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, don’t want or need Club-level access and fees and are OK with paying a reasonable annual fee: $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95.
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 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, cardholders get their first checked bag free of charge, priority boarding and two United Club one-time passes.
Good sign-up bonus
While the United℠ Explorer Card welcome offer (60k bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10k bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.) is not as lucrative as the current offer on the United℠ Explorer Business Card (earn up to 100,000 miles after qualifying purchases), the spending requirements for the United℠ Explorer Card's bonus are lower.
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.
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.
One of the highlights of the United℠ Explorer Card is the way you can use it to avoid fees. For starters, the annual fee is $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95. 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 statement 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.
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. The annual fee 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
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 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. As United℠ Explorer 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: 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®. The card has the same $95 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
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is one of the easiest rewards cards to use, earning 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. 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. Coupled with a generous sign-up bonus (Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months), 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 an annual fee $95.
Redemptions of Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card points are on a strict dollar basis, with 100 points equalling $1. Thus, the sign-up bonus (Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months) 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.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
Clearly, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card won’t have United-specific benefits as the United℠ Explorer Card. Even if you’re primarily a Delta flyer, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card 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 on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets. You'll pay a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99. Also, you’ll receive priority boarding, one bag free and 20% off in-flight purchases, similar to the United℠ Explorer Card.
Still, its additional features aren’t overly impressive. 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.