United Airlines Credit Card – What are the Best Options?
With the MBNA United credit card closing in July, a number of people have been asking what alternative options are there in the UK market to replace the United Airlines credit card? Fortunately there are still 3 strong contenders – which will enable you to earn miles – which can be transferred to United or alternatively other airline reward schemes.
Let's break this post down...
Why did the MBNA United Airlines Credit Card Close?
This was unfortunately coming for some time with the introduction of a cap on interchange fees by the European Union. What does this mean? Essentially card issuers (such as American Express) make a significant proportion of their income from the charges to retailers for accepting a credit card payment in a transaction. With the new cap at 0.3% of card spend and our estimations of benefit on an airline mileage card in the region of 1%, it’s no wonder that American Express pulled their licensed cards from the market. This meant that Barclays, TBS, Lloyds and MBNA had to stop issuing American Express branded products including the United Airlines credit cards.
3 United Airlines Credit Card UK Options
So what alternative options are there to the United Airlines credit cards? The best card from an earnings prospective would be the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (reviewed here).
As United Airlines is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, you’re able to transfer 3 Starwood points to 1.1 United miles. This means you’ll receive 1.1 miles for every £1 spend on the card and a healthy sign-up bonus of 11,000 miles. This is slightly worse than the earnings rate of the old MBNA United Airlines frequent flyer credit card which earned a rate of 1.25 miles on the Amex and 0.625 miles on the Visa.
I’d highlight here that it’s possible to turbocharge the earnings ability of your Starwood Preferred American Express. Firstly if you transfer in batches of 60,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points (equivalent to 22,000 United miles due to a 3 to 1.1 exchange ratio) you’ll earn a further 5,000 miles taking your earnings rate to 1.35 miles per £1 spent. Secondly you can receive an increased sign-up bonus from 30,000 to 33,000 points by using this link and scrolling down to the Starwood Preferred Guest card. I would however add this card comes with an annual fee of £75 pa.
So what if you’d like a free card? Well the best option would be the American Express Gold Card (review here). The card is free for the first year (at which point we’d suggest you probably cancel the card) and benefits from a sign-up bonus of 10,000 points (increased to 12,000 if you use this link) alongside an ongoing earnings rate of 1 reward point for every £1 spent.
NOW I would also highlight at this point that United Airlines is not actually a transfer member of American Express and as such you’d need to first transfer your points to Starwood Preferred Guest and then onto United. The conversion rate unfortunately isn’t quite as strong as the Starwood credit card as seen below:
- £1 spent on the American Express Gold equals 1 Amex Reward Point.
- 1 Amex Reward Point can be transferred to Star Preferred Guest at a rate of 2:3 resulting in 1.5 SPG points for every £1 spent.
- With a transfer rate of 3 to 1.1 between SPG and United, our 1.5 SPG point is worth 0.55 United miles.
The reduced earnings rate may be offset by the saving on the annual fee as well as the 12,000 reward points (using this link) sign-up bonus which would convert to 6,050 United Airline points.
The final alternative United Airlines credit card would be the American Express Platinum Card – reviewed here. Now this comes with a whopping annual fee of £575 pa but for those who either travel a significant amount or spend a lot on a credit card this may be an option. Read my review here which sets out the value of the benefits and why for some people these would outweigh the annual fee!
How do These Compare to the Old United MileagePlus Card Benefits?
We’ve now looked at three alternative United credit cards for the UK market but let’s see how the new perks compare to what you would have received with the MBNA United Airlines Explorer card. Here are a couple of key points from the old card:
- Earnings rate of 1.25 miles for the Amex and 0.625 for the Visa
- No sign-up bonus
Let’s compare this to the free American Express Gold Card. The earnings rate of the old card is significantly more although there’s no sign-up bonus. As I mentioned earlier, the Amex Gold sign-up bonus of 10,000 points (increased to 12,000 if you use this link) is good in the current market. In fact for those spending on the old United Airlines credit card you would need to have spent over £9,500 for the increased earnings rate to offset the bonus offered by the Gold card. See below:
- Old Card: £9,500 spent earning 1.25 miles equals 11,875 United points
- Gold Card: £9,500 spent earning 0.55 miles equals 5,225 miles plus 12,000 miles at 0.55 conversion equals 11,825 United points.
Did You Know? United Rewards Card Review
Whilst carrying out a little research for this United Airlines credit card review, I came across an interesting quirk. You can actually earn BA air miles when you fly with United Airlines. Why’s this important?
Well for those who fly United Airlines a significant amount and are only seeking to use a United credit card to carry on topping up their existing balance, they may be better off crediting their miles to British Airways and then benefiting from the better transfer rates between American Express Rewards and British Airways of 1 point to 1 mile. Redemption benefits can also be better with BA and it provides improved flexibility to travel throughout Europe.
To earn Avios when flying United Airlines you’ll need to credit the flight to Aer Lingus AerClub which can then be transferred directly to British Airways Executive Club. Worth considering!
Let’s Wrap Up – United Credit Card UK Review
So we’ve seen that there are still 3 options in the current market for those wanting to earn United Airline miles. The benefits of the alternative United Airlines credit cards are in some cases even better than those offered by the old MBNA United credit card.
For those who are prepared to pay for a premium card then the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express offers the best earnings rate and a reasonable sign-up bonus. You can boost the sign-up bonus by a further 3,000 points by using this link and scrolling down to the correct card.
The alternative American Express Gold Card is free for the first year and offers a reasonable earnings rate and strong sign-up bonus. Again this can be increased from 10,000 to 12,000 points if you use this link.
We’ve also learned that you can credit United Airlines miles which have been earned on flights to Aer Lingus. These can then be transferred on to British Airways. This is likely to provide UK travellers with more flexibility and improved conversion rates. Worth considering…
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