Editorial Review

United TravelBank Credit Card: Simpler Rewards, Fewer Perks

It doesn't offer frequent flyer miles or free checked bags, but this cheaper and simpler airline card has a decent rewards rate and its own currency for earning free flights.

Gregory KarpApril 18, 2019

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Our Take

3.3

NerdWallet rating 

The Bottom Line: The card is suited to those who don’t travel much, but fly United when they do. It offers a simpler rewards program. Those who want more flexibility or are seeking traditional airline-card perks should look elsewhere.

The United℠ TravelBank Card

United℠ TravelBank Card

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

18.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Quick Facts

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable APR
Intro APR
N/A

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • High rewards rate

  • No annual fee

  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons
  • High APR

Alternate Pick: Greater flexibility

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Transfer points to United, or use elsewhere

This card earns 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. You can transfer points on a 1:1 basis to about a dozen hotel and airline programs, including United, or you can use them to book travel through Chase at 1.25 cents per point. However, you won't get any airline-specific perks. Annual fee: $95.

Read our review

Full Review

If you fly United Airlines, the United℠ TravelBank Card is a simpler type of airline credit card with an annual fee of $0 and its own rewards currency that you can use to book free flights.

But take note: You won't get free checked bags or early boarding like you do with many airline cards.

United℠ TravelBank Card: Basics and benefits

Annual fee: $0

Rewards:

  • 2% in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United.

  • 1.5% in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Sign-up bonus: $150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Foreign transaction fee: None

APR: The ongoing APR is 18.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

Where the United℠ TravelBank Card shines

Simple rewards earning

With a typical airline card, you earn frequent flyer miles or points with every purchase. You then redeem those rewards for free flights or seat upgrades. 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 award seats available. And your preferred travel dates might be “blacked out” — that is, reserved for paying customers.

The United℠ TravelBank Card eliminates the whole idea of miles. Instead, you earn “TravelBank cash,” which is redeemable for travel with United on a simple dollar-for-dollar basis.

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.

Simple rewards redemption

When booking a flight with United, you can pay some or all of the fare with your accumulated TravelBank cash rewards. Consider a ticket that costs $400. If you had at least $400 in TravelBank cash, you could use it to pay the entire fare. If you had only $50 in rewards accumulated, you could apply it to the fare and reduce the cost to $350.

No annual fee

Some 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.

Sign-up bonus

For a simple credit card with an annual fee of $0, it’s a pleasant surprise to have a sign-up bonus: $150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Perks

The United℠ TravelBank Card is light on flash compared with most travel cards, but it comes with a couple of perks:

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

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

United℠ TravelBank Card: Drawbacks

No checked bags or early boarding

At $30 per bag each way, fees for 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 out of pocket. And if you carry luggage aboard, you won’t get boosted toward the front of the boarding line, because the card lacks a priority boarding perk.

No miles

You won’t earn United MileagePlus miles with this card. That keeps things simple, but you also lose the potential to reap outsize value by scoring a great awards seat — like a business-class international fare worth thousands of dollars — for relatively little spending.

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.

Reward redemptions

Redeeming rewards is relatively simple, but you’re still locked into United Airlines, which is limiting compared with general travel credit cards, which allow you to apply rewards to a wide range of travel-related expenses.

United℠ TravelBank Card: Alternatives

If you would rather earn traditional MileagePlus frequent flyer miles and get the typical perks of an airline card — like free checked bags and priority boarding — look at 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 for the first year, then $95.

» MORE: Full review of the United℠ Explorer Card

If you mix your flying with airlines other than United, a general travel card might be a better fit.

An option with an annual fee of $0 includes 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: 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

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 issuers. You can use points to get credit for airfare, hotel stays, cruises, car rentals, campgrounds, art galleries, amusement parks, carnivals, circuses, aquariums and zoos.

Is the United℠ TravelBank Card right for you?

The United℠ TravelBank Card offers a simpler way to earn free flights on United Airlines for casual flyers committed to that airline. If you spread your flying among a number of carriers or want more flexibility, consider a general travel credit card. Die-hard United loyalists are likely to get more value from the United℠ Explorer 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.