The United MileagePlus frequent flyer program is one of the best out there. As a member of the Star Alliance, United can offer award flights on its 27 Alliance partners including Air Canada, Lufthansa, ANA, Swiss, Turkish, and Air New Zealand, plus several non-alliance airlines as well. At the same time, you never have to pay any costly fuel charges when you redeem your United MileagePlus miles for a partner award.
Which Travel Credit Card Is Best for United Miles?
There are two competing strategies to earning United miles with a credit card. First, you can use one of the MileagePlus credit cards from Chase, such as the United℠ Explorer Card. Otherwise, you can earn Ultimate Rewards points from a Chase card like the Sapphire Preferred, which can be transferred to United miles. Since both of these cards have a $95 annual fee, it’s worth comparing them side-by-side.
This Explorer card is an obvious choice for United flyers. It offers you 40,000 bonus miles after you spend just $2,000 in purchases within three months of account opening. You earn 2x miles per dollar spent at restaurants and on hotel stays, as well as on United purchases, and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. It also includes a credit of up to $100 towards a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, and up to a 25% credit for United in-flight purchases. Other benefits include early boarding, your first bag checked free, and two annual visits to a United Club lounge. Another key cardholder feature is expanded saver award availability in economy class. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year.
This card is also a great choice for United flyers since you earn Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred to miles with United or nine other airlines or points three hotel programs. It offers you double points on all travel and dining expenses, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points can be redeemed or 1.25 cents each towards travel booked with the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, or transferred to airline miles or hotel points. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card.
Which card should you get?
When it comes to rewards, the Sapphire Preferred is clearly better, as it lets you earn double points on any travel expense including airfare, hotels, car rentals, and cruises, while the United Explorer card only offers 2x points at hotels and United flights. The Sapphire Preferred also lets you redeem your rewards directly for travel, which opens up many travel possibilities outside of major airlines and hotel chains. And you can transfer your rewards to nine airlines other than United, plus three hotel programs.
But if you’re a regular United traveler, then the Explorer card could still be a better option, due to its numerous travel benefits. Yet those who travel enough to enjoy elite status, typically 25,000 miles per year or more, will already enjoy many of the benefits such as priority boarding, free checked bags and increased availability of saver level award space.
Finally, you might consider having both cards for their unique benefits. Having a United Explorer card makes sense for the benefits, and you can use your Sapphire Reserve to earn additional rewards that are more broadly usable. By taking a closer look at the features and benefits of both cards, you can decide if one or both is right for you.
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