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

With one or two free checked bags, Premier Access and priority boarding, the day-of-flight benefits that come along with some United cobranded credit cards aren’t anything to write home about. While these benefits are nice to have, 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 you fully write off United cobranded cards, consider this lesser-known benefit.

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Premier upgrades on award tickets

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

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

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

That’s significant.

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, about three years ago, I used miles to fly from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Redmond Municipal Airport (RDM) outside of Bend, Oregon. Even though there were three seats in first class that 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

Bottom line

Although CPUs on most routes are far and few 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 the ongoing $95 annual fee of the United Explorer Card ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year).

The following United credit cards have Premier upgrades on award tickets as a benefit:

United Explorer Card.
United Business Card.
United Club Business Card.
United Club Infinite Card.
United Quest Card.

When you receive your first upgrade thanks to your MileagePlus credit card, you’ll be glad you have it.

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. 

Featured photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy.