Credit Card March Madness

One of my readers, Travis, writes a blog of his own and emailed me to share a current series called “Credit Card March Madness.” While I’m not really a sports guy, I do like the idea of going through all the different credit card loyalty programs in a head-to-head matchup. There are so many options out there that people new to the churning game can have some trouble wrapping their heads around the best offer when faced with 20 choices at once.

Today he’s on Round 3: Chase United Explorer vs. Barclay’s US Airways. I hear lots of people talking about thew new Explorer card but personally wouldn’t go near it with a 10-foot pole even though I’m a UA fanboy. On the flip side, I hate flying US Airways, but their card is much more valuable and the miles could be used for a partner flight, which is good enough for me. I’m considering it for my next churn cycle in a couple weeks.

I keep meaning to expand the information I provide here about credit cards, and maybe I’ll get to that this week, but in the meantime I encourage you to check out Extra Pack of Peanuts and join the conversation.

For those of you heading to the Frequent Traveler University in a couple of weeks, you already know that Sunday’s schedule includes a credit card “lion’s den” where representatives from some of these credit card companies will be taking heat (and perhaps some praise) for their product offerings. While I won’t be able to make it, I hope Chase explains why it offers such poor benefits for the UA Explorer card, which is currently among the worst of their otherwise excellent credit card portfolio. A relaunched United Club credit card is in the works, and hopefully there will also be a new card offering soon with a better mileage bonus but fewer of the priority benefits that are useless to those of us who already have elite status. One can only hope. :)

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • http://www.travelbypoints.com Jimmy

    Just received a letter in the mail over the weekend about the conversion of the old CO Presidential Plus card to the UA Club, and noticed one new benefit – cardmembers are waived the 21-day close-in fees of $75. That is a benefit currently only available to Platinum or higher elite members. I got my card through an invitation code given to me by the Frugal Travel Guy back in October 2011. It waived the first year fee, and the card has been useful for our MRs in January and February.

    • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

      I heard about this last year and was incredibly envious. It sounded like you needed to be in the club already where they were handing out the codes. Maybe they’ll do something similar. I think I’ll have to wait until I have a better job before I splurge on domestic lounge membership.

      • http://www.travelbypoints.com Jimmy

        To be honest, it is not really worth it – assuming you make 20 trips a year to make 1k, and you visit one lounge per way, which makes it 40 visits. That is almost $10 a visit. Yes, if you would buy a drink or two every time you are in the airport, maybe this is worth it. While my wife and I find it nice to have the option to visit lounges during our trips, we won’t really pay for the lounge membership just for domestic trips.

  • AK

    Curious, why are you not a fan of the Chase UA Visa? I’m planning an app for it in a couple of weeks (need a Chase card with low spend requirement).

    • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

      My comment was specific to the value of this card for people who hold elite status. If you are not elite, the card might make sense.

      Let’s go down the list of UA Explorer benefits:
      Free first checked bag All elites already get this; as 1K I get three.
      Free priority boarding All elites already get this; cardholders generally board with Silver elites or just after.
      Two one-time passes to the United Club First, they’re not worth $50 each. Second, 1K, Platinum, and Gold elites already get free access on international trips, which is the only time I have long enough connections for which a club makes sense.
      Miles don’t expire If you’re elite, you probably are flying at least once every 18 months, so this isn’t an issue.
      Book any seat with miles This applies to non-saver awards (the ones that cost twice as much). All elites already get this; as 1K I also have additional saver award space cardholders don’t get.
      Earn 2X miles on UA purchases Lots of cards offer 2X or 3X bonuses for all travel, not just United; check out the Amex Gold or Chase Sapphire. The UA card I do hold, the Select Visa (no longer offered) offers 3X miles PLUS 1X elite miles.
      First year fee waived Lots of cards offer this.
      Sign-up bonus I’ve seen various offers, but the basic one lately is up to 40K miles. This is really only 25K miles. You get another 5K for a second cardholder and 10K if you spend $25K. Several cards offer much better benefits for spending $25K.

      • AK

        All valid reasons for a UA elite. I’ll have *G later this year, so checked bag/priority boarding/lounge access won’t be a problem. But it’s the bonus offer that most of us are after… 40K US (with award booking fees, required round-trip) vs. 50 UA (lack of fees booking 3 weeks out, one-way possibilities)? It’s not even a question. There’s only been one redemption I’ve made where I remember that US was a cheaper redemption than UA for *A F/J.

        • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

          This is where it gets down to individual situations. I don’t really mind the one-way/roundtrip issue, and there are more valuable Chase cards on my immediate horizon. Since I already have 500K+ UA miles, it makes sense to stock up on US miles for those 65K business class trips to Europe.

          • http://www.travelbypoints.com Jimmy

            Scott, it is 55k business class off-peak trips to Europe! (60k-5k discount for cardholders)

      • HikerT

        Unless something has changed recently, the Explorer Plus offer is 50K – while technically targeted to people who have at least one mile in their account, I’d say that’s pretty much everyone. I’ll take 50K UA in an elite account over 40K US in a non-elite account any day of the week (due to change flexibility and other benefits if an elite books the award on UA metal). Would disagree with the implication that miles going into an elite would make them less valuable. If you feel that way book awards for non elites and trade for other currency you value more.

        • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

          The basic offer on Chase’s website is 40K. Yes, you can get 50K, but it is targeted as you say. I was not implying that miles in an elite account are less valuable, only that I have enough to go anywhere I want with United miles, and variety is important. As Jimmy reminded me, it costs only 55K for an off-peak business class ticket from US Airways, so I’d be 73% of the way there (the rest isn’t difficult with the Grand Slam promo and frequent purchase bonuses). 50K United miles would only be 50% of the way to a business class award, and there are no off-speak specials.

  • ace

    Your comment on United (hate) vs. US Air are incomprehensible. While you can book Star Alliance partners on both, you can actually see partner flights on United while you can’t on US Air, and you can book 1 way awards on United but not US Air-are you insane?

    • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

      I’m referring to the value of the credit card offers. As I said, I’m a UA fanboy as far as traveling is concerned, but I consider their credit card products uncompetitive. The US Airways miles I would keep for specific uses, like discounted off-peak business class travel for simple roundtrip awards, that United does not offer.

      • http://www.travelbypoints.com Jimmy

        I found an old thread in FT saying that the off-peak award on US metals could be constructed as an open jaw. Is that still true? Do you know, Scott? (eg, into LHR and out of CDG)

        • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

          US permits open jaws. I’m not aware of any rules that differentiate between normal and off-peak prices.

    • http://www.travelbypoints.com Jimmy

      The UA Explorer card is really not for daily use. If you were targeted for the 50k sign-up bonus, go for it. But I would consider getting the US card just for the benefit of 40k sign-up bonus, 10k renewal bonus, plus 5k off per award ticket. It is offered by Barclays, so technically, you can apply for both on the same day. Totally agree with Scott on the poor value of the UA Explorer card – not worth using at all. I have the UA Select card, too – great product. I use that card and Sapphire Preferred for most of our bonus category purchases and then the rest to Amex SPG, etc.

  • ace

    Sorry, i just have to disagree. I could care less about anything else when I can book 1 way SFO-ICN-REP in business/first on Asiana for 60k UA points, or 120k US Air because they dont book 1 way fares.

    I used my 75k of my 100k British Avios for a 75k first Bali-Hong Kong-SFO home.
    Not being able to book 1 way is an auto disqualifier to me.

  • RakSiam

    I guess that just proves everyone’s situation is different. Most people fly round trips. With plenty of available tools (including the UA website) you can find award availability and call US to book.

    You also get a $99 companion certificate every year with the US card. I have never tried to use one, but I imagine it could come in handy for some folks. I have the old UA card too that I used to use all the time. I figure I will get an Explorer if they ever sweeten the pot to a reasonable degree. But the Sapphire has become my go to card for now.

    • AK

      True, most book round-trips, but what if I’m going to Asia, and I find *A availability one way and OW the other? UA allows that.