Many airlines allow you to pay your membership fee to their airport clubs with miles, but to the best of my knowledge United removed this benefit after its merger with Continental. The number of miles required is usually tiered by elite status (just like the cost when paid by cash or credit card), but almost all airlines charge about 50,000 miles for members in the top tiers of their respective loyalty programs.
United has made many moves since its merger to drive revenue growth. Everything from raising the cost of Premier Accelerator, pushing upgrades and Economy Plus seating, and avoiding dilution of its MileagePlus in contrast to American’s frequent double elite and redeemable mileage bonuses. It’s no surprise that they’d want you to pay cash instead of miles for access to the United Club.
And to be upfront about it, using miles is not always a great way to pay for the club. You get a value of just under a penny per mile. I’m only presenting it here as an alternative that I haven’t seen discussed very much elsewhere. It’s always great to know your options.
Besides paying for it outright, there are three other ways to get United Club access:
- Gold status with Aegean Airlines or another international Star Alliance member. Your domestic U.S. flights will count as an “international” itinerary and be eligible for access to all Star Gold lounges.
- Get a membership to the US Airways Club (though this will be expensive if you don’t have elite status with US Airways).
- Pay for the United MileagePlus Club Visa, a credit card that offers Club membership and a bunch of other benefits for an annual fee of $395. Premier 1K members are normally charged $375 if they buy a United Club membership outright, but with all the other perks, I think this card is a better deal. (See my review.) Sometimes you can even get the first year’s fee waived.
It’s this last point where the miles come into account. I talked this morning about the United Choices program. One of the things you can do is redeem miles earned through spend on a United credit card for your annual fee. I do this already with my MileagePlus Select card. But there’s no reason you can’t do it with a much higher annual fee. Like, say, a $395 annual fee that also includes United Club membership.
The cost works out to just under 50,000 miles, in line with other programs. But if you’re a Premier 1K member, you also should account for a $60 annual fee statement included as part of your elite benefits. I was under the impression it was only one statement credit per member, but apparently some people have reported receiving multiple credits with one for each United credit card.
@TheMrPickles provided me these screenshots showing two $60 statement credits he just received on his United cards. (I highly recommend following his Twitter handle. Rather than rehashing old news, his cryptic comments usually result in some new savings or special knowledge.) This means you’d save a few thousand more points when redeeming for your annual fee.
Since the United Club Visa offers 2X points on United purchases and 1.5X points on everything else, this means you could, in theory, get the 49,375 miles you need for a United Club membership each year by spending under $25K on United or under $33K on other stuff, including Vanilla Reloads. Not the greatest spending bonus, but one more reason to consider getting the United Club Visa.