United Airlines Needs to Step Up Their Credit Card — Big Time

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If United Airlines credit cards weren’t issued by Chase, they’d probably get a lot more people to sign-up.

I love Chase travel credit cards, their customer service, and the amazing travel I’ve had because of their superior benefits.  But the Chase 5/24 rule makes it difficult to justify getting credit cards like the United℠ Explorer Card.

Chase 5/24 Rule:  Chase won’t approve you for the most of their travel credit cards, including the United Airlines credit cards, if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards from ANY bank within the past 24 months.  Exception:  Business credit cards from American Express, Bank of America, Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo (and sometimes Barclays) do NOT count toward your 5 credit card total.

Therefore, the United℠ Explorer Card would have to be a terrific credit card to put it ahead of favorites like

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – I’ve had this card for years! Our #1 pick for newbies to using travel points
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® – fantastic credit card for folks who travel a lot
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card — all the Southwest cards are great for earning the #1 deal in travel, the Southwest Companion Pass
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
  • The World Of Hyatt Credit Card
  • British Airways Visa Signature® Card
  • IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card and so on

The information for the British Airways Visa card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

I Love Using the United Airlines Loyalty Program to Book Flights With Miles.  But I’m NOT a Big Fan of Their Credit Card.  Here’s Why

Here’s Where United Airlines Needs to Improve

Checked Bag Perk

It’s weak compared to what you get with credit cards like the

• Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

The Delta card grants the primary cardholder (you) and up to 8 others traveling on the same reservation 1 free checked bag each.  And you can pay for your flight with any credit card you want.

•  Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

You get a free first checked bag for you and up to 4 travel companions on the same domestic flight reservation. The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Meanwhile, you have to pay for your flight with your Chase United Explorer card to get this perk on United.  AND you only get 1 free checked bag for yourself and a companion traveling with you.

So for family travel, the United Explorer Card falls short.  Oh, and on Southwest Airlines?  You get two free checked bags for every passenger whether you have their credit card or not!

Miles Multipliers

With the United Explorer card, you’ll earn:

  • 2 United Airlines miles per $1 you spend on purchases from United Airlines
  • 2 United Airlines miles per $1 spent at restaurants and hotels when you book directly
  • 1 United Airlines mile per $1 you spend on everything else

Sorry United, I’m much happier earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points with my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and then transferring those points into your loyalty program when I feel it.  

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card I  

  • Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants
  • Earn 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards point per $1 on other purchases worldwide

Folks with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® get better point multipliers (for a higher annual fee)

Ink Business Preferred Credit Card holders also get to transfer their Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines.  So I’m not sure why United doesn’t make their bonus point opportunities for ongoing spending more generous.

The United Airlines Experience

I actively avoid flying on United Airlines.

Instead I use their loyalty  program to fly on their PARTNERS.  The program itself is great because the taxes and fees are minuscule and it’s easy to book award tickets.

I’ve flown Business Class to and from Europe on their partners Air Canada and Lufthansa.

And I’ve found it easy to book coach at a fair points price on TAP Portugal (Lisbon is under-rated and fun!), LOT Polish (incredible history in Poland and surprisingly terrific food), and Brussels Airlines (I did Brussels – Paris – Amsterdam, awesome time exploring those 3 cities.)

When flying domestically, if given a choice, I select JetBlue, Southwest, Delta, and American Airlines all before I’d get on a United Airlines flight.

Best Perks of the United Airlines Card

1 – The strongest perk of the United card is that it gives you access to more award seats.  People who don’t have the credit card see FEWER award seats than those who do.  I get it.  But I hate it.  I earned my miles fair and square.  I want to be able to use them.

I’ve enjoyed so much free travel to Europe with United Airlines miles I can’t really complain.  I’m just saying this is the best benefit of the card and it seems like they can do a lot better.

2 – I have to say, team member Harlan disagrees with me about the United Explorer Card.  He’s kept it for years.  He likes using the lounge passes and getting priority boarding.

Bottom Line

In my opinion, the United Explorer Card is cool and all, but it’s overshadowed by competing airline cards and by outstanding Chase cards like the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

United, you’ve got a great loyalty program.  Now please elevate your credit card perks to compete!

Million Mile Secrets is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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1 year ago

It seems that you enjoy flying Spirit, Jet blue, Southwest and all the low carrier airlines. You are reassuring that you are a Greyhound kind of person.
There most be something amazing that United Airlines have to offer, since you are begging them to allow you in their premium program.
Just keep in mind is not just a product, it’s a premium product.

Juana mejia
1 year ago

I don’t like united they charge extra all time my lougue for 50 pounds they charge $75.00
I allway paid $ 50.00 and for my hand bad $ 25.00 i cancell my credit car wit united

1 year ago

i’m still trying to figure out this system. you said – chase sapphire preferred card, “i’ve had this card for years”. my thinking is i would keep the card for a year or two, then cancel and reapply in two years to get the bonus miles for sign up again. is that the right way to be doing the credit cards for more miles? so on your sapphire preferred card you reference above, are you cancelling your card and then reapplying after two years, or do you really keep this card forever and only get the lump sum miles once? thanks.

1 year ago

Aww, you poor blog writer, creating an article about a credit card you don’t really care or write about to complain about a big bank making a rule to keep you from gaming their rewards systems. What’s your million mile secret? That you know how to annoy people into them giving you more than you deserve? Filler, indeed.

1 year ago

You mention that you actively avoid flying on United Airlines, but you never explain why. And then later you mention that you’ve enjoyed so much free travel to Europe on United that you can’t complain.

Scott Lieberman
Reply to  scott
1 year ago

I use United Airlines miles to fly on their partner airlines like Lufthansa and Air Canada to Europe. When flying within the US, I prefer flying on airlines other than United.

1 year ago

I still have my United President Explorer club credit card. I love the check two bags free with that card. No other credit card gives that perk, I have looked. I also enjoy the club access which I would pay for annually anyway. I just get it thru the card as an annual fee and get all the other perks too. I love traveling on reward miles and the benefits through United while doing that. However when I am not on free miles I don’t end up using United much. They are really falling down as an airline. The old continental employees hate working for United and that tells you more than anything else. As long as it has been since the merger there are still identifiable continental employees.

1 year ago

I like to fly United rewards, however, lately I’ve been disappointed with the routes that are given and the long waits at terminals.

Nick Summy
1 year ago

Million Miles Secrets used to be so much better. Now its full of low quality filler like this post. The author leaves out half the benefits of the united card. I honestly don’t understand why someone who “actively avoids flying on United” would write an article on the merits of the card.

Furthermore, I’ve seen better arguments in junior high language arts papers. The author compares the baggage perks and thats it. When it comes to the points earnings he conveniently does not compare the united card to the AA and Delta card.

1 year ago

The big benefit of the Explorer Card is the Premier Qualifying Dollars waiver – spend $25,000/year on the card and you don’t have to buy expensive United tickets.

1 year ago

You failed to mention the in fight discount, global entry credit and discount at some of their hubs. None are worth getting the card alone, but make it worthy of staying in my wallet.

Justin Thomas
1 year ago

Thank you for this article. We need more people to protest 5/24. Unfortunately, most bloggers with the power are afraid to lose a revenue stream and say things like this.