What to Know About United's MileagePlus GO Prepaid Visa Card (and Why I Rejected It!)

United MileagePlus GO Prepaid Card - ochristine

Like most of you, I receive lots of junk mail. Spam, scams, and advertising: I have countless credit card offers, loan consolidation offers, coupons, and even memberships cards with my name on them. On my last mail pick up, one of these cards was from United Airlines.

While I normally ignore the influx of hotel and airline cards sent my way, I noticed this one wasn't a credit card offer. In fact, it seemed like a prepaid Visa card that would allow me to load the card up whenever I wanted and receive United Airlines' MileagePlus miles for my purchases. Simple, right?

For the first time, I didn't toss the card and decided I'd look further into it. While I am happy with the combination of our Chase Sapphire and Bank of America travel rewards cards, I am always open to new ways to save money

It’s the only prepaid card that offers you the ability to earn United MileagePlus® award miles.
— MileagePlusGO.com

Fast forward to today: I finally looked up the prepaid card, and found there was much more to this than it appeared. No surprise there... but I know way too many people who would jump on the chance to sign up without further investigating (and then later complain about how they were 'scammed' when in fact they just didn't read the fine print). So I decided to present some important information you should know before using the card.

Purchase Plan Options with MileagePlus GO Prepaid

To use a card, you must choose a purchase plan. This is a usage fee, so to speak. There are two purchase plans with the MileagePlus GO Prepaid Visa card. One plan is a monthly fee plus 1:2 mile-to-dollar ratio, and the other is an annual fee plus a 1:1 ratio. Read on for the details:

  • Monthly purchase plan: When you choose this option, you are charged $5.95 upon first load, monthly. So if you load $100 onto the prepaid card, you'll have $94.05 to spend and earn miles. This monthly purchase plan allows you to earn 1 mile per every $2 spent.

  • Annual purchase plan: When you choose this option, you are charged $85 upon first load, annually. So if you load $100 and choose the annual fee, then you are left with $15 (but don't have to pay until the next year). With this plan you'll earn 1 mile for every $1 dollar spent.

For comparison: If you were using the United MileagePlus Club Card (an actual credit card), you'd earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on everyday purchases and double that on United purchases (like flights booked directly). While the annual mileage purchase plan on MileagePlus GO  is better than its monthly plan, it still doesn't beat credit card perks.

The United Explorer Card, though, does match MileagePlus GO Prepaid's annual benefits (1:1), with 2:1 perks on United purchases, as well as hotel and restaurant transactions. These credit cards have annual fees of $450 and $95, respectively. 

Can You Change Purchase Plans with MileagePlus GO?

According to MileagePlus GO, if you decide you don't want the plan you initially chose, you can switch the purchase plan. You just have to call 1-866-578-4348 or log into your Online Account Center at mileageplusgo.com.

Note: the changes you make won't activate until the next monthly plan cycle. This means if you opened your account on the 22nd (regardless of whether it was an annual or monthly plan), any changes you make go into effect on the 22nd of the next month. The 22nd of each month would be your monthly plan cycle. 

Activating Your MileagePlus GO Prepaid Card

When you get your prepaid Visa, there will be a sticker on the card. This sticker provides instructions on how to activate your card: you can either go to mileageplusgo.com or call 1-866-578-4348 to activate.

When you set up your account you'll have to create a four-digit PIN. You should also have a United MileagePlus rewards account (that's free to set up separately and defeats the purpose of having this card if you don't have an account). If you do not select a purchase plan when you set up you account, it defaults to the monthly plan.

Earning miles with MileagePlus GO Comes With a Limit

Your everyday purchases will earn you miles, as mentioned above. But you should know there is a limit to those earnings. According to the cardholder agreement, you cannot earn more than 2,500 miles per calendar month. That means if you spend more than $2,500 on that card in a month, you'd be losing out on miles. 

Also note, even though you've set up a PIN, debit transactions that require a PIN to purchase will not be considered a qualified purchase and will not earn miles. More on that below.

MileagePlus GO Prepaid Visa Card's Qualifying Purchases

Credit, debit, and prepaid cards all have their own definition of a "qualifying purchase" so it is important to make sure you're actually benefiting from the money you're spending. 

"Signature Purchase Transactions" are qualifying when you shop online or in-store (using "CREDIT") to pay. 

If you are going to use this MileagePlus GO card, know that the qualifying purchases do not include: 

  • Returns

  • Refunds

  • Cash withdrawals (via ATM or over-the-counter)

  • Transactions that require a PIN

  • Items that convert to cash (travelers checks, for instance)

  • Gift cards

  • Online bill payments

Types of fees to expect with United MileagePlus GO 

Like all other financial services, there are tons of fees associated with this card -- depending on how you use it. This list includes fees I think you'd most likely run into:

  • Foreign transaction fee: 3.5% of the U.S. dollar amount charged

  • ATM withdrawals: no fee at MoneyPass Network ATMs, but $2.50 elsewhere

  • ATM withdrawals (international): $4.95 per transaction plus foreign transaction surcharge (3.5%)

  • ATM declines: $1 per declined transaction

  • Replacement card fee: $9.95

Is it worth getting the MileagePlus GO Prepaid Card?

I ended up throwing away this card after reviewing all the details because the rewards cards I currently use are more beneficial to my travel style. On top of that, United is not my preferred airline.

I think if you truly love flying with United (or using United miles for shopping) and for some reason can't get approved for a credit card, this might be a great fit for you. Otherwise, I suggest getting at least the United Explorer Card, which has a $95 annual fee: only $10 more than MileagePlus GO's $85 fee, and is often waived for the first year.

The Explorer Card also offers the same miles-to-U.S. dollar ratio as the prepaid card (1:1), plus will give you a free checked bag, priority boarding, no foreign transaction fees, club passes, concierge service, and more. The prepaid card simply does not give you the same perks. 

So again, if you have an issue with your credit, can't get approved for a credit card, and are truly dedicated to gaining miles with United, it might be worth getting the prepaid card. Otherwise, choose the similar Explorer Card if your heart is set on earning miles with United. 

I hope you found this information about United's MileagePlus GO Prepaid Card helpful!

I am not an insider or sponsored, nor did I end up activating the card for myself. I read through their 16-page cardholder agreement and singled out important details I thought many people should know before taking the leap.

You can read more for yourself at the MileagePlus GO website. 

xx, O.

Is the United MileagePlus GO Prepaid Card Worth It - ochristine

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