United Gateway Card Review: A No-Annual-Fee Ticket to Airline Miles

It earns 2 miles per $1 spent with United Airlines, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting (1 mile per $1 on all other purchases). It doesn’t offer free checked bags or early boarding, though.

Gregory KarpOctober 19, 2020

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Our Take

3.3

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: The entry-level credit card for United Airlines offers a free way to test an airline card, but given its lack of perks, devoted United flyers might soon want to upgrade.

United Gateway℠ Card

on Chase's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

16.49% - 23.49% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • No annual fee

  • No foreign transaction fee

  • Earns miles

Cons

  • No free checked bags

  • No early boarding

Compare to Other Cards

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $95

Annual Fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $525

Regular APR

16.49% - 23.49% Variable APR

Regular APR

16.49% - 23.49% Variable APR

Regular APR

16.49% - 23.49% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

Full Review

The United Gateway℠ Card, issued by Chase, is a tempting choice for occasional leisure flyers who often choose United Airlines.

Foremost, it’s an airline credit card with an annual fee of $0, which means that unlike a lot of cards in its class, it won't cost anything to carry, even if you seldom use it. It also earns the usual United MileagePlus frequent flyer miles, which can be useful.

However, it lacks valuable airline-card perks, such as free checked bags and early boarding. That’s why more devoted United flyers should instead pony up for the United℠ Explorer Card, which carries an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95.

Nerd tip: In the fall of 2020, the United Gateway℠ Card replaced the United℠ TravelBank Card, a different no-fee rewards card that earned its own rewards currency. That card is no longer available.

United Gateway℠ Card: Basics and benefits

Card type: Airline.

Annual fee: $0.

Rewards:

  • 2 miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting.

  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.

NerdWallet values United miles at 1 cent each.

Limited-time rewards: Earn 3 miles per $1 spent at grocery stores, on up to $1,500 per month through Sept. 30, 2021.

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

Foreign transaction fee: None.

Interest rate: The ongoing APR is 16.49% - 23.49% Variable APR.

Noteworthy perks:

  • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi aboard United-operated flights when you pay with your card.

  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance.

  • Rental car insurance.

  • Extended warranty protection

  • Purchase protection.

Where the United Gateway℠ Card shines

NO ANNUAL FEE

Some luxury travel credit cards have annual fees measured in hundreds of dollars, while the typical airline card often charges a fee of close to $100 per year. This card has an annual fee of $0. That gets you earning United frequent flyer miles with little downside.

SIGN-UP BONUS

For an airline credit card with an annual fee of $0, it’s a plus to have a sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Card issuers change bonuses often, but usually the bonus is enough to get you close to a free domestic flight in coach.

Limited-time grocery rewards

Unusual for a travel card, the largest earning category with the United Gateway℠ Card isn’t flights or travel, but grocery stores, at least for a limited time. Customers can earn 3 miles per dollar spent, up to $1,500 per month, at grocery stores through the end of September 2021. And that spending cap is quite generous, plenty for those who spend up to $18,000 a year at grocery stores. After that, you'll earn 1 mile per dollar spent on groceries.

However, higher rewards on groceries are dictated by where you buy them — by the merchant category code. With Chase, that means some places that sell groceries, such as warehouse clubs, drugstores and gas stations, are excluded from earning the higher rewards.

Frequent flyer miles

This card earns United MileagePlus frequent flyer miles, the same miles you earn from flying. They can be used to book award travel with United Airlines and its partners.

Whenever you earn frequent flyer miles, you have a chance to get outsize value by landing on a great deal: an award flight or seat upgrade that doesn’t cost too many miles.

Unlike regular MileagePlus members, cardholders get expanded availability to use miles to book award flights — no blackout dates, for example.

PERKS

The United Gateway℠ Card is light on flash compared with most travel cards, but it comes with minor perks:

  • In-flight discount: 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on United-operated flights when you pay with the card.

  • No foreign transaction fees: Travel cards generally don’t charge a fee for making purchases abroad. This United card doesn’t, either. A fee of 3% is common on nontravel cards. And it uses the Visa network, which is widely accepted abroad.

  • Travel-related insurances: Trip cancellation/interruption insurance and secondary rental car insurance are nice-to-haves on an airline card.

  • Purchase protection: Covers new purchases made with the card for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.

How it compares with other United cards

The United Gateway℠ Card is one of three co-branded personal United Airlines credit cards. Its siblings offer better perks, making this card a potential “gateway” to higher-end United cards:

  • The United℠ Explorer Card: Free checked bags for two travelers and early boarding are the notable upgrades here. With United checked bag fees at $35 each way, this card can quickly pay for itself. Two one-day passes annually to United Club airport lounges are also nice to have.

  • The United Club℠ Infinite Card: This card includes membership to United Club airport lounges and robust benefits. Its annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $525. That’s high, but less than it costs to buy an airport lounge membership separately.

Here’s how the United Airlines consumer cards compare on key features:

Business owners, even those with side gigs, might consider the United℠ Business Card.

United Gateway℠ Card: Drawbacks and alternatives

No checked bags or early boarding

At $35 per bag each way when you don't prepay, fees for first checked bags add up in a hurry, especially when you’re traveling with others on your itinerary. That’s why typical airline cards are so valuable. But this card has no checked-bag-fee waivers, so you’ll have to pay. And you won’t get boosted toward the front of the boarding line, because the card lacks a priority boarding perk. That could hurt you when looking for overhead bin space.

The logical solution is the United℠ Explorer Card. It offers:

  • 2 MileagePlus miles per dollar spent on purchases from United.

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on restaurant purchases and hotel stays.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.

  • First checked bag free for you and a companion on your reservation, if you use the card to purchase your ticket.

  • Two United Club one-time use passes per year.

  • Global Entry/TSA Precheck statement credit every four years.

  • 25% off in-flight purchases.

  • Sign-up bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

It has an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95.

FEWER BENEFITS

Some airline cards give you perks at the airport. They might reimburse you the application cost of Global Entry or TSA Precheck to get through security lines quicker, or get you free or discounted passes to an airport lounge.

This card offers none of those.

REDEMPTION Flexibility

For redeeming rewards, you’re locked into United Airlines and its partners. That's limiting compared with general travel credit cards, which allow you to apply rewards to a wide range of travel-related expenses.

An option for those looking to avoid an annual fee is the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card.

It offers:

  • 1.5 points per dollar spent.

  • 3 points per dollar spent on eligible travel booked through the Bank of America® Travel Center.

  • A value of 1 cent per point when redeemed for travel credit and a little over half a cent per point for cash.

  • A sign-up bonus.

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card isn't tied to an airline or hotel chain. Book travel any way you want, with no restrictions and no blackout dates, and then use points to wipe out the cost on your statement. Bank of America® also has one of the broadest definitions of "travel" of any major issuer. You can use points to get credit for airfare, hotel stays, cruises, car rentals, campgrounds, art galleries, amusement parks, carnivals, circuses, aquariums and zoos.

Another $0-fee option with similar benefits is the Discover it® Miles.

And if you want to see how this card stacks up against other travel cards, explore NerdWallet’s best credit card offers page.

Is the United Gateway℠ Card right for you?

If you’re an occasional flyer on United, the United Gateway℠ Card is a low-risk introduction to airline credit cards because of its annual fee of $0. But you might find this is, indeed, merely a gateway card to the United℠ Explorer Card with an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95. That older-sibling card probably offers more value overall for most people.

If you spread your flying among a number of carriers or want more flexibility, consider a general travel credit card.

Information related to the United℠ TravelBank Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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