Free United Club Access for 1 Year: United’s Visa Club Card Promotion–Putting a value on Club access and Skunky Beer
United Airlines must have looked around its United Clubs recently and decided they were lonely, because they appear to be in the midst of an aggressive campaign to attract new members via their United Mileage Plus Visa Club Card from Chase. The primary benefit of this card is its free United Club access, but that normally comes at a steep price–a $450 annual fee. However, United is currently running a targeted promotion that waives that annual fee for the first year. Continue reading for the details on this opportunity, whether the card makes sense for you, and my valuation of the card benefits based on how many skunky beers I can gulp down in a typical United Club.
The United Club Card
The United Mileage Plus Club Card from Chase is one of two co-branded Visa cards that United offers. The other card is the Mileage Plus Explorer Card. What sets the Club card apart is that it offers its holders United Club access, which United is somewhat notoriously stingy about. In fact, not even United top-tier elites get complimentary United Club access on domestic travel–only on international itineraries. Instead of offering complimentary access to its elite members, United will sell club access for $550 annually, although they do give a discount depending on your United tier status–as low as $450 for its 1K and Global Services members.
So, taking a step back, I am not sure why anyone would choose to pay $550 for a club membership–plus a $50 initiation fee for new members–that you could actually get for $450 with a credit card that also earns United miles and has other benefits.
Speaking of other benefits: The United Club card also offers its cardholders 1.5 United Miles for every $1 spent on all purchases and 2 miles for every $1 spent on United purchases. You also get 2 free checked bags per trip for you and a companion, no foreign transaction fees, and preferred access/boarding.
Earning 1.5 miles on every $1 purchase is not a bad deal, most travel cards only offer 1 mile per $1–but where you can make up the difference is category bonuses.
The current promotion
It appears that many United Mileage Plus members received both e-mails and physical offers via USPS for the Club Card’s latest campaign to attract members.
This is the e-mail I received yesterday:
While this does appear to be a targeted offer (i.e. not offered to the general public), there is a good chance that Chase will offer the terms of this offer for anyone, even brand new Mileage Plus members. I am fairly certain of this since when I click the “Learn More” link it takes me to this page: https://www.united.com/web/en-US/apps/sso/Login.aspx?return_to=thatsaplus
This page offers you a place to sign in to your existing Mileage Plus account, but also allows you to sign up for a brand new free account, which I think will get you the same offer. This is a much better deal than the publicly available offer that only offers a $100 statement credit after your first purchase.
I have already received a question from a reader regarding this promotion–“is it a good deal, and is there a catch?”
Does this Deal Make Sense for You?
First of all, there is no catch. If you are targeted for this offer and/or click on the link above, apply for the card, and are approved, you will receive all the benefits of the card for no annual fee during the first year–a $450 value. Assuming that you use this card as a daily spender for that year, you will earn a minimum of 1.5 United miles per $1 spent, which will accumulate a decent nest egg of miles. For example if you spend $20,000 over the course of the year on this card you will earn at least 30,000 United miles (which is the current sign-up bonus on the Mileage Plus Explorer Card) but you will also have Club Access. If we assume that $2,000 of that total $20,000 spend is with United than you will earn a total of 31,000 miles. This is decent, but not great.
If you want to simply earn United miles, my favorite way to do that is not with a United card at all. I think that the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a much better way to earn United miles than any United co-branded card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a sign up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 during the first 3 months. The annual fee is waived the first year, then is $95 thereafter. The points that you earn through the bonus and daily spend are transferable at a 1:1 ratio to United and also 10 other airlines and hotels–so they are more flexible than basic United miles. The big difference here is that you earn 2 points per $1 spent on ALL dining and travel purchases, which can add up quickly if you are on the road even a few times per year. You earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
To give you a quick comparison, take that same $20,000 spent in a year and $2,000 spent on United. Including the sign up bonus you would only earn 72,000 points–IF YOU DIDN’T EAT OUT OR SPEND $$$ ON ANY OTHER TRAVEL. That is not likely. Let’s say you spend $300 per month eating out ($3,600 per year) plus another $2,000 on travel other than United (trains, Uber, EZ-Pass, other airlines, hotels, etc), plus the $2,000 on United. You would earn 2 points per $1 on $6,600 in dining and travel expenses, or 13,200 points, plus the 50,000 point sign up bonus, plus another 13,400 points on other spend for a total of 76,600 points you can transfer instantaneously to United at a 1:1 ratio.
But you don’t get United Club access.
Valuing United Club Access
I will be the first to admit I prefer waiting at the airport in an airline lounge than in the terminal waiting area–I suspect most people do. Lounges offer a relatively quiet and comfortable place to relax or get work done prior to your flight. They offer access to power and internet. They offer at least some sort of snacks/food and drinks. And, generally, they offer dedicated service agents to assist you. There is certainly value to be had here.
If nothing else, every United Club I have ever been in offers complimentary domestic beer (Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, etc). I do not put much value on skunky beer (yes, I am a bit of a beer snob), but if its “free,” I will certainly drink it. Let’s say I value a skunky beer at $3 in an airport. I think this is a fair valuation based on the cost of ANY beer outside the lounge–but I am discounting the value to only $3 because I would prefer to order something different outside the lounge.
Let’s say you travel exclusively on United 2x per month, 24 round-trips per year, or 48 opportunities to use a lounge (prior to each departure). If you paid face value for the United Club Card annual fee of $450, you would be paying only about $9.40 for each time you used a United Club–which I think is certainly worth it. I can definitely get around $10 in value out of a United Club. That’s 3 skunky beers and a snack with free internet.
Unfortunately, many travelers do not exclusively fly United and/or cannot guarantee flying 2x per month all year long. Now, your skunky beer cost starts going up. If you visit a United Club only 2x per month, you are now valuing those skunky beers and a snack at $18.75 per visit.
Is this promotion a good deal for you?
Free club access for a year is a no-risk good deal for anyone who flies United even occasionally. If you want a solid card that earns a decent amount of United Miles, and do not plan on opening many other cards for a year, I recommend taking a chance on this card, then canceling before the annual fee comes due. Enjoy the lounge access, get your skunky beer value, and earn at least 1.5 miles per $1.
However, if you are serious about the points and miles game, this card is not for you. You can get better sign-up bonuses and overall category spending bonuses from other cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred that convert directly to United miles if you want. While they don’t offer United Club access, you will get much better value for travel on the additional points/miles you will earn.
Bottom line is that I do not value United Club access enough to ever pay the face value annual fee of $450 for this card. That is just too many skunky beers that I would have to guzzle down during my sporadic visits to the Club. I would prefer the better earning and opportunities to open other cards that offer more value to me.
Let me know if you were targeted for this offer or if you have any questions.