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Review of the United Explorer Card

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Brendan Harkness By Brendan Harkness May 04, 2018 | Updated Aug 24, 2020
Our rating
Min. credit level: Good
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR: 16.49% to 23.49% Variable

United℠ Explorer Card

Our rating
Good Min. credit level
How To Apply

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 60,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 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.

Card Annual Fee Rewards
United℠ Explorer Card (This review) $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • 2X miles per dollar on:
    • tickets purchased from United
    • hotel accommodations purchased directly from hotels
    • restaurants
  • 1X mile per dollar on all other purchases
United Club℠ Infinite Card (Review) $525
  • 4X miles per dollar spent on United purchases
  • 2X miles per dollar spent for:
    • Restaurants
    • Travel
  • 1X mile per dollar spent on all other purchases

Keep reading to learn more about the United Explorer Card, and find out if it should be your new traveling companion.

United℠ Explorer Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR16.49% to 23.49% Variable

Our Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

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.

Why We Like It

  • 2X miles per dollar on United tickets from the card, plus at least 5X miles per dollar for being a United member
  • Free first checked bag for you and a traveling companion
  • Two annual passes to United Club airport lounges
  • Priority boarding on United flights
  • Travel perks through the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Visa Signature benefits and protections
  • No foreign transaction fees

Why It Could Be Better

  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • No 0% intro rate for purchases or balance transfers
  • Doesn’t offer complimentary WiFi or discounts on in-flight purchases, like some other airline cards

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.

Insider Advice: Getting the Most Out of Your Card

  • Use the MileagePus Explorer card to buy tickets from United, where you’ll earn 2X miles. This applies not just to flights operated by United, but to any tickets purchased through United, for flights operated by any airline.
  • Get the intro bonus: 60,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, which could be worth a trip or two.
  • Look for Saver Award or Everyday Award routes to maximize the value of your miles when redeeming.
  • Get your first checked bag free and priority boarding for United flights.
  • Be sure to use both United Club passes every year — if you don’t use them, they won’t roll over into the next year.
  • Upgrade to a United Premier-level membership to earn more miles per dollar and access more airline benefits.
  • Book hotel stays through the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection to get a daily breakfast for two, complimentary WiFi, and other perks.
  • Bring this card with you when traveling outside the country because it has no foreign transaction fee.
Insider tip

If United isn’t the right airline for you, take a look at some other airline credit cards that are co-branded with different airlines, like Southwest, JetBlue, American Airlines, and others.

The Rewards

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.


Spending Rewards
  • 7X or more miles per dollar on tickets purchased from United
    • 2X miles per dollar from the Explorer Card
    • 5X miles or more per dollar for being a Basic MileagePlus member
  • 2X miles per dollar for:
    • Restaurants
    • Hotel accommodations purchased directly with the hotel
  • 1X mile per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 60,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months

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:

  • Tickets for flights from United, or a MileagePlus or Star Alliance® member airline
  • Purchases from United, like a United Club membership, in-flight WiFi, or the TSA PreCheck application fee
  • Hotel bookings, car rentals, and cruise fares
  • Bidding on exclusive MileagePlus Experiences

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.

United Flight Ticket Redemption

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

The Benefits

This card comes with a nice set of benefits, from three different sources:

  • Airline perks through United
  • Card benefits from Chase
  • Shopping and travel protections from Visa Signature

MileagePlus Member Status

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:

  • Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM)
  • Premier Qualifying Segments (PQS)
  • Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD)

Here are the Premier levels, along with the basic membership level for comparison:

Status Level Requirements Miles per Dollar
Basic 5X
Premier Silver
  • 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS
  • $3,000 PQD
Premier Gold
  • 50,000 PQM or 60 PQS
  • $6,000 PQD
Premier Platinum
  • 75,000 PQM or 90 PQS
  • $9000 PQD
Premier 1K
  • 100,000 PQM or 120 PQS
  • $12,000 PQD

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.

Free First Checked Bag

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.

25% Discount on United In-flight Purchases

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.

Two United Club Passes Every Year

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 United Club Infinite 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.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit

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.

Priority Boarding

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.

Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection

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:

  • Daily breakfast for two
  • Complimentary WiFi
  • Room upgrades, when available
  • Early check-in and late check-out, when available
  • A unique gift, like lunch or dinner for two, a spa treatment, or a golf green fee waiver

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.

Visa Concierge Service

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:

  • Travel: For help coordinating trips, booking flights and hotels, and finding the best deals
  • Sports and Entertainment: Your concierge can look for good prices on season tickets and may be able to find tickets to sold-out shows
  • Fine Wine and Food: Get assistance finding and making reservations at a variety of restaurants, from family-style to five-star
  • Shopping: Help finding special gifts, sending flowers, or searching for the best prices

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.

Chase Inside Access

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:

  • An invitation to The Championships, Wimbledon golf tournament in London, England. A three-night stay at The Savoy Hotel is included, along with a welcome dinner redemption and a private double decker bus tour.
  • A trip to Napa Valley wine county during harvest weekend, including wine tours, tasting, and two nights’ lodging.
  • A “private” evening with Chef Curtis Stone at the Gwen, a meat-centric restaurant in Los Angeles. Guests will enjoy a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a four-course wine-paired dinner and a live-fire cooking demonstration. (50-person capacity, so not exactly private.)
  • Ski with Olympic gold medal winners Lindsey Vonn and Jonny Moseley, on Vail Mountain, Colorado. You’ll get tips from professional ski instructors, and can spend the evening with Jonny around the lodge’s fire pit for an après ski reception.

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!

Shopping Protections

  • Purchase Protection: Eligible items are covered against damage and theft, for 120 days after the date of purchase.
  • Extended Warranty Protection: Manufacturer’s warranties of three years or less can be extended by one year, with a maximum of $10,000 per claim.

Travel Protections

  • Travel and Emergency Assistance: A variety of emergency services, like medical and legal referrals, transportation, ticket replacement, etc.
  • Travel Accident Insurance: Provides up to $100,000 in coverage against loss of life, limb, hearing, or sight, when traveling by common carrier.
  • Roadside Assistance: Call 1-866-359-5402 for help if you break down on the road, for any reason.
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver: Eligible rented vehicles are covered against collision damage and theft, as long as you decline the rental company’s insurance.
  • Lost Luggage Protection: If your checked or carry-on bags are lost or damaged, you can be reimbursed for eligible personal property contained within.
  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption Protection: You can receive reimbursement if your trip is canceled or cut short for an eligible reason.
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement: Reimbursement is available if an eligible hazard causes at least a 12-hour delay in your trip, or an overnight stay.
  • Baggage Delay Protection: If your bags are late by more than six hours, you can be reimbursed for the emergency purchase of essential items.

Other Benefits

  • Zero Liability Protection: You won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges.
  • Fraud Alerts: Sign up to get notified of any possibly fraudulent card activity.
  • Fraud Protection: Real-time fraud monitoring software to help protect your account.

These kinds of features are common on most credit cards, particularly Zero Liability Protection.

The Terms & Fees

Purchase APR Balance Transfer APR Cash Advance APR
16.49% to 23.49% Variable 16.49% to 23.49% Variable 24.99% Variable
Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Balance Transfer Fee Cash Advance Fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $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 for this card. 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.

What is the Credit Limit of the United Explorer?

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.

The Bottom Line

The United Explorer Card features a low annual fee and an impressive selection of benefits that help make it one of the best United credit cards available.

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 Club℠ Infinite Card (Review). 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.

How to Apply for the United Explorer Card

You can apply for the United Explorer Card securely on Chase’s website.

United℠ Explorer Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR16.49% to 23.49% Variable

Most applicants will get an instant decision, but it might take longer for some people. In some cases Chase may request more information.

Qualifications and Requirements

  • Your MileagePlus number, if you have one
  • Must be 18 to apply (19 for AL and NE; 21 for PR)
  • Personal identifying information, including SSN, email address, and phone number
  • Total annual income, and source of income
  • Monthly mortgage/rent payment
  • Some people report being denied for Chase cards for having five or more new credit card accounts in the last 24 months

United℠ Explorer Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR16.49% to 23.49% Variable

Alternatives to the United Explorer Card


United Club℠ Infinite Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$525
Regular APR16.49% - 23.49% Variable

The United Club℠ Infinite Card (Review) is the upgraded version of the Explorer card. It’s meant for more frequent United fliers, with a much higher annual fee, a different rewards program, and better airline perks (for the most part).


Spending Rewards
  • 9X miles per dollar on tickets purchased from United
    • 4X miles per dollar from the United Club Infinite Card
    • 5X miles per dollar for being a basic MileagePlus member
  • 2X miles per dollar spent for:
    • Restaurants
    • Travel
  • 1X mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 100,000 bonus miles for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months

So you’ll earn more miles on tickets from United. 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 18%. And the 2X MileagePlus miles per dollar for other purchases would be equivalent to about 4% cash back, a very good deal.


You’ll get a much better set of perks with the Club card, which could provide quite a lot of value for frequent travelers:

  • Complimentary United Club membership: Normally costs up to $550 per year, provides unlimited access to United Clubs and participating Star Alliance lounges.
  • First and second checked bags free: Both your first and second checked bags are free, for you and one traveling companion. First bags are normally $30, and second checked bags are normally $40.
  • Premier Access® travel services: Provides exclusive airport check-in and security lines, priority boarding privileges, and priority baggage handling.
  • Close-in Booking Fee Waiver: The fee for award tickets booked less than 21 days before departure is waived, potentially saving you hundreds in fees per year.
  • World of Hyatt Discoverist Status: VIP treatment when staying at Hyatt hotels, like free premium internet and bottled water, expedited check-in and late check-out, room upgrades when available, and a free night after staying at five different Hyatt brands.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit: Get a $100 credit for the application fee of Global Entry, or $85 for TSA PreCheck, once every four years.
  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® Presidential Circle® Membership: Confirmed vehicle reservations and upgrades when available, a 25% bonus on Hertz Gold Plus Rewards points, and opportunities to earn bonus Hertz points.

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 with the more expensive Club card.

Terms & Fees

The United Club Infinite card is much more expensive, and it’s best for people who buy tickets from United many times every year.

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 Club Infinite Card


Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$95
Regular APR15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards(R).
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.

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.


Spending Rewards
  • 5X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on Lyft rides
  • 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on:
    • travel
    • dining at restaurants
  • 1X Chase Ultimate Rewards point per dollar< on all other purchases
  • 25% point bonus when redeeming for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 80,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months

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  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:

  • Visa Signature Concierge: A personal assistance service, the same as you’ll get with the Explorer card
  • Chase Preferred Experiences: Access to exclusive experiences provided by Chase, similar to the Inside Access perk
  • Direct Access to Customer Support: Call to be directly connected with an account specialist, without wasting time in a phone menu

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.

Terms & Fees

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


Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$89, $0 first year
Regular APR18.24%, 22.24% or 25.24% Variable
  • Introductory bonus: 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases and pay the annual fee in the first 90 days
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases made while traveling abroad
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening
  • Regular purchase and balance transfer APR of 18.24%, 22.24% or 25.24% Variable
Insider tip

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is not currently available for new applicants.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (Review) is a travel credit card with no bonus categories, instead offering just one rate for everything you buy.


Spending Rewards
  • 2X miles per dollar for every purchase
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and pay the annual fee

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.

  • World Elite Travel & Lifestyle Services: Discounts and upgrades at airports and hotels, access to a travel adviser, complimentary breakfast and amenities at participating locations
  • World Elite Mastercard Concierge Service: A personal concierge to handle all your non-emergency needs, pretty much the same as the Visa Signature concierge you’ll get through the Explorer card
  • Other Mastercard World Elite Benefits: A 10% discount at select hotels and resorts, the Priceless Cities and Priceless Surprises perks, a discount on airport meet and greets, and more
  • Chip-and-PIN EMV technology: Barclays includes Chip-and-PIN functionality in its cards, providing better card access at unattended terminals and kiosks outside the U.S.

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.

Terms & Fees

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus comes with an annual fee of $89, $0 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


Airline Credit Cards

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.


Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
(Rates & Fees)
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.
Regular APR15.74% - 24.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months, Offer Expires 10/28/2020.
  • Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • New! Earn now. Travel when you’re ready. After you spend $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year, you will receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit to inspire your next travel.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta Flights.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory Annual Fee for the first year, then $99.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

American Express is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (Review) is made for spending with Delta Air Lines, and is similar to the United Explorer in the rewards and benefits.

Spending Rewards
  • 2X SkyMiles per dollar spent for:
    • Purchases made directly with Delta Air Lines
    • Restaurants
    • U.S. Supermarkets
  • 1X SkyMile per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offers
  • 50,000 bonus miles for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months

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 bonus is 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.

The Amex Gold Delta card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99. 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 by spending about $1,118 with the card, assuming you spend all that on Delta purchases.


JetBlue Plus Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$99
Regular APR18.24%, 22.24%, or 27.24% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days.
  • Earn 6X points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2X points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1X point per $1 on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year automatically after your account anniversary.
  • Get 10% of your points back every time you redeem.
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue-operated flights.
  • Free first checked bag for you and up to three traveling companions.
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food.
  • Enjoy TrueBlue Mosaic benefits after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year with your card.
  • Enjoy a $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more with your JetBlue Plus Card.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $99 annual fee.

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.

Spending Rewards
  • 9X or more points per dollar on tickets purchased from JetBlue
    • 6X points per dollar from the JetBlue card
    • 3X points or more per dollar for being a member and booking JetBlue flights online
  • 2X points per dollar spent at:
    • restaurants
    • grocery stores
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
  • Redemption bonus: 10% of your points back every time you redeem
Introductory Bonus Offers
  • 40,000 bonus points for paying the annual fee and spending $1,000 on purchases in 90 days
Anniversary Bonus Offers
  • 5,000 bonus points every year, after your cardmember anniversary
  • $100 statement credit for each year that you purchase a JetBlue Getaways vacation package

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 0% intro rate for balance transfers for 12 months (for balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening), 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%.


United℠ Explorer Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR16.49% to 23.49% Variable

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!

Learn all about Travel Credit Cards and see our picks for the best ones.

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For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, please click here.

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