About United TravelBank Card
The United TravelBank Card is the newest addition to the partnership between Chase and United, making it the fourth credit card the two companies have launched.
What makes the TravelBank different from, let’s say, the United MileagePlus Explorer and pretty much every other Chase airline rewards card is that the travel bank sheds the points-based rewards system and opts for a cash-based system used by the Capital One Venture and the Barclaycard World Arrival Plus.
Here’s the twist, though: the cash you rack up on your TravelBank card can only be redeemed on United flights. So, we see this card as more of a hybrid between an airline-branded credit card and a general travel rewards card.
All that aside, let’s talk about what really matters: Is this card right for you?
If you read the headlines and reviews that flooded the internet after the card released, you might say “Yes” without a second thought.
But here’s the deal: Your second thought is often your most important one when you’re choosing a credit card. Taking the time to figure out if a card is right for you is worth the effort because, in the long run, the right credit card will make you the happiest.
So, in that spirit of building smart consumers, we’re going to address the following features of the United TravelBank card:
- Rates and fees
- Expert opinions
Once we finish up with those categories, we’ll ease into our conclusion with a quick overview of the cards pros, cons and who we think might most enjoy this airline-travel rewards card.
The United TravelBank Card’s Rewards
The easiest way to think about how the United TravelBank works is to view it as a cash rewards card whose cash is only good for buying United tickets.
Every time you use your TravelBank card to buy tickets directly from United, you’ll earn 2% in TravelBank rewards. If you buy a ticket for $450, then you’ll get $9 added to your TravelBank account.
For all other purchases, you’ll earn 1.5% TravelBank cash. If your grocery bill for the month is $600, then Chase will add $9 to your TravelBank balance.
There are a few exceptions to this, though. Here’s a quick list of purchases and charges that don’t count toward your TravelBank balance, according to Chase’s terms and conditions:
- Lottery tickets
- Casino chips
- Traveler’s checks
- Balance transfers
- Credit card fees
- Interest payments
With all that being said, let’s talk about how this card is different from other airline rewards cards that Chase offers.
As far as purchases directly from United, the TravelBank’s 2% rewards rate is the standard rate for all of Chase’s airline cards. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier and Plus as well as the United MileagePlus Explorer offer 2% rates for ticket purchases made directly from Southwest and United’s sites.
What sets the TravelBank apart from these cards is the “everything else” rewards rate. That is to say, you get 1.5% on non-United purchases while the MileagePlus Explorer and Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier/Plus give you 1% on “everything else” purchases.
According to the card’s terms and conditions, TravelBank cash accrued during a billing cycle will be automatically added to your MileagePlus account on the last day of the billing cycle.
How to Redeem Your TravelBank Cash
Normally, United frequent flyer customers would log into their MileagePlus account and view their mileage balance to get an idea of how much rewards capital they have to book a flight.
With the TravelBank program, you log into your MileagePlus account and view your TravelBank balance, which is in its own section below your MileagePlus balance. Here’s a screenshot from our MileagePlus account:
These dollars can be redeemed 1:1 for flight costs. If you’ve got $400 in TravelBank rewards, they’re good for $400 in flight rewards.
When you’re ready to book your flight, United says you can use your TravelBank cash to pay for the entire ticket or, in some cases, you can use it in conjunction with MileagePlus miles.
Is TravelBank Cash More Valuable Than MileagePlus Miles?
This is an important question because it could influence your decision to apply for the TravelBank card as opposed to the MileagePlus Explorer and vice versa.
To answer this question, we took a peek at three round-trip flights and compared the miles cost to the cash cost. The following table has a column for the flight, a column for the TravelBank (cash) price and a column for the MileagePlus (miles) price:
|TravelBank Price||MileagePlus Price|
|Los Angeles-Newark||$296.40||25,000 + $11.20 (fees)|
|Dallas-Chicago||$196.40||37,500 + $11.20 (fees)|
|Seattle-Orlando||$243.60||37,500 + $11.20 (fees)|
Assuming that you’re earning your TravelBank or MileagePlus rewards via the “everything else” purchases and not United ticket purchases, the TravelBank’s rewards give you better value for two of the three flights we researched.
You’d have to spend $13,100 on your United TravelBank card to get enough rewards cash to buy the Dallas to Chicago flight, whereas you’d have to spend $37,500 on your United MileagePlus Explorer card to get that flight.
The Seattle to Orlando flight would require a $24,360 spend on your United TravelBank card, while you’d have to spend $37,500 to get the flight via your MileagePlus Explorer card.
Our search also revealed that, while United offers flights for 12,500 MileagePlus miles, those flights tend to leave early in the morning or late at night. Also, their availability is limited.
Two of the flights we researched had no 12.5K rewards seats available on one leg; we were forced to book a seat for 25K miles, which pushed the total cost of the round-trip flight to 37.5K.
We don’t want to get too carried away here, so we’ll end with our conclusion. Based on our research, TravelBank cash is more valuable than MileagePlus miles.
$150 Intro Bonus
If you can spend $1,000 in the first three months of owning the TravelBank, Chase will give you $150 dollars of TravelBank cash.
According to the fine print, it can take up to eight weeks for the bonus cash to show up on your TravelBank balance.
25% Back on Food and Beverage Purchases
The other reward that you get with the United TravelBank card is a 25% bonus on any food and beverage purchases you make on United operated flights.
Here’s the interesting part of this, though. The 25% bonus is actually credited to your credit card statement, not your TravelBank balance.
So, if you spend $20 on a feast of snack boxes and wine, you’ll get a $5 credit added to your credit card statement within 1-2 billing cycles of the purchase.
The United TravelBank Card’s Benefits
We consider a card’s benefits to be those things that you get year-round that aren’t contingent on how much you spend.
The United TravelBank’s main benefits are related to the fact that it’s a Visa Signature card. Because it’s part of the Visa Signature program, you’ll get the following benefits:
- Trip cancellation reimbursement
- Rental car insurance
- Reimbursement for damaged or stolen items you bought in the past 90 days
- Price-drop protection for items you bought in the past 90 days
- Extended warranties on certain items
Each one of these benefits is only good when you purchase the protected/covered good or service with your United TravelBank card.
Also, keep in mind that each of these protections has certain restrictions and limitations.
All of those rules and fine print are included in the Visa Signature benefits guide you’ll get when Chase sends you your TravelBank card.
The United TravelBank Card’s Rates and Fees
At the time of publishing, Chase had yet to release the rates and fees for the United TravelBank.
While we can’t give you any specifics, here’s what we know about Chase’s travel and airline cards, in general:
- APR should start at 16.99%
- Late fees will probably be up to $37
- There probably won’t be a foreign transaction fee
We called Chase to see if there was any way we could get our hands on any of the information. We talked with two different phone representatives and neither was able to tell us any specifics about the rates and fees for the TravelBank card.
“Continue to monitor it over the next few days,” the representative told us.
Expert Opinions About the United TravelBank Card
Much of what the experts have said about the card is based on an article from Business Insider. Reporter Alex Morrell noted that the card won’t have an annual fee and that cardholders will get a $150 bonus if they can spend $1,000 in the first three months of owning the card.
Normally we’d include these perks in the rewards and rates/fees section, but because it’s second-hand information, we’ve chosen to include here.
Once we find out more, we’ll add the information to other parts of this review.
Pros of the United TravelBank Card
The strength of this card lies in the double-awesome 1.5% rewards rate and the fact that cash flights can require significantly less spending than the United MileagePlus Explorer. It’s also pretty incredible that the card has no annual fee, something that none of the Chase travel cards or the Capital One Venture card can claim. Another positive? The $150 bonus you get when you spend $1,000.
Cons of the United TravelBank Card
At this point, it’s hard to say this card has a downside because there’s no annual fee. Yes, the United MileagePlus Explorer gives you priority boarding and two free lounge passes per year, but the card also has a $95 annual fee.
There might be a disappointment when the APR is released in the coming days, but we doubt that because our research shows that Chase’s airline rewards cards have a starting APR of 16.99% and higher.
Who Would Most Enjoy This Card?
We believe, based on our research of this card and other airline rewards cards, that someone who likes flying United and wants a simple, cash-back style of airline rewards credit card will enjoy this card.
We also think early adopters of innovative credit cards will like this card, too, because it’s doing something that other credit cards haven’t done.