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New United Credit Cards Offer Elite Miles for Charges

United has just rolled out three new Mileage Plus Visa cards. They all come with high annual fees—starting at $130 and soaring to a sky-high $375—and enough extra perks to potentially make them worth every penny.

At the top of United's new plastic pyramid is the United Club Visa Card. For that annual $375 fee, cardholders receive two miles per dollar spent on United tickets; one year of Red Carpet lounge membership; and 5,000 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) after spending $35,000, plus up to 5,000 additional EQMs for spending in excess of $35,000. There's a 30,000-mile enrollment bonus, awarded after $250 in charges.

This one's all about the airport lounge membership, which is normally priced at $525 for non-elites. The EQMs are nice, but $35,000 is a pretty high threshold for most consumers, and you'd have to spend $85,000 to earn the full 10,000 EQMs.

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Next, for $275 annually, there's the Mileage Plus Access Visa Card. In addition to the standard one frequent-flyer mile per dollar charged, cardholders receive the following: Economy Plus seating for the cardholder and one companion; two one-time Red Carpet Club passes; 5,000 EQMs after spending $35,000, plus up to 5,000 additional EQMs for spending in excess of $35,000. The enrollment bonus is 20,000 miles and a $100 United discount travel certificate after $250 in purchases.

Here, the bulk of the value lies in the Economy Plus seating, which normally costs $349 per year.

And lastly, for a mere $130, there's the Mileage Plus Select Visa Card, which offers the following: three miles per dollar spent on United tickets; two miles per dollar spent on Star Alliance tickets, gas, home improvement, grocery, and dining purchases; 5,000 bonus miles every year; and up to 5,000 EQMs per year for united.com purchases. There's a 30,000-mile enrollment bonus and a $100 United discount travel certificate after $250 in purchases.

The added value with this card is in the triple- and double-mile multipliers, a worthwhile benefit for those who make significant charges in the eligible categories.

Notice the pattern here? At least for the priciest of the cards, the credit card fee is less than the annual fee for the featured travel benefit. United really, really wants to get those cards into the consumers' wallets.

Clearly United has run the numbers and determined that Mileage Plus credit card customers are a highly profitable segment of its market. And they've sliced and diced that market, packaging combinations of perks applicable to several different types of travelers. That's good marketing. And it's good for consumers who fit into the categories United has identified and targeted.

For those whose needs (and budget) are more modest, United still offers the basic Mileage Plus Visa Signature card, with an annual fee of $60. While that card is pretty bare bones, it does come bundled with a hefty 30,000-mile enrollment bonus.

And through October 31, cardholders can earn double miles for qualifying charges in the travel, grocery, dining, and automotive categories.

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