Is the United card worth keeping?

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Every couple of weeks, I get an email like this one inviting me to earn up to 65K United Miles for signing up for the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card:

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In reality, I see this as a 55K signup offer.  You get 50K after spending $1000 and another 5K for adding an authorized user.  The final 10K requires $25K in spend per year.  That’s not really part of the signup offer – it’s really just the card’s standard big spend bonus.  Still, 55K United miles is a great offer.  If you haven’t received this offer (but want to), I recommend signing up for United’s MileagePlus loyalty program.  Then, follow this advice by dabearz73 on Flyertalk:

Found a way to trick United to get the 60K bonus rather than 40K


First login to your United Mileage Plus account on united.com.
Most see an offer for 40K for signing up to the Mileage Plus Explorer card. Rather than clicking on that link, click on the link below.
https://www.theexplorercard.com/MPEl…NS9_XXD_110719
As long as you are logged in and have not previously clicked on the 40K link, the 60K offer will pop up in a new window. If you click on the 40K link you need to log out and log back in.

Even though dabearz73 describes the offer as a 60K bonus (which was the offer at the time), the trick above works for the 55K/65K offer.

There’s no question that this is a great sign-up offer, but is this card worth keeping after the first year?  Let’s compare its perks to a few other popular airline cards:

Card

Annual Fee

Free Checked Bag(s)

Priority Boarding

Other Major Annual Perks

United MileagePlus Explorer $95 Yes Yes Two United Club passes per year, Primary car rental insurance
US Airways Dividend Miles $89 No Yes First class check-in; $99 companion ticket good for up to two guests; 10,000 bonus miles per year; 5000 mile discount on award redemptions.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Amex

(Update: This offer has temporarily expired.)

$95 Yes Yes $99 companion pass
AAdvantage Select Visa or Amex $95 Yes Yes 10% rebate on awards

Which ones are keepers?

  • US Airways Dividend Miles: If you value Star Alliance miles, then this one is a no-brainer.  For only $89 per year, you get 10,000 bonus miles.  That’s like paying less than a penny per mile even if you do not use any of the card’s other perks.  To me, the award discount and $99 companion ticket are just icing on the cake.  I’d recommend to everyone interested in collecting miles that they get this card for the sign-up bonus and then keep it for the annual bonus regardless of whether the other perks get used.
  • Gold Delta SkyMiles: For anyone certain to use the companion pass each year, this card can easily pay for itself (although I would then recommend you move up to the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card).  This is also a good card for people who fly Delta regularly, but not enough to earn elite status (since elite status also results in free checked bags and priority boarding). (Update: This offer has temporarily expired.)
  • AAdvantage Select Visa or Amex: If you fly American Airlines regularly, but not enough to earn elite status, then this card should be a keeper.  Otherwise, I’d only recommend keeping this card if you plan to redeem AA miles.  If so, the 10% rebate can easily be worth the $95 annual fee.
  • United MileagePlus: I see this card as a keeper only if you fly United regularly, but not enough to earn elite status.  Otherwise, it seems unlikely that the benefits of the free checked bags, 2 club passes, and primary car rental insurance will get used often enough to justify the $95 annual fee.

Summary

In general, if you fly a particular airline often, but not enough to earn elite status, then it makes sense to carry that airline’s branded credit card for priority boarding, fee checked bags, etc.  Ironically, the one card that doesn’t offer free checked bags (the US Airways card) is the only one I’d recommend for everyone since its annual 10K mile bonus is alone worth the annual fee.

Recently I was asked what I thought about the United MileagePlus card.  My response was that it’s a good card, but not as good as the competition.  Since I don’t fly United often, I don’t see much reason for me to keep the card after the first year.  I much prefer the annual perks of the US Airways card.  And I think that Delta’s companion pass, and AAdvantage Select’s 10% award rebate are both good reasons to consider keeping those cards.

What about you?  Do you think the United card is a keeper?

 

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