Best United Airlines credit cards

Niall Carson - PA Images / Contributor/Getty Images
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

During regular operations, United Airlines serves 377 destinations in 67 countries. This includes 250 domestic airports as well as 127 airports outside the United States. United Airlines is also part of the popular Star Alliance, which includes other airlines like TAP Air Portugal, Lufthansa, ANA and more than a dozen others.

Frequent flyers who like flying United and its partners typically join the United MileagePlus program, which lets them rack up miles good for flights around the globe, upgrades to premium cabins, other types of travel like hotel stays, gift cards and more. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to rack up United miles other than flying, and this includes the use of their co-branded airline credit cards.

Whether you’re a United enthusiast or someone who wants to rack up miles for free flights in any program, you should consider co-branded United MileagePlus credit cards. This guide highlights the best options and who they might work best for as well as alternative credit cards you can use to rack up miles in this program:

Bankrate’s picks for the best credit cards for United flyers in 2020:

United℠ Explorer Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • Earn 2x miles on United purchases, dining, hotels and eligible food delivery purchases as well as 1x miles on other purchases
  • $0 the annual fee for the first year, then $95
  • Major cardholder benefits include two one-time United Club passes, first checked bag free, priority boarding, 25% back on in-flight purchases and a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck

Why it’s the best personal card for a signup bonus

The United Explorer Card has the best points-based welcome bonus among personal United credit cards. Once you sign up, you only need to spend $2,000 within three months in order to earn 40,000 miles. We also like the fact you earn two miles in categories outside of United purchases, such as dining, hotels, and food delivery with GrubHub, DoorDash and other eligible services. You won’t even pay an annual fee the first year ($95 thereafter), and the frequent flyer perks like United Club passes and free checked bags can lead to additional savings.

United Club℠ Infinite Card

  • Earn 4x miles on United purchases, 2x miles on dining and eligible food delivery services, 2x miles on other travel and 1x miles on all other purchases
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
  • Qualify for a complimentary United Club membership ($650 value)
  • $525 annual fee
  • Major cardholder benefits include a first and second checked bag free, priority check-in and security screening, 25% off in-flight purchases, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership and more

Why it’s best for airline lounge access

With the United Club℠ Infinite Card, you’ll get the potential to earn a lot of miles on your spending. You’ll earn 4x miles on United purchases for starters, but you’ll also earn 2x miles on dining, eligible food delivery and other travel purchases made with your card.

United℠ Business Card

  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • Earn 2x miles on United purchases and on local transit, commuting, gas stations, office supply stores and restaurants; also earn 1x miles on other purchases
  • $99 annual fee ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year)
  • Major cardholder benefits include a free checked bag, priority boarding, two United Club passes, 25% back on in-flight purchases, a 5,000-mile anniversary bonus and more

Why it’s the best small business option

The United℠ Business Card is a good option for small businesses. This card also comes with a generous signup bonus as well as 2x miles in several popular categories that would be easy to maximize. Frequent flyer perks like a free checked bag, two United Club passes and priority boarding also sweeten this deal and make it a no-brainer for small business owners who fly with the airline and its partners.

The information about the United Club Infinite Card and the United Explorer Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Consider other credit cards with transferable points

Because United MileagePlus is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, you don’t actually have to get a United credit card to earn United miles on your purchases. Instead, you can pick up a Chase travel credit card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Once you pick a Chase credit card, you can earn a generous signup bonus as well as points for each dollar you spend. Once you’re ready, you can transfer your points to the United MileagePlus program in increments of 1,000. All point transfers are also extended at a 1:1 ratio, so 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points will turn into 1,000 United miles.

Chase travel credit cards that let you transfer points to airline and hotel partners include:

Card name Rewards rate New cardmember offer Annual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases.

5x points on Lyft purchases (through March 2022); 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months $95
Chase Sapphire Reserve Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months $550
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card* 3x points on the first $150,000/year in combined purchases on travel, shipping, internet/cable/phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines and 5x points on Lyft purchases (through March 2022); 1 point per dollar on all other purchases 100,000 bonus points if you spend $15,000 in the first three months $95

 

How to choose the best United credit card

If you are considering a United credit card, you should think long and hard before you decide which one works best for your needs and your normal spending. Here are some tips that can make your job easier:

  • Decide whether you want a personal card or a business card. If you have a small business or a side hustle that earns an income, you’ll need to decide whether you want a personal credit card for personal spending or a business credit card that lets you earn miles on your business purchases. You can get personal and business credit cards over time, but you’ll need to start with one or the other.
  • Ask yourself how often you would visit a United Club airport lounge. One of the main factors that stands out among United credit cards is United Club access. If you want to have unlimited access when you fly with the airline, you’ll need to commit to the United Club℠ Infinite Card, which has a $525 annual fee. Other United credit cards offer a few one-time passes, which can help you determine if United Club access is worth it.
  • Look at earning rates. There are definitely some discrepancies among the earning rates these cards offer. Make sure the card you select will let you earn the most airline miles based on your normal spending patterns.
  • Decide if you should pair a co-branded United card with a Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card. Finally, don’t forget to consider the prospect of pairing a co-branded United credit card with a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards. Doing so can allow you to maximize the earning potential of each and double up on signup bonuses. You’ll also have some flexibility when it comes to transferring Chase points to United or using them to cover hotels, rental cars and other aspects of your trips.
Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson began her career working in the funeral industry, which may make you wonder why she works in personal finance now. Yet, the funeral industry taught the author everything she needs to know about the value of one's money and time. Johnson left the mortuary business a decade ago in order to explore her passion for personal finance and travel the world, and since then, she and her husband have built a debt-free lifestyle that has them on the path to retire very wealthy in their 40s. Holly's love of budgeting also led to the creation of her debt payoff book, “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love."
Reviewed by
Credit Card Reviews Writer