United℠ Explorer Card Review [2024]: Perks for the Loyal United Traveler

CREDIT CARDS - AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS
If you like traveling the friendly skies with United, you'll want to take advantage of these solid travel perks.
Updated May 9, 2024
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The United℠ Explorer Card is a travel rewards credit card designed to cater to loyal United Airlines customers. This credit card can help you make the most of your trips on United by unlocking exclusive perks such as United Lounge passes, priority boarding, and money back on in-flight purchases.

Additionally, you can earn United MileagePlus miles using this credit card. You earn 2 miles per dollar spent on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. And if you earn enough miles, you can even redeem them for free flights (minus taxes and fees, of course).

Find out in this United Explorer Card review if this card is the best airline credit card for you.

Best Rewards for United

4.5

United℠ Explorer Card

Current Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open

Annual Fee

$95 (waived first year)

Rewards Rate

2 miles per dollar spent on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks
Card Details

In this United Explorer Card review

Key takeaways

  • The United℠ Explorer Card has an annual fee of $95 (waived first year) but comes with various perks, including a generous welcome offer, two United Club lounge passes each year for your anniversary, up to $100 as a Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck® fee credit, priority boarding on eligible United flights, and a free checked bag for the cardholder and one companion.
  • This credit card helps you earn 2 miles per dollar spent on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • The best way to redeem the miles you earn is typically for travel, especially award tickets. That said, you can also redeem them for merchandise, car rentals, cruises, gift cards, and experiences.
  • You can transfer United MileagePlus miles to multiple partner airlines, hotel, and transportation partners. United is part of the Star Alliance, allowing you to use your miles with partner airlines worldwide.
  • While the United Explorer is useful for United loyalists, those who prefer more flexible travel rewards may prefer the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card as they offer broader redemption options.

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 for your anniversary and a Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver. 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 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)
Welcome offer Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
Reward rate 2 miles per dollar spent on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases
Recommended credit score Excellent, Good
Intro APR N/A 
Foreign transaction fee None

Why we like the United Explorer Card: benefits & perks

  • Generous welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open 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 for your anniversary, 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, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS 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, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS 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 first 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.
  • DoorDash benefit: You can opt into a one-year complimentary DashPass subscription. (Requires activation by 12/31/2024.) With DashPass, you'll pay zero delivery fees and reduced service fees on eligible orders. After the first year, your DashPass subscription will renew at the regular monthly rate. 
  • 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 delay reimbursement. 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.
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver: When you use your United Explorer Card to book a rental car, you get an Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver. This might make waiving the rental car company's insurance coverage an easy decision.
  • Premier Qualifying Points (PQP): This card lets you earn 25 PQP on every $500 spent on your card. You can earn up to 1,000 PQP per calendar year. These points go toward your Premier status qualification with MileagePlus.

What we don't like about the United Explorer Card: drawbacks

  • 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: $1,350

Year two earnings: $530

These values are based on the FinanceBuzz Credit Card Rewards Valuation Model, which takes a look at points earned via spending, the welcome offer, and the annual fee. These numbers do not take into account the possibility of earning extra points for booking United flights or booking directly with hotels, so your actual earnings have the potential to be higher.

Best ways to earn

The United Explorer Card works best for travelers and those who like to dine out thanks to its bonus categories. With this card, you can earn 2 miles per dollar spent on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other 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 in addition to United MileagePlus miles.

Categories Rewards rate
Dining, hotel stays, and United purchases 2 miles per dollar
All other purchases 1 mile per dollar

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.

Note that you can also redeem 6,250 miles to cover the $95 (waived first year) annual fee, which gives you a value of 1.52 cents per mile.

United MileagePlus transfer partners

With the United Explorer Card, you can transfer your MileagePlus miles to partner airlines and 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 Other airline partners Hotel and transportation partner rewards programs
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • 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
  • Aer Lingus
  • Air Dolomiti
  • Airlink
  • Azul
  • Boutique Air
  • Cape Air
  • Discover Airlines
  • Edelweiss
  • Emirates
  • Eurowings
  • Flydubai
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JSX
  • Olympic Air
  • Silver Airways
  • Virgin Australia
  • Vistara

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® Card or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit 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 points on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠; 3X points on dining, select streaming services, and online groceries; 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases. 

If you're not as interested in tracking your spending across loads of categories, the Capital One Venture Rewards card might be a good option for you — cardmembers earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day, 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5 miles per dollar on Capital One Entertainment purchases through 12/31/25.

Best Rewards for United

4.5

United℠ Explorer Card

Why We Like It

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open

See how these cards compare:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Travel℠
  • 10% anniversary point bonus each year
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked through Chase Travel℠
  • Premium travel protection benefits
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
  • Earn a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® credit
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 19.99% - 29.99% (variable) purchase APR
  • Rates and fees

United Explorer Card FAQ

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, NEXUS, 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, NEXUS, 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 50,000 United MileagePlus miles worth?

United MileagePlus miles are typically worth $0.01 a piece. So 50,000 miles would be worth approximately $500. That said, you may be able to get a higher value per mile, depending on how you redeem your rewards.

United℠ Explorer Card: bottom line

The United℠ Explorer Card is a compelling option for frequent United flyers seeking to maximize their rewards and enjoy exclusive travel perks. You can build up your United MileagePlus miles soon after getting this credit card as you can earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

You can also earn elevated rewards rates on United purchases and benefit from two passes to the United Club airport lounge annually. Additionally, this card benefits frequent flyers with up to $100 in fee reimbursement for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®. This is a significant value considering its annual fee of $95 (waived first year).

If you’d like to earn a United Club membership or earn elite status faster with United, explore other United credit cards. You can also find options that aren’t tied to United Airlines in our list of the best credit cards for travel.

Author Details

Miranda Marquit Miranda Marquit has covered personal finance for more than a decade and is a nationally-recognized financial expert and journalist, appearing on CNBC, NPR, Forbes, Yahoo! Finance, FOX Business, and numerous other outlets.
Yahia Barakah, CEPF Yahia Barakah, CEPF, is a Senior Editor at FinanceBuzz and has created finance-focused content since 2011. As a Certified Educator of Personal Finance, he has a background in institutional investment and asset management, as well as a deep passion for financial literacy.

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