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United Airlines has a new credit card — but were it not for the United name on the front, you’d be hard-pressed to identify it as an airline card at all. That’s because the United℠ TravelBank Card resembles a cash-back card or general travel card more than a traditional airline credit card.
With a typical airline card, you earn frequent-flyer miles or points with every purchase. You then redeem those rewards for free or discounted flights. But frequent-flyer programs can be exceedingly complicated. The number of miles you’ll need for a particular flight depends on an array of factors. On top of that, the flight you want might not have any award seats available. And your preferred travel dates might be “blacked out” — that is, reserved for paying customers only.
The United℠ TravelBank Card, which launched Wednesday, does away with the whole idea of miles. Instead, you earn “TravelBank cash,” which is redeemable for travel with United on a simple dollar-for-dollar basis. How the rewards work:
- Earning: The card earns 2% back on United purchases and 1.5% back on everything else. A $500 United flight, for example, would earn $10 in TravelBank cash. A $500 purchase elsewhere would earn $7.50.
- Redeeming: When booking a flight with United, you can pay some or all of the fare with your accumulated TravelBank cash rewards. You can redeem any amount of $1 or more. Say you want to buy a ticket that costs $300. If you had at least $300 in TravelBank cash, you could use it to pay the full fare. If you had only $50 in rewards accumulated, you could apply it to the fare and reduce the cost to $250.
Other details of the United℠ TravelBank Card
The United℠ TravelBank Card has an annual fee of $0 (This offer is no longer valid on our site) and offers a sign-up bonus: Earn $150 in TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. (This offer is no longer valid on our site). Other features:
- 25% rebate on food and beverage purchases aboard United-operated flights. The rebate appears as a credit on your statement.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- Trip cancellation/interruption insurance.
- Rental car coverage.
Notably absent from the list of benefits is a free checked bag and priority boarding, which are among the most valuable benefits of standard airline credit cards. The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, for instance, offers both of those perks. But that card also charges an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95. Unlike standard airline cards, the United℠ TravelBank Card does not have an annual fee.
Chase, the issuer of United credit cards, says the new card is designed for leisure travelers. Such travelers “are looking for the simplicity of a cash-back card coupled with the ability to redeem seamlessly for travel,” according to Leslie Gillin, president of co-brand cards at Chase.
The new card’s simple rewards structure does indeed call to mind a cash-back card. But it more closely resembles no-fee general travel cards such as the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card and the Discover it® Miles. Those two cards give you 1.5 points or miles per dollar spent. The rewards can then be redeemed for any travel expense, typically at a rate of 1 cent per point or mile.
The ability to redeem rewards for travel with any airline — or any hotel, cruise line, rental car agency, etc. — makes those cards more flexible than the United℠ TravelBank Card, whose rewards are locked in to United.
Who’s it good for?
The United℠ TravelBank Card is well suited to a very specific subset of consumers: those who don’t travel much, but who fly United when they do, and who want travel rewards they don’t have to manage. Individuals looking for flexibility would be better off looking at a general travel card — or skipping travel cards completely and going with a cash-back card.