Viewpoints: Which credit card should you use for United flights?

You are about to buy a flight and you have a credit card with the name of that airline emblazoned on the front. That’s the best card to use for this purchase, right? Or would you be better served if you used some other credit card?

You have options to earn extra points and miles when you pay. On the contrary, there are options to enjoy additional benefits during your flight. Some credit cards may offer a combination of both.

Let’s take a look at the best credit card to use on United flights so you can see your options.

Comparison of credit cards for United Airlines flights

In addition to using a United Airlines credit card, you can also pay with a comprehensive travel rewards card that earns transferable points on travel purchases, including your next United Airlines flight reservation. Here are some cards you can pay with and what you can get by using these cards:

card name Earning rate on United flights Value of rewards earned* Card benefits related to United Annual quota
United Club Infinity Card 4 thousand per dollar. 4.84 cents. United Club membership allows you to visit these lounges regardless of the cabin you’re flying in (but you must be on a same-day flight with United or a partner).

Premier Access provides priority check-in, security, boarding and checked baggage delivery wherever these services are available.

First and second checked bags are free for you and one travel companion (but you must pay for flights with this card to receive the benefit; the benefit is not tied to your loyalty account).

25% back on inflight purchases and United Club premium beverage purchases.

10% discount on economy seat savings award redemptions on United and United Express flights within the continental US or between the continental US and Canada.

Earn up to 4,000 Premier qualifying points for status by earning 500 PQP for every $12,000 spent on the card. This benefit is valid up to the Premier 1K status level.

$525.
united mission card 3 thousand per dollar. 3.63 cents. Up to $125 in statement credits to repay cardholder United purchases each year.

5,000 miles back to your United MileagePlus account (beginning on the cardholder’s first anniversary) when you make an award reservation with United or United Express, available up to two times each account anniversary year.

First and second checked bags are free for you and one travel companion (but you must pay for flights with this card to receive the benefit; the benefit is not tied to your loyalty account).

25% back on inflight purchases and United Club premium beverage purchases.

Earn up to 3,000 Premier qualifying points for status by earning 500 PQP for every $12,000 spent on the card. This benefit is valid up to the Premier 1K status level.

$250.
United Explorer Card 2 thousand per dollar. 2.42 cents. Two one-time United Club passes each cardholder’s year.

The first checked bag is free for you and one traveling companion (but you must pay for flights with this card to receive the benefit; the benefit is not tied to your loyalty account).

25% back on inflight purchases and United Club premium beverage purchases.

Earn up to 1,000 Premier qualifying points for status by earning 500 PQP for every $12,000 spent on the card. This benefit is valid up to the Premier 1K status level.

$0 introductory annual fee, then $95.
United gateway card 2 thousand per dollar. 2.42 cents. 25% back on inflight purchases and United Club premium beverage purchases. $0.
The American Express Platinum Card® 5 points per dollar (up to $500,000 in these purchases per calendar year). 10 cents. None, but you can choose United as your preferred airline to cover up to $200 per year in airline incidental credits for things like checked bags or preferred seat fees. $695 (see rates and charges).
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3 points per dollar (or 5 points per dollar if booked through the Chase travel portal). 6 cents (or 10 cents). None. $550.
American Express® Green Card 3 points per dollar. 6 cents None. $150 (see rates and charges).
Citi Premier® Card 3 points per dollar. 5.4 cents. None. $95.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card 2 miles per dollar (or 5 miles per dollar if booked through the Capital One Travel portal). 3.7 cents (or 9.25 cents). None. $395.

* Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

Information for the Amex Green Card has been compiled independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Which card should you use for United Airlines flights?

Generally, earning transferable points (which you can use in many ways, not just with United) is probably your best approach. And if you use a card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire’s Favorite Card — You will be able to transfer these points to United Airlines later if you wish to redeem through the MileagePlus program.

But what if you need to check in a suitcase? Do you get free checked bags in any other way, because you fly in a premium cabin or have status with United? Otherwise, paying with a United card might make sense.

The buffet at the United Club at Newark Liberty International Airport. ZACH GRIFF/THE GUY WITH THE POINTS

Consider the checked baggage benefit available on United’s own credit cards. Unlike having a Delta Air Lines credit card, where the checked baggage benefit is attached to your loyalty program number, you must pay for your United flight with your United credit card to use the free checked baggage benefit . Simply having the United Club Infinite Card or United Explorer Card in your wallet does not grant this benefit.

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There are other benefits that require paying with your United credit card. These include earning additional PQP through credit card spending, receiving 25% cash back (as a statement credit) for purchases onboard with United Airlines, and earning up to $125 in statement credits each year for purchases of United made with the Quest card.

Related: United Airlines Baggage Fees and How to Avoid Paying Them

A credit card that has annual travel credits can also help offset checked baggage fees. If you don’t need to check a bag, consider whether you’re missing out on other benefits. Have you used the $125 on your Quest card in United credits so far this year, for example? If you’re not missing out on benefits like this, look for the card that gives you the best return on your spending through miles and points.

If you choose to pay with your Amex Platinum card to earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar, you’ll earn more value (in terms of rewards) on the money you spend, but you won’t get free checked bags, even if you have a United credit card in your wallet.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Elite Status with United Cards

There are some benefits regardless of the credit card you use to pay for your flights. These include eligible visits to United Club lounges, priority boarding and early check-in benefits, getting 5,000 miles back in your account if you make an eligible mileage award redemption while you have the Quest card, and gaining access to award reservations savings with a 10% discount thanks to the Club Infinite card.

Related: United changes the way it shows savings awards online: How to tell if flights can be booked with a partner

ZACH HONIG/THE BOY WITH THE POINTS

Another benefit available to all cardholders, and also available to those with United Airlines elite status, is access to additional award space when redeeming miles for United flights. Additionally, those who have elite status with United and have a United credit card can receive complimentary Premier upgrades when using miles for award flights. That may make it worth having a United credit card, even if you also receive numerous benefits as an elite member.

Related: The Only Reason You’d Open a MileagePlus Credit Card as a United Elite

Meal service in United’s Polaris business class. ZACH HONIG/THE BOY WITH THE POINTS

Related: 4 reasons someone in your family needs a United credit card

Bottom line

TPG values ​​United miles at 1.21 cents each. Even the best earning option for United credit cards yields only 4.84 cents of value for every dollar spent on United purchases, however, more general travel rewards credit cards may earn at a higher rate. However, you must pay with your United credit card to take advantage of certain benefits, such as free checked bags and statement credits for eligible purchases.

Related: The best credit cards to pay taxes and award ticket fees

Assess whether you would be sacrificing benefits to earn more valuable rewards and how important this is to you. For most people, earning fewer points but keeping more cash in your pocket will make sense. For those who don’t need to check a bag, you can probably use whichever credit card has the best earnings on your next United purchase.

And whenever the planned Star Alliance credit card is launched, we’ll see if that changes any of these considerations.

Editor’s note: “Insights” is a series evaluating decisions about which credit card to use. If you’re faced with a dilemma about which card is best for an upcoming payment, email us at tips@thepointsguy.com.

Also in this series:

For Amex Platinum card fees and charges, click here.
For Amex Green Card rates and fees, click here.

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