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United Mileage Plus Explorer: The New United Credit Card Impresses

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The United MileagePlus Explorer is the best thing to come out of the Continental-United merger: with 40,000 bonus points on the table and perks both quantifiable and not, the new United credit card is ideal for anyone who plans on flying on the new conglomerate. Among its perks: free checked bags, lounge access, never-expiring miles, and more. Read on:

Current United MileagePlus cardholders will not be automatically upgraded to the new Explorer; you have to call the number on the back of your credit card. When you are upgraded, chances are you won’t need to change your credit card number. Continental OnePass cardholders can keep their cards for now, but next year they’ll receive Explorers with the same card number.

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

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

Explorer’s perks carry the day

The rewards rate of the United MileagePlus Explorer is decent: 2 miles per $1 spent on United and Continental, and 1 mile per $1 spent elsewhere. That’s about the same rate as most other airline credit cards, like the Delta American Express and Southwest Airlines credit cards.

Where the Explorer distinguishes itself is in its perks. First off, you get one free checked bag for you and a companion per flight, saving you up to $100 roundtrip (United advertises this perk at only $50, for reasons we do not know). That alone can nix the annual fee. What’s more, you get priority boarding (clutch) and 2 free passes to the United Red Carpet and Continental Presidents Club lounges each year.

As of September 30th, those who enjoy Priority Pass lounge access through their AmEx cards  (like the AmEx Platinum) will not receive access to United/Continental lounges, so the only credit cards that get you into these lounges will be the Continental OnePass, Continental Presidential Plus and United MileagePlus Explorer. The waived bag fee, as we said, is worth up to $100 per roundtrip flight, and the lounge access is worth $100 ($50 at the door x 2 per year). Even leaving out the waived bag fees, signup bonus and the rewards themselves, the lounge access makes up for the annual fee by itself.

A couple of changes from the merger make the United MileagePlus Explorer an even better deal for frequent flyers:

  • Continental miles don’t expire, but United’s do. Post-merger, miles will expire after 18 months, unless you have a Continental/United credit card with an annual fee.
  • United lets you book any seat on a plane for 50,000 miles, but Continental has capacity control restrictions. Post-merger, there will be capacity controls, unless you’ve got a card with an annual fee.
  • Starting on September 30th, if you have a Priority Pass membership through an American Express card, you won’t get access to Continental or United’s airport lounges and the free snacks, wifi and quiet that they offer. The only cards that’ll get you in are the branded ones.

Finally, the United MileagePlus is a Visa Signature, so you get a handful of really nice perks. These include lost baggage and travel accident insurance, concierge service, purchase protection, rental car insurance and other miscellaneous perks (for the rest of July, for example, you get 2-for-1 Fandango tickets on Fridays).

The details: The MileagePlus has an annual fee of $95 that’s waived in the first year. That’s steeper than you usually see, but better than the Continental Presidential Plus’ $395, which isn’t waived the first year. The interest rate is a variable 14.24%, fairly standard for rewards cards.

Explorer vs. Continental

The Explorer is already pretty much functionally undifferentiated from the Continental OnePass, except that the former is a Visa Signature and the latter is a World MasterCard. The differences are slight, and turn on little details like an extra 15 days’ worth of purchase protection. Soon, OnePass cardholders will get whatever (minimal) benefits that the Explorer has and their cards don’t, and sometime in 2012, United will send OnePass cardholders new Explorer cards. So if you’re debating between the OnePass and Explorer, go with the Explorer. It’ll save you a bit of hassle next year.

Starting in 2012, the frequent flyer programs of the two airlines will merge, so any miles you’ve accumulated by flying or by using your credit card will transfer to the new combined program (called the United Mileage Plus program, but with the Continental logo). If you’ve earned elite status on either airline for next year, the new program will honor it.

  • AttilaTheFun

    You get a couple facts very wrong in your review:
    – United charges $25 for your first checked bag on flights.  Therefore a roundtrip flight would charge you TWICE at $25 – which is $50.  How in the world did you get to $100 savings per roundtrip flight?!
    – The only Amex cards with lounge access are the Platinum Card (which is not based on Priority Pass membership) and Delta Reserve, which only grants access to Delta Sky Clubs.  Telling people that Amex cards grant you access based on Priority Pass is 1) wrong and 2) assumes that all Amex cards have this, which is even more wrong.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ Tim

      The Explorer card waives the first checked bag fee for both you AND a
      companion, which works out to $100 round-trip.

      And you’re right, our wording on the Amex cards seems a little misleading,
      but I would also add that the PenFed Premium Travel Amex also offers lounge
      access.

      • AttilaTheFun

        The advertisements do not assume that you will be traveling with a companion – so $50 is the maximum savings on checked bags.  Assuming otherwise is misleading to customers for a savings calculation.

        • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ Tim

          We don’t factor $100 into any of our calculations, and we specifically say
          “up to” and reference the companion checked bag above. It’s not really
          possible to be any more clear about it.

      • AttilaTheFun

        If only 2-3 Amex cards offer lounge access out of all of them that they have, it’s super misleading to state that lounge access is through Priority Pass (completely false) and the vast majority won’t have any lounge access at all.

        • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ Tim

          What you are saying is incorrect. The lounge access for the Amex Platinum
          card, which we reference above, is through Priority Pass. So is the PenFed
          card.

          • AttilaTheFun

            Amex added the Priority Pass Select access in April 2011 as a new Platinum Card benefit – prior to that and continuing today, access to domestic lounges on most airlines is through the Platinum Card Access program, which is separate from Priority Pass.  So no, what I’m saying is not incorrect.  True, Continental is pulling their lounges out of the Platinum Card Access program late this year also, but it’s not based on the Priority Pass deal.

            https://www295.americanexpress.com/cards/platinum/benefit.do?benefitTemplate=template_c&benefitId=1

          • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ Tim

            The information presented on our site is for new applicants only, obsolete programs are irrelevant to what we write about.

            For more information about Priority Pass and the relationship with Continental Lounges being terminated, read here: http://www.prioritypass.com/select/FAQs.cfm

    • Rehelee

      I did receive letter from Amex stated lounge access will not be offer unless I purchase Priority pass membership.

    • Captains01

      I am assuming that they were talking about two people using the free baggage fee which the Explorer does offer.

  • Lcs

    The comment about the USAirways card is incorrect.  You get 2 miles/dollar on USAirways flights and in-flight purchases.  I have it (the Barclay Card MC).

  • Erinzest

    If I get this card, can I grab the free miles and cancel within the first year to avoid having to pay the membership fee?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Yes you can! (we shouldn’t be saying this, but we’re a fan of hit-and-run bonus hunting)

    • Lingzo72

      BUT cancelling your credit cards, especially after just opening one, is silly, that just lowers your credit score!!!!

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  • Smaskin

    I have this card already – I flew on 7 different flights over a 2 week period last month, and was not able to get priority boarding on any of these flights. Gate agents did not know what I was talking about when I asked.

  • frequent flyer

    I signed up for the Explore card as I was making my reservation, unaware that I would not get the perks because I paid with my current mileage plus Visa. Maybe I’m stupid, but it seems as if the company would want to make me happy and let me have my free bags-which is the only reason I signed up in the first place. I have gotten NO response from five requests on the United web site, and when I finally got through on the phone I was passed off to the disability dept., where the woman was totally disgusted that I was apparently too stupid to understand that there was nothing that could be done about this. Any thoughts? I feel worse about how I was treated than the actual situation.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      I’m sorry you had such a bad experience! Commenters, have you had any luck with this sort of thing?

  • Catch22xo

    NOT WORTH signing up for this card… it’s a scam to lure you in… Was in the process of booking my flight when the deal for a $50 rebate came up to reduce the total costs… Got approved 30 minutes later but did not qualify at the time of reserving the flight for the $50 rebate. Spent over an hour on the phone with United and then another 20 minutes with Chase and I just cancelled the card altogether. Will make me think twice using United again for the hassle I went through just for their United Mileage Plus Explorer Card.

  • Andrade1tc

    I understand that the Explorer card includes trip cancellation protection. What are the requirements to qualify for a refund in the event that I must cancel?