The United Explorer Card is a great way to save money and get better access to United awards while earning United MileagePlus miles with every dollar you spend. Regular United customers will love a free first bag for the cardholder and a companion on each trip, a statement credit worth up to $100 every four years for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, and other benefits.
United Explorer Card details
Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months
Miles earning: 2x miles on United purchases, on hotel stays, and at restaurants, 1 mile per dollar on everything else
Foreign transaction fee: None
This travel rewards card carries a $95 annual fee, waived the first year. But when you consider that you’ll cover that with the free checked bags in one or two trips each year alone, it’s easy to see how you’ll get a lot more than $95 out of the card each year. Here are some other considerations if you think this may be a good card for you.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.
Earn miles with every purchase
Cardholders earn 2 miles per dollar on purchases at United Airlines, restaurants, and hotel accommodations purchased directly from the hotel. That puts this card on par with the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred Card when it comes to earning miles if your primary airline is United.
Outside of those bonus categories, you’ll earn 1 mile per dollar. The Points Guy values United Miles at 1.3 cents each. If you spend about $7,308 per year on the card (or $609 per month), you’ll break even on the annual fee with miles at the 1x rate alone. If you use the card just for United, restaurant, and hotel purchases, you’ll only need to spend an average of $304 per month to break even on the fee before benefits.
Read more: A hidden United benefit will extend your trip for next to nothing
New cardholders can get a 40,000-mile bonus after $2,000 in purchases within the first three months of opening a new account. A domestic round-trip award starts at 25,000 miles, so the bonus alone gets you a free flight and well on the way to a second.
A better experience flying United
If you rarely fly United, there are much better travel rewards cards out there. But if you fly United at least a few times per year, you might consider getting the United Explorer Card even as a secondary credit card, or one you only use with United. Here’s why:
Free checked bags
Get a free checked bag each trip when you pay with the card for you and a companion. That’s worth up to $120 per round-trip. You could pay for the card’s annual fee and more in one trip!
TSA application fee credit
Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck for an application fee of $100 every five years. This card will pay for your cost (up to $100 for Global Entry or $85 for PreCheck alone) up to every four years.
25% statement credit on board
For in-flight (on United) food, beverage, or Wi-Fi purchases with this card, you’ll get 25% back as a statement credit.
Members of your party get Group 2 priority boarding. That helps you beat out groups three, four, and five for coveted overhead bin space. You may also get a free upgrade when available, but these are not all that common so don’t hold your breath waiting on the upgrade.
United Club Passes
United lounge one-time passes cost $59 each. You get two included each year with the card. That’s another benefit worth more than the annual fee alone.
More award space
When you hold this card and try to book an award on United, you’ll want to make sure to log in before searching. Just holding one of the United cards give you access to exclusive award space non-cardholders can’t get. This was hugely helpful in my big trip to Israel last year, and pretty much any time I want to use United miles.
Travel savings and benefits
As a travel rewards card from Chase, the United Explorer Card offers benefits that extend to any travel and any purchase you make with the card. That includes benefits like rental car insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage coverage, trip cancellation insurance, and trip delay reimbursement. These last two benefits can be HUGE if you ever need them.
At the checkout counter, this card adds purchase protection for 120 days and an extended manufacturer’s warranty by up to a year where eligible.
The card also includes access to Visa’s concierge service. If you’ve never tried it, it’s pretty cool. They will research and/or book travel, gifts, and other online purchases for you at no additional cost for arranging the services.
A good card to keep on hand
I’ve kept a United card myself for years just for the benefits I get when flying on United. I’m not the most loyal customer to any airline, but I fly United at least a few times each year and always get my money’s worth from my United card. You might even want the card just for the free checked bags.
Overall, United offers a very strong suite of cards to choose from. The United Explorer Card does a great job at delivering huge value for a reasonable annual fee (that’s even waived for the first year). Even if it isn’t your main card you use every day, it could still be well worth applying.