United Explorer Card review

Published: September 5, 2019

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Published: September 5, 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 3.6

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
None

Annual Fee
$95, $0 first year

Average Yearly Rewards Value ($1,325 monthly spend)
$454

APR
18.49-25.49% (variable)

Rewards Redemption
Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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

United Explorer Card Review: More Details

For frequent flyers of United Airlines, the United Explorer Card provides a fast track to your next free flight. With a generous sign-up bonus and a good earning rate that rewards everyday purchases, you can stockpile miles easily – for a modest annual fee.

Plus, you’ll enjoy a few extra benefits that will add some luxury to your vacation – like priority boarding and two passes to the United Club each year.

Sign-up bonus

The United Explorer card is currently offering a good sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles for new cardholders who spend $2,000 in the first three months. While this might not seem quite as high as bonuses on popular travel cards, it can take you a long way on United. If you redeem all your miles for the budget-friendly Saver Award, we estimate the bonus is worth more than $600 in airfare.

Annual bonus

Unfortunately, the United Explorer card does not offer a miles bonus on your cardmember anniversary – like with many other airline cards. However, cardholders do earn two one-time passes to the United Club every year. Chase values this perk at more than $100, which more than offsets the card’s annual fee.

With this lounge access, you can enjoy perks such as free food and drinks, complimentary Wi-Fi and comfortable workspaces. Not only will this make your trip more comfortable, but you’ll save on snacks and beverages in the airport.

Earning miles

With the United Explorer card, earning miles is straightforward. In addition to earning 2 miles per dollar on directly purchased United tickets, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on hotel and restaurant purchases. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar.

See Related: 12 ways to earn more United Airlines miles

What really sets the United Explorer card apart is its good rate on dining, which helps even less frequent travelers earn a significant number of miles. Since many airline cards only award bonus points on purchases with the airline (or occasionally other travel purchases), United Explorer cardholders might have an easier time racking up rewards – even when they don’t have a trip planned.

What are United miles worth?

We estimate United miles are worth 1.52 cents on average, which is higher than the average rewards program point. Unfortunately, it is not the highest value among frequent flyer programs. For example, we value Southwest Rapid Rewards points at around 1.6 cents per point.

On the flip side, the United Explorer card boasts a better earning rate than many airline co-branded cards, ensuring it is still a competitive player in the category. In terms of the value of the rewards you earn per dollar of spending (factoring in the average mile value and earning rate), the Explorer can outpace alternatives from airlines with a higher point value – such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.

As you can see, the United Explorer ranks above many popular airline cards, but below travel cards that are not tied to a specific airline. In general, generic rewards cards offer better earning rates on common purchases – but sacrifice airline perks like priority boarding or a free checked bag. If racking up the most miles is your goal, you might be better off opting for one of these general travel cards. Loyalists of a particular airline looking for airline-specific benefits, however, are well suited with cards like the United Explorer.

Flight network

United Airlines has a wide-reaching flight network, with more than 21,000 flights per day in more than 190 countries. The airline is part of the Star Alliance – the world’s largest airline alliance – and has 11 additional partners, making it easy to find a trip to any destination.

See Related: United Airlines partners

Plus, United doesn’t impose any blackout dates for award flights. While the cheapest fare (Saver Awards) might be more limited, you should be able to find a seat to book with miles on most flights.

Redeeming miles

Once you’ve earned United miles, you have a plethora of redemption options. In addition to airfare, you can use your miles to cover hotel stays, United Club membership, gift cards and much more. Just keep in mind that your miles have a different value depending on how you redeem them.

For the most part, you’ll get the most out of your miles by redeeming them for airfare. United offers several different fares for award flights – with business and first class Saver tickets offering the best deals.

United reward flight redemption options

Fare Mile value (cents)
Saver airfare – economy 2.3
Saver airfare – business/first class 3.5
Everyday airfare – economy 1.0
Everyday airfare – business/first class 1.2

Unfortunately, Saver awards have much more limited availability than Everyday awards. Additionally, for economy class, United only displays the lowest cost in the search results – so it can be difficult to know if you have found a Saver award or are paying the Everyday cost. To help you know how much you can expect to pay for a Saver award versus Everyday, you can input your destinations into United’s interactive award chart.

See Related: How to book a United flight with miles

If you’d rather use your miles for something other than airfare, there are a few alternatives that can still get good value out of your rewards.

United Explorer redemption options

Redemption option Mile value (cents)
Airline statement credits 1
Hotels 0.8
Car rentals 0.9
Cruises 1.1
TSA PreCheck 0.9
In-flight Wi-Fi 0.7
United Club membership 0.8
Merchandise 0.6
eGift cards 0.6
Magazine/newspaper subscription 2.4
Experiences Varies
Event awards 0.7
Broadway shows 0.7
Restaurants.com gift cards 3.8
Airport dining 0.7
Credit card annual fee 0.8
Charity donation 1.5

Unfortunately, there is no good cash redemption option for your United miles.

See Related: Best ways to redeem United miles

No automatic elite status

One big drawback to the United Explorer card is that it does not offer automatic elite status in the United MileagePlus program. However, carrying the Explorer card can still help you achieve status more quickly – as long as you spend heavily.

In order to achieve elite status with United, you must reach a certain number of PQMs (Premier qualifying miles) and PQDs (Premier qualifying dollars). United Explorer cardholders who spend at least $25,000 in a calendar year can have the PQD requirement waived, meaning you’ll only have to meet the PQM eligibility for each tier.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

With the United Explorer card, you can receive a credit up to $100 every four years to cover the cost of a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application. Not only does this help offset the card’s annual fee, but it can make your travel easier by reducing the amount of time you have to spend in the security or border control line.

Free checked bag

Another cost-saving benefit that comes with the Explorer card is a free checked bag for yourself and a companion on the same reservation. Since checked bag fees on United cost around $30, taking advantage of this perk on just two round-rip flights makes up for your annual fee.

Other benefits

On top of a credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck and a free checked bad, the United Explorer card comes with several other perks that make it a valuable choice for frequent travelers:

  • 25 percent in-flight discount – Receive 25 percent back as a statement credit on any in-flight purchases like food, drinks or Wi-Fi paid for with your card.
  • Priority boarding – As a cardholder, you’ll be allowed to board United flights during priority boarding.
  • Luxury hotel benefits – When you reserve a stay at a property in the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, you’ll enjoy benefits such as complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, room upgrades and early check-in/late checkout.
  • No foreign transaction fee – You can use your card freely when traveling abroad, as it doesn’t charge a fee on foreign transactions.
  • Car rental insurance – When you book and pay for your car rental with your card, you can receive primary coverage in the case of damage or theft.
  • Baggage delay insurance – If your bag is delayed more than six hours, you can be reimbursed up to $100 a day for three days to cover essential purchases.
  • Lost luggage insurance – If your bag is lost or damaged by the carrier, you can be covered up to $3,000 per passenger.
  • Trip delay reimbursement – For delays of more than 12 hours (or those requiring an overnight stay), you and immediate family members can be reimbursed for expenses like meals and lodging not covered by the carrier.
  • Trip cancelation/interruption insurance – If you have to cut a trip short or cancel it for a covered reason, you can be reimbursed up to $1,500 per person (max $6,000 per trip) for any non-refundable fares charged to your card.

A few of these benefits go above and beyond what travel credit cards usually offer, making the United Explorer a great choice for travel enthusiasts. Most notably, the card provides primary car rental insurance in both the U.S. and abroad, while most cards only provide secondary coverage.

Customer experience

The United Explorer card is issued by Chase, which has a good customer service reputation. In J.D. Power’s 2019 customer satisfaction survey, the bank scored 807 – tied for third out of 11 major credit card issuers. In addition to 24/7 customer service, Chase offers a highly-rated mobile app.

Unfortunately, the bank does not have an online chat feature on its website, which can make it difficult to get a quick answer to a simple question.

Approval odds

The United Explorer card is designed for users with excellent credit (above 740), so you should ensure you meet those qualifications before you apply. Additionally, Chase holds applicants to the 5/24 rule. This means that if you’ve opened five or more credit cards with any issuer in the past 24 months, it is likely you won’t be approved for this card.

How does the United Explorer card compare to other travel cards?

While the United Explorer card boasts a good rewards rate for an airline co-branded credit card, it might not be the best choice for every kind of traveler. Cards from other airlines might offer more extensive perks, and general travel cards typically have a better earning rate. Here’s a quick look at a few alternatives:

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard (This offer is no longer available.)
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express 
Rewards rate

  • 3 points per dollar on travel and restaurant purchases (excluding purchases covered by $300 travel credit)
  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases
Rewards rate

  • 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 2 miles per dollar on gas station and restaurant purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar on other purchases
Rewards rate

  • 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar on other purchases
Welcome bonus

50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in first 3 months

Welcome bonus

50,000 miles if you spend $2,500 in first 3 months

Welcome bonus

  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months
  • $50 statement credit after you make a Delta  purchase in your first 3 months
Annual fee

$450

Annual fee

$99 (waived for first 12 months)

Annual fee

$95 (waived first year)

Other things to know

  • 50% higher point value when redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
  • Priority Pass lounge access
Other things to know

  • $125 American Airlines flight discount each year you spend $20,000 and renew your card membership
  • Free checked bag
  • Priority boarding
Other things to know

  • Free checked bag for you and up to eight companions on the same reservation
  • Discounted Delta Sky Club access
  • Priority boarding
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Terms apply

Chase Sapphire Reserve

If you aren’t loyal to any one particular airline, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of our most popular travel cards. While it charges a steep annual fee, it offers generous travel credits and perks that easily offset the cost. Every year, cardholders can receive $300 in statement credits to cover any travel purchase – including airfare, hotel stays, ride-shares and much more.

Like the United Explorer, the Sapphire Reserve also covers cardholders’ application fee for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck every four years. Reserve users can also enjoy extensive lounge access with a Priority Pass Select membership, which grants access to more than 1,200 lounges worldwide.

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Like the United Explorer card, the AAdvantage Platinum Select offers a good earning rate in everyday spending categories. The bonus on gas station and restaurant purchases makes it easy to earn miles on this card no matter how much you travel. American Airlines also boasts the best mile value among major airline programs (if you are willing to do a little digging for great deals), boosting the card’s rewards value. (This offer is no longer available.)

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

As shown above, the Gold Delta SkyMiles card can’t achieve the same rewards value per dollar of spending as the United Explorer – due primarily to the fact that it only offers bonus miles on Delta purchases. On the bright side, the card comes with some extremely valuable benefits that make it the ideal choice for a certain kind of traveler.

If you often travel with a family or large group, the generous free checked bag policy on the Gold Delta SkyMiles card can save you hundreds of dollars. Cardholders get a free checked bag for themselves and up to eight companions on the same reservation when flying with Delta.  Plus – while not free access – Gold SkyMiles cardholders get discounted access to the Delta Sky Club, making it easy to enjoy plush perks without breaking the bank.

Who should get the United Explorer card?

  • Frequent United Airlines flyers looking to earn miles faster.
  • Frequent travelers who want to take advantage of perks like priority boarding and a free checked bag.
  • Cardholders who spend a significant amount on hotel and restaurant purchases who can take advantage of bonus categories.

How to use the United Explorer card:

Is the United Explorer card worth it?

If you frequently fly on United Airlines, the United Explorer card is a great tool to earn miles faster. With a good rewards rate on restaurant purchases, cardholders can work toward their next award flight even without a trip planned. However, frequent travelers who aren’t loyal to United might get more value out of a general travel card.

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