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In a Nutshell:
Though the United TravelBank card offers a good rewards rate for no annual fee, a traditional cash back card would probably be a better choice. This offer is no longer available.
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Average Yearly Rewards Value ($15,900 spend)
Chase Customer Service Ratings
Other Notable Features: 25% discount on United food and beverage purchases, no foreign transaction fee, auto rental collision damage waiver, luxury hotel and resort perks, price protection, purchase protection, extended warranty
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This card is not currently available to new applicants. It has been replaced by the new United Gateway Card.
The United TravelBank card from Chase is a new entry into the travel card category, and it falls into a niche that is sorely lacking in competition: airline cards without an annual fee. For the moment, we only count two other airline cards (the JetBlue card and the recently released Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card) that come with no annual fee.
The TravelBank card is aimed at casual travelers who don’t want to commit to the expenses and maintenance that typically come with an airline card. Chase touts it as a card for “cash back enthusiasts” that combines “the simplicity of a cash back card” and “the ability to redeem seamlessly for travel.” However, stop right there – the TravelBank card is not a cash back card.
The rewards that you earn for the TravelBank card are neither cash back rewards nor airline miles. Rather, you earn “TravelBank cash” with the card, which can be redeemed for one thing only: United airfare.
With such limited redemption options and Chase’s “5/24” rule limiting you to five Chase cards in a 24-month period, it makes little sense to waste an application on this card, given the plethora of better options.
Good rewards rate
The one thing in the TravelBank card’s favor is the rewards rate, which is generous for a travel rewards card, especially compared to other airline cards. You earn 2 percent TravelBank cash on every dollar you spend on airfare purchased directly from United Airlines, and 1.5 percent TravelBank cash on general purchases. The United MileagePlus card, in comparison, only offers a 1 percent rewards rate – or 1 mile per dollar spent – on general purchases.
Modest sign-up bonus
You also earn $150 in TravelBank cash for meeting a $1,000 spend threshold in your first three months of membership. This is a modest incentive for an airline card. The United MileagePlus card, for example, offers up to 45,000 points (worth around $684) as a sign-up bonus.
Of course, it’s not exactly fair to compare the TravelBank card to a premium card with a high annual fee, but you can also find better deals with no-annual-fee cards. For instance, the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a $150 sign-up bonus with a much lower $500 spending threshold.
Limited redemption options
Though the TravelBank card is promoted for its ease of redemption, the restrictions on redemption are actually one of the card’s most serious drawbacks.
The TravelBank card does have a few plusses compared to other airline cards: There are no limits to how much you can earn, and, unlike airline miles, your rewards never expire. Also, you don’t have to deal with the usual headaches that come with redeeming airline miles. You can combine any amount of TravelBank cash with other forms of payment to redeem for any flight through United, which means that you don’t have to amass a large number of miles to purchase a ticket with your rewards, nor do you have to worry about limited rewards seats.
However, you are restricted to redeeming your TravelBank cash for airfare purchased directly through United.com or United’s reservations line. Most rewards cards offer multiple ways to redeem points, including cash back and airfare on multiple airlines, in case you don’t want to be limited to flying on a single airline.
Almost no perks
Further limiting the TravelBank card’s appeal as an airline card is its lack of airline perks. Besides a 25 percent discount on United Airline in-flight purchases, the card offers no other airline benefits, such as free checked bag or priority boarding privileges. Though we wouldn’t expect a no-annual-fee card to offer the same level of benefits as a premium card, the total lack of perks makes it difficult to recommend the card over a general travel rewards card.
Additionally, the card won’t get you a leg up on United MileagePlus elite status. In order to achieve elite status with United, you must reach a certain number of PQPs (Premier qualifying points) and PQFs (Premier qualifying flights). Depending on how many you earn, you can qualify for elite status by combining PQPs and PQFs or based on PQPs alone. Unfortunately, though, TravelBank Cards do not earn PQP for card spend.
On the upside, the card doesn’t charge a fee for foreign transactions, which means you can use it while traveling abroad. Also, it comes with Visa Signature benefits, including an auto rental collision waiver, price protection, purchase protection, extended warranty and more.
Why not get a cash back card instead?
Each dollar that you earn with the TravelBank card is worth exactly a dollar of United airfare – this equals the value of the rewards on a traditional cash back card.
There are many cash back cards on the market that match or exceed the TravelBank’s 1.5 percent rewards rate on general purchases. The Citi® Double Cash Card, for example, gives you up to 2 percent cash back on your spending – 1 percent when you make a purchase and another 1 percent as you pay for your purchases. Considering that you can use cash back any way that you please – for airfare, for merchandise, for a deposit into your savings account – a cash back card may be the best bet if you are looking for true ease of redemption.
Why get the United TravelBank card?
- You want to downgrade from another Chase card to a no-fee card.
How to use the United TravelBank card:
- Purchase your airfare directly from United to earn the 2 percent rewards rate.
- Be sure to spend $1,000 in the first three months to earn the sign-up bonus.
- Use the card for general purchases to earn a high rewards rate.
- You can use the card in foreign countries, since it doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
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