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Starting June 1st, the excellent United MileagePlus Explorer will add another benefit to its suite of perks: It will have no foreign transaction fee, making it appealing to international as well as domestic travelers. We’ve long recommended the United credit card for frequent travelers because it waives the first checked bag fee for up to 2 people on the same reservation. Now, it’s proven its worth for international travel as well.
Why the United card?
We’ll start with this disclaimer: The MileagePlus Explorer is worthwhile if and only if you fly United often. The main benefit comes from the free checked bags, priority boarding and lounge access. If you and your SO fly United every year and check bags because you’re bringing gifts to the family, then great, the bag fee savings more than account for the $95 annual fee (which is waived the first year). There are a number of United Airlines-specific perks to go along with the Explorer:
- Two United Club passes every year
- Priority boarding on United flights
- Ability to use miles on any United flight – if there are seats available, cardmembers can book that flight at the Standard Award level
- Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. when you spend $1,000 in the first three months, plus 5,000 miles for adding a cardmember in the first 3 months
- An extra 10,000 miles every year your spending exceeds $20,000
- And now, no foreign transaction fee
Note that you can only use the checked bag and priority boarding perks on United-operated flights – they aren’t valid on other Star Alliance airlines. Still, not bad for a source of airline miles, eh?
The United card isn’t without its drawbacks. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has had no foreign transaction fee for, like, ever, and it earns 2 miles for every $1 spent anywhere, whereas the United card earns 2 miles per $1 spent on that airline and 1 per $1 elsewhere. That’s double the base rewards rate – nothing to scoff at. Plus, you can use No Hassle Miles to defray any travel expense, from airfare to taxes to fees to gas to lodging. That gives a lot more flexibility than even the least blackout-date-iest airline program can offer. Not to mention, the annual fee is lower, at $59 to the United card’s $95 (both are waived the first year).
Another solid contender is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, whose signup bonus blows the United card’s out of the water. With Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. for a signup bonus, worth 25% more when you redeem for travel booked through Chase, the Preferred has a much better signup bonus than the United card. Moreover, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards Points at a 1:1 ratio to United MileagePlus, so you can get the same miles, just more of them.
The downside of both the Sapphire and the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is that they don’t have the airline-specific perks like free checked bags and lounge access. If you’ve declared your loyalty to United once and for all, by all means, go for the United MileagePlus Explorer – its savings on bag fees and hassle will prove invaluable. And if you’re not wedded to United, well, check out our travel card comparison tool to find the best miles card for your flight patterns.
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