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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card vs. United Explorer Card [Detailed Comparison]

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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!

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card vs. United Explorer Card — Overview

First, let’s see the earning rates, benefits, and ongoing fees side-by-side:

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BenefitChase Sapphire Preferred® CardUnited℠ Explorer Card
Welcome Bonus OfferEarn 75,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Earning Potential
  • 5x points on Lyft (through March 31, 2025) and travel purchased through Chase Travel 
  • 3x points on dining, online grocery purchases, and select streaming services
  • 2x points on other travel
  • 1x points on other purchases
  • 2x miles on United Airlines purchases, dining, and hotel stays
  • 1x miles on other purchases
Redemption Options
  • Transfer points to airline and hotel partners, including United
  • Chase travel portal bookings
  • Cash-back/statement credits, Pay Yourself Back, gift cards, online shopping, PayPal purchases
  • Redeem miles for United or Star Alliance partner award flights
  • Upgrade your flight
  • Hotels, car rentals, cruises, merchandise, gift cards, events
Statement Credits and Partner Benefits
  • $50 annual hotel credit when booked through Chase Travel
  • DoorDash DashPass
  • $15 quarterly Instacart+ credit and membership
  • Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS application fee credit
  • DoorDash DashPass
Travel Benefits and Protections
  • Primary car rental insurance
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, lost and delayed baggage coverage
  • Access to Visa Signature Concierge 24/7
  • Free first checked bag on United flights, priority boarding, 2 United Club one-time passes per year, and more
  • Primary car rental insurance
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, lost and delayed baggage coverage
  • Access to Visa Signature Concierge 24/7 and The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
Shopping Benefits and Protections
  • Purchase protection, extended warranty
  • No foreign transaction fees
Annual Fees and Authorized Users
  • Annual fee of $95
  • No additional fee to add authorized users
  • Annual fee of $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95
  • No additional fee to add authorized users

The Value of a Welcome Bonus Offer

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:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
U.P. Rating 
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

A fantastic travel card with a huge welcome offer, good benefits, and perks for a moderate annual fee.

A fantastic travel card with a huge welcome offer, good benefits, and perks for a moderate annual fee.
Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's worth over $900 when redeemed through Chase Travel℠.
75,000 points
$1,500
$95
21.49%-28.49% Variable
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

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.

Pros
  • 5x points on all travel booked via the Chase Travel portal
  • 5x points on select Peloton purchases over $150 (through March 31, 2025)
  • 5x points on Lyft purchases (through March 31, 2025)
Cons
  • $95 annual fee
  • No elite benefits like airport lounge access or hotel elite status
  • Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s over $900 when you redeem through Chase TravelSM.
  • Enjoy benefits such as 5x on travel purchased through Chase TravelSM, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases, $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase TravelSM. For example, 75,000 points are worth $937.50 toward travel.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
  • Member FDIC
Financial Snapshot
  • APR: 21.49%-28.49% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
Rewards Center

Chase Ultimate Rewards

United Explorer Card

United℠ Explorer Card
U.P. Rating 
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

With priority boarding privileges, no foreign transaction fees and more, MileagePlus members will definitely enjoy their partnered card.

With priority boarding privileges, no foreign transaction fees and more, MileagePlus members will definitely enjoy their partnered card.
Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
50,000 bonus miles
$600
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
21.99% - 28.99% Variable
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

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!

Pros
  • 2x miles per $1 on United purchases, dining purchases (including delivery services), and hotel stays
  • 1x mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • First checked bag free for you and up to 1 traveling companion
Cons
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee
  • Does not earn transferable rewards
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases
  • Up to $100 Global Entry, TSA PreCheck® or NEXUS fee credit
  • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights and on Club premium drinks when you pay with your Explorer Card
  • Free first checked bag - a savings of up to $140 per roundtrip. Terms Apply.
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Member FDIC
Financial Snapshot
  • APR: 21.99% - 28.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
Rewards Center

United MileagePlus Frequent Flyer Program

Hot Tip:

Before applying for any new card, you’ll want to get the best welcome offer available. Using the CardMatch tool is a great way to see if you have targeted offers based on your credit history and other factors.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points vs. United MileagePlus Miles

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.

ANA First Class Empty Window Seat
Book this epic first class seat with transferable rewards like Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Image Credit: Stella Shon

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.

Earning Potential

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Bonus Earning CategoryChase Sapphire Preferred Card (Ultimate Rewards Points)
United Explorer Card (United MileagePlus Miles)
Travel Purchases
  • 5x points on Lyft (through March 31, 2025) and travel purchased through Chase Travel 
  • 2x points on all other travel purchases
  • 2x miles on purchases from United, including tickets, Economy Plus seats, inflight food, beverages, and Wi-Fi
  • 2x miles on hotels booked directly 
  • 1x miles on all other travel purchases
Dining3x points2x miles
Online Groceries3x points (excludes Target, Walmart, and warehouse clubs)1x miles 
Select Streaming Services3x points (includes popular options like Apple TV, Spotify, and YouTube Premium)1x miles
All Other Purchases1x points1x 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.

Bottom Line:

In most cases, you’ll see that the Chase Sapphire Preferred outearns the United Explorer card. In addition, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers bonus points on everyday spending categories, such as online groceries and streaming services, allowing you to earn rewards beyond travel.

Redemption Options

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Redemption OptionChase Sapphire Preferred Card
(Ultimate Rewards Points)
United Explorer Card (United MileagePlus Miles)
Redeem for TravelYes, 1.25 cents per point toward travel in Chase Travel
  • Redeem for United- or Star Alliance-operated flights (value varies)
  • Redeem for upgrades on eligible United flights (value varies)
Transfer Points/Miles to Airline and Hotel PartnersYes (Chase transfer partners)N/A
Redeem for Gift Cards and MerchandiseYesYes, for 0.3 to 0.6 cents per mile
Redeem for Cash or Cash Toward Statement CreditYes, 1 cent per pointN/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 Chase Travel. 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:

Use our unique transfer partner tool calculator to determine exactly how many points or miles you need for your redemption. It also considers any active transfer bonuses, which is a great way to get even more value from your transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards!

Statement Credits and Partner Benefits

Both cards offer useful statement credits and partner benefits that can be used to offset the cost of the annual fees.

DoorDash Scooter
Both cards offer DoorDash partner benefits. Image Credit: DoorDash

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

  • $50 Hotel Credit: Receive an annual statement credit of up to $50 towards hotel stays booked through the Chase travel portal.
  • Instacart+ Benefits: Cardholders are eligible for a free 6-month Instacart+ membership plus a $15 quarterly credit if you activate by July 31, 2024.
  • DoorDash DashPass Subscription: Get a 1-year membership to DashPass and unlock free delivery fees and lower service fees on eligible DoorDash and Caviar orders. Activate by December 31, 2024.

United Explorer Card

  • Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS: Receive up to $100 as a statement credit when you charge your Global Entry ($100), TSA PreCheck ($78), or NEXUS application fee ($50) to your United Explorer card. The statement credit is available once every 4 years.
  • DoorDash DashPass Subscription: Get a 1-year membership to DashPass and unlock free delivery fees and lower service fees on eligible DoorDash and Caviar orders. Activate by December 31, 2024.
Bottom Line:

The United Explorer card is one of the most affordable credit cards with a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit. This benefit can be quite valuable even if you’re already part of either Trusted Traveler Program, as you can pay for anyone’s application fee with the card and get reimbursed with a statement credit.

Travel Benefits and Protections

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.

Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance

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.

Trip Interruption, Cancellation, and Delay Coverage

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.

Lost and Delayed Baggage Coverage

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.

Concierge and Travel Assistance

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.

United Explorer Card — Additional Travel Protections and Benefits

United-Specific Benefits

The United Explorer card comes with a slew of perks when you’re flying with the carrier:

  • Free first checked bag for the primary cardholder and 1 companion on your reservation when you fly on United-operated flights
  • Premier upgrades on award tickets if the primary cardholder has United elite status, the primary cardholder and 1 companion on your reservation get placed on the upgrade list on United flights
  • Priority boarding for the primary cardholder and travel companions booked on the same reservation
  • 2 United Club one-time passes after account opening and every cardholder anniversary
  • 25% back on United inflight and Club premium drink purchases, received as a statement credit

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.

United Club ORD Gate C10
The United club passes are worth $59 each, so make sure you use them yearly. Image Credit: United

Access to The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection

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.

Shopping Benefits and Protections

Outside the scope of travel, these cards offer excellent everyday benefits worth mentioning.

Earn Bonus Rewards for Shopping

Shopping portals are an underrated way to earn bonus points and miles on your card purchases.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase offers a shopping portal at chase.com/ultimaterewards, which allows you to earn up to 20x additional Ultimate Rewards points per dollar at hundreds of online retailers.

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.

Purchase Protection

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.

Extended Warranty

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.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

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.

Annual Fees and Adding Additional Users

Annual Fees

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the United Explorer card are both beginner-friendly thanks to their approachable annual fees:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: $95 annual fee
  • United Explorer card: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee

Adding Additional Users

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.

Everything Else You Need To Know

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.

Final Thoughts

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, or 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Chase Sapphire Preferred card better than the United Explorer card?

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.

Do Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United Airlines?

Yes, you can transfer your Chase points to United’s frequent flyer program at a 1:1 rate.

How do Ultimate Rewards work?

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.

Does Chase have a United credit card?

Yes. Chase is the co-branded credit card issuer of United credit cards, including the United Explorer card.

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About Stella Shon

With a degree in media and journalism, Stella has been in the points and miles game for more than 6 years. She most recently worked as a Corporate Communications Analyst for JetBlue. Find her work in The New York Times, USA Today, and more.

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