Credit Cards Travel News

The United Club Card – the Devaluation Equalizer

Devaluation Equalizer
Written by Charlie

It was just 11 days ago that United announced their massive devaluation of their award program. It was targeted mainly at redemptions in premium cabins on partner airlines. You can read more about it and some of the sad details at the post I wrote when it happened.

Some of the sting was relieved from the devaluation last week when Lufthansa released an unreal amount of award seats in business and first class on their new routes of Mexico City – Munich and Toronto – Munich.

Now with both of these events in the rear view mirror, many award hunters are trying to figure and plan how to deal with booking flights after the February award chart kicks in. For travel in coach on awards, you will not see much of an increase at all in the award requirements for coach. But if you are trying to redeem for premium cabin travel, especially on partner airlines, you will find a staggering increase. This really hurts those of you out there who are earning and saving to book for some trip in the future. With this devaluation, you just saw the required miles for your trip skyrocket. What do you do now?

 Hello, Devaluation Equalizer!

Devaluation Equalizer

Application Link – Chase United Club Card – $395 Annual Fee ($100 Statement Credit) (I do not receive a commission for this card)

The United Club card has been around for a while now. As a credit card for point earners, it is not the best as it does not come with any sign-up bonus and it does come with a high annual fee ($395). So what would make anyone actually desire this card?

  • United Club Membership – unlike the American Express Delta Reserve which gives access to Delta lounges, this card gives membership to the United Club. That means you have access to United and US Airways lounges without having a Star Alliance ticket.
  • Avis First – it gives you Avis First status which is their mid-tier elite status that gives car upgrades
  • Hyatt Platinum – this is Hyatt’s mid-tier status
  • No Close-in Booking Fee – this is very valuable. When booking an award ticket within 21 days of departure, the fee is as high as $75 per ticket (for non-elite members). This card allows that fee to be waived which greatly opens up award booking flexibility
  • Premier Access – this is basically the same level of recognition as United Premier Silvers receive. You receive priority baggage handling, priority check-in and boarding, and priority security screening (where available)
  • First and Second Checked Bags – for yourself and one companion, you will receive two free checked bags (as opposed to the one that the basic United credit cardmembers receive)
  • 50% Mileage Bonus – this is a big one. It means you receive 1.5 miles on everything you buy! Here is our devaluation equalizer!

That’s right – this card will give you 1.5 miles per dollar on every purchase you make. Except for many partner first class redemptions, all of the changes to the premium cabin redemption levels are less than a 50% increase. The most significant increases are partner first class redemptions to the Middle East – an increase from 75,000 one-way to 140,000 one-way. That is an increase of 86%. So how can anything help with that?  Let’s look at some math to see how the United Club card can help you as a devaluation equalizer.

Let’s see in the chart below what it would take in manufactured spending (like Bluebird, so assuming no bonus spending categories) to earn various awards on the current chart and new chart. For our spending, we are looking at three cards that can generate United miles – the Chase Sapphire Preferred (which has the annual 7% rebate on earned points figured into the totals), the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card, and the Chase United Club card.

Devaluation Equilizer

Highlighted portions compare spending for the new chart with the United Club card vs spending for the current chart with the Chase Sapphire

As you can see, in 2 of the 3 examples here, just by switching your card of choice for United miles to the United Club card, you can actually still earn enough miles to satisfy the new award chart – while spending less than you would have with the Chase Sapphire under the current award chart.

Spending Strategy

Obviously, the United Club card would be the preferred card of choice for earning United miles for all spending except that which falls under bonus categories of other cards (ie. office supply stores – continue using Chase Ink cards, restaurants and travel – continue using Chase Sapphire). If you do mostly manufactured spending to earn your United miles, the United Club card is the one that you want to begin using to earn those miles.

Using the United Club card, you will actually find yourself spending significantly less or equal to the amount you had to spend before to earn enough miles for premium award tickets. Even at the highest increase level, you will not be spending a huge amount more to earn the required miles. This card can truly be your United devaluation equalizer!

Is it worth it?

$395 is a hefty annual feee. It will be totally up to the earning, spending, and travel habits of the individual as to whether the cost can be justified. If you fly United domestically a couple/few times a year, it can make your travel a little easier. It gives you everything notable that Premier Silver gives (with the exception of upgrades and preferred seats) without having to fly 25,000 to earn it. Also, if you like to be able to wait until the last minute for award bookings (in the case of Lufthansa first class, that is typically released 15 days before departure), this will save you up to $75 per ticket. Between that, the lounge access, baggage fee waivers, and time saved by priority airport service, the annual fee can really be earned back in no time.

Also keep in mind that the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card already has an annual fee of $95. So, in effect, you are paying $300 more for this card. I wish I had applied for it last year when we had to make an award booking for our family. We had to make it 10 days before departure and it cost me an extra $300 in close-in booking fees. That would have wiped away the effect of the annual fee!

Here is another path to getting the fee lowered: do you have a current United MileagePlus Explorer card? If so, secure message Chase through your account on their website (or call them) and tell them you are interested in upgrading your card to the United Club card but would like to know if the first year’s annual fee could be waived. I received that extended to me when I asked last year and that is commonly offered to current cardmembers. That way, you can get the first year fee free!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • Wow! That is so unique perspective. My head is moving in circles. You should have been a lawyer if you are not already. I am still not sure if I am convinced to upgrade my card but I am definitely impressed.

    • My grandma used to tell me I should be a lawyer whenever I argued with her :). I’m glad it helped you a bit!

  • Just imagine, UA would have to devalue 5x before the Ink would no longer devalue at office supply.

  • What assumptions are you making to justify Sapphire Preferred vs. Milage Plus Club in terms of milage earning through spend?

    • I’m sorry, are you saying that I am justifying the CSP over the Club card? It is actually in favor of the club card for spend. This is looking at spending that is manufactured or outside of the category bonuses of the CSP. In those cases, the Club card is clearly the winner from a mileage earning point of view given the 50% bonus on all spend.

      • Sorry, I wrote it backwards…

        I meant to say “What assumptions are you making to justify Milage Plus Club over Sapphire Preferred in terms of milage earning through spend?”

        I’m not saying you are wrong in anyway but it really depends on how much you spend in various categories which card makes more sense. Though if you are justifying having only one card with no bonus categories (which I imagine travel and food are large expense items for some people, myself included) then i suppose see the logic. Thanks for putting this forward as I may switch my Explorer card to the club card if the annual fee is waived.

  • You are ignoring the big point that this card gives you no points to sign up. 50k points from a mileage explorer is practically more than $750, which is like 10 close in tickets. I had this card for the first initial year (free) and combined it with getting UA mileage plus personal and business cards so 100k that I could redeem without spending on close in fees.

    • I’m not ignoring that – in fact, I pointed it out earlier in the post. The post is concentrating on spending as opposed to bonuses. Ideally (as mentioned near the end) one would upgrade their card from the MileagePlus Exlorer card with no fee the first year. This way they are able to accomplish both – get the bonus and upgrade for the 50% bonus on spending. Nice job getting the 100K!

  • Great idea = thanks! I have the MileagePlus Explorer card – did the “upgrade” to the Club card result in an addition hard pull?

      • I don’t think I understand the hard vs. soft pull comment. I tried to do the upgrade but Chase told me that I’d have to pay to full $395 annual fee.

        • Chris, a hard pull means they go to a credit rating agency and do an official access of your credit data – such a hard pull reduces your credit rating to some degree as the credit rating agencies factor in those credit inquiries when determining your rating (they figure more inquiries mean your trying to expand your credit which is a risk factor). A soft pull doesn’t go against your credit rating!

          Did you make your United Club Card upgrade request via secure message or via phone call?

          • When did you apply for the Explorer card? If it was less than 12 months ago, try again when your card is about to have the annual fee hit. I would guess that they would do that for you then.

          • If it was within 60 days, you are allowed to cancel and receive a refund of the amount. Use that and call in to talk to them. Tell them you would like to keep a United card – especially to get the United Club card – but the fee is a prohibiting factor. Tell them you would like to see if it would be worthwhile for you. Hopefully it will work out! I have lately found their phone reps to be more helpful than the secure message folks.