United Explorer℠ Card Review

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"Travel in style on United without having to earn status first."

With a sign-up bonus, 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; priority boarding, free bags, and more miles.

You should consider the UnitedSM Explorer Card, because this card does all that and more!

Card Summary Table

  • Card Bonus & Info (Partner Content)
  • Card Provider
    Visa Chase Bank
  • Card Type(s):
  • Card Focus:
    • Airlines
  • Annual Fee
    • $0 Intro for First Year, then $95
  • Rewards Center
  • Foreign Transaction Fees
    $0
  • Typical Users
    Frequent Travelers, Hobby Travelers, International Travelers
  • Customer Service Number

    1-800-935-9935 (available 24/7)

  • Login Link
  • Partners
    United is part of the Star Alliance. Airline partners include (but are not limited to): Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Asiana Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, and Singapore Airlines
  • Interest Rates ?
    • 17.74% - 24.74% Variable
  • Late fees
    • See Rates & Fees
  • Balance Transfers
    • 17.74% - 24.74% Variable
  • Cash Advance APR
    • 26.74% Variable

The Ideal Cardholder

Businessman Deciding on Airline
If you are looking to make a choice of airline loyalty, consider United Airlines. They have multiple options to earn points both with United credit cards and Chase Ultimate Rewards cards.

Sign-Up Bonus, Earning Categories, and Points

You can sign up for the United Explorer℠ Card right now and get bonus miles after spending the required amount needed in the allotted time (see card summary table above).

If you want an additional miles, you can sign up an additional cardmember and have them make a purchase as well.

The card earns 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, hotels, and dining, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.

The card costs $95 per year.

Bottom Line:  The United Explorer℠ Card earns 2x points for all purchases with United, hotels, and dining, and 1x points for all other purchases. It costs $95 per year.

United Explorer℠ Card Benefits

With this card, you get priority boarding so you can get on before the other non-status paid customers and reserve your overhead bag space. You also get one free checked bag each for yourself and a traveling companion.

Contrast this with the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard: you get similar earning potential and boarding privileges but can get free bags for up to four travel companions.

If you’re looking for a foreign travel card then the United Explorer℠ Card will work for you: there are no foreign transaction fees with the card.

This isn’t the best earner for overseas travel, but it’s a good option if you don’t have another card with no foreign transaction fees.

Bottom Line: First checked bag free, and priority boarding are features of the United Explorer℠ Card. If you’re traveling internationally, you won’t have any transaction fees!

United Award Miles and Elite Status

Note that with United, you earn award miles based on the number of dollars spent on each ticket. You earn 5x points or more per qualifying dollar spent on travel, depending on your elite status.

With the card, you earn 2x extra points, giving you a total of 7x points without any elite status. This is equivalent to reaching the first elite status tier, Silver.

Elite status is gained through qualifying miles and dollars. You earn these based off actual mileage, plus a bonus depending on the fare category that you purchase.

The United Elite Status tiers are Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Premier 1k. With Elite Status, you get a bonus of 2-6x miles on top of the standard 5x, and the extra 2x for having the card.

Miles you earn and existing miles in your MileagePlus program account won’t expire as long as your account stays open and in good standing, which includes basic activity such as paying your annual fee.

Bottom Line: The United Explorer℠ Card adds 2x miles to your base 5x when making purchases with United. Adding in elite status when using the card, you can earn up to 13x miles!

Luxury Travel Benefits of the Card

The United Explorer℠ Card offers two free passes to the United Club lounge per year. This is a $100 value, which makes up for the annual fee of the card by itself.

You are also able to access the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection properties, which are exclusive to certain Chase credit cards.

When you book through their portal, you can get free room upgrades and special amenities like free breakfast for two and more at these high-end properties all over the world.

Additionally, the card allows you to book an awards flight any time with no blackout dates. Typically, you would have to be an elite status member to receive this.

All available seats are available to book rewards, which is not standard across the industry. You’ll also have access to upgraded awards tickets, but your priority will be below that of paid customers.

Awards flights on United are similar to most airlines and start at around 10,000-12,500 miles per one-way ticket. A trip to Europe is also a typical 30,000 miles for an economy class one-way ticket. See their full award chart here.

Finally, the card offers access to the array of travel and purchase insurances, which can be very helpful in emergencies or when things don’t go as planned. See the Gritty Details for more information.

Bottom Line: The United Explorer℠ Card offers two free lounge visits, luxury hotel benefits, no blackout date award seats, and plenty of travel insurances to cover your trip!

Comparing the United Explorer℠ Card to Other Cards

While the United Explorer℠ Card is a good card, the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard has more overall benefits.

With the additional checked bags (each bag can cost $25-35), a 10% rebate on mile redemptions, and a 25% discount on in-flight purchases, this card holds slightly more value in our eyes.

If the offered benefits aren’t quite enough for you, but you want to stick with United, you can always upgrade to the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card, which earns 1.5x miles on everything and gets you some extremely good benefits.

This is a $450/yr card, but remember that the higher the annual fee, the more benefits and value a card will likely provide.

Final Thoughts

The card earns 2x miles for flights with United and costs $95 per year. You get two free United Club passes each year.

You also get access to a variety of different card insurances and fringe benefits, including access to the Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection properties and a free checked bag!

Bottom Line: The United Explorer℠ Card is a great card for those looking to improve their experience on United Airlines by adding in some travel benefits while earning 2x miles, for just $95 per year.

Great Card If

  • United is your favorite or most frequently traveled airline, along with the rest of the Star Alliance airlines
  • You want the full range of travel insurances available through your credit card

Don't Get If

  • You don’t have a United hub near you or don’t fly much on Star Alliance
  • You’d rather have more frills for your card benefits

U.P. Pro Tips

Connect your United Explorer℠ Card to a United Dining Club account to get additional miles when you use the card to dine out!

Credit Card for Restaurant Bill
Use MileagePlus Dining and connect it to your United credit card in order to quickly earn miles for dining out! After you reach VIP status, you’ll earn up to five miles per dollar!

How To Use the United Explorer℠ Card: The Upgraded Way

Best Way To Maximize Points

Here are some ways to maximize the miles for the United MileagePlus program.

Tip #1: If you are chasing the PQD waiver, use the card for all flights and all purchases up until the $25k limit. If you are spending more than that, continue to use your card for United flights, but use a higher earning card for anything else.

Tip #2: Sign up to the United MileagePlus Dining to earn additional miles when you dine at participating restaurants. Right now you can earn up to 3,500 bonus miles within the first 60 days!

Tip #3: Get the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Freedom®, and/or the Chase Ink Business cards as well to combine strategies. This allows you to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points as well as United miles!

Use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to earn 2x on all other travel and restaurants, and the Chase Freedom® Card and Chase Ink Business cards to earn 5x in certain categories (see card math for details).

Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to United MileagePlus.

Tip #4: Work to get Elite Status as quickly as possible, which will allow your rewards to rack up much more quickly. Try to do this by flying for work or other business reasons.

Alternatively, you can do a Status Challenge: get a status matched from another airline program, and within 90 days travel a certain amount to get permanent status through the next year.

Tip #5: If you can’t fly United, fly one of the Star Alliance members so you can earn United Elite Qualifying and Award Miles.

You won’t get 2x points from the credit card, however, unless it’s purchased directly through United. But the 5x and up points from the program itself are worth more than getting none from another airline.

Tip #6: You can earn miles by renting cars! Use the specific code and earn miles with Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty rental agencies.

You can also get them through other ground transportation companies like GroundLink, SuperShuttle, ExecuCar, Carmel, and Bandwagon.

Tip #7: Similarly, don’t forget the hotel partners! If you’re not going to collect points with the hotel (which may or may not be more valuable), then you can earn miles through their hotel partners:

Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, IHG, Hyatt, Club Carlson, Wyndham, Choice, and Golden Circle.

You can even earn when using booking partner Rocketmiles.

Tip #8: Be sure to pay for things like additional checked bags and other services with the card to earn 2x points.

Tip #9: Finally, you can use the United Shopping Portal to earn additional miles for purchases!

Mouse Cord Online Shopping Symbol
Don’t forget you can earn a lot more miles if you shop online using the MileagePlus shopping portal! You can even use their MileagePlusX app to increase the earnings further.

Best Way To Redeem Points

There are many ways to redeem your United miles, but in any case you should redeem them for as high a value as you can.

In this case, you cannot use them for statement credit since they go directly to the MileagePlus program, but those aren’t the best value anyway!

Tip #1: Redeeming miles with airlines, as usual, is best done through international award travel. Tickets in United international economy class start out at 30,000 miles for a one-way international flight.

Tip #2: Tickets for domestic travel start at 10,000 miles for certain destinations and 12,500 for others; try to get your lowest option. Otherwise, you could spend up to 25,000 for a one-way domestic ticket, which is a terrible value comparatively!

Tip #3: United offers complimentary upgrades when available, which is better than many other airlines. If you book an award ticket with the card, you can still get an upgrade! This boosts the value of your miles by a lot.

Tip #4: United is a member of the Star Alliance. You can use miles on flights with all the partners in this alliance. This helps you expand the value of the card and the availability of flights to your desired destinations.

Tip #5: United miles can also be used to rent cars, hotels, and merchandise. However, since flights typically carry the highest value on redemptions, we’d recommend sticking with them.

Partners

United has many airline partners, as well as other travel-related partners. You can also earn and use miles in a variety of ways outside of travel if you so choose!

United Airline Partners

Star Alliance:  Air Canada, Air India, Air China, Asiana Airlines, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, Brussels Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, ANA, Avianca (and Avianca Brazil), Egyptair, LOT Polish Airlines, Swiss, THAI, Turkish Airlines, TAP Portugal, Austrian, Adria, EVA Air, Aegean Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, and South African Airways

Other Airline Partners: Aer Lingus, Aeromar, AirDolomiti, Azul, Cape Air, Edelweiss, Eurowings, Germanwings, Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, Silver Airways and Jet Airways

Other Travel Partners

Non-Travel Partners

Card Math

Let’s look a little deeper into the value of the United Explorer℠ Card. Here, we’ll compare the cost and benefits from a monetary standpoint to see where it takes us.

A Quick Recap and Elite Status Qualification Information

First up, the summary of the card:

Annual FeePoints Earned on FlightsPoints Earned on Hotels and DiningPoints Earned Everywhere Else
$95/yr2x2x1x

As with most bonus points, your miles will not go toward your United MileagePlus Elite Status. However, it is important to work on your Elite Status if you want to maximize your ability to earn miles for rewards.

Earning Elite Status on United is a bit trickier than most airlines. They have a few stipulations in addition to the typical minimum miles flown (which they call premier qualifying miles or PQM).

This includes premier qualifying dollars (PQD), and also the stipulation that you must fly a minimum of four paid flight segments each year in order to maintain your status.

In addition, to gain status, you can travel on flights operated by United or other partners (Star Alliance or otherwise), and earn PQM and possibly even PQD. See the following chart:

United_Mileage_Plus_Earning_Matrix
Courtesy of United.com.

Your actual Elite status tiers and required PQM and PQD (you can also use segments, called PQS) are shown below.

United_Mileage_Plus_Elite_Matrix
Courtesy of United.com.

Bottom Line: You must earn both a certain number of qualifying miles AND dollars in order to earn elite status in the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program.

Earning Awards Miles on United

As we mentioned above, you get 5x points per qualifying dollar in purchases (this excludes government imposed fees and taxes) as well as a bonus if you are an Elite Status member. The following table shows this:

Elite StatusBonus MilesStandard MilesTotal Miles
Silver2x5x7x
Gold3x5x8x
Platinum4x5x9x
Premier 1k6x5x11x

*The table shows elite status award mile bonuses

Calculating the Miles Earned Using Model Families

Next, let’s do some calculations. Utilizing our fictitious families, we have the following matrix of yearly spend on flights and other categories.

We will assume that the families don’t use their card for the “other” category of spending, but put everything else on the card.

Note that we realize the fares will include taxes and fees, but for simplicity’s sake of calculations, we will ignore them at this point.

FamilySpending on FlightsOther Spending
Kennedys$2,400$20,200
Jetsons$6,000$30,400
Hartnells$7,800$37,300

Let’s quickly also assume that the families are at Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels on Elite Status, respectively, and therefore earn bonus miles on top of the typical 5x miles.

Then, adding in the 2x miles from the card, the total for the Kennedys for example would be 9x on flight purchases and 1x on other spending.

FamilyTotal Miles Earned
Kennedys41,800
Jetsons90,400
Hartnells123,100

Math Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Considering the cash value of some of the other card benefits, there is some additional value…but free checked bags, club passes, and priority boarding don’t get anywhere near this.

A free checked bag for someone with no status is worth $25 per instance, the club passes are worth a collective $100, and priority boarding could be valued at the cost of a checked bag (if you don’t get overhead space, you’d be forced to check at $25 per instance).

If you go on four flights per year and don’t have to pay these fees, you could save up to $500 on round-trip flights.

As soon as you have status, the free checked bag and priority boarding benefits are redundant, so you won’t really be adding any extra value.

But the value from spending at the above levels is good enough to warrant the card if you’re a United Airlines fan.

Bottom Line: Between the value of miles earn and up to $500 in benefits value, this United Explorer℠ Card will definitely pay for itself.

The Gritty Details: Everything Else You Need To Know

The card is pretty easy to use, and there’s not a lot of details other than trying to find all the deals to earn points.

Their sign-up bonus is offered only to new cardmembers who haven’t owned the card in the past 24 months, but having other Chase cards does not disqualify you.

Your $25,000 spending bonus to earn extra miles is calculated for each calendar year. If you’re going to try to hit the bonus, you’ll want to give yourself a full year’s worth of spending. All points from this and the other offers can take up to six weeks to hit your account.

To take advantage of the free checked bag and priority boarding for travel companions, you must have purchased the fares together on the card so you are on the same reservation in their systems.

United Club passes are single use, single person tickets, and you get two each calendar year. These are not accepted at the United Arrivals Lounge, United Global First, or Star Alliance Lounges.

Award availability for flights is subject to the area of the country you are in and where you are going. The same goes for upgrades: while you technically have complimentary upgrades, don’t expect to be upgraded every time!

You have no control over your upgrades, and can only improve your chances if you earn a higher elite status.

Your miles won’t expire as long as you continue to have the account open and pay your annual fee.

Other Unique Features

In addition to the main benefits, the United Explorer℠ Card comes with a full suite of travel insurances, which is great for those who love to stay covered. The following are the full range of benefits offered by the credit card issuer.

Remember that to take part in these benefits, you must have purchased the travel on the card. Most insurances are secondary, but some are primary.

Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection privileges – A travel portal of over 750 high quality resorts, lodges, hotels, and spas.

When you book through the portal, you get complimentary breakfast (for two), a room upgrade upon arrival (if available), early check-in/late check-out, and a special benefit unique to each property.

Complimentary upgrades on award tickets for Premier Members – If you’re traveling on a domestic flight and it is an award ticket, you have the ability to get the free upgrade.

This will be dependent on space, and you will be pushed to the bottom of the upgrade list below paid members in the order of your frequent flyer status.

Any seat, any time with your miles – This ensures you can use your miles to book at any time, regardless of flight.

Some airlines black out certain seats that can’t be used as award  redemptions; with this option, you don’t have to worry about it!

Concierge – It’s always nice to have a personal assistant waiting around! With the concierge services benefit, you can call and have someone help you book a restaurant reservation, get tickets to a movie, or hundreds of other tasks.

There have been some reports about what they can and can’t do, but it’s worth a try to ask! The number is 1-800-888-8756.

Inside Access – Inside Access is a portal that offers curated and VIP experiences to cardmembers. These include concerts, cultural events, wine tastings, and more. They go so far as to claim you can even meet a celebrity!

Baggage delay insurance – Get up to $100 per day for three days when your baggage is delayed by six hours or more due to a carrier error.

Lost luggage reimbursement – If the carrier simply loses your luggage entirely (or damages it), you’re entitled to up to $3,000 per passenger in your immediate family.

Trip delay reimbursement – If the carrier delays your trip by more than 12 hours OR requires an overnight stay, you can get covered for up to $500 in incidentals per ticket.

Trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance – If the trip gets cut short due to severe weather or sickness of yourself or your immediate family, you can get up to $10,000 reimbursed for anything that was pre-paid and non-refundable.

Travel accident insurance – For any common carrier accident, you’re covered up to a certain amount in accidental death or dismemberment during your trip until you return.

Auto rental collision damage waiver – You can get coverage up to the value of the car for theft and collision damage, both in the U.S. and abroad. This insurance is primary (which is not usually the case for credit card insurances).

Purchase protection – If you have an item that gets damaged or stolen within 120 days of your purchase, you can get up to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per year.

Extended warranty protection – Get an extended warranty of one year for any warranty that is three years or less.

Zero liability, charge disputes, and fraud alerts – You won’t be liable for any fraudulent charges, any disputed charges will be frozen, and any suspected fraud will be notified to you in a manner of your choice.

Emergency card replacement and cash – If you get into a pickle on a trip, you can get up to $1,000 in emergency cash within 24 hours when you are in Canada or the U.S. This guarantee goes up to one day when you are abroad elsewhere.

Photo Credits/Credit/Copyright Attribution:
Worker Throwing Airplane: nikitabuida/Shutterstock
Restaurant Bill with Card: RTimages/Shutterstock
Mouse Cord Shopping Cart: Digital Storm/Shutterstock
Cartoon Jumping Chasm: Padma Sanjaya/Shutterstock

FAQ

Is the United Explorer℠ Card worth it?

Chase has two personal United credit cards: the United Explorer℠ Card and the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card. Both have their pros and cons; the biggest difference is the Club card costs $450 and provides you unlimited lounge access.

The United Explorer℠ Card has a $95 annual fee and gives you to 2 lounge passes per year, so it is probably better for a less frequent traveler.

You’ll also get a sign-up bonus, a free checked bag per flight, priority boarding, and no foreign transaction fees.

The benefits of using this card could well exceed the $95 annual fee if used correctly; check the Card Math section in the review above for more details.

How do I redeem United Explorer℠ Card Card miles?

Miles earned are deposited directly into your MileagePlus account. After that, you can redeem them for awards flights on United and other Star Alliance partners.

Miles can also be redeemed for other things, such as merchandise. See the United site for more details.

How long does it take for United Explorer℠ Card miles to post?

United miles can take six to eight weeks to post to your account. If you think your miles haven’t posted, you can contact Chase customer support.

What is the Chase credit card with United Club access?

Both Chase United cards actually offer you United Club access. However, the United Explorer℠ Card only offers you two free passes per year, while the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card offers unlimited lounge access.

Which is better, the United Explorer℠ Card of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card?

There are a couple key differences between these cards, which should help you decide which one to use. Both cards give you the ability to earn United miles.

The United card only earns 2x points on flights purchased directly with United. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll get 2x points on any flight, as well as almost all other travel related purchases.

You also earn 2x points on dining purchases with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Both cards earn 1x points outside of these categories.

Another difference is in the card benefits. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers no additional card benefits outside of the ability to transfer your points to travel partners (United being one) and 20% off in their travel portal.

However, the United card offers a free checked bag per flight, priority boarding, and two free United Club passes each year.

They both have a $95 annual fee. The sign-up bonus could be the last thing to consider; whichever is greater may be the better choice. It is up to you to determine if the categories you spend in are worth it for either card.

Which is better: United Explorer℠ Card vs Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card?

Both Chase United cards help you earn miles, but they have different structures. The Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card is geared toward more frequent travelers, while the United Explorer℠ Card is better for those who travel less frequently.

The first difference is in the United Club access: the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card gives you unlimited lounge access, while the other only offers two Club passes per year.

As far as earning miles, the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card earns you 1.5x points on all purchases. The Explorer card earns 2x points on United purchases, hotels, and dining, but only 1x everywhere else.

While the United Explorer℠ Card offers you one free checked bag, you’ll get two free checked bags with the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card. This is useful if you travel a lot and don’t have status.

Both cards offer you priority boarding, but the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card also offers priority check-in and security lines, as well as baggage handling so you get your bags first.

Finally, the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card gets you Platinum status in the World of Hyatt program, so if you stay in hotels and prefer Hyatt, this will be a plus.

These cards do have different annual fees, which could be the deciding factor. The United Explorer℠ Card only has a $95 annual fee, while the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card will cost you $450 per year.

Which credit cards earn United miles?

There are 4 United credit cards:

  • United Explorer℠ Card
  • Chase United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card
  • Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card
  • Chase United MileagePlus® Club Business Card

You can also transfer points to United MileagePlus using Chase Ultimate Rewards cards:

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Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.

2 comments

  1. Great overview of the card but there’s one other benefit to the card you didn’t mention. It boosts miles earned buying gift cards through the MileagePlus X shopping app by 25% and the miles you earn through the online shopping portal. When you combine purchases there with purchases through the online shopping portal you can rack up a ton of miles since the United shopping portal doesn’t care if you pay with a gift card.

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