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Most of the major airlines in the US offer at least one co-branded credit card that lets you earn miles whenever you use the card. These cards often come with perks when traveling on the airline, too.
United is no exception. However, even though United offers two co-branded cards (issued by Chase) that let you earn miles on spending and collect perks, those cards may not be the best option for loyal United flyers. Ultimately, it depends on what you’re looking for from your card.
With that said, here are the best two options for people who fly on United.
If you’re looking to earn more United miles quickly… get the Chase Sapphire Reserve
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months)
If your top priority is to get more United miles so that you can have enough for free travel, the United co-branded cards aren’t actually your best bet. Instead, you should consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
That’s because the Reserve earns 3x points per dollar spent on all travel and dining (and 1x on everything else), and those points can be transferred to any of nine airline partners — including United. Since they transfer at a 1:1 ratio, that means you’re essentially earning 3x United miles on dining and travel. That out-earns the United Explorer card, although that card still does have a decent earning rate for a co-branded card: It earns 2x miles on United purchases, dining, and hotels, and 1x on everything else.
Although the Sapphire Reserve card has a high annual fee — $450 — the benefits that come with it more than makes up for the fee. Right off the bat, there’s an annual $300 travel credit. You’ll get statement credits to cover your first $300 of travel spending each year, which includes everything from subways, taxis, ridesharing, and parking to airfare, hotels, Airbnbs, cruises, and more.
The Reserve also offers benefits like access to more than 1,200 Priority Pass airport lounges all around the world, trip delay and baggage loss/delay insurance, a statement credit to cover enrollment in Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, primary rental car insurance, and more.
If you’re looking for in-flight benefits, or seeking to get around basic economy restrictions… get the United Explorer Card from Chase
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 United MileagePlus miles (after spending $2,000 in the first three months)
The United Explorer Card was relaunched by Chase at the beginning of June 2018 with a few new features, but is ultimately similar to the United MileagePlus Explorer card it replace.
The key addition: a better earning rate. The older version of the card earned 2x miles on United purchases and 1x on everything else. Now, it also earns 2x miles on dining and hotels. That’s a solid rate — especially for a co-branded card — though obviously not as good as the Sapphire Reserve.
The card also offer a few benefits that can be useful to United loyalists who don’t have elite status, which comes with similar perks.
When you use the card to pay for your tickets, you — and up to four traveling companions on your reservation — can each check a bag for free. Since this would normally cost $25 each way, those savings can add up quickly.
For those who don’t have checked bags, the card offers priority boarding for everyone on your reservation — you’ll get this benefit even if you pay for the tickets with another card. By boarding earlier, you can make sure to snag overhead space for your carry-on. Plus, that gets you around the carry-on bag restriction if you’re flying on a basic economy ticket.
A unique benefit to the United card— each year, you’ll get two complimentary passes to United Club lounges each year. If you get to the airport early or end up dealing with a delay, you can head to the lounge and enjoy free snacks, drinks, Wi-Fi, and comfortable seating.
Keep in mind that the card has offered higher sign-up bonuses in the past during either promotions, or targeted to individual customers.