Best United Credit Cards | the ascent

How to Choose the Best United Credit Card

There are many United credit cards. So how do you choose the best? It’s about identifying the perks you enjoy and the ones you can live without. Here are some basic questions to ask yourself to determine what you want your United card to offer.

Are you a business owner?

You can find personal and business credit card options from United. If you own a business and travel for work, a small business card might be a good choice. If you don’t own a business or travel purely for pleasure, you might want to stick with consumer cards.

Related: Best business credit cards for travel

How often do you or would you use United Club lounges?

The main factor that distinguishes the most expensive United cards is United Club membership. The United Club℠ Infinite card and the United Club℠ Business card both offer free United Club membership. This gives you and up to two guests unlimited access to United Club airport lounges when flying with United or eligible partners.

If you fly with United (or Star Alliance airlines) several times a year, membership might be worth it. Day passes cost upwards of $50 apiece, so eight to 10 visits a year could pay off your card’s annual fee. If you travel regularly with a spouse or partner, this could be achieved in just four or five flights.

If you’re not sure about paying a premium for a full United Club membership, you still have options. All United credit cards, except the United Gateway℠ Card with no annual fee, offer two United Club Day Cards each year. This perk could easily cover the annual fee for the United℠ Explorer Card, which would take full advantage of the other perks.

Do you regularly check in your baggage?

Whether you check your bags – and how much you tend to check – is an important part of choosing a United credit card. For example, if you never check baggage, you might not get as much value from mid-tier cards like the United℠ Explorer Card. If you’re still checking multiple bags, the United Quest℠ card, which lets you check two bags for free, may be worth the extra cost.

Can you afford (and benefit from) an annual membership fee?

You need to decide if you’ll get enough value from your United card to offset the annual fee. You too need to make sure you can afford these fees in the first place. You might be considering the big perks of the pricey United Club℠ Infinite Card, but is that annual fee really within your budget? Annual fees, unless waived in the first year, tend to be due soon after you open your account.

What kind of shopping rewards do you want?

All United credit cards earn United miles on purchases. But the number of miles they earn and the types of purchases vary from card to card. The United Club℠ Infinite card, for example, offers a huge rate on qualifying purchases with United. The basic United Gateway℠ card pays a fraction of that rate.

Each card also has its own bonus categories, like meals or gas, which may or may not suit your spending habits. The more miles you earn, the more free flights you can score, so choose wisely here.

Learn more: How do credit card miles work?

Benefits of the United Credit Card

While many rewards cards are all about points and cash back, United credit cards are all about benefits. Depending on your card, you can get everything from lounge access to free checked baggage. How you use these benefits will impact the value you get from your United Card.

Earn United miles on your purchases

One benefit you’ll get with every United credit card is the ability to earn United miles on your card purchases. You will also earn bonus miles on certain categories of purchases. Then you can turn your United miles into free United flights.

Learn more: How to travel for free with credit card points

In addition to shopping rewards, United credit cards typically come with sign-up bonuses for new cardholders. Often the sign-up bonus alone can earn enough miles for a flight or two. That could pay the annual fee of the most expensive United credit cards for the first year — or more, depending on how you redeem.

United Club lounge access

Almost all United credit cards have some level of United Club lounge access. Premium consumer and business cards come with full United Club membership. Other cards, minus the United Gateway℠ card, offer two single-use passes each year. Airport lounges can make the time before your flight infinitely more comfortable. They also offer good value for money with free food and drink.

Related: Best credit cards with airport lounge access

Free checked baggage

This is a traditional benefit of airline credit cards, and can be invaluable for frequent flyers. If you have the United℠ Explorer Card or the United℠ Business Card, you — and a companion on the same reservation — get your first checked bag free on United domestic flights. If you have the higher tier cards, you both get a free second checked bag.

TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit

One thing that sets many of the best travel rewards cards apart is credit to help pay for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. But you’ll actually get this benefit from almost any United credit card. This can add an additional $20 per year to your card.

Learn more: TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry

Programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry can dramatically improve some of the worst parts of the airport. TSA PreCheck can speed you through the security line. And if you’re traveling abroad, Global Entry can make your life easier when going through immigration.

Related: Best credit cards for international travel

No foreign transaction fees

Many credit cards charge additional fees when you make a purchase in a foreign currency. These foreign transaction fees can cost 3% or more of each purchase. All United credit cards have a 0% foreign transaction fee. That way, you won’t pay extra just to make purchases in the local currency when traveling abroad with your United card.