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

Sept. 05, 2022
3 min read
United planes in Newark
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With one or two free checked bags, Premier Access and priority boarding, the day-of-flight benefits that come along with some United cobranded credit cards aren't anything to write home about. While these benefits are nice to have, they're already perks that most United elite members receive.

So why pay $525 per year for the United Club Infinite Card for duplicate benefits that don't stack?

Of course, the obvious answer would be for United Club access, but that's already included on international flights thanks to Star Alliance Gold status, a benefit that United Premier Gold and higher elite members have.

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And I'd happily trade in the tired furniture and carrots in the United Club for pesto chicken and spa services at an American Express Centurion lounge.

But before you fully write off United cobranded cards, consider this lesser-known benefit.

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Premier upgrades on award tickets

A United Airlines domestic first-class meal. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

The benefit is buried under a plethora of monotonous benefits. And I wouldn't blame you if you happen to scroll right past it.

If you don't have a MileagePlus credit card, you aren't eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades when using miles. However, MileagePlus credit card holders are added to the upgrade waitlist on CPU-eligible routes when redeeming miles.

That's significant.

Although your upgrade priority will fall below all paid ticket flyers with your status (e.g., if you're a 1K, you'll be among the last 1Ks to be upgraded), this perk can land you upgrades to first class based on your Premier status that you wouldn't have otherwise received.

For example, about three years ago, I used miles to fly from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Redmond Municipal Airport (RDM) outside of Bend, Oregon. Even though there were three seats in first class that went empty on the flight, my Premier 1K status didn't entitle me to an upgrade because I didn't have a MileagePlus cobranded credit card — lesson learned.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

Bottom line

Although CPUs on most routes are far and few between, the opportunity to receive Premier upgrades on award tickets based on your United status could be an appealing benefit. Even if you score only one or two CPUs on award tickets in a year, it could justify the ongoing $95 annual fee of the United Explorer Card ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year).

The following United credit cards have Premier upgrades on award tickets as a benefit:

When you receive your first upgrade thanks to your MileagePlus credit card, you'll be glad you have it.

The information for the United Club Business 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.

Featured image by (Photo by Kyle Olsen/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.

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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
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Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

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

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
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

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • 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

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases