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United℠ Explorer Card: Great for United Loyalists

United℠ Explorer Card
This card is not available through ValuePenguin.
United℠ Explorer Card
This card is not available through ValuePenguin.

United℠ Explorer Card: Great for United Loyalists

A top offer from United and Chase.
Editor's Rating: 4.5/5.0
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Editor's Rating

{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

4.5/5.0

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.

The information related to the United℠ Explorer Card has been collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

The United℠ Explorer Card is one of the gateways to the United MileagePlus loyalty program, named the best frequent-flyer program in the U.S. for 15 consecutive years by the Global Traveler in 2018. One of three cards in the United portfolio, the United℠ Explorer Card is tailored to those who travel a lot on United Airlines, but don’t want or need Club-level access and fees. Currently, the United℠ Explorer Card has an intro annual fee of $0 for the first year, jumping to $95 thereafter.

United℠ Explorer Card Review: Perfect for regular United travelers

If you travel regularly on United Airlines, but you’re not quite a road warrior, the United℠ Explorer Card may be the right option for you.

Cardmembers earn 2 miles per $1 for purchases at restaurants, hotels and on United and 1 mile per $1 for everything else. Plus, cardholders get their first checked bag free of charge, priority boarding and two United Club one-time passes.

Good sign-up bonus

Currently, you’ll earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 or more in the first three months after opening a United℠ Explorer Card account. While not as lucrative as the current offer on the United℠ Explorer Business Card, which offers up to 100,000 miles for spending , the spending requirements for the United℠ Explorer Card are also lower, at $2,000 versus $25,000 (within first six months) for the United℠ Explorer Business Card. (United℠ Explorer Business Card Limited time offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening and an additional 50,000 bonus miles after spending $25,000 total on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening.)

United no longer publishes award charts with a set amount of miles required for travel redemptions. For flight redemptions on or after November 15, 2019, you’ll need to use United’s new flexible award travel calendar to figure out where you can go with your miles. However, under the set mileage redemption chart that expires November 15, 2019, you could use your 40,000 miles for a one-way saver ticket to Australia or New Zealand, or for a one-way saver ticket to Hawaii in first class.

In-flight and ground service rewards

The United℠ Explorer Card really shines when it comes to flight-specific rewards for those traveling on United. The card offers one free bag on every flight, which will save you the $30 you can normally expect to pay for your first checked bag on a domestic United itinerary. If you’re a Premier member, you can receive complimentary premier upgrades on United flights if you’re traveling on a reward ticket, subject to availability.

The United℠ Explorer Card also grants two United Club passes every year, along with a 25% discount on in-flight purchases and priority boarding. The card also grants access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, which provides perks such as free breakfast or room upgrades at participating hotels.

Bonus miles categories

One of the main reasons to get the United℠ Explorer Card is so you can enjoy the 2x miles on every United purchase. This includes everything from United ticket purchases to Economy Plus upgrades and in-flight purchases, such as food, beverages and wifi. You’ll also earn double miles on Inside Access from Chase purchases.

On top of United purchases, the United℠ Explorer Card also grants 2x miles on all restaurant and hotel purchases. Bear in mind that you have to book directly with a hotel to earn double miles on hotel purchases rather than a third-party reservation provider.

Fee Credits

One of the highlights of the United℠ Explorer Card is the way you can use it to avoid fees. For starters, the annual fee the intro year you have the card is $0 ($95 thereafter). You can use that year to decide if the benefits of the card are worth paying for in additional years.

The United℠ Explorer Card also has no foreign transaction fees, which can add up quickly if you travel overseas frequently. Also beneficial to international travelers is the $100 Global Entry free credit, which rebates your fee for that government-sponsored program once every four years. Even if you don’t use it for yourself, you can get that fee rebated if you pay for someone else’s application, as long as the fee is charged to the card. The Global Entry fee rebate also applies to the TSA PreCheck program, which currently costs $85.

Ancillary benefits

Travel protection may not be the primary reason why customers choose a particular credit card, but it is worthy of consideration. With the United℠ Explorer Card, you’re entitled to up to $500 if you endure a flight delay of at least 12 hours on any airline, not just United, as long as you booked using the card. The United℠ Explorer Card also offers primary car rental insurance, meaning you can decline supplemental insurance when you rent a car and the United℠ Explorer Card will pay claims ahead of even your own personal car insurance company.

Other ancillary benefits that come with the card include purchase protection, extended warranty protection, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance. Hopefully, none of these ever come into play for you, but it’s good to know that they are provided by the card in case you need them.

ValuePenguin's verdict: Worth it for United loyalists

If you’re a frequent United flyer, the United℠ Explorer Card deserves a spot in your wallet. You’ll be treated like a VIP on United just by having the card, with priority boarding, a 25% discount on in-flight purchases, one free bag and two United Club passes annually. If you travel internationally, the United℠ Explorer Card is also a good addition. You can sign up for Global Entry and receive up to a $100 credit to offset the program’s fee, and you won’t incur any foreign transaction fees on your purchases abroad.

Alternatives to the United℠ Explorer Card

If you fly United occasionally but are willing to travel with other carriers for various reasons, then the United℠ Explorer Card may not be your best overall option. Although the annual fee is waived for the first year, the $95 annual charge you’ll incur thereafter may outweigh the United-heavy benefits if you’re more of a generalist when it comes to travel. Here are some other options you may want to consider if you don’t direct all your travel spend to United.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's Secure Website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's Secure Website
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

In some ways, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card holds an edge over the United℠ Explorer Card. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll get 2 points for every $1 spent on all travel and dining expenses, not just on hotels, restaurants and United purchases. As Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to United MileagePlus, it means you can effectively earn United miles even when flying on other carriers. In fact, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a wide range of transfer partners available, making its points even more useful.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card also has a better current sign-up bonus of 60,000 points, although you’ll have to spend $4,000 over the first three months to earn it. The card has the same $95 annual fee (but which isn’t waived the first year) as the United℠ Explorer Card, and it, too, has no foreign transaction fees. Overall, this can make the card a better option even for United flyers, although you will miss out on the United-specific benefits such as priority boarding, a free checked bag, bonuses on in-flight purchases and the annual Club passes.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

On Capital One's Secure Website

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

On Capital One's Secure Website
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that

Note: The information in this box was provided by Capital One and is not part of our independent analysis.

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
Annual Fee
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.74% (Variable)
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent, Good
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the easiest rewards cards to use, earning 2 rewards points for every $1 spent, period. This no doubt appeals to consumers who don’t want to spend the time figuring out which is the best card to maximize rewards on every purchase. Through January 2020, the card also offers 10x points on purchases at hotels.com. Coupled with a generous sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending at least $3,000 in the first three months of card ownership, the lack of foreign transaction fees and up to a $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit, it’s an easy card to like. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card also comes with a $95 annual fee that is waived for the first year.

Redemptions of Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card points are on a strict dollar basis, with 100 points equalling $1. Thus, the 50,000-point sign-up bonus is effectively worth $500. You can also transfer your points to one of Capital One’s fifteen available transfer partners, which include EVA Air, Singapore Airlines and JetBlue, among others, but not United.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

On American Express' Secure Website

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

On American Express' Secure Website
Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases within your first 3 months
  • Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 10/30/2019.
  • Earn 2 miles on every eligible dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240.
  • Receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on your Delta flights, stow your carry-on bag and settle in sooner.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 10/30/2019.
  • Earn 2 miles on every eligible dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240.
  • Receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on your Delta flights, stow your carry-on bag and settle in sooner.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
Annual Fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR
17.49%-26.49% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

Clearly, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express won’t have United-specific benefits as the United℠ Explorer Card. Even if you’re primarily a Delta flyer, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express isn’t the greatest card out there. In some ways, benefits are similar – except Delta-focused – to the ones you’ll receive with the United℠ Explorer Card. For example, you’ll earn 2x miles for Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other spending, the $95 annual fee is waived the first year, and you’ll receive priority boarding, one bag free and 20% off in-flight purchases, similar to with the United℠ Explorer Card.

However, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express only has a 30,000-point sign-up bonus (after you make $1,000 in purchases on your card within 3 months of account opening) – plus a $50 statement credit – and its additional features aren’t overly impressive. The card offers a discount for lounge access, for example, but doesn’t provide any free passes. We value Delta SkyMiles at only 1.3 cents each, on average, far below the 1.6 cents or more that United miles are worth.

Comments and Questions

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).