United Explorer Card Review: Perks for the Loyal United Traveler

If you like traveling the friendly skies with United, you'll want to take advantage of these solid travel perks.
Last updated Sep 19, 2020 | By Miranda Marquit

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

One of the best ways to earn and redeem rewards is to find a solid travel rewards card. If you fly United frequently, it may be worth considering a card that earns United MileagePlus miles. The right card can help you offset the cost of flights and hotels — and if you earn enough miles, you can even redeem them for free flights (minus taxes and fees, of course).

The United Explorer Card is a solid option for loyal United customers. This United Explorer Card review will provide you with the information you need to decide if this is the best airline credit card for you.

Best Rewards for United

Benefits

  • 60,000 mile sign-up bonus
  • 2X miles on United purchases, restaurants, and delivery services
  • Free first checked bag
  • 2 United Club Passes annually

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Best usage limited to United flyers

In this United Explorer Card review:

Who should get the United Explorer card?

For the most part, this card is best for loyal United customers who travel frequently. Travelers are likely to find that the United Explorer Card offers valuable perks, such as two United lounge passes each year and solid car rental insurance with primary coverage. Additionally, this card favors people who make reservations directly with hotels, rather than using third-party websites.

To qualify for the United Explorer Card, however, you'll likely need good to excellent credit. Those with fair credit might not receive approval and may need to turn to another card. Additionally, this card isn’t as the best option for those who don’t have some degree of loyalty to United.

Card basics

Card type Travel
Credit card issuer Chase
Annual fee $95 (waived first year)
Intro bonus Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
Reward rate 2X miles at restaurants and delivery services, hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel, and eligible United purchases; and 1X miles on everything else
Recommended credit score Excellent, Good
Intro APR N/A
Foreign transaction fee None

United Explorer Card benefits & perks

  • Generous welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. One-way awards start as low as 12,500 miles, so there’s a potential to get free airfare (minus taxes and fees) immediately after meeting the requirements.
  • Two United Club passes each year: Each year, you get two one-time complimentary passes to United Club lounges around the country. This is a value of about $100 — helping offset the $95 (waived first year) annual fee on its own.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: Every four years, you can receive up to $100 in statement credits when you use the United Explorer Card to pay for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. This allows you to skip time-consuming lines at security.
  • Priority boarding: In addition to saving time at security, you can also save time at the gate. Cardholders get priority boarding privileges on eligible United flights.
  • Money back on in-flight purchases: You get 25% back on in-flight purchases made while flying United. This includes food, beverages, and onboard WiFi.
  • Free checked bag: You get a free standard bag checked when you use your card to make a reservation. One companion traveling on the same reservation also gets a free first bag. This could potentially save you $140 per round trip flight.
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance: If you need to cancel or cut your trip short for a covered reason, this card offers both trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance. You can be reimbursed up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip.
  • Purchase protection: This card offers purchase protection for up to 120 days. Cardholders are covered against damage and theft for up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 each year.
  • Rental car coverage: When you use your United Explorer Card to book a rental car, you get primary collision damage coverage — this makes waiving the rental car company's insurance coverage an easy decision.

Drawbacks of the United Explorer Card

  • Annual fee: If you're looking for a credit card with no annual fee, you'll want to look elsewhere. The United Explorer Card comes with a modest $95 (waived first year) annual fee.
  • Designed for United customers: This card offers the most value for United customers. If you aren't loyal to a particular airline, a more general travel rewards card may be a better option for you.
  • No intro APR offer: This card does not offer an introductory APR on purchases or balance transfers.

Earning & redeeming United MileagePlus miles

No United Explorer Card review is complete without a look at the best ways to earn rewards and redeem them. If you get this card, here are some of the best ways to maximize your rewards.

Potential earnings in years one and two

Here's a look at how your miles can add up with the United Explorer Card. To calculate these values, we used a point valuation of $0.01.

Remember, this is an estimation. The actual value will be determined by how much you spend and in which categories you spend.

Year one earnings: $1043

Year two earnings: $348

These values are based on the FinanceBuzz Credit Card Rewards Valuation Model which takes a look at points earned via spending, the sign-up bonus, and the annual fee.

Best ways to earn

The United Explorer Card works best for travelers and those who like to dine out.

With this card, you can earn 2X miles at restaurants and delivery services, hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel, and eligible United purchases; and 1X miles on everything else.

It’s also possible to boost your rewards earning capability by using your United Explorer Card in conjunction with a hotel loyalty program. For example, if you frequently stay at Marriott properties and use the United Explorer Card to make reservations, you’ll earn Bonvoy rewards for the hotel stay in addition to United MileagePlus miles.

Categories Rewards rate
Restaurants and delivery services, hotel accommodations booked directly with hotel, eligible United purchases 2X
All other purchases 1X

Maximizing your redemptions

As with many travel cards, your best bet is going to be redeeming your rewards for, well, travel — especially award tickets. You can use your United MileagePlus miles to book airfare, as well as to upgrade your current fare. Miles can also be redeemed for merchandise (including Apple products), car rentals, cruises, gift cards, and experiences.

Maximizing your redemptions is more about the cost of the award flight and the conditions that go with it. Your travel date, starting point, and destination all factor into how “valuable” a ticket ends up being.

For example, you can book a One-Way Saver Award for 12,500 points in Economy Class or spend 25,000 to book for First Class. I found a one-way Economy ticket for $302 and a First Class ticket for $591. The formula for figuring out redemption value is (Cash Price / Award Price) x 100. The redemption value for the Economy ticket is about 2.416 cents per mile, while for the First Class ticket, it’s 2.364 cents. You get a better value by using your redemption for an Economy ticket in this scenario.

Run the numbers before flying United with points to see what makes the most sense for you.

United MileagePlus transfer partners

With the United Explorer Card, you can transfer your MileagePlus miles to 35 partner airlines and 10 hotel and transportation partners. United is a member of the Star Alliance, and United MileagePlus miles can be used with all Star Alliance airlines as well as other airline partners, including Aer Lingus and Hawaiian Airlines

Here's the complete list of United’s airline, hotel, and transportation transfer partners:

Star Alliance:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa Airlines
  • Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines

Other airline partners:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeromar
  • Air Dolomiti
  • Azul
  • Boutique Air
  • Cape Air
  • Edelweiss
  • Eurowings
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Olympic Air
  • Silver Airways
  • Vistara

Hotel and transportation partner rewards programs:

United Explorer Card FAQs

When figuring out whether or not you should apply for the United Explorer Card, there are some common questions to ask.

What is the best United Airlines credit card?

The answer to this question depends on your situation and what matters most to you. The United Explorer Card offers United miles for a reasonably low annual fee of $95 (waived first year). You have the potential to get bigger perks with the United Club Infinite Card, including United Club lounge access and Premier Access services, but it comes with a much higher annual fee, so it’s not worth it for everyone.

Does the United Explorer Card pay for Global Entry?

If you’re looking for a card that offers Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, you can get your application fee paid for with the help of the United Explorer Card. When you pay for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee with your card, you’ll be reimbursed up to $100 every four years.

Is the United Explorer Card worth it?

Because there’s an annual fee, many people want to know if this credit card is worth the cost. It all depends on how often you travel and whether you regularly travel United. If you travel fairly consistently and will use the perks like free checked baggage and the two one-time United Club passes, the United Explorer Card is worth the annual fee.

What credit score do you need for the United Explorer Card?

To get approved for the United Explorer Card, you'll likely need a good to excellent credit score. A good FICO credit score falls within the 670-739 range.

How much are 40,000 United MileagePlus miles worth?

United MileagePlus miles are typically worth $0.01 a piece, so 40,000 miles would be worth approximately $400. That said, you may be able to get a higher value per mile, depending on how you redeem your rewards.

Other cards to consider

While the United Explorer Card is a strong option for loyal United customers, if you’re on the fence about airline credit cards, you may want to consider a more general travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Capital One® Venture® Rewards Card. These cards offer flexible rewards that can be redeemed for airfare, hotel stays, and more.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can earn 5X on Lyft rides, 2X points on eligible dining and travel, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases. If you're not interested in tracking your spending across categories, the Capital One Venture Rewards card might be a good option for you — cardmembers earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

Best Rewards for United

Special Offer

Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months

See how these cards compare:

Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • 80,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 5X points on select streaming services (up to $1,500) until September 30, 2020
  • 3X points with Instacart (up to $3,000), and at gas stations (up to $1,500) until September 30, 2020
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
  • 100,000 bonus mile welcome offer
  • 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fees