How To Earn Cash-Back On Every United Flight

Filed Under: Family, MileagePlus

One of the more obscure features of United Airlines is the Club. No, I’m not talking about the place where you can load up on snacks and drinks before your flight — that’s the United Club — but rather their almost-secret frequent buyer program where you get rewarded for flights you book, rather than those you actually fly.

Subtle, eh?

This program is an artifact of Continental where it was called the equally bland The Travel Club, and came over with the merger.

Sort of like that saggy futon you inherited when you married your spouse, the new United doesn’t seem to give a crap about the Club. I mean, they don’t promote it at all, and haven’t even updated the website once in the last five years. But they also don’t seem to want to get rid of it for fear of upsetting someone. So instead, they just don’t talk about.

I mean, we all know how it is.

Anyway, the club still exists, and it’s actually a pretty good deal. Here’s what you need to know.

Joining the Club

The Club is a membership club. It costs $25 per year to join, and then you earn a $5 travel credit for each flight you book on It’s really that simple.

Each of the $5 rebates is deposited into your TravelBank account and can be used to pay for future United flights.

To join the Club, you must first be a member of the United MileagePlus program. Other than that, the enrollment process is fairly straightforward.

Earning Club credits

Once you join the Club, every trip you book on earns a $5 rebate.

It doesn’t matter if the trip costs $100 or $1,000.  It doesn’t matter if the itinerary is for you, for your son, for your grandma, or for your brother’s first-grade teacher’s uncle who lives 8 states away.  It doesn’t matter if it is a one-way, round-trip, or multi-city itinerary. And it doesn’t even matter if it’s an revenue ticket or an award flight.

You earn $5 for each ticket booked while logged into your account and issued on 016 stock.

Redeeming Club credits

The credits that you earn by being a member of the Club show up in your Travel Bank account. I’ve generally found the credits to post quickly.

There used to be some bugs with this — like if you had multiple passengers on a single reservation, only one credit would post, for example — but for the most part, I think it works pretty well now.

You also get a kind of cool ledger of all the tickets you’ve ever booked on the United website. Here’s what mine looks like at the moment.

Once the funds are in your Travel Bank account, you can choose to apply them to any trip you book on the payment page.

You simply search for flights on just as you always do, and then when you get to the payment screen, you will have the option of applying Travel Bank funds to the purchase price. Clicking “Apply” will reduce the amount owed appropriately.

Travel bank shows up as a payment option
Travel bank shows up as a payment option

Travel Bank funds are treated the same as cash, and this is significant because it allows you to earn Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) on the full amount of the ticket, including the balance covered by Travel Bank.

It also means that if you refund the ticket, the funds go back into your Travel Bank. It is worth noting that you can no longer combine Travel Bank funds with Electronic Travel Certificates.

Is the Club a good deal?

A one-year membership in the club costs $25. And you earn $5 for each ticket you book. Simple math shows that if you book more than five tickets per year on the United website, then this is a good deal, and can add up to a substantial discount on United flights.

If you, like me, are the de facto travel agent for a slew of family and friends, and you sometimes wish that they’d at least buy you a drink as a thank you for your efforts, well, here you go. (Whether you should book your family and friends on United is outside the scope of this discussion!)

The trade-off of course is that by booking directly with United you can’t book through an online travel agency (OTA) or earn bonus rewards points by booking through a portal. Essentially United is offering you some of the commission that they would have paid the OTA. I prefer to book directly with the airline anyway, so to me, this is a no-brainer.

How to maximize your Club membership

Earning travel credits with the Club is pretty straightforward but there are still a few things you could consider.

First, only one person in your family needs to have a membership. That means that even if you and your spouse fly separately for work or whatever, you still only need one membership. You can just book their tickets while logged into your account or vice versa. The tickets will still show up in their reservations, but you’ll be able to see them too, which is handy if you help manage their travel.

Next you might consider booking trips as one-way tickets, rather than round-trips, at least when the price is the same. That way you’ll earn two $5 credits, instead of one. And remember, you earn the same $5 credit no matter the cost of the ticket — and that includes cheap basic economy tickets too.

Of course, if you think you might change or cancel the ticket, you might prefer booking as a round-trip, since you’ll end up paying the change fee twice if you booked two one-ways. Then again, I usually fly on cheap fares where the change fee is more than the value of the ticket, so I’m generally fine with this risk.

Bottom line

If you book more than few tickets a year on the United website, you should definitely join the Club. Since I manage travel for lots of family and friends, I easily earn several hundred dollars each year in credits. It’s not insanely lucrative, obviously, but if you were going to book these tickets on the United website, you might as well get the easy rewards.

Even if your family of four only flies just once pear year, you might come out ahead if you can book the tickets as one-ways, and thus earn 8 x $5 = $40. That more than recoups the $25 membership fee.

Are you a member of the Club?  How has the program worked for you?

  1. I’ve been doing this for years and never had any problems. Always pays for itself and every couple of years I can buy a one-way ticket for nothing.

  2. Been a member for years and yes I’ve always booked one-ways to get the $10 per “trip” instead of $5 – good tip!

  3. I’m kind of amazed I’ve never read about this on a blog before.

    Why does United offer this?

  4. Oh man I have been missing out! Joined now, thanks for this. Also, its like getting travel credit and miles right? Cause when you use the travelbank to fly you will be getting the miles for the ticket purchase!

  5. @Adam I think they have started noticing this – I usually see domestic RT, when booked as one-ways, now pricing $15-20 more expensive than booking as one RT ticket – thus negating the advantage of booking an extra ticket.

  6. Benji — Yup, getting Travel Bank credits is completely separate from the miles you earn from flying. That’s why I call it a “frequent buyer program”.

  7. PsiFighter37: You might see two one-ways pricing higher than a round-trip in a few markets. But by and large, I generally see round-trips costing the same as two one-ways these days. It’s the impact of the low-cost carriers on the market.

  8. Just be aware that if you regularly book UA flights on one of UA’s overseas sites (often cheaper), you can’t get Travel Bank credit for those.

  9. Jimmy — I expect the reason that they offer this is to get you to book direct. I believe the airlines still pay some commission to the Online Travel Agencies for every ticket sold. It’s nowhere near as lucrative as for hotel bookings, but still, if United was going to pay a $7 commission to Orbitz, but can pay you a $5 commission instead, it’s a good deal for them. Plus, if you book direct, they have the option to sell you all sorts of other things, like economy plus seats, upgrades, club passes, or even a credit card.

    So I expect this is a good deal for them in the end. Which is why its odd that they don’t promote it more.

  10. Can I join now and apply to flights I have already booked, but have traveled on?
    Can I join now and apply to flights I have already booked and traveled on earlier this year?

  11. Matt’s comment is similar to my experience. Just save them for a few years and you’ll have a free ticket. In my experience the $5 is credited after the travel has been completed.

  12. I’m curious to know if you can claim the $25 membership fee as an airline incidental on the Ritz Carlton credit card, CSR, Platinum Amex, etc.

  13. My only problem with using this is that I refuse to fly UA, unless there is no other option. If I ever get to the point of flying UA I’ll be sure to join!

  14. Travel Mark: I believe that you need to be a member at the time you book the ticket. Think of it has a “Frequent Buyers Club”. So the date of purchase is the date of record (though the credit doesn’t book until the flight is flown.)

  15. Question, if you make 1 reservation for 2 tickets — ie me and my spouse. That means I make $5×2 or just $5 per reservation?

    And when is the annual fee due? Is it per calendar year based on United terms or it’s due based on the date you signed up?


  16. B: Each ticket gets it’s own $5 credit. You can basically think of it as every 016 ticket number being booked while logged into your account. Does not matter in theory if they are on the same reservation (6 digit alpha-numeric code) or not. I say in theory, cause there used to be a glitch with that. But I think it’s mostly taken care of now.

    And it’s based on 1 calendar year from when you sign up. So if you sign up today, you will be a member through june 20 2019.

  17. My recent experience has been that award travel does not earn the credit.
    That has not always been the case. YMMV.

  18. I use to be a member and I think they ended my membership and gave me a certificate. It was sweet when continental was around and I used it often. Not a fan of united and its surly flight attendants.

  19. When signing up does the membership fee code as travel? Should I use my CSR or my United MileagePlus Explorer card?

  20. Noted. Got it! Thanks for the tip, it does add up, as 1 round trip is booked 2 way, for both me and my spouse, That’s already $5×4= $20, and we fly at least 4x a year domestically..

  21. Travis, on a related note, have you any insights/idea when the Gift Registry will be back up and running? The website still hows it will return in early 2018, but we are beyond that. My outreach to UAL web suppport customer service provided nothing as they had no idea when the program would be back up and running. Thanks much.

  22. My account is paid for this year and has not been credited for tickets purchased.

    This the current notice on my account:
    We’re sorry, our gift registry page is currently unavailable for maintenance. You can still use the funds from your gift registry to book travel during this time, but you will not be able to receive contributions or update your registry details. We expect the page to be up and running again in early 2018.

    Think I am short about $50 and will follow up eventually.

  23. Another great post Travis, thank you again.. .but
    My Bad!! I’m coming almost FOUR years later, and couple hundred bucks behind!…
    thanks for the refresher, I completely missed the 2014 post!

  24. Travis,

    Not sure about others’ experience, and as a member for many years, but after paying the annual fee this year, I’ve not had any money credited to my account for bookings. The program seems to be broken for anything other than taking the annual fee.

    This the current notice on my account:
    We’re sorry, our gift registry page is currently unavailable for maintenance. You can still use the funds from your gift registry to book travel during this time, but you will not be able to receive contributions or update your registry details. We expect the page to be up and running again in early 2018.

  25. Not sure if you guys saw this, but United recently discontinued this with no notice to current members. Might be worth a follow-up post! Was good for a few bucks while it lasted.

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