Chase United Business Credit Cards

Since I started this site, I've written about what has historically been one of the strongest offers for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card: 55,000 United miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months and adding an authorized user to your account. Indeed, it's the offer that I used to sign up for the card late last year. 

Getting that offer has always involved a bit of luck. The most reliable method seemed to be opening a new "private browsing" or "incognito" window, signing into MileagePlus, and then opening this page.

Over at FlyerTalk, this thread appeared back on June 9 pointing out that a similarly lucrative offer is available for the Chase United MileagePlus Business Explorer Card, for 50,000 United MileagePlus miles after spending $2,000 within 3 months of cardmembership, with the $95 annual fee waived the first year. I've verified that the technique described by econwatch in this post works. Again, I recommend beginning the process in a fresh private browsing (Firefox) or incognito (Chrome) window, since your existing browser cookies will  interfere with this offer displaying correctly:

Login to your UAL, 
Products and Services, 
Get Credit Card, 
United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card, 
shows 30K offer, $1K spend in 3mo.
Click on MileagePlus Club Business Card tab, 
click back to MP Explorer Business Card, 
shows 50K offer, $2K spend in 3mo.

I would only point out that the offer for the United MileagePlus Club Business Card is also extremely strong.  The waived annual fee for the first year of card membership means a free year of United Club access, plus 1.5 United miles per dollar spent on the card. While the earning rate isn't quite as lucrative as the 2 Ultimate Rewards points earned per dollar at gas stations with the Chase Ink cards, it is a very strong earning rate in what is arguably the most valuable traditional frequent flyer currency.

Comparing co-branded airline credit cards

Hard at work on the second edition of The Free-quent Flyer's Manifesto and re-reading Chapter 4, it occurred to me that it might be useful to give a side-by-side breakdown of the similarities and differences between the co-branded credit cards of the principal US airlines.

In the second edition I'm adding Alaska Airlines to the list of traditional airlines given detailed treatment, along with Delta, US Airways, American Airlines, and United. Why? Alaska's route map makes them far from a regional carrier; their partnerships with American and Delta make their Mileage Plan program more flexible than miles with either AAdvantage or Skymiles alone; and their co-branded Bank of America credit card has a number of lucrative features.

What kinds of co-branded credit cards exist?

For all the traditional carriers except US Airways and Alaska Airlines, there are two kinds of co-branded credit cards: an "entry-level" card that offers some combination of a free checked bag, priority boarding, annual companion tickets, and sometimes a bonus for meeting a high annual spend target; and a "club-level" card that gives lounge access, plus some combination of the above. This basic picture is made a little more complicated by the fact that Delta also splits its "entry-level" cards into a Gold and Platinum American Express: the Gold has a lower annual fee, but substantially fewer benefits. Note: do not confuse the American Express Platinum cards with American Express Delta Platinum cards. The names are similar; the products are completely different.

US Airways and Alaska Airlines both have entry-level cards, but no club cards. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the entry-level cards available from each airline:

Take note of the following differences between these cards:

  • The annual fee on all these cards is waived the first year of card membership, except for the $150 annual fee for the American Express Delta Platinum card (although signup bonuses sometimes include statement credits of up to $100).
  • All the cards offer 1 mile per dollar spent on purchases, and 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases with the airline, except the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature, which offers 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska.
  • The US Airways and Alaska Airlines companion tickets are available during your first, fee-free year, and every subsequent year. The Delta Platinum companion ticket is only earned the second year of card membership, after paying the $150 annual fee a second time.
  • The MileagePlus Explorer card offers 10,000 redeemable United miles after spending $25,000 on the card; the Delta Platinum card awards both redeemable and Medallion Qualifying Miles for high spend on the card.

Here is a comparison of the Club-level cards from United, American Airlines, and Delta:

Note that unlike the AAdvantage and United cards, the American Express Delta Reserve card does not technically give you a Sky Club membership; rather, it gives you Sky Club access, but only while you're flying on a Delta-issued or Delta-operated ticket.

Who should sign up for a co-branded credit card?

n my view, there are four reasons to sign up for a co-branded airline credit card, rather than a card that offers double or triple flexible points on airline purchases, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or American Express Premier Rewards Gold cards:

    1. High signup bonuses. These cards periodically feature very high signup bonuses, high enough to justify applying for a card even if you have never set foot on the airline before. For example, the Citi AAdvantage ard offers up to 50,000 AAdvantage miles (my lifetime American Airlines miles flown are about 11,000), American Express Delta Gold occasionally offers 70,000 Skymiles, and I signed up for the United MileagePlus Explorer card when it was offering 65,000 miles. Since the annual fees on these cards are waived the first year, these are incredible offers of $1,000 or more in value for the cost of a hard inquiry on your credit report.
    2. You're a Delta frequent flyer. The American Express Delta Platinum and Reserve cards give you the opportunity to "mileage run from home" and earn 20,000 or 30,000 Medallion Qualification Miles per year through high spend bonuses. This is a no-brainer, especially if this is the difference between Silver Medallion and Gold Medallion status, since that's when the Medallion mileage bonus rises from 25% to 100%.
    3. You only fly occasionally, or fly a secondary airline, and check bags. If you have a preferred airline, where you receive free checked bags because of your elite status, but occasionally have to fly another airline because the fares are substantially cheaper, then you may save money on checked bag fees by carrying a Delta, United, or American co-branded credit card. Here in New England, I fly Delta whenever possible (because I receive unlimited complimentary Medallion upgrades to First Class, and I prefer Delta's in-flight product, even in Economy), but sometimes United flights are so much cheaper that I can't justify paying the premium to fly Delta. In these cases, it's helpful to carry the MileagePlus Explorer card in order to check bags for free.
    4. You pay for a lounge membership. In almost all cases, you're better off receiving your lounge access by paying the annual fee for a Club-level card, and also receiving the benefits of the co-branded card, like the United Club card's high earning rate and the elite-qualifying miles generated by high spend on the AAdvantage Executive and Delta Reserve cards.

    "True" credit card earning rates

    Nothing's ever simple in the world of loyalty programs, and that's doubly true f credit card rewards.  While most cards seem to offer a straightforward earning structure of 1 point per dollar, in fact that number can be somewhat higher because of bonuses that accrue either annually or at certain high levels of spending.  If you don't take those bonuses into account, you're not correctly evaluating the earning rate of your rewards credit cards.

    Today we'll take a look at several popular rewards-earning credit cards nd compute the true earning rate on each.

    Chase Sapphire Preferred

    The Sapphire Preferred is a good example of a card with a "hidden" bonus.  Every calendar year (not cardmember year) in early January you're awarded a 7% bonus on all the Ultimate Rewards point you earned the previous calendar year.  This means that on unbonused spending, you earn a total of 1.07 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, and on bonused spending (travel and restaurants) you earn a total of 2.14 points per dollar.

    After the first year of card membership, the Sapphir Preferred has an annual fee of $95.  Valuing Ultimate Rewards points at 1 cent each (their cash redemption value; much higher value can be realized by redeeming them for travel or transferring them to airline, hotel, and rail partners), the first $9,500 you spend on the card each year only earns you enough points to pay your annual fee.  Taking into account the 7% annual bonus, however, you earn enough Ultimate Rewards points to pay the annual fee after only $8,879 in spending, a fairly low amount if you're manufacturing spend.

    United MileagePlus Explorer

    The MileagePlus Explorer card earns 1 mile per dollar on most spending.  However, if you spend $25,000 in any calendar year on the card, you earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles.  This makes the true earning rate on the card 1.4 miles per dollar, if you are able to spend exactly $25,000.  This card is essentially only worth spending any money on (after meeting the minimum spending required by the bonus you signed up for) if you intend to spend exactly $25,000, since the Sapphire Preferred has the same annual fee and allows transfers to United, while also allowing you to redeem your points for cash, travel, or transfers to other travel partners.

    Platinum Delta American Express

    Like the nited MileagePlus Explorer, the Platinum Delta card gives a bonus of 10,000 redeemable miles after spending $25,000 on the card in any calendar year.  However, along with the bonus redeemable miles, it also awards 10,000 valuable Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM), which can make a huge difference when qualifying for elite status.  Unlike the MileagePlus Explorer, the Platinum Delta card awards another 10,000 redeemable miles and 10,000 MQM at $50,000 in calendar year spending.

    Most travel hackers who carry the Platinum Delta Amex therefore attempt to spend exactly $25,000 or $50,000 on the card each calendar year.  t those levels of spending, the card earns 1.4 miles per dollar, plus 10,000 or 20,000 valuable MQM.

    Reserve Delta American Express

    The Reserve card has a similar earning structure to the Platinum card, except instead of earning 10,000 mile bonuses at $25,000 and $50,000, the card earns 15,000 bonus miles and MQM after $30,000 and $60,000 in spending.

    At those evels of spending, the Reserve card earns 1.5 miles per dollar, plus 15,000 or 30,000 MQM.

     

    American Express Premier Rewards Gold

    The Premier Rewards Gold card earns 1 flexible Membership Rewards point per dollar on ost spending.  At $30,000 in calendar year spending, the card earns an additional 15,000 Membership Rewards points.  If you are able to spend exactly $30,000 on the card, then you'll earn a total of 1.5 points per dollar.

    Bank of America Virgin Atlantic Credit Card

    The Virgin Atlantic card has a quite complicated earning structure.  On most purchases, the card earns 1.5 miles per dollar spent.  Then at $15,000 in purchases per cardmember year (not calendar year, like with the American Express cards), on the card anniversary, the card also awards 7,500 miles if you reached $15,000 in spend and another 7,500 if you reached $25,000 in spend.  However, you must renew the card for an additional year in order to receive the miles (unless you are able to cancel the card after the miles post and have the annual fee waived).  So the true earning rate of this card is 2 miles per dollar if you spend exactly $15,000 and 2.1 miles per dollar if you spend exactly $25,000 each year of card membership.  Since these miles transfer at a 1:2 ratio to Hilton HHonors points, this is like earning 4.2 HHonors points on all purchases, slightly better than the fee-free Hilton American Express card.  However, since the Virgin Atlantic card has a $90 annual fee, you would have to value the marginal 30,000 Hilton HHonors points at over .3 cents each in order to justify paying the annual fee each year and claiming the anniversary bonus.  

    he card is probably not worth getting just for the 20,000 miles signup bonus, since the annual fee is not waived the first year

    Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard

    The Arrival World MasterCard earns 2 points per dollar spent on the card, and each point can be redeemed for 1 cent towards travel purchases ade with the card.  However, the card also gives a 10% rebate on all redemptions, meaning you earn approximately 2.22 cents for each dollar spent on the card.  I say "approximately," since when you redeem points received from the 10% point rebate, you'll receive another 10% rebate on those points, ad infinitum.  Thus if you redeem 100,000 points you'll receive a 10,000 point rebate, and when you redeem those points you'll receive another 1,000 point rebate, then a 10 point rebate, then a 1 point rebate.  Add it up and  $50,000 in spending earns 111,111 points ($1111.11 towards travel redemptions), a 2.22 point per dollar earning rate, which gives it a slight earning advantage over the 2% cash rebate Fidelity Investment Rewards cards.  However, the Arrival World MasterCard has a $89 annual fee after the first year of card membership.  To pay for that annual fee with the marginal earning advantage, you'd need to spend $40,050 on the MasterCard!  In other words, after the first year only spending above $40,000 is more lucrative than the Fidelity 2% cash back cards, which is probably unrealistic unless you have high business expenses you can charge to the card, or enough spare cash to consider aggressively making Kiva loans with the card.

     

    However, the annual fee is waived the first year, so thanks to its competitive earning rate this is a good card to consider including in a credit card application cycle, as long as you're sure to cancel it before you pay the annual fee for the second year.

    A Beginner's Churn

    "Churning" is the term used in the travel hacking community for applying for several credit cards on the same day, in order to maximize one's chance of being approved for each card.  The reasoning behind this strategy is that since recent applications for credit  temporarily reduce your credit score, you can prevent each credit card company from seeing applications made to other issuers if they're made more or less simultaneously (or at least on the same day).  

    In other words, if you apply for two credit cards on the same day, one issued by Citibank and one by Bank of America, when each bank looks at your credit history, neither one will know about your application to the other, increasing your chances of being approved for both cards.

    So let's take a look at a sample churn for someone who's just beginning to get involved in the travel hacking game.  We'll start with three credit cards, which will allow us to diversify our miles and points, without committing to too large of a minimum spending requirement.  To set up our churn, we'll want to pick a total of three out of these 7 offers, with one from each bank.

    US Bank

    US Bank issues two of the most lucrative credit cards available, and you'll want to apply for one of the two on your first churn, since US Bank is notorious for being relatively strict with their credit approvals.  

    • US Bank Cash+ card can only available for in-branch, so you can only apply if you live in or are visiting a region served by US Bank.  As a reminder, this card offers 5% cash back on two categories of your choice, on up to $2000 in spending each quarter.  This card has three advantages over other 5% cash back cards: you get to choose your 5% cash back categories; you receive 5% cash back on up to $2000 in spending, instead of $1500; and you also receive unlimited 2% cash back on drug stores, grocery stores, or gas stations.
    • If you can't apply for the Cash+ in-branch, US Bank also issues the co-branded Club Carlson credit cards, which have incredible sign-up bonuses and on-going benefits right now.  If you're eligible for a small business credit card, apply for the Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa with an 85,000 point signup bonus after $2500 spending within 90 days, 40,000 point annual renewal bonus, and $60 annual fee.  If you don't have a small business, apply for the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card with the same signup bonus and renewal bonus, but with a $75 annual fee.

    The Cash+ card doesn't have a minimum spending requirement, while the Club Carlson cards require $2500 in spending within 90 days to receive the full bonus.

    Chase

    Chase has some of the best credit cards for novice and veteran churners alike.

    • The Chase Freedom card has a 10,000 point signup bonus after $500 in spending in 3 months.  You'll definitely want this card eventually, so if you're just getting your toes wet in the world of travel hacking, this is as good a time as any! The Freedom has no annual fee, and while the Ultimate Rewards points it earns aren't "flexible" Ultimate Rewards points, if you later open a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold/Plus card, you can transfer your Freedom Ultimate Rewards points into those "flexible" accounts instantly.
    • If you have recent activity in your United MileagePlus account, you might be eligible for an excellent offer of 55,000 MileagePlus miles after $1000 in spending within 3 months and after adding an authorized user, plus a $50 statement credit.
    • Finally, if you're ready to get serious about travel hacking, the Sapphire Preferred is an excellent workhouse card, allowing you to redeem your flexible Ultimate Rewards points for 1.25 cents towards travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal, or transfer them at a 1:1 rate to Chase's transfer partners.  The current offer is the standard 40,000 points after $3000 in spending within 3 months.

    American Express

    • American Express doesn't have any amazing signup bonuses at the moment, but many travel hackers love the Starwood Preferred Gold card by American Express, with a 25,000 point signup bonus after $5,000 in spending within 6 months.  These points can be redeemed directly for hotel stays with Starwood, or transferred to Starwood's airline partners.

    Citibank

    • The American AAdvantage card issued by Citibank currently has an excellent signup bonus of 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3000 within 4 months, a $150 statement credit after your first purchase on American, and two lounge passes.

    Decision Time!

    As you can see, you need to make a couple decisions right away:

    • Are you more interested in hotel stays or flights?  For hotel stays, the Club Carlson, Starwood, and Sapphire Preferred are all good offers, depending on where you're planning to travel.  If you're more interested in free flights, you'll want to look closely at the 50,000 American AAdvantage mile and 55,000 United MileagePlus offers, as well as the Sapphire Preferred offer, since those points can be transferred to a number of airlines as well.
    • How much of a minimum spending requirement are you willing to commit to?  No rewards credit card is worth signing up for if you're unable to meet the spending requirement.  On the low side, you could apply for the Freedom, Cash+, and American AAdvantage cards and need to spend only $3500 within 4 months.  If you're feeling more ambitious, you could apply for the Sapphire Preferred, Club Carlson, and either American AAdvantage or Starwood Preferred Guest cards and need to spend $8,500-$10,500 within 4 months.  That's definitely a lot of money, so you'll need a plan in advance for meeting that minimum spend requirement, using the tips and tricks in the book and here on the website!