The Best United Credit Card Choices for Churning in 2021

Though most of us have significantly reduced the frequency of our flights over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic, rewards credit cards mean we can still continue accumulating points to use when unrestricted global travel resumes (hopefully later this year). 

Despite recent changes to its MileagePlus program, United Airlines remains one of the world’s premier carriers, and having at least one United-linked credit card can unlock significant benefits and rewards for both occasional and frequent flyers. But with half a dozen options to choose from, it may be difficult to determine which card will give you the most bang for your buck given your individual travel and spending habits. Below, we’ll take a closer look at all of the credit cards that can help you earn rewards through United to help you discover which will give you the greatest return on your investment. 

Best United Credit Card for Churning

Chase United Gateway Card

The Basics

  • Bonus: 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 3 miles per $1 spend on grocery purchases through September 30, 2021
  • Earning Rate: 2 miles per $1 on United purchases, gas stations and commuting expenses like rideshare services, train tickets, tolls and mass transit; 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • APR: 16.49% to 23.49% based on credit rating

Earning Miles and Redeeming Rewards

united credit cardWith the Chase United Gateway card, you’ll earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on United airline tickets purchased directly through United, as well as on United seat upgrades, baggage fees and in-flight food, beverages and Wi-Fi. Purchases at gas stations and on local transit and commuting expenses—including ride-sharing services and taxis—also earn 2 points per dollar. Now until Sept. 30, 2021, you can also earn 3 miles per $1 spent at grocery stores, up to a maximum of $1,500 per month. All other purchases yield 1 mile per $1 spent.

You may also have the opportunity to earn additional miles through spending with United partners on purchases like hotel stays, car rentals, online shopping and by using the MileagePlus X app to pay at participating stores and restaurants. 

MileagePlus miles never expire and can be used toward flights on United and other airline partners, hotel stays, car rentals, merchandise, dining and more. There are no restrictions or blackout dates when redeeming your miles. 

Perks and Features

When you use your United Gateway card to pay for food, beverages and Wi-Fi on United-operated flights, you’ll receive a 25 percent refund in the form of a statement credit. You’ll also have the opportunity to access uniquely-curated private experiences, such as exclusive culinary events at the world’s top restaurants, interactions with sports stars and other memorable experiences. 

Additionally, you won’t pay any foreign transaction fees on purchases made with your Gateway card, and when you use it to pay for car rentals, the card will cover theft and collision damage at no extra charge. If a trip you’ve purchased with the card is canceled due to illness or injury, you can also be reimbursed up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for passenger fares. Purchases made with the card are also covered for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim. 

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Bonus miles for grocery purchases through September 2021
  • Low spending requirement for welcome offer

Cons

  • No United Club access
  • No free checked bag or priority boarding benefits
  • Low earning rate on non-travel purchases

Review and Apply

Chase United Explorer Card

The Basics

  • Bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Earning Rate: 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, restaurants and restaurant delivery services and hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel; 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived in first year)
  • APR: 16.49% to 23.49% based on credit rating

Earning Miles and Redeeming Rewards

united credit cardYou’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on United tickets and in-flight purchases as well as 2 miles for every $1 spent on hotel stays booked directly with the hotel and 2 miles per $1 on restaurants, including delivery services like GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash. All other purchases earn 1 mile per $1. 

There are no blackout dates when it’s time to redeem your miles for flights, and the primary cardholder is also eligible to take advantage of complimentary premier upgrades on flights when available.

Perks and Features

As with the Gateway card, you’ll earn a 25 percent statement credit on food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases made on United flights. You’ll also receive a statement credit toward the application fee for either the Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) programs.

Additionally, when you use your Explorer card to make airline reservations, you and anyone else in your party will receive your first standard checked bag free, as well as priority boarding. 

When you open your account and on your account anniversary, you’ll also receive two United Club single-use passes.

Pros

  • Generous welcome offer with low spending requirement
  • Includes free first checked bag and priority boarding
  • Provides two United Club single-use passes per year

Cons

  • Most spending earns miles at a 1:1 ratio
  • Doesn’t offer temporary bonus miles on grocery purchases like the Gateway card

Review and Apply

Chase United Club Infinite Card

The Basics

  • Bonus: None
  • Earning Rate: 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, 2 miles per $1 on all other travel and dining (including delivery services) and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. 
  • Annual Fee: $525 (waived the first year)
  • APR: 16.49% to 23.49% based on credit rating

Earning Miles and Redeeming Rewards

united credit cardWith the Chase United Club Infinite Card, you’ll score 4 points per $1 on all United spending, as well as 2 miles per $1 on other travel-related purchases and dining expenditures. All other purchases earn at a rate of 1 mile per $1. 

As the primary cardholder, you’ll have access to expanded award availability when you use miles to book any United-operated flight with no restrictions or blackout dates. You can also use your miles to upgrade your reservation, book award travel on Star Alliance and other partner airlines or pay for hotel stays and car rentals. 

Perks and Features

As a United Club Infinite cardholder, you’ll enjoy full membership to United Club and participating Star Alliance locations across the globe, providing you and your eligible travel companions a clean, luxurious place to work or relax with complimentary beverages and snacks before or between flights. You’re also eligible to enroll in the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program’s exclusive President’s Circle tier, giving you a 50 percent bonus on Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Points, upgrades, exclusive offers and more.

You and all other companions on your reservation will also get not one, but two free checked bags and Premier Access services like priority check-in and security screening and boarding and baggage handling privileges.

As with the Explorer card, you’ll receive a statement credit for application fees related to enrollment in the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck programs. 

Pros

  • Earn 4x points on United spending
  • Includes complimentary United Club membership
  • Free first and second checked bag
  • Includes Premier Access travel services

Cons:

  • No mileage bonus at account opening
  • High annual fee
  • Low mileage earning rate on most purchases

Review and Apply

Chase United Business Card

The Basics

  • Bonus: 60,000 miles when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of opening the account 
  • Earning Rate: 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, restaurants and dining delivery services, gas stations, office supply stores and on local transit and commuting and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $99 (waived the first year)
  • APR: 16.49% to 23.49% based on credit rating

Earning Miles and Redeeming Rewards

united credit cardThe Chase United Business card earns 2 miles per $1 spent in a variety of categories, including United purchases, dining and restaurant delivery services, office supply stores and commuting and transit expenses. All other purchases earn the typical 1 mile per $1 spent. 

Like the consumer United cards, you can redeem miles for flights on United and Star Alliance and partner airlines as well as for hotel stays, rental cars and more. However, one unique reward included with the United Business card is the $100 United travel credit you’ll receive after making 7 or more United purchases of $100 or more in a year. 

Perks and Features

Perks included with the United Business card track with those of the United Explorer consumer card, including one free checked bag, priority boarding, two single-use passes to United Clubs, no foreign transaction fees, trip protection and purchase protection, as well as the statement credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees. 

The Chase United Business card includes cards for your employees at no additional cost, helping you earn miles faster; you can even set specific limits for each individual card. 

Pros

  • Low annual fee
  • One free checked bag
  • Generous welcome offer
  • No additional cost for employee cards

Cons

  • Modest mileage earning rate

Review and Apply

First Hawaiian Bank United World Elite Mastercard

The Basics

  • Bonus: Earn 20,000 miles after spending $1,500 within the first 6 months after opening a new account
  • Earning Rate: Earn 5 miles for each $1 spent on purchases at grocery stores, 2 miles per $1 on United ticket purchases and gas purchases and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. 
  • Annual Fee: $99 (waived the first year)
  • APR: 16.24%

Earning Miles and Redeeming Rewards

united credit cardYou don’t have to live on the island to benefit from the major miles-earning potential of the First Hawaiian Bank United World Elite Mastercard. The card delivers 5 miles for every $1 spent at grocery stores—a considerable expense for most households—as well as 2 miles per $1 on United flights and gas purchases, along with 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. With the bonus offer, you’ll also rack up an additional 20,000 miles once you spend $1,500 in the first six months of opening the account. 

Redeeming rewards through the United MileagePlus program us easy, and award tickets include complimentary premier upgrades. Cardholders also receive two complimentary single-use passes for United Clubs each year. 

Perks and Features

When you book your United flight with your First Hawaiian Bank United World Elite Mastercard, both your first and second checked bags are free. You won’t pay any foreign transaction fees on purchases made with the card, and you’ll also enjoy a low 2.99% APR on initial balance transfers for the first 8 months after you open your account. There’s no cap on how many miles you can earn, and you can redeem them on thousands of daily flights with no blackout dates. 

Pros

  • High miles-earning rate on common categories like groceries and gas
  • Generous welcome offer with extended window to meet the spending threshold 
  • First and second checked bags are free
  • Low APR on introductory balance transfers

Cons

  • Doesn’t include some of the perks and protections included with the Chase cards, such as rental car insurance or purchase protection

Review and Apply

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Basics

  • Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earning Rate: Earn 2 points per $1 spent on dining, travel and grocery store purchases and 1 point per $1 for all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $95
  • APR: 15.99% to 22.99%

Earning Points and Redeeming Rewards

united credit cardYou’ll earn two points for every $1 spent at grocery stores and restaurants and on airline tickets, hotel stays and rental car reservations. All other purchases yield 1 point per $1 spent. 

As a Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholder, you’ll earn points that can be redeemed on United flights as well as travel on British Airways, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and Iberia, among others. Points can also be used with hotel partners IHG, Marriott Bonvoy and Hyatt. 

When you redeem points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you’ll get a 25 percent bonus toward flights and other travel. 

Perks and Features

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you’ll enjoy a variety of travel-related perks, including trip cancellation insurance; auto rental collision/damage waiver, baggage delay insurance covering essentials like clothing and toiletries; and trip delay reimbursement for expenses like meals and lodging. Purchases of up to $500 are covered against damage or theft for up to 120 days, and warranties on purchases made with the card will be extended by an additional year. 

Pros

  • Points can be redeemed through United as well as other airlines and hotels
  • Low annual fee

Cons

  • Modest points-earning rate on purchases

Review and Apply

Final Thoughts on United Credit Card Choices

If you’re absolutely opposed to paying an annual fee, the United Gateway card is a reasonable choice: you’ll earn miles toward travel without any extra investment on your part, and for a limited time, you’ll earn bonus miles on grocery purchases as well. However, if you’re willing to invest a bit in annual fees, your return on investment over time will be significantly greater with the Explorer card, and you’ll receive a significantly enhanced welcome bonus to boot.

If you travel frequently and value access to United Club lounges, the Chase United Club Infinite Card may be worth the $525 annual fee, but it’s probably not the best option for infrequent flyers. The Chase United Business Card is a logical choice for small business owners, especially if you have employees to help you earn rewards miles.

If you prefer Mastercard to Visa, the First Hawaiian Bank United World Elite card rewards you with a high miles-earning rate on grocery store purchases. And if you desire versatility in reward redemption, you’ll have the greatest variety of opportunities to spend your points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. 

No matter what your travel and spending habits look like, there’s a United credit card that will allow you to maximize the travel rewards you earn on the purchases you’re already making.