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While travel isn’t a priority for most people right now, eventually airlines will be flying broadly again, and we’ll likely see some great offers to get travelers back onto planes. When that happens, it’ll be helpful to have a stash of frequent flyer miles, and for those looking to quickly boost their balances, United Airlines currently has two credit card offers worth considering.
Right now, the personal United Explorer Card is offering a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months after you open the account. There’s no annual fee on this card for the first year, then a $95 annual fee starting the second year you have it.
Or, if you expect to be a heavy United traveler when the world gets back on the road, the premium United Club Infinite Card currently comes with a whopping 100,000-mile sign-up bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first three months after you open the account. 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 perks.
Both the United Explorer Card and the United Club Infinite Card earn United MileagePlus miles, which are easily redeemed on United as well as for flights on the airline’s 20+ Star Alliance partners. While United now 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.
With domestic United award tickets starting as low as 5,000 miles one-way, even just 60,000 bonus points 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 once the current crisis has passed.
You’ll also 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. On the United Club Infinite Card, you’ll earn the same 2 miles per dollar on restaurants and eligible delivery services, but in addition, you’ll get 2 miles per dollar on all travel (not just hotels) and 4 miles per dollar on United purchases. Both cards also earn 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 on dining and all travel — not just United flights or hotels — and you can transfer Chase points to United miles at a 1-to-1 ratio, as well as to 12 other airline and hotel partners. (An exception is the 4 miles per dollar you’ll earn on United flights with the United Club Infinite Card, which beats the earning rates for airline tickets on most other credit cards.)
However, with both the United Explorer Card and the United Club Infinite Card, you’ll also get a number of perks when you’re flying United that you can’t get with any other credit card. The United Explorer 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 (which would cost you $59 each otherwise), 25% back on United inflight purchases, and priority boarding on United-operated flights.
And the United Club Infinite Card has even more United-specific benefits. Not only does the 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 inflight purchases.
Also, with either card, you can normally earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) toward United elite status (up to Platinum level) for every $12,000 spent on either card, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQPs per calendar year. But this earning rate is currently doubled from May 1 through the end of 2020, and the PQP limits are also doubled for the United Explorer Card (and quadrupled for the United Club Infinite Card).
So depending on which card you get, you’ll be able to bank between 2,000 and 4,000 PQPs this year purely via credit card spending if you time it right. 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.
Both cards also have no foreign transaction fees, so it’s safe to use them overseas once international travel resumes. Those hoping to sign up for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck will also appreciate the up to $100 fee reimbursement on both the United Explorer Card and the United Club Infinite Card, as well as the lack of foreign transaction fees on either card when traveling abroad down the line.
And as a final added extra, if you have either of these personal United cards and also the United Business Card, you’ll earn 5,000 bonus miles each year on your United Business Card anniversary .
You should always 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.
Getting an airline credit card right now is definitely an investment in the future, since you likely won’t be able to use most of its benefits at the moment. But both of these offers end on September 30, so it could be a good move to pick up one of these two cards now to earn the sign-up bonus, especially since you can use the miles down the road not just for United flights, but for flights on any of United’s airline partners as well.
So if you want to lock down 60,000 bonus miles on the United Explorer Card or a massive 100,000 bonus miles on the United Club Infinite Card, take a look at these limited-time offers now and consider if they make sense for you.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.