Release Hidden Award Availability with the United℠ Explorer Card

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If you fly United even a handful of times per year, the United℠ Explorer Card offers some high-value perks that can make award travel more affordable, and more accessible. Benefits like free checked bags, complimentary United Club passes, primary auto rental insurance, free roadside assistance, and priority boarding more than account for the annual fee.

But the card’s most valuable perk is poorly understood and often overlooked:

“MileagePlus Premier® members and qualified MileagePlus Chase Cardmembers are eligible for exclusive award travel availability.”

In other words, if you have the card, you get access to extra award seats that aren’t available to everyone else.

A big reason this benefit doesn’t get much attention is that United leaves out a huge detail in their marketing materials. United advertises “No Blackout Dates” as one of the key benefits of the card. This means you can use miles to book the last seat on a flight—effectively giving you the same options with miles as you have when paying with cash.

Unfortunately, booking the last available seat will require a lot of extra miles. Those tickets are known as Everyday Awards, and they typically cost at least double the number of miles needed for a Saver Award.

So what is United leaving out? Cardmembers also get access to additional saver-level award space in economy that is typically reserved for United Premier Platinum and Platinum 1K elite members.

How to Find Expanded United Award Space

To unlock United's hidden award space, simply sign in to your MileagePlus account before searching United for award flights. United will recognize your status as a co-brand cardholder and display additional fare classes when you search for awards. Flights featuring expanded award space will be highlighted like the search below, and will explicitly call out that the award space is “Exclusively available to you as a MileagePlus Chase Cardmember.

United-MileagePlus-Expanded-Award-Availability

The expanded award space is labeled as a different fare class from the award space available to all MileagePlus members:

  • Additional Economy Saver Awards are labeled: (XN)
  • Additional Business Everyday Awards are labeled: (JN)

For example, when we display the flight details for this itinerary, the fare class for Economy Saver award space is labeled (X), which is the standard fare bucket for Economy Saver awards. But you’ll also notice the AUS-IAH economy segment on the Business Saver award is labeled with the (XN) fare class, which is only available to MileagePlus Chase cardholders and Premier elite members.

United-MileagePlus-Expanded-Award-Availability

Without access to the (XN) economy seat on the one-hour flight from Austin to Houston, you can't book the 60,000 mile business-class ticket all the way to Frankfurt.

The expanded award space can help you piece together much better itineraries on multi-segment, international awards. More award availability often leads to shorter connection times, and fewer stops to reach your destination. You can find routes with additional Saver level award space open only to United cardholders or Premier elite status holders on this dedicated page of United’s website.

The additional Business Everyday Award space with the fare class (JN) is also only available if you hold the United Explorer Card or another co-brand card. Everyday award space requires a lot more miles, but it may come in handy if business class is a priority and cash fares are expensive.

Which United Co-Brand Cards Qualify for Additional Award Space?

United℠ Explorer Card
United℠ Explorer Card
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Welcome Bonus 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck™ Fee Credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $120 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 2X miles per $1 spent on purchases from United
  • 2X miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • 1X mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

United℠ Business Card
United℠ Business Card
Annual Fee$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99
Welcome Bonus Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend 3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

An important point to emphasize here is that the United℠ Explorer Card is a product to keep for the benefits, not as a card you spend money on outside of purchasing United tickets for the Free Checked Bag benefit. Earning just 1 mile per dollar on non-bonus spending and 2x on United spend, you'll earn a lot more United miles with an Ultimate Rewards earning combo of cards, optimized for all spending categories, which then transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio.

Other United co-brand cards that open up expanded award space include:

If you play the points and miles hobby in two-player mode with a spouse or partner, only one of you needs to hold a MileagePlus co-brand card for this strategy to work, as you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to the ‘enhanced' account to book the expanded award inventory.

Even if the person traveling is not the member able to book the expanded awards, United allows you to book for anyone with a MileagePlus account, so this benefit can effectively let you book travel for anyone.

Does Expanded Award Space Include Partners?

The short answer is no. Holding the United Explorer Card or any other United card only opens up additional award space on United-operated flights, including regional subsidiaries like United Express. But the expanded award availability can make partner awards more accessible. In many cases, the extra availability eliminates the need to purchase a separate ticket to position to an international hub where saver-level partner flights are available.

What Miles Can I Use To Book Expanded MileagePlus Award Space?

You can only book the expanded award inventory using United miles, or points transferred to MileagePlus from your Ultimate Rewards or Marriott Rewards accounts. Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at 1:1, and Marriott Rewards points transfer at 3:1.1 with an additional 5,000 United miles awarded when you transfer in blocks of 60,000 Marriott points.

There is no way of booking the expanded award space with partner miles from the likes of Singapore KrisFlyer or Avianca LifeMiles. Partners can only access the saver-level fare buckets for economy and business—not the expanded (XN) and (JN) fare classes reserved for United cardholders.

Final Thoughts

Just for holding the United℠ Explorer Card, you automatically gain access to additional award space at both the saver and everyday award levels. While the extra saver availability is restricted to economy awards, we still rate it one of the card’s most valuable features. If you fly United often, this card's benefits should more than cover the annual fee. Since the card is subject to the 5/24 rule, it won't be an option right away for everyone, but you should definitely consider putting it on your shortlist of cards to pick up in 2020.

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Comments

  • I do keep this card specifically for the extra award space. I do like the other benefits but I can get greater earnings from other cards.

  • Nice little perk, crappy airline!

  • All good points. My Explorer card is coming up for renewal; I’ll probably keep it because of the items you’ve mentioned. The card also qualifies for extra miles when using the MPX app.

  • Wow! Thank you – very useful analysis and I’m sure going now to consider this card.

  • I suspect that we’ll see more and more of this. Extra award space for cardholders. Can’t kill off the golden goose with too much of “I can never find the award flight I want – what’s the point of having the card…”

  • I honestly had totally forgotten about these; thanks for the reminder!

  • I am thinking about this card. I have read about this perk on their website and elsewhere. It’s the one reason I’m considering the card, otherwise I don’t think I’d get it. I see the other benefits but since I live at an AA hub I have theirs.

    Is it limited to a ticket or reservation with the card holders name on it or can I use that benefit and redeem for my husband out of my account?

    • Hey great question. The benefit is tied to the United Account, so you’ll get those extra seats regardless of who is traveling. If you and your spouse both have Chase points, you’ll want to transfer to the account that is tied to the MileagePlus card.

  • The perks are definitely getting better (I don’t recall 2x on dining and hotel before) but I’d still rather have CSR. You can transfer miles to United if you want, or elsewhere (transfer to British Airways to book on American too). If you’re exclusive to United, this card is good, but I’m all about options and finding the best deals. I’ll never travel enough to reach any real status on any airline.

    • Separately, what are the downgrade options for this? Can you downgrade to a free card?

      • You can downgrade; my spouse did – it’s a non advertised card; you get 1 mile for every $2 spend, but you don’t have many perks (like early boarding or anything).

        • Darren Hullet says:

          If it’s enough to keep your miles active, that’s a huge bonus in itself. But I semi-recently just discovered the shopping portals so keeping miles active for me is a thing of the past. 🙂

        • JRG, thanks for confirming the downgrade option. Always best to go in knowing that option exists.

      • You can downgrade this card to the no fee version. You lose out on the expanded award availability though 🙁

  • Thanks for letting us know about things like this we probably didn’t know about. I guess this makes United a good first place to search for a near term flight.

  • Camilla A Sauder says:

    That perk has been helpful to me as well as free checked baggage.

  • Awesome post! Another reason to keep my UA card.

  • Good outline of nice benefit

  • Thanks for the tips!

  • John Lortscher says:

    Great tip, detail and examples … thank you!

  • Thanks for emphasizing this wonderful information. We’ve used this before and it is a definite advantage!
    Happy New Year, everyone! Enjoy some amazing travels!!

  • This benefit is a great reason to hold this card. Thanks for explaining!

  • Some great tips and advice, thank you.

  • I do not use the United Explorer credit card. I put all my spend on my Chase CSR. I usually only fly United once a year and I just bring a small bag which fits under my seat.

  • This perk has helped me with a few awards in the past year.

  • FYI, this benefit should apply to all Chase United MileagePlus credit cards. I have a legacy no-annual fee MileagePlus card (1 mile/$2 spend) and I also get access to the additional award inventory. Perhaps others can comment to see if a no-annual fee product is still offered, or if one is available for a product change after carrying an annual fee MileagePlus card.

    • I am very interested in knowing the answer to this if anyone has knowledge.

    • So your card is no longer available correct? But you think you can product change to it?

    • I can confirm as well the no fee version of the card opens the exclusive award space. I downgraded to it earlier this year and still get the benefit. Good to know for those who want to hold it for that reason.

      • Patty Hales says:

        Thank you Teddy. I would like to have my husband downgrade his card, but I was really worried about the award space. Things are going to be tight on our available miles as it is. 🙂

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    great info. thx!

  • Sweet. I’ll be looking for this extra space as we plan return trips to the Maldives & Thailand, as well as our first to ZA.

  • A very good reminder. I don’t hold this card, and probably won’t with less than stellar United options near me, but good tip.

  • Nice to know… Think I have previously overlooked this.

  • Good reminder to log in when looking for award space Happy New Year!

  • Very good information, great article.

  • Wow, I hold this card and never knew about this. Thanks for sharing. Will definitely make sure I sign in to my Mileage Plus account before I search for award travel next.

  • In theory having this card allows Elites to go complementary upgrade list on a United issued award ticket
    (But not award ticket on United metal issued by a Star Alliance partner)

    However, even as a 1-K, the odds of ever actually getting a complimentary upgrade is damn small unless you book at a very hight fare class.

    Generally much better off booking the cheapest available business class

    Unrelated to the Chase credit card – I know you can book a United Saver Award and ” waitlist” for a Business Saver seat, but has anyone had success booking an award on United metal through a star alliance partner and using United Miles to get on the PR-1 list?

  • This is a great perk – thanks for the information

  • Wow this actually sounds quite nice.
    The UA card looks pretty valuable just for this one feature alone.

  • I canceled my united cards a while back.. but might look at opening again. thanks

  • That’s an amazing sign up bonus!

  • I wish I had sufficient miles or Ultimate Reward points to make this card worthwhile.

  • I have the United MP Club card and this benefit has certainly helped me many times in getting a connecting domestic XN leg to make up a whole international end to end leg. One of the reasons i continue to keep my club card (along with the United PQD waiver if you spend $25K on a United card.

  • I’ve been flying United more often. May have to give this card some serious thought. No, then low, fee and primary car rental insurance along with the extra availability. Not a bad offering.

  • I wish I could make this card 🙁
    (Chase 5/24)

  • Bill from Maine says:

    That little perk definitely came in handy for me last year on a point redemption.

  • Gareth Waugh says:

    Does an AU receive the same benefits? Or just the primary account holder? Thanks in advance.

  • After you book the hidden award, you have to worry about not being dragged off the plane!

  • Awesome!
    thanks for posting this

  • I had no idea! Thanks.

  • Just having access to reserved seats is a massive bonus.

  • Glad I hold this card!

  • Great reasons for United flyers to get this card.

  • Sounds like pretty decent perks, too bad the last seat type awards booking are so expensive but they might come in handy at some point.

  • Good info, Thanks

  • Eric Fleischman says:

    Another nice little known perk of this card is that elite members can get complimentary upgrades on award flights. Many of the agents don’t know this. If you have an award ticket and don’t see your name on the upgrade list tell the agent you have the credit card and ask to be added to the list. Note you have to use the Chase United card to pay the award ticket fees when you book the flight for this to work.

  • Farid Kassam says:

    This blog is a great reminder. thanks.

  • Thanks! Great tip.. I have this card but wasn’t aware of the benefit.

  • Considering to apply the card. Thanks for the info!

  • Does this card fall under Chase’s 5/24 rule when applying?

  • These are great things to find out about when trying to decide which airline card would best suit my needs.

  • Primary auto rental insurance is news to me! I wish the sign up was better thou, not going to get it for only 40,000 basically, not going to spend that much for 65,000.

  • I am always amazed that airlines do whatever they can to restrict use of frequent flyer miles that you, in effect, have already paid for. Now you can pay (annual card fee) for “hidden award availability”.

  • Great info, thanks as always!

  • I really hope Chase opens this card back up so that it is not limited to 5/24!

  • Very useful thanks

  • I have this card but I am undecided on renewing. I’ll make an attempt to have the renewal fee waived.

  • If only it wasnt united

  • Interesting benefits on thus card.

  • Thanks for the information!

  • Great tips!

  • I’ve used this benefit and it saves miles on redemption. I hope other travel cards copy the benefit.

  • A nice perk for people having these cards and want to redeem some miles on United.

  • Juyeon Kim says:

    Awesome post.
    I recently applied this credit card but received a rejection letter. They said I opened too many cards within 2 years. Actually, I opened 5 credit cards in the past 2 years and it seems Chase does not allow to open 5 or more credit cards within 2 years. Is this true? If so, is there any other way to get approved for this card?

  • Extra award space is an amazing benefit, I wish other airlines offered a similar card.

  • TheChzBurger says:

    I got this card last month and didn’t know about this perk. Makes the card more worth it!

  • Looks like time to get the explorer card

  • Always knew about the additional space but not the direct link to see the routes covered by it. Thanks for that!

  • Good reason to have the card if you fly United or its partners.

  • Might have to look into this card, thanks

  • Just got this card and didn’t know about this. Will definitely be taking advantage of the perk!

  • Great benefit of this card. Never knew about the before. Card is worth another look for this alone.

  • I have the no longer available United Mileage Select card and the benefit works for this card as well. I have found it to be very useful for domestic trips around the summer holidays. It is a great incentive to hold onto the card as I have definitely been able to use miles for trips that otherwise would not be available at saver rates.

  • The fees for checked baggage is the most I hated about the fees charged by Airlines. It is good that this card offered free checked baggage; It save more than $50 when I fly from NYC to MIA for golfing each time. I fly to MIA more than 10 times a year. So the card will save me more than $500 per year. It save a lot even I have to pay the annual fee. It is a great benefits. I will sure recommend to my golfer friends.

  • elliot siegel says:

    very interesting, as I thought that the UA Explorer card does not provide XN.

  • The problem with the card is that it is not really worth paying the $95 fee unless you fly United more than once a year. I don’t, so I cancelled my card last week when the fee came up.

  • UA has good redemption options for international flights, so will think about the card.

  • I need to look into this since I have 300K+ UA miles that I’ve had difficulty using.

    Thanks for the tip!

  • Nice perk of having the card

  • Thanks for the reminder of this perk! I definitely have noticed the difference when not logged into the UA website before searching for award space. I agree that this perk is worth the cost of the card! Plus, with the Club Card, I also get premier status, even if I’m only flying award space and not hitting their “numbers.”

  • @Lyn,

    Nothing was said up-thread about getting complimentary Premier Status. Do you have a different card?

    Thanks.

  • this is one card that I regret canceling. Along with the primary car rental insurance, this is a great perk.

  • Great to know!

  • Seung Taek Lim says:

    I’m going to apply for it.

  • May just have to get this card.

  • Great redemption opportunities for card holders. May have to take another look at this card

  • There is huge value to increased reward availability.
    One additional point to mention. My parents were searching on united.com for award ORD-LHR flights for this summer. They are cardholders, but weren’t logged in. They didn’t know about this benefit and didn’t think they were able to use their United miles.
    When I asked them to search while logged in, they suddenly noticed a ton of flights were available.

  • Liu Sheng says:

    Thank you for the information! Helps a lot!

  • Marlin Seevers says:

    I appreciate knowing those things about the Explorer card. That’s one I’m considering next.

  • Marlin Seevers says:

    I’m grateful for this blog, for the information like this. I don’t always even know what information to look for, and don’t have the time to read all the fine print on every option out there.

  • Jameel Nicholson says:

    Thanks for this in-depth article about a really good benefit of this card. This is one of the three Chase cards I was weighing to add to my final 5/24 slot (Southwest Priority and Marriott Boundless being the other two), and along with it’s other perks, might have just tipped the scale.

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