More details on the MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid Card


Welcome on board Polaris

The United Airlines MileagePlus GO Prepaid card is now live. Almost. Maybe. A website for the product is live but applications are not yet available. Presumably that will be resolved soon. But even without the ability to apply there are some details available about how the card will work, what it will cost and what you can earn.

Details on the MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid Card from the company.
Details on the MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid Card from the company.

The MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid Card is issued by Republic Bank & Trust Company and is, generally speaking, just another debit card. Unlike most debit cards, however, this one comes with an $85 annual fee to offset the points earning capability it presents. Consumers can earn 1 MileagePlus point per dollar spent on the card, up to 2,500 points each month. Also, only “signature purchases” (a/k/a “credit”) count towards points earning. This excludes PIN-based transactions (a/k/a “debit”) as those are priced differently to the merchant, effectively taking away the margin the bank earns on the deal that covers it buying points from the program to pay out to the consumer.

Details on the MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid Card from the company.
Details on the MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid Card from the company.

The GO prepaid card also includes an interesting feature for the cash balance awaiting your spending: It pays interest, and at a decent rate, too. The first $1000 of balance on the card will earn at a 5% APY. Anything over $1000 pays only 0.5% APY. The card carries a 3.5% foreign transaction fee, ATM usage fees (unless in MoneyPass Network ATMs) and a $9.95 charge to replace a lost/stolen/damaged card. Also, no interest fees on transactions which sounds awesome until you realize that you have to park money in the account in advance; insufficient balance means transaction denied. And the 5% APY doesn’t make up for leaving that money in the prepaid account.

So, who should get this card??

No one. Absolutely no one. The card is a bad deal. You should not get it.

The $85 annual fee is only $10 less than the MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card. And for saving that $10 you get a significantly reduced earning potential and none of the other ancillary benefits that come with the credit card. No free checked bag. No priority boarding. No increased award availability, but that’s probably okay because the card also comes with strict caps on earning potential. It will be hard to generate sufficient points to redeem for “big” rewards through the MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid Card.

Okay, so not everyone can get the premium card. That’s usually because of credit score issues. Consumers in that boat should be working on improving their credit score and doing so with products that carry a significantly lower set of fees than this does.

The points game/hobby/economy/whatever you want to call it is amazing. It drives people to spectacularly inefficient or irrational spending behaviors. That’s great for the marketing teams and awful for consumers. Don’t get caught in this one.

Header image: Inside the new United 777-300ER Polaris Cabin, award seats that this card will almost certainly not open up for consumers.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

19 Comments

    1. The balance is FDIC insured and there’s a link on the site talking about disputing transactions so I suppose so. Still doesn’t make it a good choice.

  1. I just don’t know what the market is for this. If you’re using a pre-paid card you’re probably in a lower income bracket that doesn’t travel much. The odds of you being able to spend $2,500 on a prepaid card is very unlikely. So the paltry United Miles you earn likely has no value to you.

    1. The market is people who are blinded by the allure of “points” so they cannot figure out they’re being screwed.

  2. I read your writeup, and my view has changed on the card. It’s indeed a poor value for most everyone. Even the unbanked would likely be better off with a secured card through a credit union/reputable bank that would carry a reasonable interest rate and build positive credit history.

    1. I understand that the target market is theoretically those who are otherwise outside the traditional banking system. Those people generally need help getting (back) in and establishing credit and all that fun stuff. I’ve been fortunate to not be in that position in life but I get it.

      Spending all this extra money just to earn a few points that may or may not be useful at some point is a bad approach to addressing that challenge.

  3. This seemed like a potentially good solution for those over 5/24 who’d MS $2.5k each month. But the lack of clarity of loading fees makes it less appealing.

    1. I dunno…if you’re that desperate for 30k UA points a year that seems like a lot more issues than this card can fix.

  4. Thanks for sharing information about the card, and giving your honest appraisal on the value (or otherwise in this case) of this card, rather than always saying a card is worth getting!

    Regards, Alastair Majury

  5. I find this card an option for me, I don’t have a SSN so I’m unable to get any credit card, so even when you, Seth, have commented at every post out there regarding this card that it is totally worthless and nobody should get it, for a person without SSN, this is a modest option to earn miles. Think twice before making everyone improve their credit score to get a regular credit card.

    1. Due respect, Dan, but this is still probably a bad deal for you. The amount you’ll be paying in real cash for the paltry miles earning is not a good deal.

        1. Get a SSN (assuming legally you can) and build credit or ignore the paltry points you’d earn from this and focus on other ways to spend your money.

          1. I don’t even know why did I ask such question, I should have anticipated the answer I was going to get….

          2. Indeed. My position on the issue of points and value and “investment” is pretty clear.

            Points are great if/when they’re really free or close to it. Once you’re going out of your way to acquire them the associated costs are generally more than most folks are willing to admit, defeating the purpose. My goal is to help remove some of the emotion and excitement from the process and guide people towards rational decisions rooted in objective, factual analysis.

            Good luck!

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