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.
10/6/19 | By Miranda Marquit

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One of the best ways to earn and redeem rewards is to find a solid travel rewards card. If you frequently fly United, you can earn miles and redeem them for free airfare (minus taxes and fees).

This United Explorer Card review will provide you with the information you need to decide if this is the right card for you.

Best Rewards for United

United Explorer Card

United Explorer Card

United Explorer Card

Benefits

  • Up to 65,000-mile sign-up bonus (limited time offer)
  • 2 miles per dollar spent with United and at restaurants and hotels
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • Free first checked bag
  • 2 United Club Passes annually

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Best usage limited to United flyers


Who should get this card?

For the most part, your best results are going to be if you’re a frequent traveler and you typically use United as your primary airline. Travelers are likely to find that the United Explorer Card offers usable 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, however, you 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 effective for those who don’t have some degree of loyalty to United.

Card basics

Annual Fee $95 (waived first year)
Intro Bonus Earn up to 65,000 bonus miles: 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, and an additional 25,000 after spending $10,000 total in the first 6 months
Recommended Credit Score Excellent, Good
Foreign Transaction Fee None

Top card benefits

  • Generous welcome offer: Earn up to 65,000 bonus miles: 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, and an additional 25,000 after spending $10,000 total in the first 6 months. 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.
  • Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck: 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.
  • Money back on inflight purchases: You get 25% back on inflight 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 checked bag. This is a value of $30 each way per person, potentially saving you $120 per round trip flight.

Earning & redeeming

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.

Best ways to earn

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

If you want to earn double miles, you need to use your card at restaurants and make accommodations directly with hotels. Plus, you’ll also earn two miles per dollar spent when spending money with United, including airfare, upgrades to Economy Plus, and inflight purchases.

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 along with 2X United MileagePlus miles from the cost of the trip.

Categories Rewards rate
Restaurants 2X
Hotels 2X
United Purchases 2X
Other eligible purchases 1X

Maximizing your redemptions

As with many travel cards, your best bet is going to be redeeming your rewards for, well, travel. 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 ticket you can get 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 when redeeming your miles to see what makes the most sense for you.

Common questions

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 MileagePlus Club Card, including a full membership to the United Club, 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.

Other Cards to Consider

While the United Explorer Card is a strong option to consider for those loyal to flying with United, if you’re on the fence about committing to an airline rewards card, you may want to consider a more general travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Capital One® Venture®.

Best Rewards for United

United Explorer Card

United Explorer Card

United Explorer Card

Special Offer

Earn up to 65,000 bonus miles: 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, and an additional 25,000 after spending $10,000 total in the first 6 months

See how these cards compare:

Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
  • 50,000 bonus miles welcome offer
  • 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fees

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