United℠ Explorer Card Review

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The United℠ Explorer Card offers a great lineup of benefits that makes it a valuable asset for most travelers. Even if you only fly with United a few times per year, this card should save you more money than the cost of keeping it in your wallet.

This card offers obvious money-saving features like free checked bags, 25% back on United in-flight purchases, and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit. In addition, the card also offers several unique benefits that make your United miles more valuable.

United℠ Explorer Card
United℠ Explorer Card
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Welcome Offer Earn 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, on hotel stays, and on United purchases
  • 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 $140 per roundtrip) when you use your card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United ClubSM with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash
  • 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 Explorer Card Benefits

Free First Checked Bag

If you typically pay for checked bags, the United Explorer Card can pay for itself with a single roundtrip flight for two passengers. United charges $35 per person each way, so you're looking at $140 in potential savings just from that one round-trip. The most important thing to know about this benefit is that you need to use your card to pay for the flight to get your free bags. The benefit also works for flights booked with miles as long as you use the card to cover the taxes and fees.

The requirement to pay with your card is somewhat unique to the United co-brand cards. Other airline cards like Delta or American provide the benefit even if you use a different card to pay. This restriction also means that you won't be able to use the free checked-bag benefit on flights you've already booked. The offer is limited to the primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation. You can see the full terms here.

Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit

Although the number of cards offering credit for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck has multiplied in recent years, it's hard to overstate the convenience of expedited security and immigration screening. With this benefit, you'll get a statement credit of up to $100 every 4 years to reimburse the application fee when you charge it to your card.

25% Back on United Inflight Purchases

Whether you need to grab a bite to eat—or need a stiff drink after being frisked by TSA—sometimes you have to resort to buying onboard. You can get 25% back as a statement credit for purchases of food and beverages onboard United-operated flights when you pay with your United Explorer Card. This benefit also applies to Wi-Fi, so you can stay productive all the way to your destination.

Priority Boarding

It's hard to put a monetary value on this one, but priority boarding can be a nice perk—especially when it's a full flight. You and your travel companions on the same reservation will board before the non-elite crowd. That gives you early access to overhead bins and a chance to settle in instead of standing in line.

Benefits that Make Your Miles More Valuable

In addition to the benefits we've already covered, there are two unique features that make the United Explorer Card an essential tool for anyone who cares about getting maximum value from their United miles.

Expanded MileagePlus Award Availability

Have you ever tried to book a flight with miles and discovered the one you wanted wasn’t available or cost far more than expected? The United Explorer Card might be the solution.

Airlines put strict limits on the tickets you can book with miles. Airlines would rather sell a seat to a paying customer, so award tickets can be hard to find on popular flights. But if you have the United Explorer Card, you’ll get access to more flights with your miles than the general public.

If you don't have a United card, flights like this one won't show up in your search results.

This may seem like a minor thing. But, access to this extra award space can mean the difference between scoring a great deal with miles or having to pay cash for a flight. If you're curious to learn more, check out our dedicated post on unlocking United's hidden award space for cardmembers.

United Elites are Eligible for Upgrades on Award Tickets

If you hold elite status with United Airlines, you already get many of the benefits that make the United Explorer Card a great value. Elites already get priority boarding and free checked bags. However, there's one benefit that can easily make this card worth holding.

Complimentary Premier Upgrades on United flights are normally limited to tickets purchased with money. On paid tickets, elite flyers can get a free upgrade to first-class if the cabin isn’t sold out. But with the United Explorer Card you’ll be eligible for these upgrades on tickets booked with miles too.

Earning Miles

Outside the valuable welcome bonus, the fastest way to earn United miles is to use one of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards earning cards instead of the United Explorer Card for everyday purchases. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the United Explorer Card doesn’t earn as many miles per dollar spent as some of the top alternatives.

Here are the United Explorer Card earning rates:

  • 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

Earnings Using the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On the other hand, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 2X points on all travel purchases (instead of only on United and hotel charges). It also matches the United Explorer Card with 2X on dining and 1X on all other purchases. Other Ultimate Rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card earn a solid 3X points on all travel.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Annual Fee$95
Welcome Bonus Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Our #1 recommended beginners rewards card featuring an 80,000 point signup bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
  • 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide
  • 1X point per dollar spent on all other purchases

Since Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer instantly to United at a 1:1 ratio, it makes sense to use one of these cards for your everyday spending and convert your points to United miles when you're ready to book a trip. The good news is that none of these cards charge foreign transaction fees. That can save you as much as 3% on international purchases.

Redeeming miles

When it comes time to redeem your miles for travel rewards, the process is quick and simple. United is a member of Star Alliance, so you can use your United miles for award flights on all 27 airlines in the alliance, including Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, ANA, Air Canada, and Swiss Air.

While United awards don't always have the lowest price in miles, MileagePlus is one of our favorite programs because it's relatively easy to book a ticket. Plus, the taxes and fees you'll pay out of pocket are often much lower than the competition.

Related: Our Guide to United MileagePlus has a full section on using United miles.

United Explorer Card Welcome Bonus

The United Explorer Card is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Like many cards, the United Explorer Card fluctuates between a standard offer of around 40,000 miles and an increased offer of 60,000 miles or more. The best offer we've seen recently (which ended in January 2020) was for 65,000 miles.

It's always nice to pick up a card when the bonus is especially high. But if you fly often with United, it could be worth adding this card to your wallet to start taking advantage of the benefits right away.

Provided you are eligible under Chase’s 5/24 policy, you can receive the welcome bonus on the United Explorer Card if you don't currently hold the card and it's been 24 months since you last received a United Explorer Card signup bonus.

Final Thoughts

The United℠ Explorer Card is a fantastic travel rewards card for anyone who flies with United at least a few times a year. With free checked bags, a 25% inflight discount, priority boarding, and access to extra flights with your miles, this card should easily pay for itself.

If you've opened more than four other cards in the last two years, you'll want to check out our post on Chase's 5/24 rule before you apply to make sure you're eligible to get approved.

United℠ Explorer Card
United℠ Explorer Card
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Welcome Offer Earn 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, on hotel stays, and on United purchases
  • 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 $140 per roundtrip) when you use your card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United ClubSM with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash
  • 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
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Comments

  • Avatar

    Thanks for the information. Free checked luggage is a big plus. The expanded award availability is one of the best non-monetary benefits of this card.

  • Avatar
    Lee Gerstein says:

    I have had this card for a while, and I was just so-so on it, but when I started traveling more with my folks as they got older, it is well worth it, since they always check bags. Since I still do carry on, they get to take one more bag with my bag credit.

    • Avatar

      Perfect example of why it’s important to match a card to your particular travel or spending behavior and then still evaluate the match now and again.

  • Avatar

    Appreciate the review and reminder on the double miles for restaurant purchases. Question, I find it interesting that a card with such a low fee includes reimbursement for Global Entry/Pre-Check, having this card and the AmEx Platinum, is there an advantage of which card to use to take advantage of the credit? Personally, I cann’t think of any as you would not get points/miles for the purchase as it is reimbursed.

    • Avatar

      You might be surprised. When my wife and I renewed Global Entry last year, we earned points on our purchase (and the statement credit didn’t subtract points). So, that’s a little added incentive to use all of the credits that you have for friends and family members 🙂

  • Avatar

    Thanks for the information. The extra award availability makes it worth it.

  • Avatar

    Denied to get this card as Chase 5/24 rule. But this card is truly a good card. I like it.

  • Avatar

    The expanded award availability is one of the best non-monetary benefits of this card.

  • Avatar

    pretty much one of the only cards that provides an easy/instant return on value based on its annual fee. (thumbs up)

  • Avatar

    Free checked luggage is a big plus. you are unaware of this benefit of the United card, but it is certainly to take into account.

  • Avatar

    It was mentioned in the early comments that this card gets you extra United points if you use the MileagePlus X app. You don’t even need to make the purchase with that card. Just by being a cardholder you earn 25% more miles when you buy a gift card through the app. The points have always posted immediately so buying a gift card for something you know you’ll use could be a way of getting those last few miles needed for a redemption right now.

  • Avatar
    Aditya Palnitkar says:

    Can the lounge passes be used by anybody or just the cardholder?

    • Avatar

      It used to be that Chase would send you physical passes that could be transferred easily. Now, Chase digitally deposits the passes into your MileagePlus account. The T&C says that you can print the passes. While you can’t sell the passes, the T&C doesn’t forbid transferring them.

  • Avatar

    According DOC blogpost, theres a way to get 2500 more miles on top of the 60k miles. Overall this is a good offer and good value for $ spent.

  • Avatar

    The club passes are not valid on domestic flights. You must fly international to use the pass. I had a first class domestic ticket from an upgrade. The attendant said no to my first class ticket, and then I pulled out the club pass. She also said no. It was so embarrassing when I was refused entry with a long line of people behind me.

  • Avatar
    amzsinger@gmail.com says:

    I wasn’t really happy with this card. I rarely fly United so the perks didn’t offset the cost. Plus it’s really difficult to use UA miles. I’m much more satisfied with my Sapphire Preferred and if I need miles I can transfer them to United.

    • Avatar
      amzsinger@gmail.com says:

      i didn’t really like this card either. Tried it for a year and changed to Sapphire Preferred. I’m much happier with the flexibility of this card!

  • Avatar

    I cancelled this card since I had too many cards and wasn’t flying United that much. Big mistake. The option value of having this card just for Priority Boarding as well as free checked bags is worth keeping the card and paying the annual fee. Even if you only have use once per year, it will be worth it. Also, the United club passes are worthwhile, and it keeps your United points fresh.

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    Just found out flights from Hawaii’s out islands via Honolulu are now 6k miles cheaper. Gonna get my sister to apply for this one.

  • Avatar

    if you spend a great deal on the card every year, the united club card may be a much better deal as you get 1.5 miles per dollar spent

  • Avatar

    Having the Sapphire Reserve and its awesome earnings on spending, I have a difficult time finding a reason to ever use my Explorer card. When I travel, even when going internationally for a couple months at a time, I have checked a bag twice in 6 years (but I was flying First Class domestic both times, so checking the bag carried no extra charges anyway). However, for anyone who checks bags with frequent sufficiency, the AF will be paid for quickly and that benefit can make this card a very good deal indeed. At that point, the 2 Club passes are just icing on the cake.

    The reason I’ll personally end up keeping the card though, is the fact that, when searching for award tickets, you’ll see more award seats available than folks who don’t have the card as long as the card is linked to your frequent flyer number. (Even seeing saver availability when a non-card-holder would see none). That is an excellent ongoing benefit!

  • Avatar
    Miguel A Jauregui says:

    I should add that I also find the Chase United card customer service very pleasing. There have been a few times where I forgot to use my United card for paying the reward ticket $5.60 charge, and they still refunded me the baggage fee. I’ll continue to make that my primary card and therefore, my primary airline.

  • Avatar

    This card has really good benefits though it doesn’t compare to the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred!

  • Avatar

    Well, that’s interesting to know. I admit I wouldn’t have known this about the card with United since I am really looking at the Chase Sapphire.However, 2 lounge passes, Air Canada as a partner, Lufthansa as a partner (my in laws are from Germany so maybe more love from them? lol!) Really something to look. PLUS, United does let you redeem miles towards getting a TSA PreCheck number. Quite a few pluses to look at. Thank you for info I would never have looked for on my own!

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    It’s so easy to spend $3,000 in the first 3 months but 50 000 miles can get you quite far if you spend them wisely. Very good deal indeed, thank you for sharing.

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    2 lounge passes is pretty weak. No way I would value a United club at 50 per visit, 10 max for a newspaper, a cup of coffee, a banana and a miller light or bud which is the only free beer they have.

    • Avatar

      Have 2 cups of coffee, 4 bananas, and 10 miller lights. 🙂 The LAX lounge has some decent food…. and it much quieter than the rest of the airport..

  • Avatar
    amzsinger@gmail.com says:

    I personally don’t love this card and will stick with Sapphire preferred

  • Avatar

    I just got this card…sadly I got in when the bonus was only $30K, so jump on this!

    All around, it’s a pretty nice card for earning some extra United miles. In particular, check out the Mileage Plus app if you sign up for this card; there are a lot of brick-and-mortar stores that you can use the app at to get extra miles, and having the co-branded card automatically gets you a 25% bonus.

    • Avatar

      Thanks for the information on MileagePlus app bonus info! I’m planning to apply for this card so I’ll be looking into that!

  • Avatar

    This card has some good benefits though I wish the earning rate was higher.

  • Avatar

    Interesting post! Does the United card offer any kind of trip delay insurance? And, if so, is it only for UA flights, or for all flights booked with the card? Thank you!

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    Worth it for the 50k alone.

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    any chance to get this card from outside US?

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    Really wish to see a United co-branded card in Canada.

  • Avatar

    I wish the Lounge passes didn’t expire so quickly..

  • Avatar

    This card has a very impressive set of benefits indeed, and the two lounge passes are the icing on the cake.

  • Avatar

    Isn’t the free bag only free if you use the card to pay for your airfare?

  • Avatar

    It’s nice to see the 50k offer available publicly. Previously, one needed to wait to be ‘targeted’; although admittedly, pretty much every MileagePlus member eventually was.

  • Avatar

    Thanks for the review and information on this card. It’s very timely for me because I just received a mailer with an offer of 70,000 bonus miles with $3,000 spending in 3 months.

  • Avatar

    I love any travel card that will offer me lounge access. For that perk alone, I’m in.

  • Avatar

    I would love to get this credit card, signup bonus with authorized user 55,000 miles. Only need to spend $5,000 for enough miles for a saver award to Europe. Unfortunately I am still under the 5/24 rule. I tried for two Chase credit cards last year, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve and turned down both times. I called the Chase Reconsideration and the answer was “NO”.