Which United Credit Card Should You Get?

The higher the annual fee, the more you'll get. Consider how often you fly and how much you'll use the perks.

Erin HurdApr 15, 2021
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If you're thinking about a United Airlines credit card, the options can be dizzying. United offers four branded credit cards from Chase: a basic card with no annual fee, a premium card with a high-end price tag and two in-between cards with varying in-between fees. All four cards earn MileagePlus miles on spending, which you can redeem for free flights, seat upgrades, lounge passes and more.

Here’s a rundown of United's credit card options to help you make a decision.

The basics

United Gateway℠ Card

United℠ Explorer Card

New United Quest℠ Card

United Club℠ Infinite Card

Card information:

Annual fee:

$0

$0 intro for the first year, then $95

$250

$525

Bonus offer:

Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months

Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months.

Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Free checked bags:

None

First checked bag free for you and one companion on your reservation.

First and second checked bags free for you and one companion on your reservation.

  • First and second checked bags free for you and one companion on your reservation.

Rewards on spending:

2 miles per $1

2 miles per $1

3 miles per $1

4 miles per $1

Other spending rewards:

  • 2 miles per $1 at gas stations.

  • 2 miles per $1 on local transit and commuting.

  • 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

  • 2 miles per $1 at restaurants.

  • 2 miles per $1 on hotels (when booked directly with the hotel).

  • 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

  • 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel (including other airlines, hotels, car rentals and more).

  • 2 miles per $1 on dining (including takeout and delivery).

  • 2 miles per $1 on select streaming services.

  • 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

  • 2 miles per $1 on all other travel.

  • 2 miles per $1 on dining.

  • 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

Airport lounge access:

None

2 United Club one-time passes each year.

None

Annual membership to all United Club locations, plus select Star Alliance lounges.

Credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry:

None

Up to $100 every four years.

Up to $100 every four years.

  • Up to $100 every four years.

Key points of difference

Annual fee

Don't count a card out just because it has an annual fee — even a high one. The more you pay, the more you'll usually get in terms of the miles you earn and the perks you'll enjoy.

For example, regular travelers can save enough on checked bag fees to more than make up for the annual fee on the United℠ Explorer Card. (More on this below.) If you’re a heavy traveler who eats several meals a month at the airport, you could eat for free in the airport lounges that the United Club℠ Infinite Card gives you access to and come out on top despite the high annual fee.

The New United Quest℠ Card offers more United-specific perks that can effectively reduce the $250 annual fee. When you use the card to make eligible United charges, you'll get up to $125 back in statement credits each year. Plus, when you redeem United miles, you’ll get 5,000 miles back on eligible United flights — up to two times every anniversary year.

NerdWallet values United miles at 1 cent each. That means those 5,000 miles you could get as a rebate for holding the card are worth roughly $50, with the potential to earn back about $100 in United travel.

That said, you’ll have to weigh how much you’ll use the extras to see if it makes sense for you.

Rewards

The United Club℠ Infinite Card earns 4 miles per dollar spent on United purchases, which is twice as much as you get with the United℠ Explorer Card or the United Gateway℠ Card. If you spent $5,000 in a year on United airfare, you would earn 20,000 miles with the United Club℠ Infinite Card, compared with 10,000 miles on the other cards.

None of the cards offer standout earnings in other categories — 2 miles per dollar is the best you'll do.

If you spend a good chunk of change eating out, the United℠ Explorer Card and the United Club℠ Infinite Card cards will earn 2X on dining. But if you drive a lot, the 2X on gas from the United Gateway℠ Card can help fill up your MileagePlus account. And only the New United Quest℠ Card offers 2X on streaming services.

Checked bags

Bag fees can add up, but three of the four United cards can save regular travelers a tidy sum. If you fly with a companion, you can save up to $140 in baggage fees on a roundtrip with the United℠ Explorer Card. Your savings from that one trip could pay the annual fee and then some.

The potential savings go even higher with the United Club℠ Infinite Card and New United Quest℠ Card. Since these cards cover the fees for the first and second checked bags for you and one travel companion, you could save up to $320 per round trip.

The United Gateway℠ Card doesn't offer free checked bags.

VIP treatment

If you like having time to settle into your seat and get dibs on the overhead compartments, this perk will appeal to you. Holders of the United℠ Explorer Card and New United Quest℠ Card (and any companions traveling with them) are eligible for priority boarding on United flights.

The United Club℠ Infinite Card kicks the red carpet treatment up a notch. Not only will cardholders get priority boarding on United flights, but they’ll also get priority check-in, security screening and baggage handling.

The United℠ Explorer CardNew United Quest℠ Card and the United Club℠ Infinite Card also give a credit of up to $100 every four years for Global Entry or TSA Precheck — services designed to make your travel experience smoother and faster at security checkpoints.

Nerdy tip: Want to build up MileagePlus miles for your small business? United offers more than just personal credit cards. Check out the United℠ Business Card for United-loyal entrepreneurs.

Airport lounge access

For regular travelers, use of United's airport lounges could be the deciding factor when choosing a card. United Club lounges are a quiet place to relax before a flight with snacks, light meals, beverages and sometimes even showers. The United Club℠ Infinite Card comes with an annual membership, and it allows you to bring one adult and dependent children under 21, or up to two guests, into any United Club location.

If you fly through an airport with a United Club lounge often, you and your traveling companions could enjoy substantial value from this premium perk. But if your home airport doesn’t have a United Club lounge, or you fly only a few times a year, it may not make sense.

Occasional travelers can get a taste of the good life with the United℠ Explorer Card, which comes with two one-time lounge passes each year.

Though the New United Quest℠ Card has a $250 annual fee, it lacks any lounge access perks at all. You could, however, use your card to pay for access to a United Club and be reimbursed up to $125 with the card's annual statement credit.

What these cards have in common

25% back on United in-flight purchases

If you hold any of the United credit cards, you’ll get a 25% rebate when purchasing an in-flight snack, drink or Wi-Fi connection. Use your United card to pay on board, and you’ll receive a statement credit for 25% of the total.

Clear discount

Travelers can save time at some airports (not to mention select arenas, stadiums and Hertz rental car locations) by using Clear, a biometric ID system. Memberships to Clear usually run $179 a year, but United credit card holders can get a discounted rate of $109 by adding their United MileagePlus number to the Clear subscription. If you already have a Clear account that was created or renewed within the past 60 days, you’ll receive a refund for the difference.

Foreign transaction fees

The United Gateway℠ Card, United℠ Explorer Card, New United Quest℠ Card and United Club℠ Infinite Card are all good traveling companions when you’re going abroad. You won’t pay foreign transaction fees on any of the cards.

Trip cancellation and interruption protection

You’ll get some trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance coverage from all four of these United credit cards, though the amounts vary by card:

  • United Gateway℠ CardNew United Quest℠ Card and United℠ Explorer Card: Eligible for up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for prepaid, nonrefundable fares.

  • United Club℠ Infinite Card: Eligible for up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for prepaid, nonrefundable fares.

The United℠ Explorer Card, New United Quest℠ Card and the United Club℠ Infinite Card also have some extra travel protections, like auto rental collision damage waivers and lost luggage reimbursement, that theUnited Gateway℠ Card doesn't offer.

Which United credit card should you choose?

If you’re only a casual United flyer, you probably won’t get enough value from the United Club℠ Infinite Card to make it worth the high fee.

If you're a loyal United flyer but don't value all the bells and whistles that come with the United Club℠ Infinite Card, the New United Quest℠ Card is a strong contender. And if you'll use the $125 United statement credit and two 5,000-mile anniversary award flight credits, the $250 annual fee can be effectively reduced to just $25.

For most people, though, the choice comes down to the United Gateway℠ Card and the United℠ Explorer Card. If you check bags on your United flights a couple times a year, your baggage savings will likely outweigh the annual fee. And the United℠ Explorer Card gives a better sign-up bonus to help your MileagePlus balance take flight.

If you don’t check bags, aren’t excited about the two United Club passes and just want a no-cost way to earn miles, the United Gateway℠ Card could be a better choice.

It's also worth considering whether a more flexible travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card works better for your travel style. When you earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can transfer them to United or use them for hotel stays, rental cars, vacation packages and more.