The United TravelBank credit card (issued by Chase) is unique in the industry, combining aspects of frequent-flier cards with aspects of cash-back cards. It also is part of the emerging trend of airlines launching no-annual-fee cards (Delta just did the same).
But is it a good fit for travelers or, more specifically, your travel style? Our review will help you decide.
The card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
This is where things get interesting. Unlike the other United co-branded cards (and most airline cards), you won’t earn miles with this card. Instead, you’ll earn:
- 2 percent back in TravelBank cash on tickets purchased from United
- 1.5 percent in TravelBank cash on all other purchases
The current sign-up bonus is $150 in TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on the card within the first three months.
So what is TravelBank cash? Think of it as cash back that you can use only with United. Every dollar’s worth in TravelBank cash is worth $1 when you redeem toward the purchase of a United ticket. You can use TravelBank cash to pay for an entire flight, or for only part of the flight cost.
You get 25 percent back (via a statement credit) when you purchase food and beverage onboard United flights.
Note that, due to this card having no annual fee, you won’t get the perks that often come with airline cards, such as free checked bags and priority boarding.
A good choice?
This card provides a far more flexible, no-annual-fee alternative to United’s other co-branded cards. When earning airline miles on United’s more traditional cards, you can’t redeem until you have enough for a flight (25,000 for most round-trip domestic fares). TravelBank cash, however, allows you to redeem whatever cash you’ve accumulated (even if it’s just $100 worth) toward the cash price of a flight. Only have $50 worth of rewards? Fine —you can use it to get $50 off your next flight.
There are plenty of cards on the market that earn a comparable rate of cash back. Nothing’s stopping you from using one of those and redeeming your cash back to pay for any purchase, including United flights (or flights on any airline). Plenty of generic travel rewards cards allow you to earn “points” that can be redeemed against all travel purchases and won’t restrict you to one airline.
Plus, if you fly United so frequently that you’d be willing to use rewards that can be redeemed only with United, you may be better served by one of its other co-branded cards. Although you’ll have to pay an annual fee, you’ll get free checked bags (which may be worth more to frequent travelers).
Expiring miles is another issue – co-branded airline cards (which earn miles that are directly deposited into your frequent-flier account) are an easy way to keep your miles balance from expiring. Because this card doesn’t earn actual miles (it earns TravelBank reward), it doesn’t have that benefit.
Finally, airline miles, while not very flexible, can be maximized better than face-value cash like TravelBank rewards. Say, for example, you want to redeem for a $400 flight. If you are using miles and find a flight at the lowest redemption tier (25,000 for a round trip), you’ve gotten yourself a value of 1.6 cents per mile. With TravelBank rewards, though, you’ll need $400 worth in rewards (40,000 TravelBank “points”) – each TravelBank “point” will be worth only 1 cent each.
In short, this is a unique but odd product whose audience we can’t quite place our finger on. Tell us in the comments if you’re planning on getting this card and why.
Why we gave it 3 out of 5 stars
This card’s rating is based on our standards for co-branded airline cards.
|Bonus-earning opportunities: This card offers a sign-up bonus, as well as opportunities to earn elevated cash-back on everyday purchases.|
|Rewards flexibility/simplicity: You can use your rewards just like cash toward the full or partial cost of a United ticket.|
|Unique travel perks: As a no-annual-fee card, this card doesn’t have any unique travel “extras.”|
|Companion benefits: This card doesn’t offer a companion-ticket program.|
|Fair fees: This card has no annual fee to worry about and no foreign transaction fees.|