Updated Jan 04, 2021 | Published May 04, 2018 • 15 min read
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The United Explorer Card looks to improve your United flight experience. It offers 2X miles per dollar for United purchases and includes perks like priority boarding, your first checked bag free, an in-flight discount, and two annual United Club passes.
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Our Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars
We give the United℠ Explorer Card4 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
United℠ Explorer Card
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
The United Explorer Card could be a good card pick for anyone who flies with United several times per year.
You’ll earn 7X miles per dollar for United tickets to start out, and you can increase that 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’s also a solid intro bonus: 40,000 bonus miles for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.
The Explorer Card can be quite rewarding, although there’s a more expensive version of this card that comes with better travel benefits (see all the United credit cards here). The right card offer for you will depend in part on how much you’ll end up spending with United.
Keep reading to learn more about the United Explorer Card, and find out if it should be your new traveling companion.
Insider Advice: Getting the Most Out of Your Card
Buy all of your airfare: Use the MileagePus Explorer card to buy tickets from United, where you’ll earn 2X miles in addition to any other miles you’d normally earn. 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: 40,000 bonus miles for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, which could be worth a trip or two.
Look forSaver Award or Everyday Award routes: To maximize the value of your miles when redeeming, keep an eye out for these two options.
Get to your seat a little faster: Get your first checked bag free and priority boarding for United flights.
Utilize your United Club passes: 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 aUnited Premier-level membership: Upgrade your membership to earn more miles per dollar and access more airline benefits.
Book hotel stays through theLuxury Hotel & Resort Collection: When you book through this service, you can get some nice amenities like a daily breakfast for two, complimentary WiFi, and other perks.
Use your card overseas: Bring this card with you when traveling outside the country because it has no foreign transaction fee.
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.
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.
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:
Hotel accommodations purchased directly with the hotel
1X mile per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
40,000 bonus miles for spending $2,000 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 qualifying purchases. In this case, 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:
Award 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
This card comes with a nice set of benefits, from three different sources: Airline perks through United, card benefits from Chase, and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 1,000 locations around the world. In addition to hotels and resorts, many lodges and spas can be found in the collection as well.
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.
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.
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 Reimbursement: If your checked or carry-on bags are lost or damaged, you can be reimbursed for eligible personal property contained within.
Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance: 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 Insurance: If your bags are late by more than six hours, you can be reimbursed for the emergency purchase of essential items.
The Terms & Fees
Balance Transfer APR
Cash Advance APR
16.49% to 23.49% Variable
16.49% to 23.49% Variable
Foreign Transaction Fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Cash Advance Fee
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.
Returned Payment Fee
Up to $39
There’s no annual fee for the first year, but after that you’ll need to pay for this card.
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.
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 Do I Apply for the United Explorer Card?
You can apply now for the United Explorer Card securely by following the link below.
Most applicants will get an instant decision, but it might take longer for some people. In some cases Chase may request more information.
What Credit Scores Do I Need to Qualify for the United Explorer Card?
You should have good credit before applying for the United Explorer Card.
That means your credit scores would need to be within the ranges of 670–739 for FICO and 700–749 for VantageScore.
However, credit card issuers will look at other things in addition to your credit scores. Your income and source of income will both be considered when determining your creditworthiness. So, even if your credit scores are lower than the recommended ranges, you might still be approved.
But that also means even if your scores are high enough, there’s a chance you could be denied.
Qualifications and Requirements
Must be 18 to apply (19 for AL and NE; 21 for PR)
Personal identifying information: SSN, email address, phone number
Financial information: Total annual income, source of income, monthly mortgage/rent payment
Your MileagePlus number, if you have one
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
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
The benefits include priority boarding, first checked bag free, two annual United Club airport lounge passes, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, and an in-flight discount. There are also a few shopping and travel protections attached, like purchase protection, rental car insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, and more.
How do I log in to my United Explorer Card account?
You can log in to your United account from United’s website. Just enter your MileagePlus number and password into the login box and you’ll be able to plan your trips and book flights, hotels, cars, or vacation packages.
And because the United card is issued by Chase, to see your card details, you should navigate to Chase’s website. Plug in your login information into the login box on the front page, and you’re good to go. Once you make it to your account page, you can access all sorts of card features, see your statement, and pay your bill.
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.
The United Club℠ Infinite Card (Review) is the upgraded version of the Explorer card. It’s meant for more frequent United flyers, with a much higher annual fee, a different rewards program, and better airline perks (for the most part).
This version earns a total of 9X miles per dollar from United ticket purchases, and 2X miles per dollar on travel and dining. So 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%.
You’ll also get United Club membership, which is valued at $650 per year, an additional free checked bag, Premier Access Travel Services like priority boarding privileges and airport pre-screening, and more.
The other card benefits and protections are pretty similar to the Explorer card, for the most part.
United Club membership: Up to a $650 value per year, membership includes free access to all United Club locations and participating Star Alliance affiliated lounges worldwide for you and up to two guests, depending on the location. This perk does not extend to authorized users. Access requires a boarding pass for same-day travel.
Concierge services: 24/7 assistance with referrals and reservations worldwide
Premier Access Travel Services: Priority check-in, security screening (where available), boarding, and baggage handling privileges
Free first and second checked bags: You and one other on the same reservation will get your first and second bags checked free of charge.
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.
Access to Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program: Registering for free will allow you to earn 1 Gold Plus Rewards Point on eligible car rentals. You’ll also have access to designated Gold Plus Rewards parking stalls, and get exclusive email offers.
Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection: Includes room upgrades, complimentary daily breakfast for two, early check-in, late checkout, and other amenities at more than 1,000 luxury hotels and resorts worldwide.
Travel protections: Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, travel and emergency assistance services, and rental car insurance
Shopping protections: Extended warranty protection, return protection, and purchase protection
Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 16.49% - 23.49% Variable
It’s pretty comparable to the United Explorer card, sharing many of the same airline perks like an in-flight discount, your first checked bag free, and priority boarding. But it also includes a $100 Delta flight credit, as long as you spend $10,000 on Delta flights in a calendar year.
The cash back equivalent for this card is about 7%–10.5%, because you’ll be earning 7X miles per dollar from the card and your basic Delta membership. That’s slightly less than the 14% from the United card, but still a pretty good rate. If you’re a Delta frequent flyer, this wouldn’t be a bad call.
First checked bag free: Use your Delta SkyMiles number when booking your flight to waive the price ($30) of your first checked bag. This benefit extends to up to eight other passengers flying on your itinerary.
Main Cabin 1 priority boarding: Get to your seat and settle in earlier when you reserve with your SkyMiles number. This benefit extends to up to eight other passengers on your itinerary.
20% back on in-flight purchases: Save 20%, in the form of a statement credit, on in-flight purchases like food and alcoholic beverages. Excludes WiFi and associated services.
$100 Delta flight credit: Spend $10,000 in a calendar year to earn a $100 credit good for Delta flight and vacation package reservations.
Global Assist Hotline: Receive assistance with medical and legal referrals, cash wires, passport replacement, missing luggage, and more when you’re more than 100 miles from home.
Entertainment Access: Purchase tickets to your favorite events with exclusive presale access and explore exclusive cardmember events near you.
ShopRunner: Enjoy free two-day shipping at a variety of online retailers with a complimentary ShopRunner membership.
Year-end summary: Examine your spending throughout the prior year by month and category.
Purchase APR: 15.74% - 24.74% Variable
No foreign transaction fee
Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.
You’ll earn 2X points on Southwest purchases with the card, but you’ll earn even more depending on your Southwest fare class. Business Select fares will earn 12X points, with 10X on Anytime fares and 6X on Wanna Get Away fares.
Your points will be worth about 1.5 cents each, so you’d see a cash back equivalent of around 12%–21% depending on the fare. That could be slightly better than the typical upper end of 14% you could get from the United Explorer. If Southwest is your preferred airline, that’s not a bad rate.
The Southwest card does carry a higher annual fee, but thanks to the annual $75 Southwest credit, it effectively drops to $74. You’ll also get a higher in-flight discount, 7,500 anniversary points, four upgraded boardings, and a slew of travel protections.
$75 annual Southwest travel credit: Receive a $75 annual travel credit to book your flights, Rapid Rewards hotel stays, or car rentals each year.
7,500 anniversary points: Every year you’ll receive 7,500 bonus points.
Four upgraded boardings: Snag an A1–A15 seat, without the hassle. Each anniversary year, you’ll be reimbursed for up to four Upgraded Boardings for A1 through A15 seats. The price of an Upgraded Boarding varies depending on your flight, but usually costs between $30 and $50.
20% back on in-flight purchases: You’ll receive 20% back on in-flight Southwest purchases like drinks, meals, entertainment, and WiFi.
Travel protections: Rental car insurance, roadside dispatch, lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, travel accident insurance, and travel and emergency assistance
Shopping protections: Purchase protection and extended warranty
Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Unlike the United card, you won’t be limited to just one airline. This card earns 2X points per dollar on all travel, not just United Airlines. So if you prefer a different airline, or if you don’t want to be restricted, the Preferred might be a good option. It also earns 5X on Lyft rides, and 2X on dining. Both are useful categories while 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 6.25% and 2.5% cash back when spending in the bonus categories, and 1.25% cash back on other purchases.
You can also transfer your points to Chase’s travel partners at a 1:1 rate (United MileagePlus is an airline partner). You might be able to find a point value of 2 cents or more, giving you cash back equivalents of 10% from Lyft, 4% from travel and dining, and 2% for everything else.
Point transfer: 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value – that means 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points. The travel and hotel partners include Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, United, World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy, and IHG Rewards Club.
DoorDash membership: You’ll get a free DoorDash membership for at least a year, known as a DashPass. That’ll get you free delivery and reduced service fees for orders over $12.
Referral bonus points: You can invite friends to apply for the Sapphire Preferred, and for every friend who’s approved you’ll get 15,000 bonus points. You can earn up to 75,000 bonus points per year in this way.
Brendan has been writing about personal finance for over eight years, and is now taking on the challenge of bringing high quality credit education to the masses. He makes sure that Credit Card Insider is covering the most important credit topics transparently and precisely, and that we have up-to-date reviews of credit cards so you can find cards that are right for you.
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