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If you are a fan of United Airlines (which recently merged with Continental), United miles are an excellent tool to save money on future flights. Each mile is worth one cent toward a future flight, so the more the better.
There are a few credit cards that offer a large upfront bonus of United miles. Let’s take a look at some cards that you can use to build up United miles quickly.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card
If you spend at least $25,000 on this card in a given year, you’ll receive 10,000 more bonus miles.
Thus, at the end of the first year, you’ll have 40,000 bonus miles if you meet all of the above requirements and, even if you don’t, you’ll have at least 25,000 bonus miles.
The 10,000 bonus miles offer is good each year, so you can get up to 10,000 bonus miles in the following years. That’s worth $100 toward a United flight, which certainly can’t hurt these days.
Each purchase from United or Continental with this card qualifies for two points per dollar spent. All others earn one point per dollar spent.
Now, let’s see how having this card in your wallet could work for you. Suppose that you spend $2,500 on United and Continental flights each year with this card and $22,500 on everything else. This is how it would play out:
|Year||Bonus Miles||Purchase Miles||Total Miles|
|After First Year||10,000||27,500||37,500|
So, in this example, if you just keep this card for one year, you’ll net $675 worth of miles. As the annual fee is waived in the first year, that is a great deal. Even if you keep it longer, you’ll still receive $375 worth of United flights – a value of $280 more than the $95 annual fee. Overall, this is a solid deal for United customers.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers 50,000 bonus points after $3,000 is spent within the first three months. With the mentioned 1 to 1 ratio, that comes out to 50,000 United miles right off the bat – a $500 value.
Each year, you’ll also receive a 7 percent dividend on your points – even if you’ve already used them.
You’ll receive two points on travel and dining with this card as well as one point per dollar spent on all other items. With the 7 percent annual dividend, this is effectively an offer of 2.14 and 1.07 points, respectively. As you can earn points with any provider of travel, this makes it a good card to keep in your wallet in case you decide to stop using United someday.
The Bottom Line
So, how do these cards match up to each other?
Below is an illustration of how each card will work for you if you spend $25,000 each year – with $2,500 of that on airfare and the rest on general purchases:
|Card||Bonus Miles (First Year)||Purchase Miles (First Year)||Total Miles (First Year)||Bonus Miles||Purchase Miles||Total Miles||Annual Fee|
|United MileagePlus Explorer||40,000||27,500||67,500||10,000||27,500||37,500||$95|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||50,000||29,250||79,250||0||29,250||29,250||$95|
If you plan to keep your card for two years or less, go with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. You’ll get nearly 12,000 more miles than with the other cards in year one and will still be slightly ahead of the others after year two.
If you plan to make your choice for the long term, go with the Continental OnePass Plus card. It will save you $10 per year over the United MileagePlus Explorer card, which is otherwise identical.
Now, you may also be able to apply for several cards. If you do so, you could rack up some major bonus points. However, Chase may not give bonuses on more than one card and will not offer a bonus at all if they notice a trend of cancelling cards after you receive the bonus.
Getting a Second Card? If your spouse or significant other spends a lot of money, you could also have him or her apply for a card to rake in some more bonus points. For example, if you both apply for the United MileagePlus card, your household will get up to 80,000 bonus points upfront and up to 20,000 per year after that.
There may also be other cards out there now or in the future that offer United miles, so see which cards and combinations work for you. Just remember to keep your credit score in mind and spend responsibly!