The Best Credit Cards for United Flyers in 2021 [Lounges, Upgrades, Priority Boarding & More]

United Polaris Middle Seats

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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 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 United Credit Cards for United Flight Benefits & 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 Club℠ Infinite Card

  • 2 free checked bags for you and 1 travel companion on the same reservation
  • Premier Access benefits including priority boarding, priority seat selection, priority security lane, and priority baggage handling for the cardholder and traveling companions on the same reservation

United Quest℠ Card

  • 2 free checked bags for you and 1 travel companion
  • Priority boarding for you and your travel companions on the same reservation

United℠ Explorer Card

  • A free checked bag for you and 1 travel companion on the same reservation
  • Priority boarding for you and your travel companions on the same reservation

United Club℠ Business Card

  • 2 free checked bags for you and 1 travel companion
  • Premier Access benefits including priority boarding, priority seat selection, priority security lane, and priority baggage handling for the cardmember and traveling companions on the same reservation

United℠ Business Card

  • A free checked bag for you and 1 travel companion on the same reservation
  • Priority boarding for you and your travel companions on the same reservation

In addition to priority flight benefits, all United cardmembers of the above cards receive a 25% statement credit for inflight food and beverage purchases.

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

For United purchases, the United Club Infinite card earns 4x miles per dollar spent, the United Quest card earns 3x miles per dollar spent, and the United Explorer card and United-branded business cards earn 2x miles per dollar spent.

With United-branded credit cards, you can be assured that all of your flight purchases are earning United MileagePlus miles to use toward your next award redemption.

Qualifying for United Premier Elite Status

United Premier Access check in at Boston Logan Airport BOS
United Premier elite status and 2 United credit cards offer Premier Access priority check-in. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

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

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

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. Due to COVID-19, United has reduced requirements for status through the 2022 program year:

2022 StatusEarn Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF)and Premier Qualifying Points (PQP)…or Meet a Higher PQP Goal
Premier Silver83,0003,500
Premier Gold166,0007,000
Premier Platinum249,00010,000
Premier 1K3613,50015,000

How United Credit Cards Help You Qualify for Status

United credit card PQP earning path
Spending on your United-branded card can help you qualify for Premier elite status, including Premier 1K. Image Credit: United

United credit cardholders can earn Premier qualifying points (PQP) through their annual credit card spend and for 2021 can apply this earned PQP toward any Premier elite status up to Premier 1K level.

The United Explorer card and United Club Business cards earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 spent, up to 1,000 PQP in the 2021 calendar year.

The United Quest card and United Club Infinite card can earn up to 3,000 PQP in the 2021 calendar year.

Other Chase United-branded credit cards, including legacy United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Cards, have varying PQP earning capabilities — visit United’s cardmember update page for more details and terms and conditions.

United Credit Cards for Elevated Upgrade Priority

United 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 Club Infinite card or United Club Business card, you will have upgrade priority over a passenger who is also United Premier Silver but who doesn’t hold either United 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. PlusPoints Upgrades and MileagePlus Upgrade Awards
  2. Premier status of the traveler
  3. Fare class
  4. Chase United Club cardholders and Presidential Plus cardholders
  5. United corporate travelers
  6. Chase United cardholders with $25,000 spent on the card in the calendar year
  7. Date and time of the upgrade request

All qualifying Premier elite United cardholders are eligible for upgrades on United award tickets.

Qualifying United cardholders will want to sign into their MileagePlus account before searching for flights as United 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 United Credit Cards for United Club Lounge Access

The United Club Lounge Heathrow Bar Mimosa
Complimentary United Club membership offers great value for the United flyer. United Club London. Image Credit: Greg Stone

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 to $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 1,300 lounges throughout the world

Best Overall United Personal Credit Cards for United Flyers

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 Club Infinite Card

The United Club Infinite card comes with complimentary lounge access, stellar 4x earnings on United purchases, a faster path to elite status, and upgrade priority on United flights over non-cardholders. The card also comes with expanded award ability and Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle status.

United Quest Card

The United Quest card is best for a generous welcome bonus, elevated 3x earnings on United purchases, and a faster path to Premier elite status by earning PQP credits for spending on the card. We like that the card earns big on travel, restaurants, and streaming services. Use your card for United purchases and receive an annual statement credit ($125) plus 2 5,000-mile credits towards award flights each card anniversary year.

United Explorer Card

We like that this card has a lower annual fee yet still comes with 2 United Club passes each anniversary year. Like the premium United-branded cards, you’ll also be earning PQP credits towards Premier elite status and receive complimentary upgrades on United award flights.

In addition to the above list of benefits, each personal United-branded cardholder receives a 25% statement credit on in-flight food and beverage purchases and expanded award flight availability. Plus, you’ll find valuable travel insurance coverages and shopping benefits/protections that vary by card.

Actual benefits and the terms and conditions can be found in the specific card’s guide to benefits.

Best Overall United Business Credit Cards for United Flyers

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 a United-branded business card.

United Club Business Card

Business travelers will welcome the complimentary United Club lounge membership and upgrade priority on United flights. They’ll also receive complimentary upgrades on United award tickets. Miles will accumulate quickly as business owners receive 2x earnings on common business purchases and earn PQP toward Premier elite status by spending on the card.

United Business Card

The United Business card pairs well with a United-branded personal card. So well, that you’ll receive 5,000 miles each card anniversary for having both cards. There’s also a generous welcome bonus and elevated earnings on specific business categories. In addition, the card comes with 2 1-time United Club passes each year.

Bottom Line: United’s core credit cards offer plenty of flight benefits, expanded award flight availability, and a faster path to Premier status. The cards also offer accelerated earnings per dollar spent on United purchases.

Best United Debit 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.

MileagePlus® GO Visa® Prepaid Card

The GO Visa Prepaid card earns up to 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. There is 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 $1,000
  • 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 $1,000), your net cost for 30,000 miles would be $35, which is the $85 annual fee minus the interest received.

Hot Tip: Note that the GO Visa Prepaid 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 or rebuilding your credit, 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.

Best No-Annual-Fee United Credit Card

Regardless of the corresponding benefits, some travelers prefer a credit card that doesn’t have an annual fee.

United Gateway℠ Card

The United Gateway card does not come with any United flight benefits, lounge access, or expanded award availability — but it does earn United MileagePlus miles without an annual fee. You can also earn a welcome bonus (earned as bonus miles) after meeting a minimum spending requirement. The card includes rental car and trip interruption coverage and does not charge foreign transaction fees.

Hot Tip: Since the United Gateway card does not offer any related United flight benefits, you might fare better with a travel rewards credit card such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card that earns 5% on travel purchases via the Chase travel portal, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1.5% cash-back on all other 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 United Credit Card 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 per person, $6,000 per 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 the benefits guide that comes with the card.

Best Credit Cards for Transferring Rewards to United

United Polaris 767 300
Transfer points you’ve earned on other credit cards to redeem for premium experiences such as United Airlines Polaris business class. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

If you currently have credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Marriott Bonvoy 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 and are 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 is currently offering Chase's best offer ever of 100,000 point bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

The card earns 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on dining and 2x points on all other travel purchases, plus more. Enjoy a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, and other travel benefits such as excellent travel insurance coverage, including car rental insurance and no foreign transaction fees, this card is a very rewarding card.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® - This premium card will get you access to 1,300+ airport lounges. as well as a number of other card benefits. The current sign up bonus is 60,000 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. As an extra bonus, until 12/31/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit.

Earn big with this card, earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® card - A solid, no annual fee card that earns you a $200 bonus after you spend $500 in your first 3 months. Earn 5% cash-back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, and 5% on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Then earn 3% cash-back on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% cash-back on all other purchases, but you won't get any travel benefits 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 $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Pay your cell phone bill with this card to receive up to $600 in cell phone insurance coverage per year; as well as a number of other benefits.

Earn 3x on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year, plus 1x on all other purchases — with no limit to the amount you can earn. All for an annual fee of $95.
Ink Business Cash® Credit Card - Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

This no annual fee business card earns up to 5% cash-back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year, plus 2% cash-back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary.
Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card - Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back rewards on every purchase made for your business.

Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. There's no annual fee.

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 3 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases, plus 10x total points on eligible purchases in select categories. 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. Plus, earn up to 17X points per $1 at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, and 2X points per $1 on all other purchases. Annual Fee is $95.
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 up to 14X points per $1 at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, earn 2X on other travel purchases, then 1x on all other purchases. A solid card for Marriott loyalists looking for a no-annual-fee card offering Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card - Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $200 in Statement Credits for eligible purchases at U.S. Restaurants within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Earn 6x per $1 at hotels participants in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program 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.
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card - Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 of eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn up to $150 back in statement credits on eligible purchases made on your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

This is 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 Marriott Bonvoy Business 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 (like Air Canada, ANA, or Singapore Airlines) 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, 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 to 4 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.

Amex Platinum Card

Why We Like This Card for United Flyers:

  • Earns 5 Membership Rewards Points per dollar spent on United flights purchased from United or from Amex Travel
  • Complimentary access for the cardholder and 2 guests to over 1,300 lounge properties worldwide, including the prestigious Centurion Lounge network
  • $200 airline incidental fee credit each year (can be used on United)

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card

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 1,300 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, a 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 Infinite card with complimentary lounge access 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.


The information regarding the United Club℠ Business Card, MileagePlus® GO Visa® Prepaid Card, and Chase Freedom Unlimited® card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, click here.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.


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 Club Infinite card offers a nice level of benefits for the traveler who frequently flies on United. Complimentary lounge membership alone makes up for the annual $525 fee.

For the frequent United traveler, the United Quest card might be a fit with its $125 statement credit plus 3x earnings on United purchases, and 2 5,000-mile credits towards award flights each year. The card also comes with a generous welcome bonus.

If you travel just a few times a year on United, you’ll still benefit from the United Explorer card. It comes with a free checked bag, priority boarding, and 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. 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 should cancel your credit card, your miles will still remain in your MileagePlus 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, class of service, and availability.

Although United no longer publishes an award chart, award ticket deals can be as low as 5,500 miles for a one-way domestic economy ticket.

A round-trip saver award fare ticket to Europe can start at 60,000 miles for an economy ticket.

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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