Credit Cards

Is the United Explorer Card Worth It? Credit Card Review & Comparisons (2020)

Posted: September 07,2020
by Jestan Mendame
Last updated: September 14,2020

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Just looking at the surface level benefits, the United Explorer card checks all the boxes for both casual and frequent United Airlines flyers. Cardholders would get a free checked bag, lounge access, priority check-in, and other travel benefits.

But is the United Explorer Card worth it? For loyalists and casuals, it’s a YES, especially if you know how to maximize the card’s perks and benefits. However, the card might not be a good option if you’re just going to use as it an “everyday card” since it’s not really designed for it.

This makes you ask the question if you should just get another card that covers a wider array of benefits. Not to mention, the card is covered by the unspoken Chase 5/24 rule so there’s a chance that you might not get approved if you already have 5 existing cards in your wallet in the last two years.

However, we won’t jump into conclusions yet so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss all the aspects of this card whether it suits you or not.

At A Glance: Is The United Explorer Card Worth It?

What’s great about this credit card is that it comes with benefits that you can actually use on your travels. It does have a $95 annual fee but it is waived the first year.

The United Explorer card also comes with a generous 60,000 United MileagePlus miles welcome offer. You just need to spend $3,000 worth of purchases within 3 months of getting the card.

The United Explorer Card welcome bonus alone is enough to get you economy awards, although you can still redeem premium flights and lounger routes if you can earn miles by using the card.


Points Earnings

Cardholders can earn 2x points for every dollar spent on United Airlines flights, restaurants, and hotels. Despite being outmatched by other cards that offer 3x points or more, United Explorer’s 2-point offer is pretty competitive if you are able to maximize the card’s other travel benefits

What can I get with 60,000 United Mileageplus Miles?

Yes, it was a bummer for all travel hackers when United switched to dynamic award pricing, particularly for United metal, but United MileagePlus still offers fantastic deals, particularly with its Star Alliance partners. Even better United’s award search engine is extremely robust compared with some other buggier programs (looking at you AirFrance, British Airways, ANA etc). It’s award search engine blends seemlessly with its cash search engine. It’s easy to find partner awards, though with some partners sometimes you have to call in.

What’s great about United Airlines is that it’s part of the Star Alliance group so it has an extensive network of airline partners. Booking a United award ticket is also cheaper since it only includes taxes and fees and not fuel surcharges. The copayments are rarely more than $100 per flight and usually much less. (Compare that to Air Canada that can charge $1,000+ in “fuel charges” for a roundtrip award flight to Europe)

60k miles can get you a one way business class flight on comfy layflat seat on any United Star Alliance partner. Example: Swissair from Chicago to Zurich, Switzerland

What can you do with 60,000 MileagePlus points?

  • Fly roundtrip in business class from JFK to LAX (or any coast to cast flight) or vice versa on United metal. If you’re really lucky you may even be able to find a 757-200 with Polaris layflat seating on these coast to coast flights at the 25k saver rate. Or instead of business class try economy. You could also use 50k points to fly 2 people roundtrip coast to coast in economy. If you get the cheapest rate you could still have 10k points leftover.
  • Fly roundtrip in business (25-30k each way) from Anywhere Mexico to anywhere in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or Northwest Brazil on Avianca or Copa Airlines. Some Avianca planes even have layflat seats though not surprisingly these awards have lower availability. If you time it right you might even have 5-10k points leftover.
  • Best value: Fly one way in business class from Eastern half of USA to Europe (60k saver rate). You could choose TAP, Swiss Air, United’s own metal or other partners. Though it seems they now charge a little extra if there is a connecting flight in Europe as the fixed pricing is now gone, this is still the best value to redeem 60k points. As these tickets are typically around $2k so you’re getting over 3c per point value.

Remember as a Chase United cardholder you get access to extra award space on both United metal and partners, so always make sure you’re logged in when doing your searches to see that extra space you won’t see if you’re logged out.

How to Maximize your United redemptions (Excursionist Perk and Zones)

If you fly roundtrip you’d also get one free domestic flight with the excursionist perk. This means when you book a roundtrip ticket you can add an extra domestic leg in that zone for free. (Call United if you need help adding this.

Also remember, even though “zones” and fixed pricing are technically gone, many times the final connecting leg is included for free or pretty close. An example: flying from Mexico City to Quito would cost the same amount of points as Mexico City to Galapagos with a stop in Quito, both 27.5k points).

No more change and redeposit fees (Covid-19 2020 Update)

As of September 2020 United has announced they have stated they are permanently getting rid of change fees as well as redeposit fees due to Covid-19. United says they will keep the change even after Coronavirus ends. Also of note: United got rid of their $75 “close in booking fee” at the end of 2019. Therefore these points are extremely flexible, you can book a flight, then if you find a better option or decide not to take the trip you can cancel it and get all your money and points back. This was previously a perk only enjoyed by people with United Premier 1k status.

My guess is whatever United says, eventually they’ll reinstate some of these fees they’ve “permanently” gotten rid of due to covid, maybe in 2022 and beyond once travel bounces back, but for the indefinite future it looks like these fees are gone. I suspect people will abuse unlimited free changes and refunds by “reserving” saver partner space for many flights they may or may not take, knowing they can get a full refund anytime with no fees.

United Explorer Card Benefits

The card’s value doesn’t just stop at its welcome offer and points earnings since it comes with more travel perks that both frequent flyers and casual United flyers can use. These perks are mainly useful for United flyers, which is not surprising given this a United credit card. However, people who don’t fly United may still enjoy some of the perks, such as the United Club Pass, and primary rental car insurance coverage, which is a great perk for a card with such a low annual fee as usually its only more expensive cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve that offer this perk.

Zero Foreign Transaction Fees

The card is a great travel credit card since you won’t be paying for any transaction fees when you make purchases abroad. Most cards have a fee of 1%-3% on top of purchases.

Free Checked Bag

Cardholders and one traveling companion who’ll fly with United Airlines will get their first checked bag for free whether it’s a domestic or international flight.

The offer is available for flights that were purchased with the United Explorer Card. For award flights, you just need to use your card to pay for taxes and service fees and include your membership number in the reservation.

However, the offer will not be available for codeshare flights and flights that already have a free checked bag. You can check United’s free checked bag policy on their website for more details.

Two United Club Passes

Cardholder’s will get two united club passes upon signing up for the card and every card anniversary. With the free passes, you’ll be able to access various UnitedClub locations within the U.S. and abroad.

A single lounge pass ticket usually costs around $59 so if you sum it up, you’ve already covered your annual fee with this perk. Even better you don’t have to be flying United when you use the pass to get in. The passes don’t have to be in your name, so you could give them away to somebody else or use the same 2 passes in one day to get a friend in the lounge as well. (Please note due to Covid-19 many United lounges remain closed).

25% Off For In-Flight Purchase Discounts

Cardholders will get 25% off for most purchases made on-board United Airlines flights. This includes WiFi, food, and drinks.

Upgrades, Priority Boarding, & Exclusive Perks For Cardholders

All United Explorer cardholders and elite members are entitled to get expanded award availability and lower prices which means that you can get access to saver space

If you’re both a MileagePlus Premier member and a United Explorer cardholder, you’ll be eligible for free upgrades if you book an award ticket for a United Airlines flight.

Not to mention, you’ll also get primary car rental insurance coverage if ever you get into accidents during your trip. (As long as the full rental cost is paid for on the card)

Priority Access For Cardholders

Cardholders will get priority boarding and a $100 credit for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. This means that you can just cruise through airport security and other passengers to avoid those long lines during your journey.


Pros

  • $95 annual fee is very reasonable, especially for what it offers.
  • 60k signup bonus, though not a historical high, is pretty good.
  • 2 free United lounge passes per year are a great perk, especially for those times when a priority pass lounge isn’t close by.
  • NEW: 2 miles per dollar spent on hotels and restaurants, a generous offer for a mid-level range card.
  • Higher level boarding zone and a free bag even when flying basic economy.
  • Primary Rental Car coverage a perk usually reserved for cards with a higher annual fee.
  • United Mileage plus miles redemption are very versatile with their great star alliance partners and excursionist (sf perk.
  • Good award destinations, plus extra award availability for cardholders and the excursionist perk to maximize point value.
  • Zero fuel surcharges for United flights or any partner airlines
  • Points can be combined with Chase points for a big award redemption as United is a transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Cons

  • The card only earns miles rather then the more versatile transferrable currency such as Chase, Citi or Amex points.
  • Saver Awards can be hard to come by, especially for domestic united flights. Flights and Everyday Awards are available on most flights but they can be very expensive
  • Many of the perks from the card are already included on those with United Gold level status or higher.
  • The card goes towards your 5/24 score
  • Cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Gold (consumer verison) have a higher earning rate such as 3-4x on hotels and restaurants rather than 2x plus transferrable.

Comparing United Explorer To Other Cards

There are other similar cards that can match or even outmatch what the United Explorer card can offer. We’ve made comparisons to other credit cards within its level to help you decide which one is better.

United Explorer Vs United Mileage Plus

Chase offers two types of personal United credit cards: the United Explorer Card and the United MileagePlus Club Card. The major difference between the two cards is that the former only has a $95 annual fee while the latter has a $525 annual fee.

However, the Club card also offers unlimited lounge access which is the main key difference. Also with the explorer card you get two free checked bags instead of one. The points earning have a huge difference too because the Club Card earns 4x points on all eligible United purchases and earns 2x points on dining and other travel purchases, vs the Explorer card only earns 2x on restaurants and hotel stays, not other types of travel purchases.

Signing up for the Club Card also comes with a 100,000 welcome offer which is 40,000 more miles than the United Explorer. You just need to reach the $5,000 spending threshold within three months of signing up to get the bonus.

Both cards have their pros and cons but coming up with a decision on which is better is entirely based on your spending power. However, if you already have lounge access through your United Mileageplus status, or don’t plan on using the lounge more than twice a year, then paying the difference in annual fee probably won’t be worth it.

United Explorer Card VS Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and United Explorer Card are very similar in terms of rewards and points earnings, however, the former has a few advantages in these three categories:

Points And Rewards

For example, the United Explorer lets you earn 2x points per dollar on United purchases, restaurants, and direct hotel purchases, then 1 point on everything else. Meanwhile, the Saphire Preferred lets your earn 2x points per dollar on travel and dining then 1x point on other purchases.

The Sapphire Preferred has a broader category for travel and dining which means that you can earn points on camping and cruise trips.

Flexibility

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has an extensive list of transfer partners where you can move your points at a 1:1 ratio. For example, you can even convert 10,000 from your Sapphire Preferred to 10,000 United Miles.

For travel hackers, Chase points are very valuable which is usually at 1.25 cents per point (average) and they outweigh the value of any average rewards credit card. This means that you can move your points around to different loyalty programs and get more value for it.

Point Value

Chase points are typically valued at 1.25-1.26 cents apiece when redeemed optimally for award travel purchases. Meanwhile, United miles are typically valued at .8 cents each.

These slight differences in cents will be more evident when it’s applied to the welcome offers that you receive for each card.

United Explorer Card Vs Amex Delta SkyMiles Gold

The United Explorer Card is also pretty similar to the Amex Delta SkyMiles Gold when it comes to benefits and perks but there are a few differences too.

The Delta SkyMiles Gold only has a welcome offer of 35,000 points when you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of getting the card. Sure, the welcome is offer is lower (compared to United Explorer’s 60,000 offer) but the spending threshold is also lower.

The points earning is also slightly different. The Delta card also lets you earn 2x points per dollar on Delta purchases, restaurants, and at U.S. supermarkets, then 1 point on other purchases. Meanwhile, the United Card lets you earn 2x points per dollar on United purchases, travel, and dining, then 1 point on all other purchases.

When you compare the two side by side, it’s pretty difficult to choose because what the other card has, the other card doesn’t. Basically, choosing between these two cards all boils down to what airline you’re frequently using.

However, one deciding factor could be the Delta’s points earning on U.S. supermarkets. If you want a card that you can use both for travel and personal use, then go for the Amex Delta SkyMiles Gold.

Is the United Explorer Card Worth It?

Final Thoughts On The United Explorer Card

Is the United Explorer Card worth it? Well, the United Explorer Card isn’t the best overall card which you can use for both travel and everyday purchases.

It’s perfect for casual and frequent United Flyers who don’t have a United Elite membership because the free checked bag, priority boarding, United Club access, and discounts on in-flight purchases would be really worth it.

If you have Elite membership, it would be a waste getting the card because you already have these perks. However, it might still be worth it because there would be additional perks such as upgrades on award tickets.

But if you want to try the card out, do it! The annual fee is waived for the first year and the welcome offer is pretty big so the United Card Explorer Card might be worth a try.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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