This is my review of the United Airlines MileagePlus credit cards issued in the UK.
It is part of my series of articles looking at the major UK loyalty credit cards and discussing whether or not they are worth applying for. These articles will be linked to the relevant sections of the ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page. My other UK airline and hotel credit card reviews can be found here.
Key facts: No annual fee
The representative APR is 22.9% variable.
If you want to check your credit record before applying for a new card, click here to get your free Equifax credit report and score. Your first 30 days are free then it’s £14.95 per month. You can cancel at anytime.
As with all rewards cards, this is not a suitable product for you if you do not clear your balance in full every month. You should focus on a credit card with a low interest rate such as the AA Low Rate Card. This has a very attractive representative APR of 6.4% variable on purchases and balance transfers.
About the card
The United Airlines MileagePlus cards are issued by MBNA. As with other MBNA airline cards (American, Miles & More, Emirates, Etihad), this is a combined Amex and Visa package.
What is the sign-up bonus?
There is no sign-up bonus on this card at present, although it is occasionally increased to 10,000 to 12,000 miles.
Any other benefits?
What do I earn per £1 spent on the card?
You earn 1.25 miles per £1 spent on the American Express and 0.625 miles on the Visa. This is an improvement on the old ‘Amex only’ United card, which only gave 1 mile per £1.
For a free card it is a decent rate – albeit worse than the 1.5 miles per £1 offered by MBNA on its American Airlines and Miles & More cards. MBNA has a good reputation in my experience for posting points punctually.
Annoyingly, this is still the best way to collect United miles from a credit card. The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express only lets you transfer Starwood points to United at a 2:1 ratio (most airlines are 1:1) – this was presumably done to protect United’s own card. United is also not an American Express Membership Rewards partner in the UK.
Remember that the United cards have an FX fee of almost 3% for foreign currency transactions. You may want to consider getting a separate card to use abroad which charges no foreign exchange fees. I recommend the Lloyds Avios Rewards card which also earns Avios points – even on your 0% FX transactions! It comes with a 4,500 Avios sign-up bonus if I refer you. My review of the Lloyds Avios Rewards card is here.
What is a United mile worth?
This is a tricky one, especially from the perspective of someone living in the UK. Here is a PDF of their award chart with Star Alliance awards on page 3.
A one-way business class award to the Middle East is 45,000 miles. If you’re heading to the US, a one-way Saver-level award in business to New York would be 57,500 miles. However if Saver seats are not there you are looking at a crazy 150,000 miles for a one-way ticket.
Please note United’s nasty fees for changes or cancellation or indeed booking less than 21 days before departure.
In the main, because you now can’t get very far on United unless you have a very large miles balance, the main beneficiaries of this deal will be people who already have some MileagePlus miles they want to build up. Even an intra-Europe redemption on, say, Lufthansa or Swiss would run to 25,000 miles in economy (40,000 miles in business).
If you are topping off an existing United account from the credit card to reach a redemption level, you will obviously place a higher value on the miles from the credit card than someone with a zero balance.
How does this compare to a cashback credit card?
My default comparison card is the AA FuelSave Credit Card. This card is free in the first year and offers 0.5% cashback on all spending, 2%-4% cashback on fuel purchases and – in year one – free AA breakdown cover. The representative APR is 22.4% variable.
If you value a United MileagePlus mile at 1p then this card offers a better return. That said, as there are few other ways of collecting United miles from the UK apart from flying, I would not recommend it to someone with no existing United balance.
How else can you earn United miles from a credit card?
The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card offers 10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points for signing up. These convert to 5,000 United miles. It has a £75 fee, refunded pro-rata if you cancel.
If you collect United miles, I would hold off (unless you are planning major expenditure) until a temporary sign-up bonus comes back.
When you look at the on-going earnings, 1.25 miles per £1 on the Amex and 0.625 miles on the Visa is not bad, but still weaker than some other free MBNA airline cards. The weak conversion rate of Starwood Preferred Guest points to United means that the SPG Amex is not a viable alternative.
The application form for the United MileagePlus credit cards can be found here.
(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards? Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)
Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.