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The United℠ Explorer Card has some great perks and benefits, especially for high spenders loyal to United. Unless you'll be flying on United Airlines more than once a year, some of this card's best features will leave you unimpressed. If you fly United less, don't spend that much on your card, or would rather have more flexibility, we suggest considering general travel credit cards, or even cash back cards – these will usually result in a lower rewards rates at the added benefit of giving you extra freedom.
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Review: Is The United℠ Explorer Card Worth It?
If you’re frequently flying with United Airlines and spending over $25,000 annually on your credit card, the United℠ Explorer Card is worth your consideration.
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There are other credit cards that can earn you frequent flyer miles with United, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – however, this card does not provide you with the same airline benefits you get through the United℠ Explorer Card. The only benefit to booking United Flights using the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the increase in redemption flexibility. While the United miles you earn can only be used to book flights with United and other Star Alliance members, Chase Ultimate Rewards Points (earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card) can be transferred to partner programs, including both hotel and airline brands.
If you fly internationally, the United℠ Explorer Card has no foreign transaction fees, making it a more affordable choice in that regard. Typically, other credit cards will charge a fee of 2.7% to 3% per transaction outside of the United States. Furthermore, the United℠ Explorer Card comes equipped with an EMV chip, which will make it more acceptable abroad (and soon at home).
Bottom Line: We recommend the United℠ Explorer Card for high spenders, who travel with United Airlines at least twice a year (and are checking bags). If you want greater freedom, and the option to travel with other airlines, or to use your rewards to book hotel stays, check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
United℠ Explorer Card Benefits & Features
At its core, the United℠ Explorer Card is all about earning you rewards and perks associated with its affiliated airline. Users can get perks such as free checked bags, bonus airline miles, boarding privileges, and more.
For every $1 you spend on the United℠ Explorer Card towards United tickets, at restaurants and at hotels, you will receive 2 miles. Every other purchase you make will net you 1 mile per $1. Charging at least $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening your United℠ Explorer Card will net you a bonus 40,000 miles – worth approximately $480. This is a respectable bonus, and in-line with what we’ve come to expect from other top airline credit cards at this price point.
Carrying a United℠ Explorer Card comes with some extra perks and features, which aren’t related to how much money you spend on the card. We estimate that the total value of the quantifiable bonus perks on the United℠ Explorer Card comes out to be $200.
The most valuable perk is a free first checked bag for you and a traveling companion (on United-operated flights only). To qualify, you must purchase the tickets using the United℠ Explorer Card, and be one of the people traveling on the itinerary. The value of this benefit is estimated to be up to $100 ($25 per checked bag x 2 travelers x 2 flights in one itinerary).
Being a United℠ Explorer Cardholder also entitles you to two United Club passes each year. Each pass grants you admission to a United Club, where you can enjoy complimentary beverages, snacks, Wi-Fi, work spaces, and more. Each pass carries a value of $50 (the cost of buying one directly online).
If you pay for your United travels using this card, you also get to enjoy some luxury treatment, including priority boarding and hotel/resort privileges. In order to get priority boarding on United flights, you must add the MileagePlus® number to your reservation. This benefit applies to both you, and all individuals travelling with you on the same reservation.
One of our favorite ancillary perks offered by the United℠ Explorer Card is Trip Delay Reimbursement. If a flight with any common carrier (not just United) is delayed more than 12 hours, you will be covered for up to $500 per ticket for things such as meals and lodging, and other reasonable expenses that arise as a result of the delay.
To qualify for Trip Delay Reimbursement your travel must be booked (at least in part) using the United℠ Explorer Card. All expenses you wish to be reimbursed must also be purchased using the card.
The card also gives users better than average auto rental insurance, which is commonly offered by credit cards. If you decline the rental company’s collision insurance, and use your United℠ Explorer Card to pay for the entire cost, you will receive primary coverage. Primary coverage means it will kick-in before any personal auto insurance you have, which can potentially save you from having your premiums be raised.
All other travel protection benefits on this card are pretty standard, when it comes to credit cards.
How Does the United℠ Explorer Card Compare to Other Credit Cards?
The best way to figure out whether a credit card is good or not, is to compare it against what else is out there – are there other credit cards that provide the same or better benefits at a reduced cost? The answer almost always depends on what each individual consumer is hoping to get out of their rewards credit card. Below we profiled the United℠ Explorer Card against some of its leading competitors.
United℠ Explorer Card vs Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
If you spend between $8,000 and $25,000 per year using your credit card, and don’t care about missing out on the United-specific benefits of the United℠ Explorer Card, you should consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. If you meet the above condition, this card can earn you far more United miles – at least indirectly. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns users Chase Ultimate Rewards points – highly valuable rewards that can be transferred to a number of different partner programs, including United. Additionally, if you manage to spend $4,000 in the first 3 months you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can earn a highly valuable bonus.
United℠ Explorer Card vs United MileagePlus® Club Card
The United MileagePlus® Club Card is all about luxury – this card is for individuals who travel with United 2+ times per year, and want to enjoy free access to the United Club. The annual fee on the United MileagePlus® Club Card is $450 – that is on the higher end of the annual fee scale. Frequent flyers who can take advantage of the Club access will be coming out ahead in value, since the cost of an annual United Club Membership is $550 alone. The United MileagePlus® Club Card also offers a second set of checked bags free, but this alone is not a reason to choose the Club version over the Explorer. The costs of checked bags are $25 for the first one and $35 for the second – you'd have to fly at least 3-4 times per year with 2 checked bags for the Club card to be worth it over the Explorer card on the basis of luggage alone.
As mentioned, the choice of "best credit card” is always highly dependent upon an individual’s spending profile. Our tool below allows users to input their estimated monthly purchases across a number of different categories, and then calculates for them their custom rewards rate. This tool does not incorporate some benefits which are harder to quantify, such as the free checked baggage benefit on the United℠ Explorer Card.