Update: This card now offers 40,000 bonus miles for spending $2,000 and an additional 5,000 miles for opening a free additional user card and making 1 purchase on that card in the first 3 months.
Originally posted on 7/15:
Until 8/15, you can earn 40,000 bonus miles and a $100 statement credit for opening a Chase United Explorer card and spending $2,000 within 3 months plus you can receive an additional 5,000 miles for opening a free additional user card and making 1 purchase on that card in the first 3 months. The additional cardholder bonus bumps the 40K bonus up to 45K. The $95 annual fee is also waived for the first year with this offer.
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You can receive the bonus on this card if you haven’t received a bonus on this card in the past 24 months and don’t currently have this card.
United has added new features to their credit card:
- It now earns 2 miles per dollar on hotels and dining as well as on United purchases.
- Cardholders get Global Entry/Pre-Check for free.
- Cardholders get a 25% rebate on inflight WiFi, food, and drink purchases.
The card continues to offer benefits like:
- A free checked bag for the cardholder and a companion, even on basic economy fares.
- A free carry-on bag for the cardholder and companions, even on basic economy fares.
- Priority boarding for the cardholder and companions, even on basic economy fares.
- 2 free United Club passes every year for being a cardmember.
- Miles that will never expire as long as you are a United cardholder, even if you don’t have any activity.
- Primary rental car CDW insurance in every country.
- No foreign exchange fees.
- Exclusive cardmember access to auctions that allow you to use your miles for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. A few years ago I used 25K miles for 4 field box seats to an Indians game along with the right to run onto the field before the top of the 7th inning and swipe 2nd base right off the field. Nobody could believe it as I walked around the ballpark with 2nd base. I even got it signed after the game by the Indians wining pitcher that night, Justin Masterson, who was equally shocked that I actually had 2nd base.
- Cardholders with United elite status get free upgrades on coach award tickets on upgrade eligible routes.
- If you spend $25K/year on the card it waives the requirement to spend $3K on United flights to get Silver status, $6K on United flights to get Gold status, and $9K on United flights to get Platinum status. You only need to fly the 25K, 50K, or 75K miles like in the good old days.
The reason this card is the best airline card you can get isn’t for the spending benefits, it’s for the perks. And they are awesome.
The reason this is my favorite airline card is that the United card is the only airline card that offers expanded award ticket availability.
This increases the value of your miles significantly and in turn makes the Chase Quadfecta spending strategy even more valuable.
Cardholders have access to expanded saver coach award availability (XN class), last seat standard coach award availability (YN class), and last seat standard business/first class award availability (JN class).
It’s not just slightly expanded. There is a world of difference between the availability that cardholders can access and the availability for non-cardholders.
Availability calendar for non-cardholders:
Availability calendar for cardholders:
Let’s say you want to fly from Newark to Tel Aviv from January 27-February 7.
If you’re a cardholder and are logged in on United, you’ll pay 85K miles:
If you’re not a cardholder you’ll pay 132.5K miles:
If you have read the United Expert Mode post, you know that’s because United is willing to sell at least 9 saver award seats in XN class to cardholders (XN9), but there are no seats in X class for saver award for non-cardholders on those flights (X0):
This availability differential applies to all domestic and international routes and makes it crucial to be a United cardholders.
As you have better access to saver coach awards you’ll also have better ability to do Plan B awards. Plan B allows you to redeem for saver business and first class awards when there’s only saver coach available. Read more about Plan B in this post.
No airline besides United offers a Plan B redemption.
In general I’m a big fan of United miles as they’re part of the Star Alliance, which has the best award availability of any airline alliance.
Best of all, United never charges any fuel surcharges. Other airlines like American collect massive fuel surcharges to fly on British Airways. Delta charges fuel surcharges to fly on some partners and if you originate in Europe and other regions. United will never collect a fuel surcharge and they have access to awards on 36 partner airlines which means better availability on more awards.
A short-haul United domestic award under 700 miles in distance is just 10,000 miles. That’s more than the BA 7.5K short-haul, but availability is much better, it allows for a longer flight distance, and you are allowed to have connections for the same rate, something that BA doesn’t allow.
United is also the only major US carrier that caps the mileage rate for standard awards at a reasonable rate. For example if you want to fly nonstop from NYC to LA on this Wednesday in business class there are 5 airlines to choose from:
American charges 82.5K-97.5K miles with their variable standard award pricing:
Delta charges 142.5K-152.5K miles with their variable standard award pricing:
All JetBlue award pricing is variable and they want 81K-152.4K miles:
All Virgin America award pricing is variable as well. They charge 70K miles. Alaska is the only airline flying nonstop between NYC and LAX without lie-flat seating in business class.
With United there is a saver award for 32.5K. Those come and go, but the standard awards on United are just 50K-60K on this route. That’s significantly less than other airlines. Best of all, cardholders can book a standard award even if it’s the last coach or business seat on the plane:
While American and Delta have eliminated free stopovers, United continues to offer a free excursionist perk as described in this post. Just use the multi-city award search on United.com to piece it together.
A round-trip to 2 Hawaiian Islands is just 45,000 miles round-trip thanks to the free excursionist perk:
A round-trip ticket to 2 European or South American cities is just 60,000 miles round-trip thanks to the free excursionist perk:
A flight to 2 of my favorite cities in Asia, Hong Kong and Chiang Mai, Thailand is 80K miles thanks to the perk:
You’re even allowed a free open jaw in addition to the perk to really maximize your travel. For example this itinerary includes travel to London, Paris, and Zurich. You can take a train or use 4.5K BA Avios to get from London to Paris to fill the hole in the open jaw:
Of course the free stopover isn’t just useful from the US.
You can stopover in NYC and LA when flying from Tel Aviv to the US:
United has dozens of partner airlines which means lots of great award opportunities. It can be worth checking for award space on partner sites like ANA or Aeroplan.com to search for award availability and then call United to book if you don’t see availability on United.
Partners airlines include:
- Adria Airlines
- Aegean Airlines
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air Dolomiti
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- Asiana Airlines
- Austrian Airlines
- Avianca Airlines
- Azul Brazilian Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Cape Air
- Copa Airlines
- Croatia Airlines
- EVA Air
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Island Air
- Juneyao Airlines
- LOT Polish
- Scandinavian Airlines
- Shenzhen Airlines
- Silver Airways
- South African Airways
- Swiss International Airlines
- TAP Portugal
- Turkish Airlines
Are you a United cardholder?