United Explorer Card Review (2021)

United Explorer Card Review (2021)

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Chase and United offer a suite of co-branded credit cards, and in this post, I wanted to take a closer look at the United℠ Explorer Card. I’d argue that this is one of the most lucrative airline credit cards with an annual fee of under $100.

United Airlines Explorer Card Basics For September 2021

The United Explorer Card is probably Chase’s most popular co-branded United Airlines credit card. This is a consumer card that offers perks that can be valuable whether you’re a frequent United flyer, or just travel with the airline every once in a while.

Let’s look at what you need to know about this card in more detail, from the welcome bonus, to the return on spending the card offers, to the perks.

Welcome Bonus: Up To 70,000 MileagePlus Miles

The United Explorer Card is offering a tiered welcome bonus of up to 70,000 bonus MileagePlus miles. This is a limited time offer, and the bonus breaks down as follows:

  • 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months
  • An additional 10,000 bonus miles after spending a total of $6,000 on purchases within the first six months

I value United miles at ~1.4 cents each, so to me the bonus miles are worth up to $980.

Redeem your MileagePlus miles for a Polaris ticket

Card Eligibility & Restrictions

The welcome bonus on the United Explorer Card isn’t available to those who currently have the card, or those who have received a new cardmember bonus on the card in the past 24 months. However, you are eligible for this card if you have (or have had) another United Airlines credit card.

In addition to that, there are general restrictions when applying for Chase cards, including the 5/24 rule.

$95 Annual Fee, Waived The First Year

The United Explorer Card has a reasonable $95 annual fee, and it’s waived for the first year. This is a great way to try the card before you actually have to pay an annual fee.

You can add authorized users to the card at no extra cost.

Earn 2x Miles On Restaurants, Hotels, And United Flights

The Explorer Card offers bonus categories that some might find useful. Here’s the rewards structure of the card:

  • Earn 2x miles on United purchases
  • Earn 2x miles at restaurants
  • Earn 2x miles at hotels
  • Earn 1x miles on all other purchases

All things considered I’d say there are better credit cards for flight purchases, restaurants, and for everyday spending, but some people may find those categories to be useful.

Earn double miles for dining purchases with the Explorer Card

No Foreign Transaction Fees

The United Airlines Explorer Card has no foreign transaction fees, so this is a good card to use for purchases abroad. Visa has excellent global acceptance, and you may even find yourself earning bonus miles for purchases abroad, including at restaurants and hotels.

United Explorer Card Perks

In addition to the welcome bonus and rewards structure on the United Explorer Card, it’s also worth knowing about the perks offered by the card. That’s the primary reason you’ll want to consider this card, because for many people the perks more than offset the annual fee.

So, what are the perks offered by the Explorer Card?

A Free First Checked Bag

The United Explorer Card primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation receive a standard free first checked bag. In order to be eligible for this, you have to pay for your ticket with your United Airlines credit card.

United charges $35 for a first checked bag, so this is a value of up to $140 on a roundtrip ticket.

Two United Club Passes Annually

For having the Explorer Card you receive two United Club passes annually. This includes the year where you open your card, and any subsequent years. These will automatically be deposited into your MileagePlus account within four weeks.

A United Club pass ordinarily costs $50, so that’s a value of up to $100.

Receive two United Club passes annually with the Explorer Card

25% Back On United Inflight Purchases

If you have the Explorer Card you’ll receive 25% back in the form of an account statement credit on purchases of food, beverages, and Wi-Fi, onboard United and United Express flights.

You have to pay with your Explorer Card, and your statement credit should post within 24 hours.

Global Entry Or TSA Pre-Check Credit

The United Explorer Card offers a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit every four years. Simply charge the $85-100 enrollment fee to your card, and it will automatically be reimbursed.

Nowadays quite a few credit cards offer these fee credits, so you can always use this benefit for a friend or family member. They just have to use your credit card to pay, and you’ll automatically receive the statement credit.

Get TSA Pre-Check with the Explorer Card

Priority Boarding

For having the United Explorer Card you and your companions receive priority boarding on United and United Express flights. You can board before general boarding, after customers with Premier Access and those requiring special assistance. This would be in Group 2.

Receive priority boarding as a United Explorer cardmember

Premier Upgrades On Award Tickets

MileagePlus elite members receive complimentary upgrades on domestic flights (in most markets) when paying cash for their ticket. If you have the Explorer Card you also receive Premier upgrades on award tickets when traveling on United or United Express.

Travel companions and authorized users aren’t eligible for this benefit.

Expanded Award Availability

For having the United Explorer Card you receive access to more award availability. This includes both extra saver and standard level award availability. It can be useful, because MileagePlus miles are often best used for travel on United metal.

Get access to more award availability as an Explorer cardmember

Earn PQPs Towards Status

Spending money on the United Explorer Card can help you earn MileagePlus status, even with the changes that have been made to the program as of 2020:

  • Earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) for every $12,000 spent in a calendar year
  • Earn up to 1,000 PQPs in a calendar year through the credit card
  • Generally, the PQPs can be applied up to Premier Platinum status, though for 2021 they can also be applied towards Premier 1K status

Ultimately this won’t get you that far towards status, but is better than nothing, especially with United’s reduced elite thresholds for 2021.

Primary Car Rental CDW

The United Explorer Card offers a primary collision damage waiver benefit. Just decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card. Here’s how this is described:

Coverage is primary and provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for theft and collision damage for most rental cars in the U.S. and abroad.

The Explorer Card is great for car rentals

Trip Delay & Lost Luggage Protection

The United Explorer Card offers a variety of protection benefits when traveling, assuming you pay for purchases with your card. These features include the following:

  • Trip Cancellation & Trip Interruption Insurance — be reimbursed up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip when your trip is canceled or cut short due to sickness, severe weather, etc.
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement — if your flight is delayed by more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket
  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement — be reimbursed up to $3,000 per passenger if you or your immediate family member check or carry on luggage that is damaged or lost by an airline
  • Baggage Delay Insurance — be reimbursed up to $100 per day for three days for essential purchases when your bag is delayed by over six hours

Make sure you check your cardmember agreement for all of the details, since there are terms & conditions.

Is The United Explorer Card Worth It?

While I generally wouldn’t recommend using the United Explorer Card for your everyday spending (since there are better cards for earning United miles), this is one of the best airline credit cards when it comes to having great perks and a reasonable annual fee.

If you’re a United elite member you may benefit from the United Club passes, additional award availability, 25% savings on inflight purchases, Global Entry credit, expanded award availability, upgrades on award tickets, and more.

If you’re a non-elite member, then the first checked bag free, priority boarding, United Club passes, savings on inflight purchases, and more, could come in handy.

On the surface I consider this to be the sub-$100 airline credit card with the strongest perks.

The annual fee is even waived for the first year, so this is a great way to try the card without even having to pay an annual fee to start.

United Explorer Vs. United Quest

The New United Quest℠ Card was introduced in early 2021, and for many this $250 annual fee card is more than worth it:

  • The card is offering a welcome bonus of up to 100,000 MileagePlus miles
  • The card offers some unique perks, like a $125 annual United credit, plus up to 10,000 miles reimbursed each year when redeeming miles on United; for many, those two perks alone will more than offset the annual fee

Read a full review of the United Quest Card.

United Explorer Vs. United Club Infinite

In addition to the United Explorer Card, there’s also the United Club℠ Infinite Card, which is the more premium version of the card. The United Club Infinite Card offers a bonus of 75,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months. However, the card does have a steep $525 annual fee.

Who should consider the United Club Infinite Card? It does have some incremental perks, including the following:

  • A United Club membership for as long as you have the card
  • A first and second checked bag free for you and one companion when flying United
  • Premier Access travel services, including priority check-in, security, boarding, and baggage handling

If you’re a frequent United flyer then it could be worth going for the United Infinite Card, given the additional perks.

Read a full review of the United Club Infinite Card.

Get a United Club membership with the United Club Infinite Card

United Explorer Vs. United Business

The United℠ Business Card is somewhat similar to the United Explorer Card, so if you’re looking for a small business card, that’s what I would consider.

The card has a $99 annual fee, and offers many similar benefits to the Explorer Card, including a first checked bag free, priority boarding, 25% savings on inflight purchases, and more. The card even has some unique perks, like an anniversary bonus of 5,000 miles if you have the card in conjunction with a personal United card.

Read a full review of the United Business Card.

The United Business Card is worth considering if you have a small business

The Best Way To Earn United Miles With Credit Cards

As I mentioned above, while the Explorer Card has great perks, I wouldn’t generally use it for my everyday spending. That’s true whether you want to earn United miles for your spending or not.

MileagePlus is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, so you can convert Ultimate Rewards points into United miles at a 1:1 ratio.

There are so many great Ultimate Rewards cards that earn points at a potentially faster rate than you’d earn directly through United, so that’s something worth considering.

Best for beginners Earn 2x points on all travel and 3x points on dining
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Best for premium benefits Earn 3x points on all travel and dining, plus annual travel credits, airport lounge access, and superior trip coverage and purchase protection
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Best for rotating bonus categories Earn 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories, which can be converted to Ultimate Rewards points with a premium Chase card
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Best for non-bonus spend Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which can be converted to Ultimate Rewards points with a premium Chase card
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Best for business travel Earn 3x points on travel, shipping, advertising with social media, and internet and phone services
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Best for office expenses Earn 5% cash back at office supply stores, which can be converted to Ultimate Rewards points with a premium Chase card
Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
Best for everyday business expenses Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which can be converted to Ultimate Rewards points with a premium Chase card
Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card

United Explorer Card Summary

The United Explorer Card is one of the most benefits-rich airline credit cards out there. For a low $95 annual fee (which is even waived for the first year) you get two United Club passes annually, savings on inflight purchases, a Global Entry credit, a first checked bag free, and much more. That’s not even accounting for the card’s huge welcome bonus.

Long term I still think the best way to earn United miles is through Chase Ultimate Rewards, given the superior earnings rates offered by some of those cards, not to mention the increased flexibility.

If you want to learn more about the United Explorer Card or apply, follow this link.

Apply Now

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  1. Anthony Parr

    I have this card and used it to pay for a car rental in Barcelona in July. I declined CDW when picking up the car. Subsequently crashed the car and was charged almost two grand for repairs.

    Sent a claim into Chase on Monday, claim approved in full on Wednesday and money in my bank by Friday. Zero hassle at all. Card is worth it just for that if you rent once a year.

  2. Bill

    Wow didnt realize the lounges weren't accepting these passes that makes cancelling this card a no brainer for sure. What a ripoff.

  3. RCB

    I have this card, and tried to use one of my United passes at Newark a few weeks ago, but United has closed down all but one club, and has a blanket "no day passes allowed" rule right now (not just during peak times, they aren't accepting them at all). I contacted Chase about this since they are selling me a product I can't use, and they absolutely refused to do anything about it. If...

    I have this card, and tried to use one of my United passes at Newark a few weeks ago, but United has closed down all but one club, and has a blanket "no day passes allowed" rule right now (not just during peak times, they aren't accepting them at all). I contacted Chase about this since they are selling me a product I can't use, and they absolutely refused to do anything about it. If I can't even find a United Club at Newark, where the heck am I going to be able to use these passes? Since I have the CSR, my travel purchases, even United Airlines ones, are better to go on that card, so that only benefit I get out of this card is the United Club passes, so I'm very upset that I'm paying $95 a year for just those when I can't even use them.

    1. Anthony Parr

      I used one of the passes last week by gate C74 at Newark. You didn’t miss anything, there was no seating available due to crowing, it had the ambiance of a Greyhound bus station, the only food available was string cheese, slim Jim’s or moldy oranges and the only booze was a single choice or terrible wine or bud lite.

Featured Comments Load all 4 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Anthony Parr

I have this card and used it to pay for a car rental in Barcelona in July. I declined CDW when picking up the car. Subsequently crashed the car and was charged almost two grand for repairs. Sent a claim into Chase on Monday, claim approved in full on Wednesday and money in my bank by Friday. Zero hassle at all. Card is worth it just for that if you rent once a year.

Anthony Parr

I used one of the passes last week by gate C74 at Newark. You didn’t miss anything, there was no seating available due to crowing, it had the ambiance of a Greyhound bus station, the only food available was string cheese, slim Jim’s or moldy oranges and the only booze was a single choice or terrible wine or bud lite.

Bill

Wow didnt realize the lounges weren't accepting these passes that makes cancelling this card a no brainer for sure. What a ripoff.

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