Get Cash Back for Booking at United.com

Awkwardly named, the United.com Club is separate from membership in MileagePlus, United Airlines’ frequent flyer program. It requires you to pay an annual $25 membership fee for not much more than the option to earn that money back. However, the cash back that you earn for almost every flight is much more generous than you’ll find through traditional cash-back portals.

(FYI: This is something I wrote about last year when I was just starting out, but with new readers and a fresh start to the year, I figure it’s useful information for anyone who flies on United Airlines frequently enough to earn elite status.)

United has something called the TravelBank, carried over from Continental’s OnePass program, where the airline can deposit things like compensation credits. Personally, all the customer care vouchers and voluntary denied boarding vouchers came in other formats, so my TravelBank is populated exclusively by United.com Club credits. After paying my annual $25 sign-up, each time I book a ticket, whether for myself or someone else, I get $5. This credit will post after travel occurs, so it’s something to check up on in addition to miles posting.

united.com club promotion image

Caveats

The Frequently Asked Questions and Terms & Conditions are both quick, easy reads. Two important conditions are that you must have a mailing address in the United States (including U.S. territories), and signing up for the United.com Club also causes you to opt-out of paper MileagePlus statements and opt-in to additional United.com offers by email. United is pretty good about providing online statements anyway, and I haven’t found the email offers to be too overwhelming.

Unfortunately, United doesn’t seem to award double credit when I book tickets for two people on the same reservation. If you’re a Premier Silver member, or even Gold, and unlikely to get a companion upgrade before the check-in window, I’d recommend booking separate tickets and then requesting your companion upgrade at the gate. Premier Platinum and 1K members may still want to keep both passengers on the same, original reservation in order to improve upgrade chances in advance. (Calling in to “link” separate reservations only makes a note in the file; it does not actually do anything to add a companion to the advance upgrade queue.)

You also won’t receive credit for award flights. It’s not expressly forbidden by the terms and conditions, at least as I read them, but I have booked enough awards that my TravelBank balance should probably be double if it were the case. The FAQs do explain that you cannot use TravelBank funds to pay the taxes and fees on award tickets. You’ll need to use a credit card or other payment method for that. My United.com Club TravelBank funds can only be used on a traditional revenue ticket, and in my experience I have to choose between using TravelBank funds or a United gift card — not both.

Make Back Your Money and More

You'll find your TravelBank balance just above upcoming reservations.

You’ll find your TravelBank balance just above upcoming reservations.

But so far, I’ve earned about $45, which is a nice contribution toward a future mileage run. I still have a couple months left before I will have to renew, by which time I expect my balance to reach at least $50. That will be enough to make up my initial sign-up fee from last year and pay for my renewal this year. At which point, every new ticket I book this year will just be gravy on top.

There are a lot of things I can do this year to improve the rewards of my United.com Club membership. I already mentioned booking separate tickets for Megan and I. Along the same lines, I could book one-way tickets, turning a round-trip for two people into $20 of credits if I book four separate tickets. Several tickets I booked last year were through other reservations portals, using things like my Citi ThankYou Rewards points, so I’ll be booking more tickets with United.com directly this year. On the other hand, I also think I’ll be booking more award tickets, at least for Megan, and those won’t earn anything.

Those of you with Premier Gold, Platinum, and 1K status are most likely to benefit from this program, but Premier Silver or non-status members can benefit, too, if they book travel for others in their family. Just remember to log into your own MileagePlus account before booking the tickets for someone else. And if you’re a frequent business traveler, you may even make out with a cool $100-200 by the end of the year!

Why Not Use a Cash Back Portal?

The problem with other cash back portals like Ebates or BigCrumbs is that they require you to book with a third party online travel agency like Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this. If you’re an infrequent flyer or if you have no loyalty, then this probably makes more sense, too. However, schedule changes, missed connections, and other general screwups can be more difficult to handle when you book with a third party because they are in charge of your ticket. If I’m flying United, I would rather book with United. I recommend the United.com Club only for regular United customers because this is the only way to get cash back when booking with them.

I’ve also never really gotten into the cash back game because I don’t do a lot of online shopping and some of the schemes for buying and reselling stuff, whether actual goods or just gift cards, are too much effort for my taste. I don’t want to sign up with a program just to get a few bucks each month. Having that money sit with United in my TravelBank is much easier.

About 

Scott created Hack My Trip while traveling on a budget during graduate school and continues to share his thoughts on better travel. He maintains elite status with American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hyatt, and Starwood.
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  • Zz

    Rather than comparing to a cash back portal I suggest that you compare to Ultimate reward’s shopping portal (assuming you have Ink/Sapphire etc). Travelocity gives you 2points/$ spent.In many cases this is a better option

    • Scottrick

      UR is the same as any cash back portal — you just get points instead of cash. My point was that all of these portals have the potential to give you a higher return, but they force you to book somewhere other than United.com. I don’t want to use an OTA. The United.com Club is the only way to get cash back when purchasing directly from United.

  • cu

    I use the travel bank too, and agree with your theory that booking through third party muddies the waters when something goes wrong.I’ve had gate agents tell me I have to contact travelocity to take care of an issue and travelocity has failed me on more than 1 occasion. I hate it when I book through UR or AmEx just for that reason.

  • JS

    For business travel, I need to book through Concur. They in turn book directly with United.com and it shows up on my Credit Card statement directly from United. Will booking through Concur still allow me to get the $5 Credit?

    • Scottrick

      I’m not familiar with Concur. If they log into United.com using your MP number and pin before booking, just like you would, then probably. United has no way of knowing who’s actually logging in under your name. If they’re a travel agency, then probably not.

  • http://twitter.com/PubliusTX Kevin Whited

    ** Unfortunately, United doesn’t seem to award double credit when I book tickets for two people on the same reservation. **

    It should credit BY TICKET, so two tickets originally on the same PNR should, in theory, earn you two credits.

    Where this broke down on the old Continental site (and it has never been fixed) is when PNRs are split, for upgrade or other purposes. When that occurs, I’ve always been credited for my ticket, but have not received credit for my travel companion(s).

    However, they *should* earn credit, and you can write in to United explaining the situation (always note the original PNR and the ticket #s, and which PNRs did/did not credit). It sometimes takes a while, but I’ve never been denied credit when requesting it, and I’ve never even had the customer service agent object or ask for more info. I’ve done this many times with Continental and post-merger United (and just did so a week ago with United, so I can confirm this should still work in 2013, and that the automatic crediting mechanism is, unfortunately, still broken in instances of split PNRs).

    • Scottrick

      Good to know. There have been a few PNRs that did get split at upgrade time, so I’ll try to watch for this more carefully in 2013.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Glaire-Progfan/100001703470192 Glaire Progfan

      Yes this has happened to me 3 times. First two I just sent message to customer care with my original receipt which should 2 tix under my PNR. Got credit about 10 days after sending message. this last time got a replay back after a week saying i had to call. Called and it took 20 min to get it resolved. Totally unsatisfactory. Sent a message to customer care to voice my displeasure and to have them fix this ASAP.

  • Mommy Points

    I like to use this and combine it with the UA Veteran’s Advantage 5% discount (which you also have to book directly with UA to use). This way I save 5% plus get $5 for each booking.

    • Scottrick

      And most cash back programs top out around 5% (I think I saw one for 6.5%). Getting 5% + $5 makes this one a winner, IMO.