United Explorer Card review

Published: May 17, 2019

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Published: May 17, 2019

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Ratings Policy
Rewards Rating:
3.7 rating
3.7 rating
3.7 / 5
Rewards Value: 3.8
Annual Percentage Rate: 1.8
Rewards Flexibility: 3.9
Features: 3.0
Customer Experience 3.7

In a Nutshell:

With a generous sign-up bonus, the United Explorer Card makes it easy to earn a free flight quickly; but you’ll have to fly United often to make up for the card’s $95 annual fee.

Learn more about this card

Rewards Rate

  • 2 miles per dollar on hotels, restaurants and directly purchased United tickets
  • 1 mile per dollar on other purchases

Sign-up Bonus

  • 40,000 miles if you spend $2,000 in first 3 months

Annual Bonus

Annual Fee
$95, $0 first year

Average Yearly Rewards Value ($1,325 monthly spend)

18.24-25.24% (variable)

Rewards Redemption

  • No blackout dates
  • No limit on miles you can collect
  • Use miles for airfare on United, car rentals, hotel stays, merchandise, donation or annual fee reimbursement
  • Good award levels to North and Central America, and the Caribbean
  • Open-jaw, one-way and round-trip tickets permitted
  • You can book a free stopover with the Excursionist Perk (with some restrictions)
  • No fuel surcharges for United flights or any partner airlines


  • Saver Awards are capacity-controlled
  • Everyday Awards are available on most flights, but are very expensive
  • $75 fee if you book flights less than 21 days in advance
  • High fees for award changes

Customer Experience

Other Notable Features: Free checked bag, $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck every 4 years, priority boarding privileges, 25% in-flight discount, 2 one-time passes to the United Club, no foreign transaction fee, room upgrades, free daily breakfast for two and other amenities at luxury resorts, concierge services, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage and trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, primary car rental insurance, purchase protection, extended warranties

The United Explorer Card has undergone some major updates in 2018. And – aside from the removal of its price and return protections and reduction of its trip cancellation coverage to $1,500 per year – the news is good for current and prospective cardholders. With 2x miles on hotel and restaurant purchases, cardholders now get a much better earning rate with the Explorer card. Plus, Chase has tacked on a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck and a 25-percent bonus for in-flight purchases to the card.

Good earning scheme

The United Explorer gives you a little more mileage than your typical airline card. In addition to the 2 miles per dollar that you earn for tickets purchased directly from United, you earn 2 miles per dollar on restaurant and hotel purchases – making the card a good companion on your travels – and 1 mile per dollar for everything else. United allows you to redeem miles on one-way or round-trip travel. You can also redeem miles for other travel expenses, such as hotel rooms, cruises or car rentals.

The annual fee is a little high, but waived the first year

The $95 annual fee is slightly higher than what you will pay for most other travel cards. But if you are a loyal United customer, the card might pay for itself with just a couple of uses. At the minimum, you get a decent sign-up bonus and up to two free bags for you and a companion.

Note, Chase recently updated the card to waive the fee for the first year. If you are unsure about keeping the card, you can give it a trial run and cancel before the year is up to avoid the fee altogether.

Good sign-up bonus

You can receive a fair-sized sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months. These miles can take you far on United, if you redeem them for a Saver Award – we estimate that the bonus is worth around $600 in airfare. You can also earn additional miles with dozens of United partners, such as hotels, car rentals and many more.

Flexible redemption options

United Airlines offers one of the more flexible booking policies for an airline rewards program. The United website has a user-friendly mile-redemption interface, and availability is generally not bad in the economy seating section, except for prime travel time. In addition, United is a member airline of the Star Alliance, which is the biggest airline alliance in the world. So, you can use United miles to book an award seat on 39 partner airlines.

There are some quirks, however. First, not all partner-airline award tickets can be booked online. Second, United only shows the lowest award rate, which doesn’t tell you if this is the best (“Saver”) award rate to your destination. Use this interactive award chart to know exactly what you are getting and consider changing travel dates if the rate is not the best.

If you don’t care which airline you fly on, you may be better off with a general reward credit card that allows you to choose any airline. According to Holly Johnson at The Simple Dollar, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a great for more than just United flights.

Primary rental coverage

The United Explorer Card offers primary rental coverage in the U.S. (Coverage is always primary outside of the U.S.). Usually, credit cards only offer secondary coverage, which means you have to turn to your own car insurance company first if you have a loss while driving the rental car. Primary coverage means you won’t have to deal with your own car insurance in case of damage or theft.

Valuable benefits for frequent fliers

The card offers some valuable benefits for United Airlines passengers, such as a free checked bag for yourself and a companion traveling on the same reservation and a 25-percent bonus for in-flight purchases on United (including Wi-Fi). Note that you must buy your ticket with the United Explorer Card to be eligible for these benefits.

You also get two free one-time-use passes to be used at any United Club airport lounge in the world on an annual basis, and priority boarding for yourself and your companion. Domestic United Club lounges offer comfortable seating, free coffee, soft drinks, snacks and Wi-Fi. International United lounges add free alcoholic beverages and more eating options to the list. Also, as mentioned, the card offers $100 for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.

Why get the United Explorer Card?

  • You use United for most of your travel.
  • You want to maximize mileage earnings.
  • You want to save money on checked bags.
  • You value other perks and Visa Signature benefits of the card.

How to use the United Explorer Card:

  • Always make United ticket purchases with the United Explorer Card for 2 miles per dollar.
  • Try to redeem award seats at the Saver level. If you book a round-trip award, you can add a free stopover along the way.
  • Consider using United miles on United partner airlines, which can be a better value.
  • When you rent a car in the U.S., always pay with the United Explorer Card to take advantage of its primary rental coverage.

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