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There’s a lot that I like about my United℠ Explorer Card. My first checked bag is free when I use the card to reserve a United flight. I get two free United Club passes every year. Plus I get priority boarding on United flights and a range of other perks.
But, like any card, it has areas where it falls short. Here are a few improvements I’d love to see.
» Learn more: Why I love my United℠ Explorer Card
Higher mileage earning rates
Though I’ve had this card for years, I don’t use it much. Part of the reason is that I’m not loyal to United. The airline often has the best itineraries and fares on my most-traveled route, Los Angeles to Honolulu, but not always. Sometimes American beats United on these routes hands down. Other times, Hawaiian or Delta wins my business.
So using my United℠ Explorer Card for everyday purchases means committing to the slow process of earning points toward a flight that may not measure up to the competition’s offerings. And I do mean slow.
It takes 45,000 United MileagePlus miles for the lowest-priced round-trip redemption to Hawaii. And if I’m earning just 1 mile per $1 on most purchases and 2 miles per $1 on United purchases, dining and hotels, it can take a long time to get to 45,000 miles.
Meanwhile, it has an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95. If only the payouts were higher — in every spending category or just some of them — I would be more excited to pull this card out of my wallet for everyday purchases.
Better access to extra-legroom economy plus seats
If you have status with United, you can often get an extra legroom seat in economy plus for free. Silver-level members can grab one of these seats at check-in. Members at the highest levels can grab up to eight of these seats at the time of booking.
Unfortunately, I’m none of those things. My card bestows some unique privileges, but status and economy plus seating aren’t among them. If I want to enjoy all that extra legroom, I can pay cash for it after I book a flight with points or cash. But so can travelers who don’t have this United-branded Visa card. Any perk my card could offer that would increase my access to economy plus seating would be happy news for me.
» Learn more: Chase 5/24 rule explained
United Club passes with a longer shelf life
My card comes with two free passes every year to a United Club lounge. It’s a benefit I enjoy immensely — when I can take advantage of it. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Even though I give myself tons of time to get to the airport, traffic, long check-in lines, and long security lines can delay my arrival at the gate to the extent that, sometimes, it’s just not worth going into the lounge. Plus, I don’t necessarily fly United every year, and the passes now require you to do so in order to use them.
If the club passes that come free with my United℠ Explorer Card had a longer shelf life, and if United let you roll them over for an extra year or so, it would better allow me to use them.
Better points transfer options
Here’s a frustration that will sound familiar to most miles collectors. You have 40,000 miles with an airline and 60,000 points with a hotel group — neither of which is enough to get you a redemption you want. Then you remember you can transfer points or miles between partners — the perfect solution until you check transfer rates.
Moving points back and forth between airline and hotel loyalty programs is almost always a losing proposition because the conversion rates generally stink. For example, if you have Hilton Honors Points you want to convert to American Airlines AAdvantage miles, you’ll need 10,000 hotel points to get just 1,500 airline miles.
There’s an exception to this convert-and-lose industry standard. It’s a partnership between United and Marriott called Rewards Plus. Members in this partner program can convert United miles to Marriott Bonvoy points with a 10% savings. But the program is limited to members who already have elevated status in both programs. My United℠ Explorer Card doesn’t let me participate, though I sure wish it did.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you How to sidestep the potential pitfalls of travel credit cards Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies