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United Credit Card Now Has No Foreign Transaction Fee

by on May 23, 2013

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 your 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 competition

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).

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Apply Now

on Capital One's
secure website

starstarstarstarstar
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $200 in travel
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want—no blackout dates
  • Miles don't expire
  • No limit to the miles you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee for the first year; $59 after that
thumbsupPros
  • High rewards rate
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumbsdownCons
  • Has annual fee
Annual Fee Signup Bonus APR , Variable* APR Promotions
$0 intro for first year; $59 after that Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $200 in travel. 13.9% - 20.9% (V) Purchase: None
Transfer: None

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.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
Apply Now

on Chase's
secure website

starstarstarstarstar
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $500 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate RewardsSM.
  • Earn 5,000 additional bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees, plus Chip and Signature enabled for international travel.
  • 1:1 point transfer to participating frequent travel programs at full value — that means 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points.
  • 24/7 direct access to dedicated customer service specialists
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
thumbsupPros
  • High rewards rate
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumbsdownCons
  • Has annual fee
Annual Fee Signup Bonus APR , Variable* APR Promotions
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95. Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. 15.99% (Variable) Purchase: None
Transfer: None

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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