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The United℠ Explorer Card could be a good card pick for anyone who flies with United several times per year, while spending $1,000 or more with them.
You get 2X miles per dollar for ticket purchases from United, in addition to the minimum of 5X miles per dollar you’ll get for being a Basic United MileagePlus member. That’s 7X miles per dollar to start out, and you can increase that even more by raising your member status.
Miles can be worth up to 2 cents each, potentially even more, depending on how you redeem them. That can give you a cash back equivalent of 14%, quite a tidy sum. There are also 40,000 introductory bonus miles to earn if you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and another 25,000 bonus miles for spending $10,000 in the first six months.
Cardholders will have travel perks like free first checked bags and priority boarding, with a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases. Two annual passes are provided for United Club airport lounges. You’ll get a fee credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. And the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection provides some complimentary services at select hotels.
The Explorer Card can be quite rewarding, although there’s a more expensive version of this card that comes with better travel benefits. The right card offer for you will depend in part on how much you’ll end up spending with United.
|United℠ Explorer Card (This review)||$95 (waived the first year)||
|United MileagePlus® Club Card (Review)||$450||
Keep reading to learn more about the United Explorer Card, and find out if it should be your new traveling companion.
We give the United Explorer card 4 out of 5 Stars because it can provide cardholders with a wealth of miles, along with some nice airline perks.
The United Explorer Card is good for flying United, but if you want more or different benefits you can check out some alternatives to this card below.
We’ve found mile redemptions for United Saver Award routes that can provide the equivalent of about 14.3% cash back, depending on how you earn the miles. Your miles are worth about 2 cents each at that rate. That’s a good deal, although the value you get will vary depending on how the miles are redeemed.
|Introductory Bonus Offer|
Introductory bonuses are available to new cardmembers if you don’t already have the card, and if you haven’t received an intro bonus for this card in the past 24 months.
When you’re approved for this card you’ll also become a Basic United MileagePlus member, if you aren’t one already. You’ll start at the basic level, which comes with 5X miles per dollar on tickets from United.
Combined with the 2X miles you’ll get from this card, that means you’ll start out earning 7X miles per dollar on tickets from United. Take note that this applies to tickets purchased from United, not United flights booked through other means like travel agencies. As long as you buy the tickets through United you’ll get the miles.
You can earn more miles per dollar by upgrading your MileagePlus member status. There are four levels above the basic membership tier, with the highest, Premier 1K®, offering 11X miles per dollar. If you fly United frequently you should definitely look into these higher member levels.
The value of your miles will depend on how you redeem them. Each mile can potentially be worth as much as 2 cents or more. If you redeem for 2 cents each, you can earn the equivalent of 14% cash back when spending at the 7X rate, as we show in our redemption example below (2X from the card, 5X from Basic MileagePlus member status). Other purchases could earn the equivalent of 2% cash back, a very good rate for non-category purchases.
The miles you earn will be deposited into your MileagePlus account at the end of each billing cycle. Keep this delay in mind if you’re planning a trip.
If you close your card account you’ll lose any miles in your associated MileagePlus account, unless you first transfer them to a different MileagePlus account.
United provides many ways to redeem your miles. The value you get per mile will depend on how you redeem. You can use miles for practically any purchase from United, although some options will give you a much better value than others.
Your redemption options include:
We recommend using your miles for United flights in most cases, looking for Saver Award and Everyday Award routes in particular. This will usually give you the best value for your miles, although you may occasionally find a great deal elsewhere.
Next, we’ll go over an airline ticket redemption example, showing how you can get an excellent value for your miles. Then we’ll discuss the MileagePlus experiences, because this is a unique service that can provide exclusive access to certain events, some of which look pretty interesting. However, most people will get the best value from basic award flight redemptions.
You may not always be able to find a Saver Award flight route, but you’ll be able to save a whole lot of miles if you can. And if you book a flight further out from the current date the extra fee for award travel will be reduced, letting you get an even better value.
Say you want to take a round-trip flight from San Francisco, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. If you leave on June 30th, about 60 days from now, you can take a Saver Award flight each way, for a total of 45,000 miles plus a fee of $11.20. A sooner set of flights could have a fee as high as $161.20, for example.
These same flights would cost $920, if you paid for them normally.
How much would you need to spend with your Explorer card to earn this flight?
Assume you spend with United to earn miles at the 7X rate (2X from the card, 5X from Basic MileagePlus member status). It would take $6,429 in spending to earn 45,000 miles. Then you could use those miles to pay for the flights to and from Hawaii.
In this example you spend a total of $6,440.20, after adding in the fee. That gets you a round-trip flight valued at $920. Your cash back equivalent is 14.29%, an excellent value. It would be even better if you had a higher MileagePlus membership tier.
Your miles were worth about 2.04 cents each here. Remember that this was for a Saver Award route, providing a better value per mile than other redemptions.
Total spend: $6,429 + $11.20 = $6,440.20
Cash back equivalent: $920 is about 14.29% of $6,440.20
United offers all MileagePlus account holders access to a selection of interesting experiences, with some extra deals for Explorer cardholders.
Rather than purchasing these experiences outright with your miles, you’ll usually need to bid on them with other MileagePlus members. Some experiences sell for as low as 5,000 miles, while others go for over 200,000 miles. There may also be some limited-quantity offers that you can buy instantly for a set amount of miles.
Some experiences are related to dining, sports, or meeting music stars at festivals. A few current experiences include:
If you’re not trying to get the best possible value for your miles, you may want to save them up to bid on an interesting experience that you’d enjoy. Many of these offers would be hard to come by through other means. And since they’re sold by auction, you could potentially get an incredible deal for a fairly low number of miles.
The Explorer card will cost $95 to use after the first year, so you’ll want to earn enough miles to offset that fee.
The amount you’ll need to spend will depend on the rate at which you earn miles. It will also depend on how much you get per mile when you redeem.
Here’s how much you’ll need to spend to get $95 worth of miles, at the 1X and 7X rates (2X from the card, 5X from Basic MileagePlus member status). We also show two different redemption values.
|1.5 Cents per Mile||2.0 Cents per Mile|
|1X Miles per Dollar||$6,334||$4,753|
|7X Miles per Dollar (2X from the card, 5X from Basic MileagePlus member status)||$905||$679|
So, at a minimum, you’ll need to spend $679 to offset the $95 annual fee of this card. That assumes you earn at the 7X rate and can redeem your miles for 2 cents each.
Keep in mind that this is just to offset the annual fee, and you’ll want to spend more than this so the card is actually profitable for you. It also doesn’t take into account any of the other cost-saving benefits you’ll get with this card, like free checked bags, United Club access, and the Luxury Hotel & Resort collection.
This card comes with a nice set of benefits, from three different sources:
When you’re approved for this card you’ll also become a United MileagePlus member, if you aren’t one already. This means you’ll get your own MileagePlus account, which will hold the miles you earn.
MileagePlus members can reach a higher membership level by spending and flying with United each year. There are four Premier status levels to reach above the basic level, with higher tiers providing more miles per dollar and better airline perks.
Each status level will require earning a certain number of:
Here are the Premier levels, along with the basic membership level for comparison:
|Status Level||Requirements||Miles per Dollar|
Once you spend and fly enough to qualify for a particular status level, you’ll immediately gain that status through the end of the following year.
You and one traveling companion on the same reservation will get your first standard checked bag free on United-operated flights. This is a $30 value per bag, for a possible savings of $120 per round trip.
The tickets must be purchased from United, and the MileagePlus account number associated with your Explorer card must be included in the reservation.
Most airline cards at this price level will provide your first checked bag at no cost. If you’re willing to pay more you can get a better benefit in some cases. The United MileagePlus Club card, for example, pays for both your first and second checked bags. The Amex Gold Delta SkyMiles actually provides free first checked bags for you and up to eight traveling companions.
Get 25% back in the form of a statement credit on eligible in-flight purchases on United and United Express-operated flights. You must make the purchases using your United card.
Eligible in-flight purchases include food, beverages, and Wi-Fi.
Many co-branded airline cards offer a discount on in-flight purchases. The best offer we’ve found is from JetBlue, with the JetBlue Card and JetBlue Plus Card. They offer a 50% discount on in-flight purchases, where most cards only offer 25% back at the most. And that’s on top of a host of additional benefits that can elevate your JetBlue travel experience.
Each year you’ll get two one-time passes to the United Club airport lounge. You can enjoy complimentary beverages and snacks, WiFi, a quiet workspace, and more.
Your Club passes will be delivered digitally to your MileagePlus account. Lounges can be accessed by showing the pass codes on your phone, or you can print the codes out.
The passes are only good for United Club lounges, not other United lounges like United Arrivals or United Polaris. You can search for United Club locations around the world.
Authorized users, which are free to add to the card, don’t receive any additional passes.
Many airline and hotel credit cards offer some kind of airport lounge access, either a full membership or discounted access. The upgraded version of the Explorer, the MileagePlus Club card, comes with full complimentary access to United Club lounges. But if lounge access is really what you’re after, you can’t do better than The Platinum Card® from American Express. It provides free membership to The Centurion lounge, Priority Pass Select Lounges, Escape Lounges, Airspace Lounges, Plaza Premium Lounges, and Delta Sky Clubs.
Get a statement credit for the application fee for either Global Entry ($100) or TSAPre✓ ($85). This credit is available once every four years, and you must charge the application fee to your card to get it.
Global Entry and TSA PreCheck provide expedited security screening at airports, letting you get through more quickly and with less hassle. Global Entry actually includes TSA PreCheck.
Many travel cards provide this perk today, but the United Explorer card is one of the few co-branded airline cards to offer it at this fee level.
The primary cardmember and any traveling companions on the same reservation will get priority boarding, prior to the general boarding call.
To get this benefit, include your MileagePlus number in your reservation, and refer to your United boarding pass for your boarding group number.
The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection is provided by Chase, and includes benefits at over 900 locations around the world. In addition to hotels and resorts, many lodges and spas can be found in the collection as well.
You’ll get five perks when booking rooms through this service:
To access these benefits, you must book your stay through the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection with your UnitedMileage Plus Explorer card, either online or by phone.
Call 1-800-953-7392 to speak with your own personal assistant through Visa Signature Concierge. You can call for help with all sorts of non-emergency tasks, though this service will probably be most useful when traveling. If you’re bored in a new city or not sure where to stay the night, give your concierge a ring to see what they can offer.
The concierge can provide four main types of assistance, but you don’t need to limit yourself to these topics:
Many travel credit cards with annual fees around $100 offer a concierge service like this. It usually comes with the Visa Signature and World Elite Mastercard benefit levels, and the service is typically about the same, no matter who provides it. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Barclaycard Arrival Plus cards both offer a concierge. And so do some other airline cards, like the AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®.
Some people have made interesting, strange, or downright goofy requests of their credit card concierge. You can read about some of those stories from an ex-concierge for American Express Platinum and Centurion cards.
Visit Chase Inside Access to get invitations to exclusive events and experiences. Music, sports, dining, and cultural events are included. Many of the offers allow you to dine with chefs or meet famous stars and figures in sports.
Some of these deals can be yours for just a couple hundred dollars, while others will cost several thousand. Some of the current and past offers of Inside Access are:
Only a few Chase cards come with the Inside Access service. Currently it only seems to be available with their line of United co-branded cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example, doesn’t come with Inside Access, but it does come with a different but similar perk called Preferred Experiences. Many issuers offer some kind of service like this, although most cardholders will probably never use them. If you have a fun or otherwise interesting time through a credit card service like this, feel free to let us know!
These kinds of features are common on most credit cards, particularly Zero Liability Protection.
|Purchase APR||Balance Transfer APR||Cash Advance APR|
|17.99% - 24.99% Variable||17.99% - 24.99% Variable||26.49% Variable|
|Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Balance Transfer Fee||Cash Advance Fee|
|$95||$0||Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.||Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.|
|Penalty APR||Late Fee||Returned Payment Fee|
|None||None||Up to $39|
There’s no annual fee for the first year, but after that you’ll need to pay $95 for this card. As mentioned above, you can offset that fee with as little as $679 in spending, depending on how you earn and redeem miles.
The other terms and fees are pretty straightforward as well. There’s no foreign transaction fee to pay, making this a good option to bring with you outside the country. Most travel credit cards like this have no transaction fee, along with some other cards. All Discover and Capital One cards have no foreign transaction fee.
If approved for this card you’ll be given a credit limit of at least $5,000.
Chase may increase your credit line occasionally, if you show responsible credit behavior. You can also request a credit limit increase yourself, which we usually recommend doing every six months or annually.
|Chase Customer Support||
1-302-594-8200 (outside U.S., call collect)
|MileagePlus Customer Support||1-800-421-4655|
Chase customer support is not too bad, although we’ve occasionally had some issues getting accurate information from them. If you’re a cardholder you should be able to easily get information about your own account. But if you’re not a cardholder you may have a tough time learning about some card details, like the benefits.
J.D. Power, a marketing analytics company, conducts a Credit Card Satisfaction Survey each year. Last year, in 2017, Chase ranked 5th out of 11 major credit card companies. That’s a bit below the industry average. Chase has been coming in at about that rank for the past couple years, although before that they were coming in 3rd place pretty consistently.
You’ll find the Explorer card on both Chase’s website and United Airlines’ website. And you can see the Guide to Benefits online as well, though this is harder to find so we’ve provided a link for you.
As a cardholder, you can contact Chase via their secure message system through your online account. They can answer questions and send you account information, though it may take a few days. Or, anyone can get ahold of them on Twitter, @ChaseSupport. Be sure not to reveal personal or account information on Twitter or other social media networks.
Use the Explorer card to get at least 7X miles per dollar on tickets purchased from United, including the minimum of 5X miles you’ll get for being a United Basic MileagePlus member. If you can raise your member status this card will become even more profitable. You can potentially get an equivalent of 2% cash back for non-United purchases, but you may be able to get more than that with a different reward credit card.
Get your introductory bonus by spending enough in the first few months, which shouldn’t be too hard if you can take at least one flight during that time. Remember to use your benefits every time you fly (when they’re eligible), to get the most out of the Explorer card. They can save you quite a bit of money per year and they’ll help offset the annual fee.
There’s an upgraded version of the Explorer, the United MileagePlus Club Card. And there are cards branded with other airlines, as well as general-use travel cards that are good for a variety of travel expenses. Check out some alternatives to the Explorer card below.
You can apply for the United Explorer Card securely on Chase’s website.
Most applicants will get an instant decision, but it might take longer for some people. In some cases Chase may request more information.
The United MileagePlus® Club Card (Review) is the upgraded version of the Explorer card. It’s meant for more frequent United fliers, with a much higher annual fee at $450, a different rewards program, and better airline perks (for the most part).
|Introductory Bonus Offers|
So you’ll earn just a bit less on tickets from United, but more on other purchases. If you got about 2 cents per mile, like in our Saver Award route example above, that would mean you’d earn a cash back equivalent of about 14%. And the 1.5X MileagePlus miles per dollar for other purchases would be equivalent to about 3% cash back, a very good deal.
The introductory bonus is a bit larger than what you’ll get from the Explorer card’s first bonus level, though you’ll also need to spend an extra $1,000 to get it. There is no second tier bonus level for the Club card.
You’ll get a much better set of perks with the Club card, which could provide quite a lot of value for frequent travelers:
The other card benefits and protections are pretty similar to the Explorer card, for the most part. However, you actually won’t get the 25% discount on in-flight purchases or the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit with the more expensive Club card. This could be because these are newly added benefits, and they might eventually be added to the Club card as well.
The United MileagePlus Club card is much more expensive at $450 per year, so it’s only for people who buy tickets from United many times every year. If you’re redeeming miles for 2 cents each with this card, you’d need to spend about $3,462 on tickets from United to offset that fee.
So the Club card is better for travelers who will spend more with United, and who can get plenty of use out of the extra benefits. The free first and second checked bags could save you $240 per round trip alone, not to mention the Club access, booking fee waivers, and Discoverist status.
The Club card is a bit more flexible than the Explorer card, with a slightly better reward for non-United spending. But you’ll have to be sure that you’ll get enough out of the rewards and benefits to make it worth the fee.
Read more in our Review of the United MileagePlus Club Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review) is one of the more popular travel rewards credit cards. It’s a general-use travel card, meaning you can use it with any airline, or for any other travel-related purchases for that matter.
|Introductory Bonus Offers|
You’ll earn points for a wide variety of travel expenses with this card:
|airfare||hotels||car rental agencies||taxis||buses|
|toll roads||parking lots||garages||travel agencies||discount travel sites|
So you’re not limited to just one airline, like the United card. And there’s also the restaurant category to earn points in, which is good to have when traveling.
Points are normally worth 1 cent each, but there’s a 25% bonus for redeeming for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. That means you’d be getting the equivalent of 2.5% cash back when spending in the bonus categories, and 1.25% cash back on other purchases. That introductory bonus of 60,000 points would be worth $750 when redeemed in that way.
This isn’t nearly as much as you can get from the Explorer, but the Sapphire Preferred is much more flexible in how you can earn and redeem your rewards. The Explorer card requires you to spend and redeem with United to get that great value. With the Sapphire Preferred you can redeem your points for a variety of travel expenses through Ultimate Rewards, from many different airlines and hotels.
You can also transfer the points you earn with the Sapphire Preferred to a number of airline or hotel travel partners, at a 1:1 rate. Many people use this card to transfer points to their favorite loyalty program.
United MileagePlus is actually included as a transfer partner, which means you could use the Sapphire Preferred to earn miles for United flights. If you then redeem those miles for 2 cents each, you’d be getting a better overall deal than you would have through the normal redemption method. This would provide a 4% cash back equivalent when spending on travel or dining.
The Sapphire Preferred only comes with a few interesting benefits:
Other than that, the Sapphire Preferred is a Visa Signature, which means it will come with many of the same shopping and travel protections as the Explorer card.
The Sapphire Preferred has an annual fee of $95. And there are no foreign transaction fees. That’s pretty similar to the United Explorer card.
If you travel but don’t fly United very often, a general-use travel card like the Sapphire Preferred could be right for you. Or you might prefer the next travel card on our list.
Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
|Introductory Bonus Offer|
Instead of using different cards to earn rewards at different rates for different purchases, you can keep things simple and use the Arrival Plus to earn 2X miles for every purchase you make.
You’re not limited to just travel spending with this card. However, you will need to redeem your miles for travel expenses to get the best value for them. Miles will be worth 1 cent each when redeemed in this way, for a cash back equivalent of 2%.
Many types of purchases are counted as travel expenses, so it shouldn’t be hard to find ones that qualify.
|Eligible Travel Purchases for Mile Redemptions|
|account annual fee||airlines||hotels||motels||timeshares|
|campgrounds||car rental agencies||cruise lines||trains||buses|
|taxis||limousines||ferries||travel agencies||discount travel sites|
The Arrival Plus has a few nice perks, some of which are rarely found on general-use travel cards like this. These could make up for the slightly lackluster rewards program.
These benefits could prove to be pretty valuable for travelers, especially if you take advantage of all the airline and hotel discounts you have access to. There’s also a comprehensive set of travel and shopping protections at the World Elite Mastercard level.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus comes with an annual fee of $89, which is waived the first year. This is a bit less than the $95 required for the United MileagePlus, which waives the first year’s fee as well. There are no foreign transaction fees to use the Arrival Plus.
Overall, the Arrival Plus can be a good card for travelers who will book with a variety of different airlines and hotels. If you’re not particularly fond of any specific travel service, a general travel card like this is probably the right type of card for you.
It would take $4,450 in spending to offset the annual fee of this card when redeeming miles for travel expenses for a 2% cash back equivalent.
Read more in our Review of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
There are many other airline credit cards on the market today, from several different card issuers. If you have a favorite airline there’s a decent chance that you can find a co-branded card to match.
Let’s look at two cards from airlines other than United.
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is made for spending with Delta Air Lines, and is similar to the United Explorer in the rewards and benefits.
|Introductory Bonus Offers|
This rewards program offers the same number of miles per dollar as the Explorer card, although Delta SkyMiles are generally worth a bit less than United miles. You can probably expect to get about 1.2 cents per SkyMile, which will give you about a 8.5% cash back equivalent when making purchases from Delta with this card.
The introductory bonuses are fairly easy to get, making this card quite rewarding at the outset.
The Explorer card tends to be more rewarding overall because of the United Saver Award routes you can get. If you can find similar deals through Delta you may be able to get a better value for your SkyMiles than we show here.
The Gold Delta card provides your first checked bag free, along with priority boarding. This bag fee waiver actually applies to up to eight traveling companions as well, rather than just one like the Explorer card. And there’s a 20% discount on eligible in-flight purchases, like food and beverages.
Cardholders and up to two guests can access Delta Sky Clubs at a discounted rate, for $29 per person. This may or may not be more valuable than two free annual lounge passes, like the Explorer card provides, depending on your particular spending and travel habits.
The Amex Gold Delta card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. This card has no foreign transaction fee, just like the Explorer card. The other terms and fees are pretty comparable as well (Rates & Fees).
You can offset the annual fee (Rates & Fees) by spending about $1,118 with the card, assuming you spend all that on Delta purchases.
The JetBlue Plus Card is issued by Barclays, and it’s all about spending and redeeming miles with JetBlue Airways. It’s one of three JetBlue rewards cards, alongside the JetBlue Card and the JetBlue Business Mastercard.
|Introductory Bonus Offers|
|Anniversary Bonus Offers|
So you’ll get a couple other bonus categories in addition to JetBlue purchases, giving you a bit more earning potential than some other airline cards. The JetBlue Plus provides at least 9X points per dollar when booking online, with more points available for higher-class bookings.
JetBlue points are worth about 1.2 cents or more each when redeemed for JetBlue award flights. This would give you a cash back equivalent of about 12%, after accounting for the 10% redemption bonus.
There are also some travel perks, though not quite as many as some other airline cards. You’ll get your first checked bag free. And there’s also a 50% discount on eligible in-flight purchases, which is probably the largest in-flight discount you can get on a credit card. Cardholders will get an upgrade to TrueBlue Mosaic member status by spending $50,000 or more with the card annually, which comes with more points per dollar and other benefits.
The JetBlue Plus card costs $99 annually, and this fee is not waived for the first year. There are no foreign transaction fees. And it also comes with a 12-month 0% intro rate for balance transfers, which could come in useful.
You can offset the annual fee of this card with only about $830 in spending, assuming you earn and redeem for a cash back equivalent of 12%.
If you found this review useful, feel free to share it with a friend! Do you use the United Explorer Card? Leave your own review for other readers, we’d love to hear from you!
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