Full Review of United Explorer Card
Valuable rewards program
Special benefits every time you fly United
Several travel perks and protections
Fewer free checked bags than some other airline cards
- Valuable Points Rewards: Like many airline cards, the United Explorer offers 2 miles in the carrier's MileagePlus program for every dollar spent on flights and most other purchases from the airline. But this card also extends that rate to transactions with all restaurants and hotels (provided you book directly with the hotel), not only those that are partners to the carrier, as some other cards stipulate. According to our research, United miles are worth 2.19 cents on average. And, since the card's earning rate is a generous 2 miles per dollar spent on flights, restaurant and hotel purchases and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases, you can end up earning substantial miles with your travel and everyday spending. When redeemed for travel on United that equates to a 2.19% return on spending, which is a real value. However, those are averages, and United doesn’t assign fixed mileage amounts to its rewards flights. So depending on when and for what flights you redeem your rewards, you may get more or less value than the average amount.
- Relief from Certain Expenses: Like other airline credit cards, the United Explorer offers breaks on the cost of checking baggage and getting a fast-track pass through airport security. On every United/United-operated flight, you get a free checked bag for you and one other person on your reservation, a benefit that can save you up to $120 roundtrip. You also get a statement credit for 25% of your spending on in-flight purchases, including food, drinks, and Wi-Fi. You also get reimbursement for the cost every four years, of up to $100, off applying for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. The first program offers expedited security screening at U.S. airports while the second provides a way to bypass U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection lines, and includes TSA PreCheck eligibility.
- Fairly Rich Travel Perks: Few travel credit cards with such a modest annual fee provide as many benefits as this one, beginning with priority boarding for flights. You also get two complimentary passes every year to United Club, the airline’s own airport lounge, which offers quiet respite from the hubbub of the airport, plus free drinks and food. The card insures you, too, against trip cancellation and interruption, including covering baggage loss and trip delays. You also get complimentary guest privileges at Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection properties, and other amenities.
- Fewer Free Checked Bags Than Other Airline Cards: With the United Explorer card, you and one more person on your itinerary will get one free checked bag. But if you’re flying with a family of four, you’ll still end up paying $70 each way if everyone checks a bag. Many other airline credit cards offer a free checked bag for more people. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, for instance, provides one free checked bag for up to nine people on one reservation.
This Card is Best For
Seeks the recognition and perks of branded travel partner status
Flies often for business or leisure
Dines out regularly while traveling or in home city
Travels outside of U.S. on occasion or frequently
Unsurprisingly, the United Explorer card is primarily designed for people who fly United, with mileage earnings and redemptions alike focused on the airline’s flights.
The more you frequent the airline, obviously, the more compelling the card becomes. But even if you only fly once or twice a year with United, the card’s annual fee can be money well spent. For one, the card's introductory bonus is easily earned and is alone worth $800 or more when used for flights based on our valuations, on either United or 35 other international partner airlines. Its travel perks will help make those trips more comfortable and convenient.
Further, the card doubles as a decent dining-rewards card, with the same 2 miles-per-dollar spent earnings at restaurants as for United purchases. (The same applies to hotel spending as well, under certain conditions.)
United Explorer Card One-Time Offer
The card offers 40,000 bonus miles after you spend just $1,000 in the first three months, plus an extra 25,000 points if you spend $10,000 in the first six months. Based on Investopedia's average point valuation, the bonus is worth about $1,424.
Rewards Earning Details
The card offers 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, as well as at restaurants and on eligible hotel stays. All other purchases will net you just 1 mile per dollar, but remember that the true rewards rate is about 2.19%, considering our value of the miles you're earning.
Rewards Redemption Details
The best way to redeem your MileagePlus miles is to book flights through United Airlines. And while we calculated an average (and healthy) value of 2.19 cents per mile, it’s possible to get more than that for every point with the right redemption. (More on this in How To Maximize Your Rewards.)
In addition to booking flights, you can also use your miles to upgrade a flight you've already reserved.
If you're not planning on flying United anytime soon, there are other redemption options available, but you may be better off waiting until your next flight. That said, you can also use your miles to:
- Book hotel stays, rental cars and cruises
- Buy Apple products or other merchandise
- Purchase e-gift cards or use miles to buy gift cards through the MileagePlus X mobile app
- Get tickets for Broadway shows, events and other unique experiences
You can't transfer your United MileagePlus miles to another airline. However, you can redeem your miles through the United Airlines website for flights on one of its many partner airlines, though some partner flights may require booking over the phone.
That includes any member of the Star Alliance, as well as a handful of other codeshare and connecting partners. In all, you can use your United miles to book flights on more than 35 airlines around the world, giving you a lot of flexibility with where you can travel.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
As with any credit card with an introductory bonus, the first priority is to ensure you receive it. In this case, be sure to charge at least $2,000 to the United Explorer card in the first three months you own it. If that means charging everyday purchases for which you earn only the card’s default 1 point per dollar spent, do so; the generous bonus makes that more than worthwhile.
After you earn the bonus, make sure you use the card for all United flights, hotels, and meals out—the categories in which you earn the highest rewards of 2 points per dollar spent.
Next comes the prudent redemption of your points for flights. To optimize this process, be prepared to do a little math researching different redemptions and calculating how much value you’re getting. If possible, be flexible, too, about your travel dates and even your destination.
To maximizing the value of your miles may require that you have some flexibility with your travel plans and try different itineraries to see which one will give you the best value. As you research different redemption opportunities, use the average value of 2.19 cents as a rough guide to whether it’s worth using your hard-earned miles on a particular flight or flights.
In our research, we found United flights bought with points ranged widely in value. At the upper end of the range, we found a flight from Chicago to Berlin in business class through partner Turkish Airlines for 140,000 miles plus about $100 in taxes and fees. There was no option to buy the flight with cash, so we priced the flight, with the same dates and class level, with other partner airlines. The best price we found was $3,050 plus $164 in taxes and fees. By paying for the flight in miles, then, and using the partner's ticket price, you’d essentially get a rate of 2.18 cents per mile, which is close to what we estimate United points are worth on average.
Conversely, we found other flights where points delivered below-par returns, For instance, we turned up an economy flight from Los Angeles to Chicago that cost $367 or 34,000 miles. That yields a redemption value of 1.08 cents per mile, or less than our estimated average value of United miles of 2.19 cents. In this case, if you want that flight, it might be better to pay cash for it and hold onto your points in the hope you'll get more value for them on a future trip.
Another way to rack up miles with the airline is to refer your friends and family members. For each person you refer who applies and gets approved, you’ll receive 10,000 miles. You can earn up to 50,000 miles a year in this way.
To calculate how much value you're getting per mile, divide the cash price of the ticket by the number of miles needed to book the same fare.
United Explorer Card's Outstanding Benefits
- Trip cancellation and interruption insurance: If you need to cancel or cut short your trip due to an illness, severe weather, or another covered situation, you can get reimbursed for up to $1,500 per person ($6,000 total) for non-refundable fares.
- Trip-delay reimbursement: If you're traveling on a common carrier and your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you can get reimbursement for up to $500 per ticket for meals, lodging, and other unreimbursed expenses.
- Baggage-delay insurance: If your luggage is delayed more than six hours, you can be reimbursed for up to $100 per day for three days for essential purchases such as toiletries and clothing.
- Lost-luggage reimbursement: If a common carrier loses luggage, yours or that of an immediate family member, or it's damaged, you can get reimbursed up to $3,000 for the luggage and its contents.
- Primary rental-car insurance: Unlike what most credit cards offer, the rental car insurance provided by this card is primary. This means that you don't need to file a claim with your personal auto insurance company before the card's coverage kicks in.
- Travel accident insurance
- Purchase protection
- Extended warranty protection
- Emergency card replacement and cash services
- No foreign transaction fees
- Concierge services
Among national credit card issuers, Chase, which issues this card, ranked fourth in J.D. Power's 2020 Credit Card Customer Satisfaction study. That said, its overall rating is only one point less than the average.
The bank offers access to your VantageScore credit score through its Credit Journey program, although the program is available for both cardholders and the general public. Your VantageScore credit score can give you a general idea of where your credit stands, but many other major card issuers offer free access to your FICO credit score, which is what lenders typically use.
If you have questions, Chase provides 24/7 phone customer service, which is standard in the credit card industry. You can also send a secure message through your online account if you need help, but it's not urgent. Account management is possible through your online account or Chase's mobile app.
Chase allows cardholders to lock and unlock their card account through the mobile app, which isn't a standard feature among all major credit card issuers. This option can come in handy if your card is lost or stolen, and you want to avoid the headache of dealing with fraudulent purchases.
The United Explorer card also has contactless capability. With this feature, you simply tap your card to a contactless credit card reader instead of swiping or inserting it. It works faster than inserting your card but still provides the same level of security. Contactless credit cards are becoming more popular but aren't yet available from all credit card issuers.
The United Explorer card offers United enthusiasts plenty of value, as is expected. But, despite its $95 annual fee after the first year, it’s also a card with appeal to those who don’t have a favorite airline and are willing to consider a branded airline card.
This card allows United points to be earned on dining and hotels as well as flights on the airline, and its hefty and easily earned introductory bonus is alone enough to buy a few domestic flights on the carrier. The card's international reach through United's partner airlines, along with an attractive array of travel perks, only add to its appeal.