Is the United Club Card Worth the Annual Fee?

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United MileagePlus® Club Card

$450 annual fee cards are a decision and it’s important to do the math on how much value the benefits will get you before taking the plunge.

  • Earn 1.5 miles per dollar on all spending and 2 miles per dollar on United spend. This is a great card for unbonused spend, although if you pair a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card with a Freedom Unlimited you earn 1.5 transferrable Chase points per dollar on unbonused spend.

    And of course the The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express earns 2 points per dollar on all spend for your first $50,000 in purchases per year (1 point thereafter).

    Even though it’s a no annual fee card, the points still transfer to miles (it’s a full, real Membership Rewards-earning card). At two points per dollar on all spend this the best most rewarding card for otherwise-unbonused spend.

    So if you follow either of these strategies, 1.5x from the card doesn’t get you anything.

  • United Club membership. Everyone below United’s 1K status saves money compared to buying a membership from United. United 1Ks face the same price for membership. If you value United Club membership this card saves you money.

    And of course United Club members comes with access to Star Alliance business class lounges as well when flying a Star Alliance carrier same day. (Star Alliance Gold members get this, but if you don’t have United Gold this is an incremental benefit, many of these lounges are far nicer.)


    Star Alliance Business Class Lounge Outdoor Deck, LAX

  • 50,000 bonus miles. Chase is offering 50,000 bonus miles after $3,000 spend within 3 months. Now is the only time I’ve seen a mileage signup bonus publicly offered for this card in the past 5 years. I value 50,000 United miles at $750.

  • Hertz Presidents Club and Hyatt Discoverist status. Worth something, more than a hole in the head as they say. And Hyatt status gets you MGM Pearl status too.

  • United benefits and fee waivers. Elites get upgrades on domestic award tickets. The card waives close-in booking fees for award tickets which can be $75 a pop. You get first and second checked bag free for you and a travel companion on the same reservation when using your card to purchase your United ticket. Multiply that out and a couple of roundtrips pay for the card. More and you’re in the money.

  • Primary car rental collision damage waiver. Adult bumper cars! Not really, but if you ding your bumper car and you’re paying with this card your insurance company may not even need to know. And you save paying the rental company for collision damage waiver, but of course that’s something Chase Sapphire Preferred offers as well — so before you value it you need to determine if the benefit is something you don’t already get.

Ultimately it comes down to — if you want the United Club membership the card is a no brainer. If you don’t value club membership, get out your pencil and figure out whether things like second checked bag fees waived saves you more than the cost of the card.

The card is generally subject to Chase’s 5/24 limits, so get this card if you haven’t signed up for 5 or more new credit card accounts (excluding business cards from some issuers like American Express and Citibank) in the last 24 months.

United MileagePlus® Club Card

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Comments

  1. personally i value the ability to use the card (or the cheaper explorer card) to get the PQD waiver, so my math to justify the lounge part is a bit easier (450 – 95 = 355). The 1.5x is on all spend definitely helps ease the pain.

  2. ps : lounge *membership* is far more useful than just lounge *access* since I’ve definitely used that benefit a few times when flying other airlines

    once I was flying a 1-stop itinerary on AA connecting at DFW and still went to use the UA lounge during my 3 hour layover.

  3. @henry LAX;
    You can no longer do that. You enter lounge only if you fly united or other star alliance that same day.
    And to the other poster if you add somebody to the card they do not get lounge access unless traveling with the primary.

  4. @Rami : you’re slightly off there. the new policy is that you’re only required to have a same day boarding pass (on any airline) to use the lounge. there’s no requirement what that airline might be.

    what you’re describing is the lounge access benefit for star alliance gold traveling international long-haul.

  5. So if you’re earning points on United, and spending them well you have no status. This card gets you premier access and 2 free bags for you and a passenger. That benefit alone is worth 450 to me. I fly 6-8 times a year and 3-4 times with my family.

    Throw in lounge access and 1.5x and it’s been my daily go to card for 3 years.

  6. I manage to use it a lot on domestic travel, probably over 20 times a year, so I value it if only for newspapers and a beer or soda. When it is really handy is whenever there is an IRROPs. I am currently Star Gold, but haven’t always been, and like the poster above, I’ve used it plenty of times when traveling on other airlines. The PQD waiver has benefited me in the past, too, but currently I seem to be hitting the minimums. For the last few years, I have pretty much had all-around access – after taking advantage of sign-up offers, I now have the UA club card, the AA executive club card, and the Amex Plat (which gives Delta club access when traveling on Delta, as well as Priority Pass and their own Centurions). It’s been a bit of an experiment to see what I would use the most, and I’ve found I use the AA club the least, so I might drop that card. But I will keep the UA card for now.

    However, I charge most flights to Amex to get 5x points.

  7. I fly Star Alliance only twice a year to Tokyo with my family so I never get United status or care about PQD, but every airport I frequent has a United lounge without good PP lounges so the cost per visit pretty reasonable, despite having a Sapphire Reserve for my travel spending and a Freedom Ultimate for the 1.5x mileage transfer.

    Club Acela access is pretty cool, too.

    @Rami: I usually enter United lounges with AA or Spirit tickets and the agents usually joke about it (“shame on you!”) but I’ve never been denied. You do need a SA ticket to enter non-United SA lounges, though. (Like entering an Air Canada lounge with an ANA ticket)

  8. I used to have the Club card until I was exposed to the Delta Club. I quickly closed my United Club Visa and signed up for the Delta Club Amex card. Being that I no longer am tied to one airline over another, this was an easy choice. If you are into having a club to visit when you travel, you may want to compare lounges.

  9. I don’t use the lounges. But by using this card I get an extra 2 or 3 international tickets a year. Certainly worth more than $450. I have large spend due to my business.

    I will look into Chase Saphire Preferred and Freedom Unlimited but I’ve always found the points system not as valuable as United miles for tickets to Europe – for me 60,000 miles is worth about $1800 given we are typically flying to Vienna.

    If anyone thinks I’d be better off with a different card, for someone who only cares about that extra half mile per dollar, please advise.

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