and didn’t give you tons of incentives to keep them around beyond the initial bonus. But — things are changing. While it is true that some airline credit cards are still simply better than others, several are now quite strong. Some of the most valuable airline credit cards out there now come from United Airlines. If you fly United at least once or twice a year, you need to strongly consider having someone in your family get a United credit card in order to make your experience both more comfortable and affordable.

A United credit card not only helps the cardholder earn miles, but the cards can also save you money on United and open up access to lower-cost United award tickets, a win-win-win for many travelers.

There are a few options for those looking to add a United card to their wallets. The United Explorer Card is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

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

There’s also a brand-new small business version of the card, the United Business Card, which has an even better offer of 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first three months. (Offers for the United Club Infinite Card and United Club Business Card are also temporarily increased — see this article for details.) The information for the United Club Business and United Business has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The best United credit cards in 2020

(Photo by The Points Guy.)

But the bonus miles are just the beginning.

Here are four other reasons why someone in your family needs a United credit card:

Discounted award tickets

A few months ago, we booked 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 did 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-cardholders simply can’t access. In the modern era of United’s dynamic award pricing, saver awards are still a thing. Even if there isn’t saver award availability for the flight you want, your award price may vary based on whether you have United elite status, a cobranded credit card or nothing at all. Basically, expect to spend more miles if you don’t have a card or elite status. In our tests, those with a United card or elite status saved close to 2,000 miles per flight on average.

Here’s a look at more results from our United award availability tests.

united credit card award availability

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

Related: United made big changes to earning elite status

Free checked bags and priority boarding — even on basic economy

Basic Economy tickets are usually the cheapest available when using cash, but they are also the most restrictive tickets — by far. Thankfully, a United credit card can make your Basic Economy experience much less restrictive if you are on a United-operated flight with your United MileagePlus number on the reservation and you used your United credit card to pay for the ticket.

If you use your United credit card to purchase a Basic Economy ticket, you still 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. Those without a United card or elite status just get an included personal item, like a purse.
  • Priority boarding in Group 2 for you and your travel companions traveling on the same reservation. Otherwise, you’d be in the last group to board.
  • 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 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.)

Save money on United

If you ever spend money while onboard a United flight, a United Explorer or Club card is a must-have as they all provide 25% back as a statement credit for onboard purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi 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 multiply.

Related: Complete guide to United WiFi

With the new United Business Card you can also earn a $100 United travel credit after purchasing seven flights each card member year (flights must be $100 or more in value). So, that card could help you out if you are a frequent United flyer.

Make travel more comfortable

The first two or three reasons are more than enough to make a United credit card a must for those who fly the carrier, but these cards do a few more things, too. At each account anniversary with the United Explorer Card or United 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.

Related: Inside the world’s best United Clubs

United Club
Inside a 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 can have lots of people in them who need these fees paid, so odds are good a family can put this perk to use.

Related: Saving $400 on Global Entry renewals thanks to credit cards

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

Bottom line

At a minimum, one person in a family that travels on United even a couple times per year 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 cardholders) 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 and lower award prices when logged in as a United credit card holder (or elite) than without.

If you are wondering if it is worth it to have more than one United card, just know that cardholders who have both the United Business Card and a personal United credit card will receive a 5,000-mile anniversary bonus each year. So, that can be a little extra incentive if you like to keep your personal and small business expenses separate.

Featured image courtesy of United.

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