The Best Credit Cards for United Flyers in 2020 [Lounges, Upgrades, Priority Boarding & More]

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In general, if you fly any airline frequently, you’ll benefit from having their branded credit card.

Doing so can provide the perks of free checked bags, discounted or complimentary lounge access, priority boarding, upgraded seating, and quicker trips through security.  You’ll also earn frequent flyer miles quickly so you can book award flights faster.

Having a United-branded credit card can deliver all these benefits and more. Even if you travel just a few times a year, you’re sure to find value from one of the offered United credit cards.

You’re probably wondering, however, which United credit card is the best one for your situation or if there are other travel rewards cards that benefit the United flyer more.

We’ve assembled the best credit cards available for United flyers along with benefits for each card so you can see which card might be best for you.

Best Credit Card for United Flight Benefits and Purchases

General Flight Benefits

We all enjoy the savings that come with free checked bags and the convenience of early boarding. Here’s a list of the basic flight benefits each card provides.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

  • A free checked bag for you and your travel companion
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% statement credit for in-flight food/beverage purchases

United MileagePlus® Club Card

  • 2 free checked bags for you and your travel companion
  • Priority boarding, priority seat selection, priority security lane, and priority baggage handling

United MileagePlus® Club Business Card

  • 2 free checked bags for you and your travel companion
  • Priority boarding, priority seat selection, priority security lane, and priority baggage handling

Bottom Line: The savings earned from having free checked bags and the convenience of boarding early are valued benefits that come with United-branded credit cards. 

Earning MileagePlus Miles on United Purchases

Each of the United-branded credit cards listed above earns 2 miles per one dollar spent with United. This ensures that all flight purchases are earning you more miles toward your next award redemption.

Best Credit Card for United Club Lounge Access

United Club Hong Kong
Complimentary United Club membership offers great value for the United flyer.  Hong Kong United Club – Image courtesy of

Having access to an airport lounge can certainly elevate your travel experience. Lounge access, however, can be expensive. A single one-year membership to the United Club currently costs $450-$550 depending on the prospective member’s current MileagePlus status level.

Adding a companion to your membership will cost an additional $550 and even a single-day pass will cost $59 per person.

As you can see, having complimentary lounge access is an immediate savings of at least $450 a year.

The following United credit cards offer free lounge access:

Complimentary membership provides access to United Club lounges and select affiliated Star Alliance lounges for the cardholder and their immediate family members, or for 2 additional guests.

Hot Tip: If worldwide lounge access is your top priority and you fly several different airlines, you should check out the Platinum Card® from American Express. In addition to a long list of luxury travel benefits, the card offers complimentary access for the cardholder and 2 guests to over 1,200 lounges throughout the world. 

Best Credit Card for Elite Status and Upgrades

What it Takes to Qualify for United Premier Elite Status

There are several benefits to having elite status in United’s frequent-flyer program.

First and foremost, United Premier elite status is the number one factor considered in whether or not you receive an upgraded seat on your flight.

United Airlines Economy Plus
The extra legroom in United Airlines Economy Plus makes travel more comfortable. Image courtesy of

The additional benefits of having Premier Elite status include allowing you to earn bonus frequent-flyer miles based on your Premier status level. Priority boarding, seat selection, and fee waivers also add to the benefits.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to earn United MileagePlus Premier status.

MileagePlus Premier Status LevelElite Qualifying Dollars Required (EQD)$25,000 Spent on Credit Card Waives EQDElite Qualifying Miles (EQM) or Segments (EQS) Required 
Premier Silver$3,000Yes25,000 miles or 30 segments
Premier Gold$6,000Yes50,000 miles or 60 segments
Premier Platinum$9,000Yes75,000 miles or 90 segments
Premier 1K®$15,000No100,000 miles or 120 segments

How United Credit Cards Help You Qualify for Status

First and foremost, you’ll need to fly the required amount of Elite Qualifying Miles to earn Premier status with United.

One of the additional requirements of qualifying for Premier status is the level of Elite Qualifying Dollars (dollars spent on United flights).

United credit cards can help you meet these EQD spending levels by providing a waiver if you spend $25,000 on your United-branded card.

For example, if you flew 50,000 EQMs in a calendar year, you would need to have $6,000 in EQDs to make Premier Gold status. If you spend $25,000 on your United credit card, that $6,000 EQD requirement is waived.

The waiver is offered to Premier Silver, Premier Gold, and Premier Platinum qualifying members, but not Premier 1K® members.

For more information, check out our guide to credit cards that help you earn airline elite status.

Bottom Line: Spending $25,000 in a calendar year on your United credit card waives the EQD requirements to qualify for Premier Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of United Premier status.

United Credit Cards for Elevated Upgrade Priority

United MileagePlus Club cardholders (business and personal versions), who are Premier members, receive seat upgrade priority over those passengers in the same Premier level.

For example, if you have United Premier Silver status and have a United MileagePlus Club Card, you will have upgrade priority over a passenger who is also United Premier Silver but who doesn’t have the United MileagePlus Club card.

Additionally, any MileagePlus member, including non-Premier members, can request to upgrade an eligible flight with miles. These MileagePlus Upgrade Award requests, if not immediately available, are waitlisted and processed in the following priority order.

  1. Premier status
  2. Fare class
  3. Chase United MileagePlus Club cardholders and Presidential Plus cardholders
  4. United corporate travelers
  5. Chase United MileagePlus cardholders with $25,000 spent on the card in the calendar year
  6. Time of the upgrade request

All Premier United MileagePlus cardholders qualify for upgrades on United award tickets.

United MileagePlus cardholders will want to sign into their MileagePlus frequent-flyer account before searching for flights as MileagePlus cardholders  (and elite members) receive expanded access to more award flight options.

For more information on how to get upgraded on United, check out our informative guide.

Best Overall Personal Credit Card for United Flyers – Summary

As a frequent United flyer, you want to ensure that you’re getting the most from your United-branded credit card. While we’ve covered most of those United-related benefits thus far, a summary of each card is useful.

United MileagePlus Card

Best for:

  • United Club lounge membership
  • Expanded award availability
  • Free checked bags, priority boarding, priority security lane and priority seat selection
  • Complimentary upgrades on United award tickets
  • Upgrade priority on United flights
  • Waiver of EQD requirements after spending $25,000 on the card each calendar year
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on United, 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Waiver of close-in (United’s term for less than 21 days before departure) booking fees on award tickets
  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle® status

United Explorer Card

Best for:

  • United Club day passes (2 per anniversary year)
  • Expanded award availability
  • Free checked bag and priority boarding
  • Upgrade priority after meeting EQD waiver of $25,000 spent on the card each calendar year
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on United, restaurants, and hotels
  • Up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
  • 25% inflight food/beverage credits

Best Overall Business Credit Cards for United Flyers – Summary

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, the perks that come with a United business credit card can make your trip more comfortable and even save you money.

Even small businesses can earn a lot of United miles quickly with either of these United-branded business cards.

United Club Business Card

Best for:

  • United Club lounge membership
  • Expanded award availability
  • Complimentary upgrades on United award tickets
  • Upgrade priority on United flights
  • Waiver of EQD requirement for elite status after spending $25,000 in a calendar year
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on United, 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Waiver of close-in (United’s term for less than 21 days before departure) booking fees on award tickets
  • Free checked bags, priority boarding, priority security lane and priority seat selection
  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle elite status

Bottom Line: United’s core credit cards offer plenty of flight benefits, complimentary lounge access, and a faster path to Premier status. They also offer accelerated earnings of 2 miles per dollar spent on United.

Best Credit Card for United Flyers with Less Than Perfect Credit

While the cards we’ve discussed in this article require a good or excellent credit score, you don’t need a stellar credit score to earn United MileagePlus miles on your purchases.

The MileagePlus® GO Visa® Prepaid Card earns up to 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases.

The GO Visa Prepaid card does charge a monthly ($5.95) or annual ($85) fee, however, there are some benefits that come with this card.

  • No credit inquiry
  • 5% Annual Percentage Yield (APY) savings account on balances up to $1000
  • FDIC insured
  • Earn up to 2,500 MileagePlus miles per month

If you select the monthly plan, you’ll earn 1 mile per $2 spent on the card. If you select the annual plan, you’ll earn 1 mile per dollar spent on the card.

If you’re able to earn 2,500 miles per month, which is the monthly maximum, you could end up with 30,000 miles each year. That’s enough for a one-way ticket to Europe or nearly enough for a round trip to the Caribbean.

If you’re earning the maximum interest on the account ($50 on $1000), your net cost for 30,000 miles would be $35 which is the $85 annual fee minus the interest received.

Note that the card does not report to credit bureaus so you will not be building or rebuilding credit. Our guide on the best credit cards for bad credit can help you find the best card if you’re trying to build or rebuild your credit. If you’re looking for alternative ways of building/re-building your credit, also check out our complete guide to Self.

This card is not your best choice if you have sufficient credit to qualify for a United-branded or other travel rewards credit card.

The No Annual Fee United Credit Card

Regardless of the corresponding benefits, some travelers prefer a credit card that doesn’t have an annual fee. The United TravelBank card earns United TravelBank dollars, all without an annual fee. Note that TravelBank dollars can only be redeemed United.

Some features of the card:

  • Sign-up bonus after meeting a minimum spending requirement; earned as TravelBank dollars
  • 2%  on every United purchase; earned as TravelBank dollars
  • 25% on in-flight food/beverages; earned as TravelBank dollars
  • 1.5% on all other purchases; earned as TravelBank dollars
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Rental car and trip interruption coverage

The card does not come with any United flight benefits, lounge access, the EQD waiver, or expanded award availability.

Hot Tip: Since the United TravelBank card does not offer any related United benefits, you might fare better with a travel rewards credit card such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited ($0 annual fee) card that earns 3% on purchases up to $20,000 spent in the first year; after that, earn 1.5% cash-back (Ultimate Rewards Points) on all purchases. Points can be redeemed for United flights (or any other airline) via the Chase Travel Portal or transferred to premium Chase credit cards for even greater redemption value.

Additional Benefits

While we’ve covered most of the benefits provided to United flyers on United-branded credit cards, there are several significant additional benefits offered that should be mentioned:

  • Primary Rental Car Insurance Coverage – no need to purchase extra CDW coverage from the rental car agency
  • No foreign transaction fees – your card travels with you without transaction fees on foreign purchases
  • Trip delay – when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours, you could receive reimbursement for essentials up to $500
  • Baggage delay – when baggage is delayed more than 6 hours, you could receive reimbursement for $100 per day for up to 3 days
  • Trip cancellation/interruption – up to $1,500/person, $6,000/trip for covered trip interruptions and cancellations
  • Lost luggage – up to $3,000 when luggage is lost or damaged by the carrier
  • Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection perks – receive complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, room upgrades, and more at over 900 properties
  • Emergency Evacuation – available on some United-branded credit cards
  • Concierge Services – assistance with reservations, travel plans, and special access for events
  • Purchase Protection – receive coverage for loss or damage to an eligible purchased item for up to 120 dates from the date of purchase
  • Extended Warranty – extends the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an extra year on warranties less than 3 years

Not all benefits are available on all United credit cards. The actual benefits on your specific United-branded credit card, along with the terms and conditions, can be found in your benefits guide that comes with the card.

Best Credit Cards for Transferring Rewards to United

United Airlines Polaris Business Class
Transfer points you’ve earned on other credit cards to redeem for premium experiences such as United Airlines Polaris Business Class. Image courtesy of

If you currently have credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Marriott Bonvoy Rewards points, or American Express Membership Rewards points, you may have the ability to transfer those points to United or other Star Alliance airline partners.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are easy to earn and transfer to United. Ultimate Rewards Points transfer to United at the ratio of 1:1.

These recommended Chase credit cards are great for earning Ultimate Rewards points but also great for redeeming Ultimate Rewards points for purchasing United flights via the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal.

Be sure to check both transferring points and purchasing options to determine which one gives you the best value.

Recommended Chase Cards (Personal)

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card - This is our favorite beginners travel rewards card which has a 60,000 point bonus (highest ever) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

This sign up bonus is worth $750 in travel purchases (flights, hotels, car rentals etc) when you redeem your points through Chase's travel portal, which works like Expedia. The bonus alone could get you multiple round-trip flights or hotel stays.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® - Consider this premium card if you want to get into a lot of airport lounges. The current sign up bonus is 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You'll also get a $300 travel credit per year which wipes away a big chunk of the $550 annual fee.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® - A simple, no annual fee card that earns you a $150 bonus after you spend $500 in your first 3 months. Earn 1.5% cash-back on all purchases, but you won't get any travel benefits or the ability to earn bonus points with this card.

Recommended Chase Cards (Business)

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card - This is our #1 recommended business card and right now comes with a 100,000 sign up bonus after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. This bonus is worth $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel purchases (flights, hotels etc). Pay your cell phone bill with this card to receive up to $600 in cell phone insurance coverage per year.
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card - earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. This no annual fee business card earns up to 5% cash back on a range of business expenses such as office supply stores, internet, cable, and phone services.

Marriott Bonvoy® Points

Marriott Bonvoy points can be transferred to United at the rate of 3 Marriott Points to 1 United mile. Additionally, for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points transferred, you’ll receive a bonus 5,500 miles for a total of 25,500 miles.

You can quickly earn Marriott Bonvoy points with these recommended credit cards:

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card - Earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Get automatic silver elite status each account anniversary year; and a free night award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card - Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. Earn 3X points per $1 at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. A solid card for Marriott loyalists looking for a no-annual-fee card offering Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status.
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card - earn 75,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. A solid card for business owners who will get complimentary Marriott Bonvoy silver elite status. Annual fee is $125. Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Bonvoy Business Card, click here.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card - earn 75,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. Earn 6x per $1 at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels plus 3x at U.S restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines. Annual fee is $450. Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.

Amex Membership Rewards Points

American Express Membership Rewards points cannot be transferred directly to United. However, you may be able to transfer to other Star Alliance airline partners and then book United flights.

Hot Tip: Transferring points to United may not be the best value for your points. Be sure to explore purchasing the ticket with points (Ultimate Rewards Points), the cost of purchasing the United ticket outright, and the cost to purchase an award ticket with United miles, prior to making any transfer. 

Best Alternative Credit Cards for United Flyers

The best rate you can earn with United-branded credit cards for purchasing flights on United is 2 miles per dollar spent.

Several premium rewards credit cards offer better earnings and more benefits for the frequent traveler who travels with other airlines, in addition to United.

The Amex Platinum Card

Why we like this card for United Flyers:

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Why we like this card for United Flyers:

  • Earns 3 Ultimate Rewards Points per dollar spent on all travel purchases including United flights
  • Priority Pass™ Lounge Membership (over 1,200 properties)
  • Ease of booking United flights on the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal
  • Ease of transferring points to United MileagePlus
  • $300 annual travel credit (can be used on United)

Bottom Line: Depending on your traveler profile, the United-branded credit card may not be the best overall credit card for the United flyer. 

Final Thoughts

If you travel even a few times a year on United, you could benefit from a United-branded credit card. Additionally, if you are currently paying for a United Club annual membership, a United Club Card with complimentary lounge could be an appropriate and economical choice.

If you travel enough with United to qualify for Premier status, you may already be receiving benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding, and other flight benefits. You may not gain a lot of additional value from a United-branded card.

If you frequently fly on other airlines in addition to United, pay for an annual lounge membership, and spend a lot on travel in general, having just the United credit card may not be the best choice. A premium travel rewards credit card could be a better fit.

Frequently asked questions

Which is the best United credit card?

The best United-branded credit card will depend on how often you fly United, your travel benefit preferences, and your tolerance for paying an annual fee.

For lounge access, flight benefits, and earning United miles, the United MileagePlus Club card offers a nice level of benefits for the traveler who frequently flies on United.

Complimentary lounge membership alone makes up for the annual $450 fee.

If you travel just a few times a year on United, you’ll still benefit from the United MileagePlus Explorer card. It comes with a free checked bag, priority boarding, 2 free lounge passes, and you’ll be earning 2 miles per dollar spent on United.

Do United miles expire?

United miles do not expire as long as you hold a United-branded MileagePlus credit card.

When you earn United miles by spending on your credit card, they are subsequently deposited into your MileagePlus frequent flyer account which is separate from your credit card account.

If you cancel your credit card, your miles will expire based on the MileagePlus rule that states that miles expire after 18 months without any activity in your frequent flyer account.

Can I transfer United miles to other airlines?

Unfortunately you cannot transfer United miles to other airlines.

You can, however, use United miles to purchase award flights on more than 20 partner Star Alliance airlines.

How many miles does it take for a free flight on United?

The amount of miles needed for an award flight is based on your departure region, destination region, and availability.

A one-way domestic flight of 700 miles or less on United, for example, starts at 10,000 miles for what is called a Saver Award fare.

A round-trip ticket to Europe starts at 60,000 miles for a Saver Award fare.

You can also use United miles to upgrade flights. The number of miles needed to upgrade is determined by booking class and the class to which you’d like to upgrade.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

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