2021 Review: United Explorer Card – A Great Option for United Flights?
Credit Card Insider is an independent, advertising supported website. Credit Card Insider receives compensation from some credit card issuers as advertisers. Advertiser relationships do not affect card ratings or our Editor’s Best Card Picks. Credit Card Insider has not reviewed all available credit card offers in the marketplace. Content is not provided or commissioned by any credit card issuers. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information, though all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on any ‘Apply Now’ button, the most up-to-date terms and conditions, rates, and fee information will be presented by the issuer. Credit Card Insider has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Credit Card Insider and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. A list of these issuers can be found on our Editorial Guidelines.
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.
Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.
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
- 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 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: 60,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months; an additional 10,000 bonus miles for spending $6,000 in the first 6 months.
Cardholders get 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 (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.
|United℠ Explorer Card (This review)||$95||
|United Club℠ Infinite Card (Review)||$525||
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: 60,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months; an additional 10,000 bonus miles for spending $6,000 in the first 6 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, 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 a United Premier-level membership: Upgrade your membership to earn more miles per dollar and access more airline benefits.
- Book hotel stays through the Luxury 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.
|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 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
|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|
|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|
|Up to 29.99%||None||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.
The Bottom Line
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
Frequently Asked Questions
What benefits come with the United Explorer Card?
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.
Check out the full list of benefits you can expect with your card.
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.
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.
Alternatives to the United Explorer Card
American Express is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.
If you found this review useful, feel free to share it with a friend! Do you use the United Explorer Card? Tell us how you like it in a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!Do you prefer a different airline? Take a look at some of our favorite picks. Best Airline Credit Cards
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, please click here.
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.
Do you have a correction, tip, or suggestion for a new post? Contact us here.
The responses below are not provided or commissioned by bank advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers' responsibility to ensure all posts are accurate and/or questions are answered.