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.
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.
$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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
United Explorer Vs. United Business
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.
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.
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.