Or, consider other cards for 50,000 more miles or points that transfer into United miles with additional flexibility for your everyday spending.
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If you want to earn the most United miles, the best bet for you might not be a card that says United on the front.
What might surprise you — a credit card with high earning power for United MileagePlus® miles is actually the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
It earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points which you can transfer 1:1 instantly into any United MileagePlus account, as well as Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, and more. And, you earn 2x points on travel and dining (even things like fast food, parking, and taxis).
The annual fee of $95, waived the first year, is the same as United’s most popular card, the MileagePlus® Explorer Card. So if that’s the case why bother carrying the Explorer Card?
The Explorer Card’s value comes from travel benefits not available with the Sapphire Preferred, with a free first checked bag, priority boarding, and ability to waive the spending requirement for Premier status.
We carry both – the Sapphire Preferred® Card as the ‘go to’ credit card for everyday spending, and an Explorer Card for the travel benefits.
You may also have the chance to rack up over 80,000 miles by getting both a Sapphire Preferred® Card and an Explorer card.
There are four actively marketed personal credit cards that earn MileagePlus® miles, which you can compare using the MileCards.com CardFinder tool:
There are different versions of the above cards for business owners and you can review the options here.
Only Chase cards earn full value MileagePlus® miles, and we think it’s one of the better programs for redeeming miles.
An independent study found MileagePlus had the most reward seats available among the global U.S. carriers. United miles are especially useful for getting to international destinations in Economy Class, tickets that normally cost $1,200 or more in cash, thanks to its easy online award search and lots of Star Alliance partners for international travel.
We’ll discuss the credit cards more below, but first, here’s a table comparing the three major United credit cards.
|Card||United Mileage Plus Explorer||United Mileage Plus Club Card||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card|
|Base||1 mile per dollar||1.5 miles per dollar -- 50% more||1 points per dollar|
|United purchases||2 miles per dollar||2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United.||2 points per dollar|
|All other Travel purchases||1 mile per dollar||1.5 miles per dollar||2 points per dollar|
|Dining purchases||1 mile per dollar||1.5 miles per dollar||2 points per dollar|
|Elite qualifying miles||No||No||No|
|Annual bonus||10,000 miles each calendar year you spend $25,000 or more||None||None|
|Bag free on United||Yes, first bag free for you and a companion.||Yes, first and second bags free for you and a companion||No|
|Foreign transaction fees waived||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|1:1 mile transfer to United, Southwest, British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, Korean Airlines, Air France||No -- United miles only||No -- United miles only||Yes, instant online transfer for flexibility of points|
|Priority boarding||Yes, Group 2||Yes, Group 2||No|
|Priority security lanes||No||Yes||No|
|Travel delay insurance||No||No||Yes, up to $300 per overnight or 12+ hour delay (even weather)|
|Lounge passes||Yes, 2 United Club single visit passes per year||Yes, full United Club membership -- access all United Club lounges, and 970 Star Alliance business class lounges||No|
|Elite upgrades on reward tickets||Yes||Yes||No|
|Avis First membership||No||Yes, upgrade on car rentals when available||No|
|Hyatt Platinum membership||No||Yes, 2pm late checkout, free internet, preferred rooms||No|
|Annual fee||$95 ($0 introductory annual fee the 1st year)||$450||$95 ($0 introductory annual fee the 1st year)|
|Secure application link||Apply Now||Apply Now||Apply Now|
If you’re serious about the flexibility of the points you earn — this is the card for you as it offers unmatched flexibility and good earning power.
The Sapphire Preferred Card earns points in a neutral currency — Chase Ultimate Rewards points – and these points are special because you can transfer them 1:1 online into United miles, as well as your point accounts with Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG Hotels, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, and Korean Airlines. That way you’re not stuck if United doesn’t have award flights available on the dates you want to the places you want to go.
There is no fee for the transfer and it’s usually instant so you can add to the miles you already have in your airline and hotel accounts at any time.
You also earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide.
No foreign transaction fee is another benefit.
What you sacrifice with the Sapphire Preferred is the free checked bag, priority boarding, and elite upgrade eligibility on award tickets of the United Explorer credit card.
To see how the Sapphire stacks up by the numbers, try the MileCards.com CardFinder calculator for cards that earn United miles— it lets you input your spending habits and will factor in earning bonuses to give a sense of which card has the highest earning power for you.
Right now, the intro bonus may be enough on its own to try the card — and you can read the MileCards.com review of the card here.
Note: If you spend more than $3,000 a year on travel or dining expenses, you might want to consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve instead. It has the same features as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but adds 3x points on dining and travel, plus a $300 annual travel credit that can be used to cover airfare, and Priority Pass lounge access. The catch is a $450 upfront annual fee.
When you consider the $300 travel credit, holding the Sapphire Reserve costs about $55 more than holding the Sapphire Preferred each year. Basically, the math on the Sapphire Reserve works out better than the Preferred if you spend around $3,000 a year on travel and dining, thanks to the 3x points earned in those categories.
What about the other United credit cards? Here’s a rundown of how they work…
This card is good if you are not quite an elite member flyer with United but plan to fly them a couple times per year or more while checking baggage.
The biggest benefit for you will be the free checked first bag for you and a companion — which can save each of you $50 round trip. So in one trip for two that involves a checked bag, you’ve saved the annual fee of $95. This benefit doesn’t matter much to Premier level flyers (people who fly 25,000 or more miles per year on United), as they already receive a baggage fee waiver.
Also keep in mind in order to get the free bag benefit you have to buy your United ticket with your Explorer Card, and you have to be flying on the ticket to qualify. You can’t buy a ticket for someone else to fly and give that person the free bag benefit.
The other benefit for the non-elite flyer is priority boarding. Again, elite flyers already enjoy this benefit, but if you travel several times per year this can give you a chance to get your bag in the overhead bin before general travelers board. You’ll board in Group 2, which puts you in the same group as some of United’s frequent flyers, but behind people in First Class and its most frequent flyers.
If you are an elite Premier level member of MileagePlus there are two benefits you will want to consider:
There are also other benefits to consider:
You can read the MileCards.com review of the Explorer card here, or see how it stacks up against other cards for your personal spending habits using the Card Finder calculator.
(The information related to the United MileagePlus Club Card has been collected by MileCards.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.)
The biggest reason you’ll carry this card — you want full unlimited access to United Club lounges. The $450 per year can be cheaper than buying the lounge access on its own, which is as high as $550 per year.
We think it is a good choice for regular business travelers who may or may not have elite status with United — basically someone flying 10,000 up to 50,000 miles per year. If you’re not yet elite, you’ll value the ‘PremierAccess’ early boarding and security lanes (things elites already enjoy).
It also earns 1.5 miles per dollar spent on the card – a 50% bonus – in all categories with no limits. That makes it the most powerful credit card now available for earning United miles.
The United MileagePlus® Club Card also carries these fringe benefits:
We personally use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card most often because we value maximizing mile opportunities — and we’re elite flyers who already get free bags and priority boarding. But we also carry the United MileagePlus® Club Card for the lounge access.
Also, remember you can apply for both the Sapphire Preferred® Card and United Explorer, and receive 80,000+ bonus miles. That’s because Chase considers these separate products, so you can earn the bonus from both cards and you can choose to transfer the points from a Sapphire Preferred Card into your United MileagePlus account at any time with instant online transfer.
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