United Handing Out Gift Cards and Miles at the Gate to Promote Credit Card Awareness

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I’m a big fan of creative and even guerrilla marketing efforts, especially when it’s travel companies getting attention by giving away value to their customers.

Years ago when United launched its ill-fated low cost airline within an airline, Ted, he was supposed to be a guy who was your friend and he went around buying lunch for everyone in Denver restaurants.

US Airways came up with the idea that they needed to do something similar, so they had a guy named Seth buying lunch in Crystal City near National airport in Virgina. Of course “Seth” wasn’t the name of the airline like Ted was, and this made no sense.

Last year Barclays and Mastercard promoted the American Airlines card with in-airport cooking and golf demonstrations with giveaways for cardmembers.

United is doing something bigger. They added benefits to the UnitedSM Explorer Card and they want to highlight that.

They’ve added double points on restaurants and hotel stays. And they’ve just added a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit and 25% back on United inflight purchases.

But I think what’s great about this $0 the first year then $95 annual fee card is the travel benefits when flying United. You get first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your card to purchase your ticket. You get priority boarding (avoid having to gate check your carry on, and indeed on a Basic Economy fare you can still bring on a full-sized carry on bag). You’ll get 2 one-time United Club passes each year for your account anniversary as well.

Cardmembers get access to last seat availability on extra miles awards as well as extra saver award availability that general members don’t have. Elites with the card can receive complimentary domestic upgrades on award tickets.

Now I’ve always felt that there’s nothing quite like spinning the wheel for a prize, and I’ve felt that way at least for the 30 years since UHF.

Last Tuesday customers boarding United’s 11:15 a.m. Los Angeles – Houston flight had their gate taken over by MileagePlus and Chase. Luc Bondar who runs the loyalty program showed up along with Kristen Bowdoin from Chase. Everyone who showed their boarding pass for the flight got to spin a wheel for prizes.

Credit: Chase

Chase tells me that a newlywed couple on their way home from their honeymoon won a $100 and a $200 dining gift card. United upgraded them to first, which is cool for them but maybe not for others on the upgrade list.

Credit: Chase

Onboard the flight everyone received 25,000 miles. And they aren’t even tax-reportable. Interestingly they value the miles at $500 or 2 cents apiece which is less than United’s regular price they sell miles for. Of course they do sell miles for less than 2 cents each at times, which makes the value estimate reasonable, and this avoids having to do tax reporting on the prize.

There will be two other flights like this over the next several weeks, each at a different hub. Events start an hour prior to departure.

United is also promoting the card with a sweepstakes through July 15 — 9 winners receive $5,000 and 500,000 United miles.

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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  1. Note to AA: letting cardmembers bring a carry on bag with Basic Economy is the key to truly winning the race to the bottom. Forcing AA cardmember pax to check a carry on bag is punishment, not a feature.

  2. i’d get the united card(s) if they weren’t subjected to 5/24, no silly promos necessary. of course, i’d cancel after a year too…

  3. Yes, United did “add” benefits to the card. But they simultaneously SEVERELY REDUCED benefits that, to me, are much more valuable than an annual $20 credit ($100, once every 5 years) for Global Entry (MUST travel internationally to receive full GE benefit).

    All in all, the enhancements were minor compared to the losses, for my purposes.

    I do acknowledge YMMV.

  4. I was hoping and waiting for a higher reward than 40,000 miles! Should I keep waiting or is this the top for a while you think?

  5. You missed a few details. Yes, the card now gives what every other card gives 2/fer miles, but they took away 10,000 miles for spending $25,000. I assure you this change is good for their bottom line, not mine. Small print changes. Will never spend another dime on this card.

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