Unlike when earning Southwest Rapid Rewards points, you won’t have an awesome perk such as the Companion Pass to consider when choosing the best card (or cards) to earn United MileagePlus miles. This means you can focus exclusively on getting the best bonuses possible as well as getting cards that have lucrative bonus categories.
If you compare your options to the best card for earning American AAdvantage miles, you’ll see that you have a distinct advantage if you want to earn United miles. Thanks to United’s partnership with Chase Ultimate Rewards as well as its co-branded cards, you can feasibly earn at least 1.5X points (or miles) on all your spend. In fact, thanks to bonus categories, you’ll often earn 2X to 5X on your spend.
If you’re looking to do some international travel, you might find that the ease of earning United miles paired with United’s award rates — and the Excursionist Perk — make it an ideal strategy for you.
With that, let’s get into it!
Best options for travel
You might be able to earn 2X United miles by booking United flights or booking hotels with the United℠ Explorer Card but the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are actually better choices.
With the Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred, you will earn 3X or 2X Ultimate Rewards points, respectively, on all travel purchases. This means flights and hotels booked through online travel agents such as Orbitz as well as taxi, Uber, and Lyft rides and train tickets. With such a broad bonus category, using one of these cards makes it easy to earn the most points possible without having to think about it.
The Sapphire Reserve might have a $450 annual fee, but the $300 travel credit you’ll receive each cardmember year easily offsets much of that cost if you travel just a little bit. Personally, it has become my go-to card both at home and abroad.
If the annual fee is still a bit much, the Sapphire Preferred and United Explorer card both come with $95 annual fees. However, the broader travel bonus category of the Sapphire Preferred gives it a slight edge.
Best options for restaurants
If you’re someone who eats at restaurants regularly, the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes out ahead thanks to the 3X earning on dining purchases. Of course, you have to decide if the effective $150 annual fee (remember the $300 travel credit) is within your budget at the time.
If not, the Chase Sapphire Preferred again edges out the United Explorer Card as they each earn 2X on dining. While the dining category is the same for both cards, the flexibility of Ultimate Rewards points gives the Sapphire Preferred the edge.
Best options for gas stations
When it comes time to fill up your car, you have a couple options to earn 2X points on these purchases and both are business cards: the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card and the United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card.
Again, the Chase Ink Cash has a slight edge because it earns Ultimate Rewards points and because it doesn’t have an annual fee. If this is a big category for you, keep in mind that the Ink Cash only earns 2X on the first $25,000 you spend on gas during a cardmember year.
Of course, you also need to hold the Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card if you want the points you earn to transfer to airline and hotel partners.
The United Explorer Business Card has a $95 annual fee but you might want to include in your wallet as it will provide a free checked bag on United when you use the card to pay for your flight. Additionally, it also provides priority boarding. The United Explorer Card also comes with these benefits as well as a $100 credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.
Best option for internet, cable and phone bills
The Chase Ink Cash is the clear winner here for most people. It earns 5X on internet, cable and phone bills up to $25,000 per cardmember year. The Ink Preferred earns 3X on these purchases but with a limit of $150,000 per cardmember year. While that higher limit is nice, I have a feeling most people won’t spend quite that much.
The United Explorer Business Card earns 2X, but it just doesn’t compare to either the Ink Cash or Ink Preferred.
Best option for office supplies
Office supplies is another chance for you to take advantage of another 5X bonus category with the Chase Ink Cash. The $25,000 limit per cardmember year is combined between office supplies and internet, cable and phone bills so you’ll have to consider that in your decision.
Again, the United Explorer Business Card earns 2X which just doesn’t quite make the cut unless you’ll exceed the $25,000 limit on earning 5X with the Ink Cash.
Best option for digital advertising
When Chase launched the Ink Preferred card, it opened up a new opportunity for businesses to earn tons of Ultimate Rewards points that could easily be transferred to United. Prior to that, with the Business Gold Rewards Card From American Express, you could select digital advertising as your 3X category (up to $100,000 per calendar year) and it was by far the best option.
Now that you can earn 3X on digital ad spend up to $150,000 per cardmember year with the Ink Preferred, it’s a whole new ballgame. In fact, a good friend of mine switched over some of his company’s ad spend for just this reason. Needless to say, I’m insanely jealous of the fact that he earns so many Ultimate Rewards points without breaking a sweat. But, I digress.
Best options for other purchases
Finally, if you are somehow making a purchase outside one of these bonus categories, you have four card options that earn 1.5X. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Chase Ink Business Unlimited℠ Card both earn 1.5X Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases.
Yep, it’s that simple. No bonus categories, just a simple 1.5X across the board. As with the Chase Ink Cash, you’ll need to hold a card that earns Ultimate Rewards points and has an annual fee if you want to transfer these points to United.
The other two options earn 1.5X United miles on all purchases except those with United — which earn 2X. These cards are the United MileagePlus® Club Card and the United MileagePlus® Club Business Card. These cards both come with a United Club Membership but an annual fee of $450. When it comes to earning 1.5X, I just don’t think these come close to the Freedom Unlimited or Ink Unlimited.
Chase application rules
Before you dive into getting any of the above cards, make sure you are familiar with the Chase 5/24 rule. Chase limits the cards you can get if you have opened 5 or more cards within the last 24 months and all of these cards are on what you might call the restricted list.
As I’ve said in other articles, this is why cards that earn valuable Ultimate Rewards points should be first on your list if you’re new to earning miles and points with credit cards.
It’s pretty clear where I stand on this. If you want to earn tons of United MileagePlus miles, the best path is really through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. I’m not saying a big welcome bonus on a co-branded United card or the benefits that come with United cards aren’t useful. They definitely can be, but the welcome bonuses with Ultimate Rewards cards paired with the bonus categories will likely earn you more.
One other plus to earning Ultimate Rewards points is that you aren’t tied to United. While you may plan on using United miles, you might find that an award with a different partner or a cash fare booked with points in the Chase travel portal is a better choice at times.
Since Ultimate Rewards transfer to United almost instantly, you can allow yourself some flexibility while still earning points for some great United awards.
What cards do you use to maximize United miles?
Non-Affiliate Product Disclaimer: The information for the United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card, United MileagePlus® Club Card, and United MileagePlus® Club Business Card has been collected independently by One Mile at a Time. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.