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United Airlines credit cards: Bonus miles & perks

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If you’re hoping to add some United MileagePlus frequent flyer miles to your account, now’s a great time to take a look at the airline’s family of credit cards. United has just launched several new sign-up bonuses on its personal credit cards that could score you up to 100,000 bonus miles, depending on which United credit card you want.

First up is the United℠ Explorer Card, which has no annual fee for the first year, then a $95 annual fee starting the second year you have it, and new card holders can currently earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on qualifying purchases in the first three months your account is open. We’ve seen higher bonuses on this card in the past, but 60,000 miles is still a nice chunk of rewards.

Or, if you’re looking for a business credit card, the United℠ Business Card is offering 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on qualifying purchases in the first three months after opening the account. This business card has a $95 annual fee, but it’s also waived for the first year, so you can try it out and see if you like it.

For those who only fly United once in a while even when travel is at normal levels, the no-annual-fee United Gateway℠ Card currently offers new card holders 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on qualifying purchases in the first three months your account is open. That’s a solid sign-up bonus for a card that never has an annual fee, even after the first year.

But if you’re a more frequent United flyer, there’s the United Quest℠ Card, which currently comes with 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on qualifying purchases in the first three months after opening the account. The card has a $250 annual fee, but also comes with several credits and elite perks — more on that below.

Finally, if you’re a United road warrior, the luxury United Club℠ Infinite Card is offering an impressive 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on qualifying purchases in the first three months from account opening. This card sports a pricey $525 annual fee but features complimentary access to the worldwide United Club lounge network, along with a number of other high-end perks.

All five of these cards earn United MileagePlus miles, which are easily redeemed on United as well as for flights on the airline’s 20-plus Star Alliance partners. While United uses a dynamic pricing structure instead of a fixed award chart to price award tickets, the airline’s website is adept at finding partner airline inventory, which makes it easy to see route options, find seats and confirm your next award trip.

United Explorer credit card: Flight perks and rewards

With domestic United award tickets starting as low as 5,000 miles one-way, 60,000 bonus miles from the personal United Explorer Card could cover 12 tickets at the lowest rate, meaning you could take your whole family on a sorely-needed vacation in 2022.

You’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend on United with the United Explorer Card, as well as at restaurants (including eligible delivery services) and on hotel stays booked directly with the hotel. The card then earns 1 mile per dollar on everything else you buy.

However, these earning rates aren’t generally best in class. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 2 points per dollar spent on all travel (or 5 total points if purchased through Ultimate Rewards) and not just on United flights or hotels. Plus, you can convert Chase points to United miles at a 1-to-1 ratio, as well as to 13 other airline and hotel transfer partners.

But with the United Explorer Card, you’ll also get a number of perks when you’re flying United that you can’t get with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The card features a free checked bag for you (and one for a companion on the same reservation), a pair of one-time United Club lounge passes each year (that would cost you $59 each otherwise), 25% back on United in-flight purchases and priority boarding on United-operated flights.

Also, you can earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) toward United elite status (up to Platinum level) for every $12,000 spent on the United Explorer Card, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQPs per calendar year. But remember, CNN Underscored recommends that you only make purchases you would make otherwise with cash, checks or a debit card. Don’t find yourself in debt paying credit card interest from trying to chase airline elite status.

The United Explorer Card also has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s safe to use it overseas as international travel resumes. And those hoping to sign up for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck will also appreciate the up to $100 fee reimbursement on the card.

Learn more and apply now for the United Explorer Card.

United Business credit card: Big sign-up bonus and a small annual fee

The 75,000 bonus miles on the United Business Card is a great way to start off life with this card, but beyond the sign-up offer, the card earns 2 miles for every dollar you spend on local transit and commuting, including train tickets, taxis, mass transit, tolls and ride-share services. It also earns 2 miles per dollar on United Airlines purchases, at gas stations, restaurants and at office supply stores, and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

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Earn 2 miles per dollar when you fill up your tank and pay with the United Business Card.

In comparison, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® earns 3 points for every dollar you spend on all travel (or 10 total points on hotels and car rentals and 5 total points on air travel if purchased through Ultimate Rewards), and you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United at a 1-to-1 ratio. However, both of those cards carry extremely high annual fees. In other words, you pay more for the privilege of earning more.

With the United Business Card, you’ll also get a free checked bag when you fly United (and one for a companion on the same reservation), a pair of one-time United Club lounge passes each year (which would cost you $59 each otherwise), 25% back on United inflight purchases, and priority boarding on United-operated flights.

And for avid United flyers, there’s a single perk that essentially cancels out this credit card’s already-low $99 annual fee: After seven United flight purchases of $100 or more charged to the card, cardholders receive a $100 annual United travel credit.

Also, here’s a key element important for business owners: You can add employee cards at no additional cost and set individual spending limits on a per-card basis. This allows owners to personally accrue miles from employee spending (though be aware that savvy employees may push to use their own cards, where they earn points and miles themselves, and expense the purchases instead). The United Business Card also has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s safe to use on overseas purchases.

If you already hold a personal Chase-issued United credit card, or if you’re intrigued by one of the personal United credit card offers listed here, here’s another perk that may interest you. United will hand over 5,000 additional miles each year as a “better together” bonus when you have both the United Business Card and a personal Chase United credit card.

Learn more and apply now for the United Business Card.

If you aren’t much of a regular traveler but want to earn some airline miles, you might consider the United Gateway Card, which replaced the old United TravelBank Card. It doesn’t have all the perks of the United Explorer card, but it also doesn’t have an annual fee, so you can earn United miles without having to pay each year just to have the card.

When it comes to earning miles, the United Gateway Card does have a number of bonus categories. It earns 2 miles for every dollar you spend on United Airlines purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting. The card earns 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

The one perk that carries over from the United Explorer card to the United Gateway Card is a 25% rebate on all United in-flight purchases. Surprisingly, the card also carries no foreign transaction fees, which is somewhat unusual for a no-annual-fee card, but certainly welcome.

Learn more and apply now for the United Gateway Card.

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If you’re dreaming about how much you need a vacation, United miles could be useful to have in your pocket.

Speaking of personal credit cards, while the 80,000 bonus miles is the first thing most people will notice about the United Quest Card, it also comes with a number of perks that can be rewarding if you’re a regular United flyer.

First, every year you have the card (including the first year) you can get up to $125 in statement credits for United purchases that you charge to your card. This can even include tickets, so it’s easy to use this entire credit each year just by buying one flight that costs $125 or more. And if you can use the entire credit, you’re effectively only paying $125 annually for the card.

Then, starting with the second year you have the United Quest Card, whenever you take a United or United Express flight that you book with United miles, you’ll get 5,000 miles back in your account, up to two times each year you have the card. The award flight doesn’t even have to cost 5,000 miles to get the 5,000 miles back, so if you book United awards even twice a year, you can benefit from this perk.

You can also rack up even more United miles just by using the card. The United Quest Card earns 3 miles for every dollar you spend on United purchases; 2 miles per dollar at restaurants, on select streaming services and all other travel; and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

And when you’re traveling on a United-operated flight, you’ll be able to check both a first and second bag for free when you have the United Quest Card. This perk even extends to a companion traveling with you on the same reservation, which can mean a substantial savings.

Other perks of the United Quest Card include a fee credit of up to $100 for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership, priority boarding when flying United, 25% back on United in-flight purchases, the ability to earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) for every $12,000 you spend on purchases with the card (up to 3,000 PQPs in a calendar year) and no foreign transaction fees.

Overall, it’s a decent package for people who are relatively loyal to United but aren’t road warriors who expect to fly constantly as travel resumes.

Learn more and apply now for the United Quest Card.

If you’re a United fanatic and fly on the airline constantly, or you plan to make it your primary carrier in 2022, then you may find the benefits of the United Club Infinite Card are well worth the cost.

With the United Club Infinite Card, you’ll earn the same 2 miles per dollar on restaurants and eligible food delivery services as you do with the United Explorer card. But in addition, you’ll get 2 miles per dollar on all travel (not just hotels) and 4 miles per dollar on United purchases, along with 1 mile per dollar on everything else you buy.

Plus, not only does the United Club Infinite Card offer a complimentary United Club membership, but it also comes with not one but two free checked bags for both you and a companion on the same reservation when you’re flying United, along with Premier Access — which includes priority check-in, security screening (where available), boarding and baggage handling — and 25% back on United in-flight purchases.

United Airlines

Get complimentary access to airport lounges like the United Club at Chicago’s O’Hare with the United Club Infinite Card.

You’ll also have access to several of the same benefits as the United Explorer card, including up to a $100 fee reimbursement when applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, the ability to earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points toward United elite status (up to Platinum level) for every $12,000 spent on the card, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQPs per calendar year, and no foreign transaction fees.

And as a final added extra, if you have the United Club Infinite Card — or any of the four personal United credit cards -— and also the United Business Card, you’ll earn 5,000 bonus miles each year on your United Business Card anniversary.

Just be mindful of applying for too many credit cards in rapid succession, and consider the rules banks employ for people who quickly pick up a lot of cards. For instance, Chase — the bank that issues United credit cards — won’t approve any new credit cards for people who have already gotten five or more credit cards across all banks in the previous 24 months. This is colloquially known as Chase’s 5/24 rule.

Learn more and apply now for the United Club Infinite Card.

Even if you aren’t traveling right now, you can pick up one of these cards today, earn the sign-up bonus and use the miles down the road not just for United flights but for flights on any of United’s airline partners as well. Just keep in mind that you’ll typically need good to excellent credit to qualify for these cards.

So if you want to lock down a nice haul of United miles in preparation for a vacation for the holidays or sometime next year, take a look at these offers now and consider if they make sense for you.

Check out CNN Underscored’s guide to the best credit cards of 2021.

Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.

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