Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
& Juan Ruiz
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Should you get an airline or a travel credit card — and is there really a difference between the 2?
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the United℠ Explorer Card exemplify this common debate you may have when opening a new account. Both cards are issued by Chase and carry reasonable annual fees under $100, but there are more significant differences between the 2 popular cards than you may think.
Buckle up for an in-depth comparison of these starter cards!
First, let’s see the earning rates, benefits, and ongoing fees side-by-side:
|Benefit||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||United℠ Explorer Card|
|Welcome Bonus Offer||Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.||Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.|
|Statement Credits and Partner Benefits||
|Travel Benefits and Protections||
|Shopping Benefits and Protections||
|Annual Fees and Authorized Users||
When applying for any card, you may be eligible to earn a welcome bonus as a new applicant. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you’ll earn a big boost of Ultimate Rewards points, while the United Explorer card comes with a sizable offer of MileagePlus miles.
Here are the current welcome offers you can expect from these 2 cards:
A fantastic travel card with a huge welcome offer, good benefits, and perks for a moderate annual fee.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is one of the best travel rewards cards on the market. Its bonus categories include travel, dining, online grocery purchases, and streaming services, which gives you the opportunity to earn lots of bonus points on these purchases.
Additionally, it offers flexible point redemption options, no foreign transaction fees, and excellent travel insurance coverage including primary car rental insurance. With benefits like these, it’s easy to see why this card is an excellent choice for any traveler.
With priority boarding privileges, no foreign transaction fees and more, MileagePlus members will definitely enjoy their partnered card.
You travel United all the time, but you have heard that there could be ways to make your travel experiences even better, including priority boarding, free bags, and more miles.
You should consider the United℠ Explorer Card, because this card does all that and more!
As a general travel rewards card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card earns points through the Ultimate Rewards program. Since these points are tied to Chase and not to 1 specific airline or hotel program, you have the flexibility to redeem your rewards for virtually any purchase.
On the other hand, the United Explorer card earns miles through the carrier’s loyalty program, known as United MileagePlus. Your miles can be redeemed for flights on United’s website, meaning they’re mostly locked into redemptions for United flights or its Star Alliance partners, like Air Canada or Singapore Airlines.
|Bonus Earning Category||Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (Ultimate Rewards Points)||United Explorer Card (United MileagePlus Miles)|
|Dining||3x points||2x miles|
|Online Groceries||3x points (excludes Target, Walmart, and warehouse clubs)||1x miles|
|Select Streaming Services||3x points (includes popular options like Apple TV, Spotify, and YouTube Premium)||1x miles|
|All Other Purchases||1x points||1x miles|
Another point of consideration is our valuations of points and miles of various reward currencies. We value Chase Ultimate Rewards points much higher at 2 cents, while we estimate that United MileagePlus miles are worth 1.2 cents — especially in the wake of constant devaluations to the loyalty program.
|Redemption Option||Chase Sapphire Preferred Card|
(Ultimate Rewards Points)
|United Explorer Card (United MileagePlus Miles)|
|Redeem for Travel||Yes, 1.25 cents per point toward travel in the Ultimate Rewards travel portal||
|Transfer Points/Miles to Airline and Hotel Partners||Yes (Chase transfer partners)||N/A|
|Redeem for Gift Cards and Merchandise||Yes||Yes, for 0.3 to 0.6 cents per mile|
|Redeem for Cash or Cash Toward Statement Credit||Yes, 1 cent per point||N/A|
With the United Explorer card, the best use of your miles is redeeming them on United or partner award flights or upgrading your existing flights. While other options like gift cards and hotels exist, they will likely result in a suboptimal value and are generally not recommended.
But let’s say you’re not loyal to 1 airline — say United Airlines in this case. Earning rewards through a general travel card (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card) is almost always the better long-term option.
That’s because the Chase Ultimate Rewards program offers many opportunities to book travel that are not limited to 1 carrier. You can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio to 10+ airline and hotel loyalty programs — including United MileagePlus. In other words, if you’ve got 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer any amount in 1,000-point increments to the United MileagePlus program (up to 60,000 miles in this case).
But you can turn those Ultimate Rewards points into other reward currencies, too, like Marriott Bonvoy, Southwest Rapid Rewards, and World of Hyatt, to name a few. There’s a great deal of international airline loyalty programs in the mix, and understanding those sweet spots is where you can get maximum value from your Ultimate Rewards points — to the tune of 2 to 4+ cents per point.
Conversely, you can redeem your Ultimate Rewards points to book virtually any flight, hotel, rental car, or excursion through the Ultimate Rewards portal. In this fashion, your points are worth 1.25 cents apiece, which is still a great value compared to the (much more) limited use of United MileagePlus miles.Hot Tip:
Both cards offer useful statement credits and partner benefits that can be used to offset the cost of the annual fees.
When you sign up for a United Explorer card, you’re likely in it for the carrier-specific perks. The most commonly advertised benefit on the card is the free checked bag (more on this below), which can be a substantial money-saving perk depending on how often you fly with United.
Chase also offers one of the best-in-class travel protections for its cardholders, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the United Explorer card are certainly no exceptions. Let’s see what’s on the table if you need to tap into your credit card’s travel benefits and protections.
Next time you rent a car, decline any car rental loss and damage insurance the rental car company provides. Both cards offer primary rental car insurance that covers theft and collision damage on most rental cars in the U.S. and abroad. If you ever need to tap into this benefit, you’ll receive reimbursement up to the car’s actual cash value.
When you purchase eligible trip costs with either card, and your trip is interrupted or canceled by a covered reason, you may qualify to get reimbursed for your nonrefundable travel expenses. However, the coverage limits are different for each card — let’s take a look.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card can reimburse you up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip in prepaid travel expenses. The maximum for a 12-month period is $40,000. Your immediate family members will also be covered as long as you purchased their trip expenses with your card — even if you are not on the same trip. You’ll also receive trip delay coverage for disruptions of more than 12 hours or requiring an overnight stay. You can receive up to $500 per person per trip when a covered delay disrupts your travels for more than 12 hours.
The United Explorer Card also provides similar trip interruption and cancellation insurance terms. However, the maximum coverage limits are up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip, which is significantly smaller than the benefit amounts on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. However, the trip delay coverage remains the same: if your common carrier travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family can receive up to $500 in reimbursement.
Both cards offer baggage coverage, reimbursing up to $3,000 per passenger for checked or carry-on luggage damaged or lost by the airline or other common carrier travel provider.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card and United Explorer cards are Visa Signature cards, so you can contact the Visa Signature Concierge 24/7 via the dedicated phone line. The concierge can assist with a variety of everyday or special requests, such as purchasing concert tickets, making dinner reservations, or booking travel.
The United Explorer card comes with a slew of perks when you’re flying with the carrier:
The most valuable perks are the free checked bags, which can cost $35 each way. And if you’re the type of flyer who likes to visit the United Club but can’t justify paying hundreds of dollars for a more premium card with lounge access, getting 2 passes per year may be just the happy medium, as one-time passes normally cost $59 out of pocket.
The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection by Chase allows United Explorer cardholders to book premier hotels and receive elite-like perks, such as a room upgrade (upon availability) and complimentary breakfast for 2 guests. This unique perk could help you save on an upcoming luxury hotel stay.
Outside the scope of travel, these cards offer excellent everyday benefits worth mentioning.
Shopping portals are an underrated way to earn bonus points and miles on your card purchases.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
United Explorer Card
The United shopping portal operates similarly but does not actually require you to hold the United Explorer card to access it. Anyone with a MileagePlus frequent flyer number can shop through the portal and earn bonus miles.
Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the United Explorer card offer purchase protection for damage or theft of eligible items purchased with your card for the first 120 days. Purchase protection provides up to $500 per claim, with a maximum of $50,000 per cardholder account in reimbursements.
If you purchase an item with either card with an original manufacturer’s warranty of 3 years or less, the extended warranty benefit extends coverage by an additional year.
Any solid travel card should waive foreign transaction fees when you purchase abroad in a different currency. Fortunately, both the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the United Explorer card do not charge any foreign transaction fees whatsoever.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the United Explorer card are both beginner-friendly thanks to their approachable annual fees:
There is no charge to add additional authorized users to either the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the United Explorer card. Authorized user cards also earn rewards, and they’ll be pooled into the primary cardholder’s balance.
It’s recommended to have a good to excellent credit score to qualify for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the United Explorer card. And as they’re both issued by Chase, you’ll need to brush up on the Chase 5/24 rule before applying.
Even if you have the necessary credit requirements to qualify, if you’ve opened more than 5 credit cards from any issuer in the past 24 months, you’ll have a hard time getting approved for either one.
If you’ve considered applying for either card, we hope this in-depth comparison guide has made that decision much easier for you.
The United Explorer card is worth applying for United loyalists who want extra perks when they fly on the Chicago-based carrier. Its earning rate is not as competitive as other travel cards on the market, and United MileagePlus miles are always subject to devaluation.
On the other hand, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is far superior if your goal is to rack up points and save money on travel across various airlines and hotels. The flexibility of Ultimate Rewards points simply can’t be beaten by most credit cards.
That said, there’s no reason why you can’t have both cards, especially since neither one comes with an exorbitant annual fee. While the Chase Sapphire Preferred card provides better earning rates in almost every bonus category, the United Explorer card comes with interesting perks like a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck/NEXUS credit and a free checked bag just by holding the card.
As always, you’ll want to crunch the numbers to see if both annual fees are worth paying in the long run. No matter which card you end up with, understanding the perks that come with each card can help you make the most of your yearly membership cost.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a classic traveler’s card that will likely appeal to a broader audience as it earns Ultimate Rewards points redeemable on virtually any airline, hotel, or other travel expense. With over a dozen transfer partners, you can find outsized value with your rewards, making the Chase Sapphire Preferred card the best option for those who want to book award-winning travel. The United Explorer card is a popular pick for United flyers as you can get a free checked bag, priority boarding, and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit.
Yes, you can transfer your Chase points to United’s frequent flyer program at a 1:1 rate.
Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of the most valuable credit card currencies out there. You can transfer your points to 14 airline or hotel transfer partners, book travel through the Chase travel portal at an elevated 25% rate, get gift cards or cash-back, and more.
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UP's Bonus Valuation
This bonus value is an estimated valuation calculated by UP after analyzing redemption options, transfer partners, award availability and how much UP would pay to buy these points.