Whether you’re new to this hobby and you’ve just taken the 10xTravel free course about how to travel the world for next to nothing or you’re a seasoned award traveler, you know how valuable it is to be under 5/24 (five credit cards opened in the last 24 months).

This is the rule that guides our card opening strategies, so you want to scrutinize every card you open that adds to your 5/24 count. Once you’re over the limit, the number of cards you can be approved for narrows.

If you’re over 5/24, applying for any Chase card will result in an instant denial. So let’s talk about some cards that can be great additions to your wallet when you’re under 5/24, specifically the co-branded United Airlines cards.

The Strategy

Based on the current welcome offers on the personal and business United MileagePlus credit cards, there is a large number of United miles available to earn.

Pairing these United cards with Chase personal and business credit cards can help you build a solid foundation if you are just starting out in this hobby. To help build out a scenario, let’s say Frank just joined the 10xTravel Insiders Facebook group and hasn’t opened any credit cards in the past 24 months. Although we always recommend looking at the best credit cards, here’s how a strategy of opening Chase and United personal and business cards could look.

First, our newbie Frank opens a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. For our limit count, this puts him at 1/24.

Let’s say Frank also has a side hustle that allows him to qualify for business credit cards. The next move is to open the Chase Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card for an additional bonus after reaching the minimum-spending requirement.

Because Chase business cards don’t get reported to your personal credit report, they don’t count against his 5/24 total. This means that Frank is still at 1/24 and now has earned well over 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points.

For his next card, Frank opens the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card for another bonus. Our friend is racking up Ultimate Rewards quickly and remains at 1/24.

Frank decides he’s ready to move on to United cards. To keep his 5/24 count low, he opts for the United℠ Business Card first.

Once he’s met that minimum spend, Frank feels ready to add a personal card into the mix with the United Quest℠ Card. This addition puts his card count at 2/24.

Then, Frank finds the United℠ Explorer Card appealing and chooses to add it to his wallet.

He’s now at 3/24, but he’s not done yet. He opens the United Club℠ Infinite Card.

At this point, Frank is at 4/24 and has earned over 200,000 Ultimate Rewards points and over 250,000 United MileagePlus miles. Based on the amount of time allotted to reach each minimum spend, this strategy could take Frank awhile, but he now has a solid foundation of flexible points as well as airline miles, and more importantly a clear plan to follow.

Why United Airlines?

You might be asking yourself why you should focus on United miles when other frequent-flyer programs provide better redemption rates.

To help answer this question, we compared United to the other airlines that offer credit cards through Chase—Air Canada, British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Southwest Airlines—to see if it’s possible to earn nearly as many miles within one loyalty program and if they would be as valuable.

To judge the points’ value, let’s say Frank is hoping to redeem his points for a business-class trip to Europe.

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United MileagePlus

From our strategy breakdown above, we know that Frank would be able to earn over 250,000 United miles (in addition to over 200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards) without even reaching 5/24.

United doesn’t publish an award chart, so it’s difficult to predict exactly how many miles a one-way business class award flight to Europe will cost you, but the typical redemption rate is about 85,000 miles. Using this estimate, Frank can get typically get at least three one-way business class trips to Europe.

Another benefit of booking award flights through United is that the airline doesn’t charge high taxes and fuel surcharges, and fees are generally low, which saves more cash.

United MileagePlus

British Airways Executive Club, Iberia Plus, Aer Lingus AerClub

British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus each offer one personal credit card through Chase. They also all share a rewards currency called Avios, and you have the ability to transfer miles between the three airlines, thus building up a pool of Avios.

The Aer Lingus Visa Signature® card, the British Airways Visa Signature® card and the Iberia Visa Signature® Card typically all offer the same welcome bonus. If you combine them together, you’ll typically have over 200,000 Avios.

Let’s not forget that all these are personal cards and add to your 5/24 count.

If Frank were to stick to a similar strategy of starting with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Chase Ink Business Unlimited® card and the Chase Ink Business Cash® card and then applying for the three Avios-earning cards, his credit card count would be at 4/24 and his point total would be over 200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards and over 200,000 Avios. While you could earn more Avios, you have to remember to compare the value of the different currencies.

When it comes to the value of Avios over United miles, we have to consider two things: the award charts and the costs of taxes and fees. The three airline programs that earn Avios have different award charts. British Airways and Iberia tend to have the most useful award charts given their membership in the OneWorld alliance.

For this example, I searched the British Airways website. Because British Airways charges by the distance of each segment, redeeming Avios for a nonstop flight is typically the best option. A nonstop one-way flight from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) in business class costs 60,000 Avios, which is less than the miles required to fly from New York to Europe with United.

Keep in mind that if you are traveling farther, say from the West Coast, the number of Avios required will increase.

With your total number of Avios, you can book three one-way business class tickets (with some points left over) assuming your travel distance falls between 3,001 and 4,000 miles. However, the big difference here is the cost variance in the taxes, fees and carrier surcharges. British Airways is known to have high fees (around $700 per direction) whereas the cost of fees on the United flight to Europe is between $5.60 and about $50. Although you could get one extra ticket, you’d spend around $3,500 in taxes and fees to book all five tickets, versus around $200 for the four tickets on United.

One upside to the Avios cards now, however, is that you can use them to book Qatar Q Suites. Avios are getting more valuable, so this would be a good alternative or additional strategy to take.

avios jfk to lhr

Air Canada Aeroplan

Air Canada offers one personal credit card through Chase that would help you earn points in their frequent-flyer program, Aeroplan.

If Frank still stuck with the same strategy of starting with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Ink Business Unlimited® and the Ink Business Cash® and then applied for the Aeroplan® Credit Card, he would have over 200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards and some Aeroplan points with a 2/24 count. He still has room to add other Chase cards to his wallet, but can’t build the same wealth of miles within one loyalty program.

Before we rush to discredit this possible strategy, let’s see what Aeroplan points can get us.

Air Canada uses a combination of a distance-based and a zone-based award chart and allows you to redeem your points for Air Canada-operated flights, airlines within the Star Alliance and non-alliance partner airlines.

Below is an example of the points you would need to fly from North America to Europe, which is included in Air Canada’s Atlantic Zone.

Air Canada’s Atlantic Zone

The lowest-priced award flights are the ones through partner airlines, but even those options cost 60,000 points for a one-way business class flight. Plus, you’d have to transfer your hard earned Ultimate Rewards points to get more than one ticket.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Let’s start with the obvious here. Southwest Airlines doesn’t fly to Europe, so that makes the comparison difficult. However, I wanted to include Southwest in the evaluation—not because you have to choose between the United and the Southwest cards, but because you can choose both.

If you recall from the beginning of this article, even after Frank had applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Chase Ink Business Unlimited®, the Chase Ink Business Cash® and the four United cards, his card count is still only 4/24.

This leaves room for Frank to apply for the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card as well as one of the Southwest personal cards.

United is the Best Choice

From this comparison of Chase cards that earn you airline miles, United comes out on top for a few reasons.

The first reason is the ability to maximize your 5/24 status. You can really max out the value of your 5/24 card slots here because even after applying for a combined total of seven personal and business cards, your card count is still at 4/24.

The second reason is the sheer number of miles within one frequent-flyer program (in addition to Chase Ultimate Rewards) you can earn with this card opening strategy. None of the other Chase co-branded airline cards earn you close to the same number of miles, with the exception of the Avios cards but the redemptions aren’t quite as valuable due to the taxes and fees.

With such a high volume of United miles, you can potentially travel four times in business class and save the Chase Ultimate Rewards you’ve earned for other purposes like hotel bookings or award flights with any of Chase’s other airline transfer partners.

The last reason is that United is a part of Star Alliance, which typically charges far less in taxes, fees and carrier surcharges than other alliances. Although 85,000 miles for a business-class seat to Europe might not be the best deal in the world, paying $50 in fees rather than $740 starts to look a little better.

Choosing United also gives you a plan after opening the Chase Sapphire Preferred® and some Chase Ink Business Cards. A clear path forward that will set you up for success is much better than having points scattered across a variety of different programs.

United Award Sweet Spots

Now that we’ve (hopefully) convinced you why the United cards deserve some serious consideration if you’re under 5/24, let’s take a look at some of the best award flights you can book with the miles you earn.

United has two types of award tickets: Saver and Everyday. Saver tickets are your best bet for getting the most value out of your miles.

Excursionist Perk

The Excursionist Perk is a feature of the MileagePlus program that provides a free one-way segment within a multi-city itinerary made up of three or more one-way segments (with conditions).

These conditions include:

  • The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)
  • Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
  • The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk are within a single MileagePlus defined region.
  • The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
  • If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.

It sounds complicated, but here’s an example of how it can be used. If traveling to Europe is your plan, oftentimes you want to visit multiple cities in Europe on one trip. The Excursionist Perk lets you add an additional flight within Europe for free.

If you depart from New York and travel to Paris, you can add a free segment from Paris to Brussels and then return home from Brussels to New York all without adding to the cost of your trip.

Fly United Polaris Business Class to Asia

United announced its new Polaris business class in 2017, and since then it’s been a slow rollout of this product across the aircraft. All of the Polaris business class seats have direct aisle access, so if you’re traveling solo, it offers an added layer of privacy.

Fly United Polaris Business Class to Asia

If you want to try out this business class product, you can travel from San Francisco to Tokyo for just 70,000 United miles. You can also visit Hong Kong or Taipei for the same price.

Lufthansa First Class

Because Lufthansa is a Star Alliance member, you can book flights with the airline using United miles.

Lufthansa’s first-class product is a tricky one to book because award availability is released to partners only 14 days prior to departing, but if you can wait until the last minute to book your travel, it will definitely be worth it. Even though United uses dynamic pricing, you can typically find a first-class flight for about 121,000 miles.

ANA First Class to Japan

ANA First Class has both great seats and great service, and because it’s part of Star Alliance, you can book your award flights using United miles. If you can find Saver awards on this airline, you’ll be able to book your flight in first class for just 121,000 United miles. These seats are incredibly private and are accompanied by fantastic in-flight meals and service.

Final Thoughts

For someone who is under 5/24 and just starting out, it’s hard to argue against the value of this card opening strategy when so many United miles are on the table in addition to a large number of Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

United might not have the best deals. However, of the other Chase airline cards that earn you miles, United can earn you the most, and you will pay less in taxes and fees. Once you’ve earned enough MileagePlus miles, the airline has some great sweet spots and perks to help you get the most value out of your rewards. Go, Frank, go!