The single reason why I’d open a MileagePlus credit card as a United elite

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With one or two free checked bags, Premier Access and priority boarding, the day-of-flight benefits of some United cobranded credit cards are quite standard. While these benefits are nice, they’re already perks that most United elite members receive.

So why pay $525 per year for the United Club℠ Infinite Card for duplicate benefits that don’t stack?

Of course, the obvious answer would be for United Club access, but that’s already included on international flights thanks to Star Alliance Gold status, a benefit that United Premier Gold and higher elite members have.

And I’d happily trade in the tired furniture and carrots in the United Club for pesto chicken and spa services at an American Express Centurion lounge.

But before fully writing off United cobranded cards, consider this lesser-known benefit.

Premier upgrades on award tickets

The benefit is buried under a plethora of monotonous benefits. And I wouldn’t blame you if you happened to scroll right past it.

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If you don’t have a MileagePlus credit card, you aren’t eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPUs) when using miles. However, MileagePlus credit card holders are added to the upgrade waitlist on CPU-eligible routes when redeeming miles. That’s significant.

A United Airlines domestic first-class meal. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Although your upgrade priority will fall below all paid ticket flyers with your status (e.g., if you’re a 1K, you’ll be among the last 1Ks to be upgraded), this perk can land you upgrades to first class based on your Premier status that you wouldn’t have otherwise received.

For example, I used miles to fly from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Bend’s Redmond Municipal Airport (RDM) about three years ago. Even though three first-class seats went empty on the flight, my Premier 1K status didn’t entitle me to an upgrade because I didn’t have a MileagePlus cobranded credit card — lesson learned.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

Which United MileagePlus card offer Complimentary Premier Upgrades?

The following United personal credit cards offer Premier upgrades on award tickets:

  • United Explorer Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open
  • United Quest℠ Card: Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 PQP after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Offer ends Aug. 9
  • United Club℠ Infinite Card: Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 1,000 Premier qualifying points (PQP) after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Offer ends Aug. 9

And here are the eligible business cards:

  • United℠ Business Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open
  • United Club℠ Business Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open

The information for the United Club Business Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

Although CPUs on most routes are few and far between, the opportunity to receive Premier upgrades on award tickets based on your United status could be an appealing benefit. Even if you score only one or two CPUs on award tickets in a year, it could justify even the low $95 annual fee of the United℠ Explorer Card ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year.) When you receive your first upgrade, thanks to your MileagePlus credit card, you’ll be glad you have it.

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