Rankings of the “best” credit cards is certainly a subjective thing – sign-up bonuses are easy to assign value to but the extra benefits are things that various people will have different levels of value for.
The “2017 Best Credit Card” Really Needs an Upgrade
Link: United Club Card
Yet, surprisingly, this credit card won the “best credit card” award from Global Traveler for 6 years in a row (they actually won in 2018 as well but United does not have that on their marketing material)!
However, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised since this traveler-based ranking also gives the award for the “Best Trans-Pacific Airline” to, ready for it, United Airlines! Right, United is better than Singapore, Japan Airlines (their 2018 winner), ANA, Asiana, Qantas, Korean, and just about every other airline that flies trans-pacific routes! 🙂
The “2017 Best Credit Card” Is the United Club Card (according to the Global Traveler Awards)
I only noticed this award that the United Club Card from Chase had won when I was getting some things together for this post in the first place (that it needs to be upgraded). The fact that it won such an award just made it all the better!
I used to be a big fan of the United Club card – even before it came with a sign-up bonus – for big United fans. This is because the card had some nice perks to help United flyers get to awards faster and still have elite-lite treatment at airports with lounge access along the way.
But, now we are in 2018 and this card really lacks the punch it once had. Here is what the United Club Card currently has to offer:
- 50,000 United miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
- United Club Membership (for lounge access in United Clubs and Star Alliance lounges around the world)
- Premier Access (for priority baggage handling, security, and boarding)
- 2 free checked bags for you and one companion
- Earn 1.5 miles per dollar
- No close-in booking fees on awards
- Hyatt Discoverist and Hertz President’s Circle membership
- Annual fee: $450
Why Does The United Club Card Need an Upgrade?
Earning Is Terrible
There was a time that earning 1.5 United miles per dollar was a solid return for the United flyer. But, things like award devaluations have happened over the years and Chase introduced the awesome Chase Freedom Unlimited that earns 1.5% (can be transferred to United through a CSP, CSR, or Chase Ink Preferred) with no annual fee at all!
This earning is no longer competitive or a draw to United travelers since it offers no bonus categories and the same earning can be achieved on a no-annual fee card.
No Path to Elite Status
While this card does count for a waiver on elite spending (it doesn’t earn you elite miles but lets you waive the spending requirement if you spend $25,000 on this card in a year), it doesn’t offer a path towards earning elite status.
If a traveler is holding this card year after year, they are presumably flying United Airlines (or their partners) at least 10 times in a year (to make that annual fee worth it with the benefits it gives). That means that this traveler would likely be pretty close to earning Premier Silver (or higher) if they are spending cash for those trips (depending on the trip distance). Once Premier Silver is earned, having the Priority Access that this card supplies is no longer a perk.
This means it would be nice to earn elite credit with spending on this card. Delta and American both offer this on their premium credit cards and the predecessor to the United Club card (the Continental Presidential Plus card) had it as well. In fact, the old Presidential Plus card awarded flex elite miles at the rate of 1,000 for every $5,000 spent. The beauty of those flex miles is that they never expire (I still have them from when I earned them about 10 years ago) and can be applied for the current year or the next year for elite status.
But, that is gone with this card which means one more reason not to spend on this card!
Many Shared Benefits
The other United cards, like the United Explorer card, come with some of the same benefits that this one does:
- Increased United award availability
- Premier upgrades on award tickets
- Miles don’t expire
- Free checked bag (the Club card offers 2 free bags, the other cards have 1 free bag)
Plus, those other United cards only charge $95 per year (and come with 2 lounge passes per year!).
I don’t want United to take away benefits from other cards but it is telling that unique benefits for United flyers are shared between this premium card and the cheaper cards.
The Good Parts of the Card
While Delta simply offers the lounge access, United gives full United Club membership with this card. That is definitely a plus. This is something that even United’s own elites do not get in domestic lounges (unless they are Gold and above and have a domestic connection with an international leg).
However, United Club passes are pretty easy to get. You get 2 each year with the United Explorer and the United MileagePlus Explorer Business. They are also fairly inexpensive to come by on eBay with amounts between $25-29 for each pass.
That means that if you are getting the United Club card for the membership alone, you will need to make sure you are either visiting foreign Star Alliance lounges a lot during the year (United Club passes are not good at them and you do get access if you are in business class) or that you are going to United Clubs more than 15 times during the year.
No Close-In Booking Fee
This is actually a very nice perk. If you are a general member, you will be stuck paying $75 for booking awards from your account less than 21 days before departure. With the United Club card, that fee is waived.
Since some of the best business and first class awards only become available within 2 weeks of departure, it is nice to have that fee waived. However, the fee scales down based on the elite status you have. If you are a Premier Silver, it is $50 and only $25 for Premier Gold. For Platinum and 1K, it is waived completely.
That means this perk is marginally less valuable if you have elite status which goes towards the whole argument that if you already have United Gold or above, this card may not be that great of a deal for you (you don’t need priority access, extra free bags, increased award availability already comes with your status, you have lounge access on international itineraries). The only reason to get this card if you are a Gold member or above is to have the lounge access. Everything else is pretty much redundant.
What Upgrades Should Be Made?
I think this card needs to be more relevant for United elite members. It should offer a path to elite status or elite credits, based on spending. At present, there is really almost no reason to put any spending on this card. Here are some suggestions for making the United Club card relevant in 2018 and beyond:
- Offer a perk like a limited number of waived award redeposits (it costs as much as $125 per ticket now)
- Have bonus spending categories
- Offer elite miles with spending amounts – like both American and Delta have
This isn’t 2010 anymore – there are a lot more premium credit cards in the market. The United Club card is woefully behind in offering meaningful benefits – beyond lounge membership – to the cardholders. They have stripped away a great offering that was on the Presidential Plus card (flex EQMs) and they have not really replaced it with anything that would be a reason to hold the card year after year.
I still cannot believe that people voted the United Club card as the best credit card for so many years in a row! This card is definitely in need of a benefits makeover and I think there are at least 10 credit cards/charge cards out there that have more going for them than the United Club card does.
What do you think of the United Club card? Is it due for an upgrade?
Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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