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United Mileage Plus Explorer: The United Credit Card Impresses

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United Mileage Plus Explorer: The United Credit Card Impresses

If you’re looking for a great travel rewards credit card, you might consider one of the many branded airline miles cards, like the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card.

But how does this card stack up against some of its competitors?

Let’s take a look.

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
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At a glance
Annual fees $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95
Foreign transaction fee None
Rewards program MileagePlus points: 2 miles for every dollar spent on United tickets, 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Signup bonus Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
Verdict: If you’re a big spender or frequently fly United, this card is worth considering.
Good for:
  • Someone who prefers flying United
  • Someone who checks bags on United flights
  • Someone who is a savvy travel hacker and can drive up the value of the rewards rate by buying and booking strategically
Bad for:
  • Someone who prefers flexibility when choosing airlines
  • Someone who prefers lower annual fees

In this article:

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card: The basics
Where the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card shines
Where the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card falls short
How does the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card compare to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card?
Who should consider the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card?

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card: The basics

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card card offers a fairly standard suite of travel rewards benefits:

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

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Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Pros

  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Has annual fee
  • Needs excellent credit

Sign-up Bonus

Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

Intro APR Promotions

None

APR

  • APR: 15.99% Variable
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 19.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Check your first bag for free - save up to $100 per roundtrip
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club with two one-time-use passes every year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn double miles on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Your miles don't expire as long as you're a Cardmember, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Use your miles for any seat, any time, on any United flight
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

Other card features include:

  • Additional bonus of 5,000 miles after you make a purchase and add an authorized user within the first three months
  • 10,000 bonus miles every year you spend $25,000 on the card
  • Free checked bag for you and a companion on any United flight

The rewards rate on the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is pretty standard — each dollar you spend earns you 1 MileagePlus point, unless you’re spending on United airline tickets, in which case you’re earning double points. This is lower than the rewards rates on comparable travel cards, but there are extra perks that come with this card that drive up its value.

Where the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card shines

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card gives you (and a friend) one free checked bag each on every United flight. Since United charges $25 per checked bag, this amounts to $50 saved on every round-trip flight — a pretty stellar savings if you frequently check bags.

Another one-time bonus to consider is the 5,000 bonus miles you’ll get if make a purchase with the card and add an authorized user to the account within the first three months of being a cardmember. This is a unique perk offered by Chase, and a quick and easy way to get free miles.

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card also boasts a spending bonus. Each year you spend at least $25,000 with the card, you get an additional 10,000 miles. Granted, $25,000 is a lot to spend, but it’s worth mentioning for big spenders.

Where the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card falls short

It’s worth comparing the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card to a travel rewards card that’s tough to beat, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. When you stack the two cards side by side, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® wins on most metrics.

For one, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® carries a lower annual fee of $89 - Waived first year compared to the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card’s $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95. Also, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®’s rewards rate is much higher: When points are redeemed for travel, the rewards rate is 2.2%, compared with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card’s 1% rate of return.

Additionally, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® boasts a higher sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. Even when you factor in the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card’s 5,000-mile bonus for making a purchase and adding an authorized user, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® still has the better sign-up bonus.

Plus, there’s the flexibility issue to consider — the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® allows you to redeem your points for travel on any airline, while the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card limits you to flying with United. If it’s important to you to be able to choose from a bevy of airlines when you’re booking your trip, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® carries a serious advantage over the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card.

But the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® doesn’t provide free checked bags, so if you’re frequently taking long trips that require a lot of luggage, this is a factor to consider.

It’s also worth mentioning that — as with all branded airline miles cards — the rewards you earn with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card have a variable value based on the cost of the flight you’re booking. This means that you could potentially wring more than the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®’s 2.2% rewards rate out of the points you’ve earned with your United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, provided you have the travel hacking know-how to do so.

How does the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card compare to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card?

In a head-to-head comparison with another popular travel card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card comes up short in a couple of ways.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
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on Chase's
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Although the cards carry the same annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a higher rewards rate — 1.25% compared with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card’s 1%. However, it’s important to understand how Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card’s points carry a higher value: If you book your travel arrangements through Chase, your points are worth 1.25%, otherwise they could be worth as low as 1%.

It’s also easier to earn points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You’ll earn two points per dollar spent on travel and dining and one point per dollar spent everywhere else. The only way to earn double points with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is to use your card to purchase United tickets.

Again, there’s a flexibility issue with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card as compared to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card allows you to use your points to book tickets through a number of popular frequent flyer programs, including Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, British Airways Executive Club and United MileagePlus. What’s more, the points you use with other programs won’t lose value — there’s a 1:1 transfer with participating partners. All this means that the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card allows you a broader range of flight options when it comes to using your rewards points.

However, it comes back to the checked bags: If having the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card allows you to dodge frequent baggage fees, it’s a great option.

Who should consider the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card?

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card isn’t the best travel rewards card out there, but it’s still a solid option. If you’re a dedicated United flyer and hate paying to check your bags, this card provides some good perks. But if you’re looking for a travel card with more flexibility and a higher rate of return, opting for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® or the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is better for you.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @Erin_Lindsay17 and on Google+.

Image via iStock.

  • Michael Elson

    All I see is Free checked bags all over the airport it you have an . However, the last 4 trips I took I am always charged for my bags. First time they said I need to upgrade to new card. There always seems to be an excuse and the customer service on the phone is horrible. RUDE!!! Capital One Venture Card and my AMEX know how to treat a customer.

    As far as I am concerned DO NOT get an

    United MileagePlus® Explorer Card