During my last credit card application cycle, I received a United Club Visa card with the first year’s $395 annual fee waived under a special offer for 1K members. If you aren’t a 1K, it is still possible to get a $95 credit toward the first year’s fee, or you could pick up a code for a fee waiver inside a United Club (a one-day pass is only $50). I mentioned at the time that the only reason I got this card was because it was free; I would not normally get an airport club membership, but I thought I would try it out and see if it’s something I would consider renewing in the future.
Once I actually got the credit card in the mail (in a giant box with lots of other benefit information) I realized that maybe this card really does have something going for it. Here is my impression so far after visiting a few United Clubs during my flight to Orange County last weekend. I got the actual membership card on Monday, about three to four weeks after receiving the credit card, but it doesn’t expire until the end of July next year. In the meantime, I was able to gain access just by presenting my boarding pass so they could look up my MileagePlus number.
United Club membership
Obviously you get a complimentary membership to the United Club, which allows you and a companion (or you and your immediate family) to enter the lounge even when not traveling on a United flight. Normal membership costs between $475 (general member) and $375 (Premier 1K) on a sliding scale, and if you already have a membership you will get a prorated refund. Basic alcoholic beverages, espresso, other drinks, small snacks, newspapers, and WiFi are included.
2X miles on all United purchases
This is not such a great deal, but it is a key benefit of this card. It is the same offer as the United Explorer card and worse than some of the legacy cards like the United Select, which offers 3X miles plus 1X EQM. If you want 2X miles with United, I would go for the Chase Sapphire and earn 2X on all travel, not just United travel, and then transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United.
1.5X miles on all other purchases
This is actually a reasonable deal. There are all kinds of purchases that don’t qualify for category bonuses with any other card, so you might as well put them on this one.
No foreign exchange fees
I put all of my purchases during a recent trip to Vancouver on this card. I could have used my Hyatt Visa, but I just got the United Club card and needed to break it in.
Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status
Just like the Hyatt Visa, you get free Platinum status, which is actually valuable and gives you better rooms, more points, and free WiFi. In a sense, this is a good card to have if you decide to drop the Hyatt Visa after getting your two free nights. Or, you could apply for the United Club card first to make sure you have Platinum status and then apply for the Hyatt Visa to earn a few suite upgrade certificates along with the free nights. Still, I like my Hyatt Visa a lot. It’s tough to decide which one is more important to me.
Avis President’s Club status
I haven’t used this at all. I already have free Executive status with National, which I enjoyed immensely during my Orange County trip. I guess I would like to have the Avis status to fall back on once that expires. But then again, I don’t remember the last time I used Avis. I like Hertz points a lot and would probably keep using them since I have free Hertz #1 Gold status. And when all else fails, Budget and Enterprise have some of the cheapest rates in my experience
Primary car insurance on rentals
This is a benefit also offered by the United Explorer card and differs from most credit cards, which offer secondary coverage. Primary coverage is able to cover the deductible on your normal insurance policy, which is nice but not that important to me since mine is low. But that’s the limit. I generally advise against buying insurance from the rental agency anyway since your own policy (assuming you have one) carries with you even when you drive cars other than your own.
No fees for last-minute award tickets
United charges $75 for booking or changing award tickets 21 days or less before departure. This is the same window when most airlines capitulate, realize they won’t be able to sell the seat, and open up award space on hard-to-get flights. But if you have Platinum or 1K elite status, you don’t pay this fee anyway.
Two free checked bags for cardholder and companion
Silver members get one free checked bag of 50 lbs or less. Gold members get three free checked bags of 70 lbs or less. So if you fly under 50,000 miles a year, consider getting this very expensive card just to save a few bucks on a second bag. Yeah, right.
This provides access to elite check-in, security, and boarding lines. However, you’ll be behind all other elites. And if you aren’t an elite member already, again, I have to ask why you want to get a United Club membership.
Access the Luxury Hotel Collection
The guide to the LHC hotels contributed to most of the card package’s heft. I know some bloggers like it, but I don’t normally stay in luxury hotels. I stay at chain hotels that happen to be luxurious, and I got them on sale. Your opinion on the LHC is your own, but mine is that this isn’t a benefit worth the card’s annual fee. Other cards are more worthwhile and include this feature, too.
Key question: Is lounge access worth it?
Lounge access is definitely worth it on international trips when you may have long connections or want access to a shower (more common at non-US airports). However, those considering the United Club card should already have access to this as an elite. In a domestic travel scenario, it really depends. During irregular operations, lounges have their own customer service staff that can make it easier to get rebooked or accommodated in a hotel for the evening. It’s also a nice place to wait out delays. I usually don’t have long connections, but I did appreciate that when my flight to Seattle was delayed on Sunday night. I could just stay in my seat and order another scotch. In fact, since I didn’t get upgraded on this flight, lounge access meant I could still have a drink on the ground. And although the coffee on the early outbound leg Friday morning was atrocious (bad water, I think) with no time for breakfast, I was able to grab a cappuccino, yogurt, fruit, and cereal at the club instead of going to Starbucks.
True, the food selection isn’t anything special. Breakfast is a little heartier than the snacks they serve during the rest of the day, which I would normally pass up. I would think they could at least provide some almonds, Pop Chips, and Toblerone bars like in the first class snack baskets. And some lounges are nothing special—Orange County was nearly dead compared to the active and outgoing staff at San Francisco. In short, it’s only real benefit is that it’s better than waiting at the gate. Not $50-day-pass better, but maybe worth $10 a visit if you can fly often enough to amortize the cost over the course of a year. Megan and I would need to fly 5 to 10 roundtrips together to make this worthwhile, depending on connections, and we can achieve that easily.
Still, in my case the card may not be worth it. I can just buy a club membership for $375 and save $20 in subsequent years. I don’t really know if I need all the other benefits, which are either covered by some of my other cards or are so minimal (to me) that they aren’t worth the hassle of yet another Chase credit card. I don’t value the car rental benefits or the Luxury Hotel Collection very highly. And, of course, I’m already a 1K with lots of benefits superior to those offered by the card.
I think it would still be a draw at Platinum, and the slight discount over the membership price for Gold elites could make the card more advantageous. But if you’re Silver or a general member, why are you even considering this card? You clearly fly so rarely that I think day passes would be cheaper. The Explorer credit card can provide you with most of the remaining benefits.
What about your opinions? Have very many of you with mid- or low-level status signed up for the United Club card? Why did you choose it over several of the other options for attaining some of the same benefits? If you were able to get the entire fee waived the first year like me, do you think it’s worth paying for when it comes time to renew?