Full Review of United TravelBank Card
Straightforward cash-back rewards program
No annual fee
Limited redemption options
- Straightforward Rewards Program: This card comes with a rewards program that's easy to use and understand. For purchases from United, cardholders earn 2% of the transaction value in TravelBank cash. All other expenses charged to the card earn 1.5% in such rewards. You then redeem TravelBank cash to pay for United flights. While the TravelBank cash program is separate from the United MileagePlus program, cardholders must be MileagePlus members in order to redeem TravelBank cash.
- No Annual Fee: Of the three cards offered United Airlines, this is the only one that has no annual fee. The United Explorer card costs $95, at least after the first year, and the United Club card is $525, with no introductory year. You can own the United TravelBank, then, without worrying about whether the rewards you’re earning will be sufficient to justify a card's annual fee each year.
- Limited Perks: If perks like complimentary checked bags or seat upgrades are a priority for you, you’ll need to look to other cards. The United TravelBank offers neither of these, nor much else in the way of travel benefits. It does provide such widespread features as secondary rental car insurance and travel and emergency assistance, but the closest it gets to standout perks are a 25% savings on in-flight purchases and the absence of a foreign transaction fee.
- Mediocre Introductory Offer: The need to charge $1,000 within your first three months to receive a $150 bonus, as this card requires, is a respectable but not outstanding reward. Some non-airline-specific cards with no annual fee offer a $150 bonus for less; for example, both the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Capital One Savor One require you to charge only $500 within the first three months to get $150. And some even offer a bigger bonus for a smaller "spend"; the Chase Freedom, for example, delivers $200 for $500 of charges within the first three months.
This Card is Best For
Resists or refuses an annual fee on principle or due to cost
Seeks the recognition and perks of branded travel partner status
Flies often for business or leisure
Unsurprisingly, with its cash rewards redeemable only for United purchases, the United TravelBank card should only be considered by those who fly United Airlines, or plan to do so in the future.
Ideally, you should also fly the airline a lot—or be prepared to charge a lot of other purchases to the card—in order to earn enough for flights fairly quickly. For reference, you'd need to spend $18,200 on United flights, or $24,267 in regular spending, to earn enough in TravelBank cash to redeem it for an average-priced round-trip ticket, which goes for $364, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
United TravelBank Bonus Offer
New cardholders receive $150 in TravelBank cash after they spend at least $1,000 within the first three months of opening an account. The TravelBank cash reward posts to your United TravelBank account within 6 to 8 weeks after you reach the $1,000 spending requirement.
As we noted above, while this is an acceptable bonus, you can do better than this one-time offer with some other no-annual fee travel cards.
Rewards Earning Details
This card offers 2% TravelBank cash back per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1.5% in TravelBank cash back per $1 spent on all other purchases. In other words, you earn $2 in TravelBank cash per $100 in United flight purchases. Making $100 in purchases elsewhere would earn $1.50 in cash back.
Other purchases from United that earn 2% TravelBank cash include seat upgrades, in-flight purchases (food, beverages, Wi-Fi), baggage service charges and other fees. Purchases must be made directly with United to earn this rate; United tickets booked through a third-party travel site, for example, earn only the 1.5% rate.
Rewards post to your account at the end of each statement period. And TravelBank cash expires if there is no account activity—that is, either earnings or redemptions—for a period of 18 consecutive months. Otherwise, the balance remains in the account until redeemed.
Although they are separate programs, cardholders must be a member in the United MileagePlus Program in order to participate in TravelBank.
Rewards Redemption Details
This card's redemption options are very straightforward—you can only redeem TravelBack cash for United and United Express tickets.
United permits rewards in your account to be used in combination with other forms of payment. That means you can choose, for example, to use your TravelBank cash to purchase a $350 United roundtrip ticket or use $175 of your rewards cash and put the other half of the airfare on your credit card.
The value of TravelBank cash is redeemed at a 1:1 rate—$1 in TravelBank cash is equal to $1 when used towards a flight.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You can get the most of this card's rewards by first using it for all of your United and United Express costs—that includes flight tickets in addition to seat upgrades, in-flight expenses, baggage fees, and other United fees. And be sure to complete all United transactions directly with the airline to earn the card’s best 2% rate in TravelBank cash back. Then use this card for purchases outside of United to earn an additional 1.5% in cash back for those purchases as well.
Finally, even if you aren't customarily charging an average of $334 or more to the card each month, make sure to do so in the first three months after opening your account. That way, you’re assured of meeting the spending requirement to receive the $150 cash bonus from the card's one-time offer.
Let's say you're an occasional United traveler who takes two round-trip flights per year for vacation or to see family and friends. Round-trip tickets cost an average of around $364, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Assuming that's what you paid for your United trips, the purchases would earn you $14.56 in TravelBank cash-back rewards.
If you also use this card for food and entertainment purchases, say, you'd put an additional $11,150 on the card annually, based on what the average consumer spends on those items, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That would earn you an additional $167 in rewards. Putting together the rewards from both flights and that other spending, you’d earn about $182 in TravelBank cash.
Since that's precisely half the average cost of a round-trip air ticket in the U.S., you’d be on track to earn enough in TravelBank cash to buy a round trip on United every two years.
In your first year with the card, you could reduce that earning time by roughly half by spending $1,000 within the first three months to earn the one-time offer of $150 in TravelBank cash. That would bring your total Travelback cash rewards for year one to approximately $352, which is very close to the average cost of a round-trip flight in the U.S.
Those who book flights on United more often with this card will naturally receive higher rewards. Let's assume you fly four times per year and use this card for food, entertainment, apparel, and personal care products and services. According to the average flight-cost data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and that on the other purchases from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you'd spend an average of nearly $15,250 on this card each year.
With the flights earning you 2% in cash back, and the other spending 1.5%, you’d earn a total of around $236 in TravelBack cash every year. That spending would reduce the time within which you’d earn enough for an average round-trip flight to about 18 months, compared with two years in our average example.
In your first year with the card, you could further reduce that time—to about 10 months—by spending $1,000 within the first three months to earn the one-time offer of $150 in TravelBank cash. That would bring your total Travelback cash rewards for year one to approximately $386.
United TravelBank Card's Outstanding Benefits
- 25% back on United in-flight purchases
- No foreign transaction fees
- Auto rental collision damage waiver (secondary to personal insurance)
- Trip cancellation and interruption insurance up to $1,500 per trip
- Purchase protection for new purchases up to $500 per claim
- Price protection for purchases made in the U.S.
Among national credit card issuers, Chase, which issues this card, ranked fourth in J.D. Power’s 2019 Credit Card Customer Satisfaction study. That said, its overall rating is only one point higher than the average.
The bank offers access to your VantageScore credit score through its Credit Journey program, although the program is available for both cardholders and the general public. Your VantageScore credit score can give you a general idea of where your credit stands, but many other major card issuers offer free access to your FICO credit score, which is what lenders typically use.
If you have questions, Chase provides 24/7 phone customer service, which is standard in the credit card industry. You can also send a secure message through your online account if you need help, but it's not urgent. Account management is possible through your online account or Chase’s mobile app.
Chase offers a number of security features with this card that are standard across the industry. That includes 24/7 fraud monitoring, card replacement services, and zero liability for unauthorized charges.
One feature outside the norm is Chase's Credit Journey tool. It offers credit alerts, weekly credit score updates, and a credit score simulator.
The United TravelBank card's simple rewards structure and decent cash-back rate make it a stand-out option for travelers who often choose United over other airlines. Its lack of luxury perks is balanced out by the fact that it doesn't charge an annual fee, something that occasional travelers will find appealing.
If you're looking for more perks out of a card, and still want to commit to United, the United Explorer card might be a better fit. It has a $95 annual fee that's waived the first year and offers premium travel perks like priority boarding, a $100 credit to Global Entry or TSAPrecheck, and a complimentary checked bag per flight.
Those who fly airlines outside of United might be better served by a more general no-annual fee card. The Discover it Miles card, for example, offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. Miles can be redeemed for a statement credit against your travel purchase or for cash back at any time and in any amount that has been earned.