August 17, 2022

Best United Credit Cards | The Ascent

How to choose the best United credit card There are a lot of United credit…

Best United Credit Cards | The Ascent

How to choose the best United credit card

There are a lot of United credit cards. So how do you choose the best one? It comes down to identifying which perks you value, and which you can do without. Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself to figure out what you want your United card to offer.

Are you a business owner?

You can find both consumer and business credit card options from United. If you own a business and fly for work, a small business card might be a good fit. If you don’t own a business or solely travel for pleasure, you may want to stick with consumer cards.

Related: Best Business Credit Cards for Travel

How often do you — or would you — use United Club lounges?

The main factor that sets the most expensive United cards apart is the United Club membership. The United Club℠ Infinite Card and United Club℠ Business Card both offer complimentary United Club membership. This gives you, and up to two guests, unlimited access to United Club airport lounges when you fly with United or eligible partners.

If you fly United (or Star Alliance airlines) multiple times a year, membership could be well worth the cost. One-day lounge passes cost over $50 a piece, so eight to 10 visits a year could pay your card’s annual fee. If you regularly fly with a spouse or partner, this could be met in just four or five flights.

If you aren’t sure about paying a premium for a full United Club membership, you still have options. All of the United credit cards — except the no annual fee United Gateway℠ Card — offer two United Club day passes each year. This perk could easily cover the annual fee of the United℠ Explorer Card, making the other benefits all profit for you.

Do you regularly check luggage?

Whether you check bags — and how many you tend to check — is an important part of choosing a United credit card. For example, if you never check luggage, you may not get as much value from the mid-tier cards like the United℠ Explorer Card. If you always check multiple bags, then the United Quest℠ Card, which lets you check two bags for free, may be worth the extra cost.

Can you pay (and get value from) an annual fee?

You need to decide if you’ll get enough value from your United card to make up for the annual fee. You also need to make sure you can fork over that fee in the first place. You may be eyeing the big perks of the costly United Club℠ Infinite Card, but is that annual fee really in your budget? Annual fees, unless waived the first year, tend to come due shortly after you open your account.

What kind of purchase rewards do you want?

All of the United credit cards earn United miles on purchases. But how many miles they earn, and on which types of purchases, varies from card to card. The United Club℠ Infinite Card, for instance, earns a whopping rate on eligible purchases with United. The base-level United Gateway℠ Card earns at a fraction of that rate.

Each card also has its own bonus categories, like dining or gas, which may or may not suit your spending habits. The more miles you earn, the more free flights you can score, so choose wisely here.

Learn more: How Do Credit Card Miles Work?

United credit card benefits

While many rewards cards are entirely about the points and cash back, United credit cards are all about the perks. Depending on your card, you can get everything from lounge access to free checked bags. How well you use those perks will impact how much value you get from your United card.

Earn United miles on purchases

One perk you’ll get with every United credit card is the ability to earn United miles on your card purchases. You’ll also get bonus miles on certain category purchases. Then, you can turn your United miles into free United flights.

Learn more: How to Travel for Free With Credit Card Points

In addition to purchase rewards, United credit cards tend to also come with sign-up bonuses for new cardholders. Often, the sign-up bonus alone can earn enough miles for a flight or two. This could pay the annual fee of even the most expensive United credit cards for the first year — or more, depending on how you redeem.

United Club lounge access

Almost all of the United credit cards have some level of United Club lounge access. The top-tier consumer and business cards come with full United Club membership. The other cards, minus the United Gateway℠ Card, offer two single-use passes each year. Airport lounges can make the time before your flight infinitely more comfortable. They also offer some good value with free food and drinks.

Related: Best Credit Cards With Airport Lounge Access

Free checked bags

This is a traditional benefit of airline credit cards, and one that can be very valuable for frequent flyers. If you have the United℠ Explorer Card or United℠ Business Card, you — and a companion on the same reservation — get your first checked bag free on domestic United flights. If you have the higher-tier cards, you both also get a second checked bag free.

TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit

One thing that sets apart many of the best travel rewards cards is a credit to help pay for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. But you’ll actually get this perk from almost all of the United credit cards. This can add an extra $20 a year in value to your card.

Learn more: TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry

Programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry can make some of the worst parts of the airport significantly better. TSA PreCheck can speed you through the security line. And if you travel internationally, Global Entry can take a lot of the pain out of going through immigration.

Related: Best Credit Cards for International Travel

No foreign transaction fees

Many credit cards charge an extra fee when you make a purchase in a foreign currency. These foreign transaction fees can cost 3% or more of each purchase. All of the United credit cards have 0% foreign transaction fees. So, you won’t pay extra just to make purchases in the local currency while traveling abroad with your United card.