United Explorer Card vs. Capital One Venture: It Depends on Your Loyalty

Both cards offer sweet rewards, but one is focused on a single airline and the other on general travel. 
Oct 25, 2021
Free Bags Give United MileagePlus Explorer an Edge Over Venture, Arrival Plus

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One clear factor separates the United℠ Explorer Card from the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: flexibility.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a general travel rewards card that allows you to earn double miles on most purchases and then redeem those miles across a multitude of airlines. While the United℠ Explorer Card earns 2X miles per dollar on a few spending categories, its earnings-power pales in comparison to the 2X you'll earn on every single purchase with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Of course, there are other factors at play, too. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has a bigger sign-up bonus but also a larger spending requirement. Both cards have similar annual fees, but the United℠ Explorer Card’s annual fee is waived the first year. Each card has an array of different perks, as well. Most significantly, the United℠ Explorer Card offers a free checked bag for you and a companion, as well as two United Club one-time-use passes each year.

If you primarily fly United, then the United℠ Explorer Card may be the right one for you. If you fly on many different airlines, then the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is probably the better fit. But there's nothing that says you can't have both.

How they compare

The United℠ Explorer Card offers double miles on United purchases, restaurant purchases and hotel accommodations purchased directly from the hotel, and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. By comparison, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers double miles on all purchases, which makes it a more general and flexible card.

Likewise, United miles are most valuable when you redeem them for flights and upgrades. Miles earned with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, on the other hand, can be used to book travel on any airline or hotel through Capital One.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of their major details:

United℠ Explorer Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
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Sign-up bonus

Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel.

Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $95.

$95.

Rewards

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible purchases through United.

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on dining, including eligible delivery services

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible hotel stays.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere.

  • 5 miles per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.

  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on everything else.

Extras

  • First bag for you and a companion on the same reservation are checked free.

  • Two United Club one-time passes each year.

  • Priority boarding.

  • 25% back on in-flight purchases with United.

None.

Foreign transaction fees

None.

None.

Global Entry or PreCheck credit

Up to $100 every four years.

Up to $100 every four years.

Why the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is better for most people

Flexibility

Flexibility carries a lot of value for those who tend to fly multiple airlines, which is why the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card edges out the United℠ Explorer Card for most people. Cardholders aren’t restricted when it comes to earning double miles or redeeming their miles for travel.

Miles earned from the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card have become even more flexible in recent years, because they can now also be transferred directly to a host of travel partners. If you're a maximizer looking to juice more value out of your miles, you can often find outsized value for your miles by taking advantage of a partner transfer. However, United is not one of them.

Transfer ratio explained: In the formula "X:Y," when you transfer X number of Capital One miles, you receive Y number of points or miles in the partner program.

  • Accor (2:1 ratio).

  • Aeromexico (1:1 ratio).

  • Air Canada (1:1 ratio).

  • Air France-KLM (1:1 ratio).

  • Avianca (1:1 ratio).

  • British Airways (1:1 ratio).

  • Cathay Pacific (1:1 ratio).

  • Choice Privileges Hotels (1:1 ratio).

  • Emirates (1:1 ratio).

  • Etihad (1:1 ratio).

  • EVA (2:1.5 ratio).

  • Finnair (1:1 ratio).

  • Qantas (1:1 ratio).

  • Singapore Airlines (1:1 ratio).

  • TAP Air Portugal (1:1 ratio).

  • Turkish Airlines (1:1 ratio).

  • Wyndham Rewards (1:1 ratio).

High rewards rate

Earning double miles for all purchases puts the card at the top of its class; it also negates the need to juggle different spending categories or opt into rotating categories quarterly.

Large sign-up bonus

Given that you can earn two levels of sign-up bonuses (Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel.), cardholders have a good chance of earning a sizable reward. With miles valued at around 1 cent, that equates to earning about $500 for spending $3,000 and $1,000 for spending $20,000.

Who might prefer the United℠ Explorer Card

The United℠ Explorer Card comes with some benefits that the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card doesn’t have, and those are especially valuable to those who frequently fly United. Those perks include the free checked bag for you and a companion on your reservation (valued at up to $140 for a round-trip flight for two); two United Club one-time-use passes each year (valued at $59 each); and 25% back on in-flight purchases.

The bottom line

If you fly United most of the time, then the United℠ Explorer Card will benefit you the most in terms of rewards, redemption options and extra perks. If you fly different airlines, then the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is the right pick for you because of its flexibility and high rewards rate. Of course, if you fly a lot, both on United and other airlines, then you might want to carry both cards.

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