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On the surface, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and United℠ Explorer Card are very similar cards when it comes to welcome bonuses, category bonuses and travel protection coverage. Both cards have the same annual fee and are issued by Chase. Not to mention, they both offer rewards that are either issued in the form of United miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, which can be converted to United miles.
Upon closer look, though, the cards are distinct in small but important ways. So how do the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and United℠ Explorer Card stack up against each other? Let’s take a closer look.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card’s welcome bonus is currently higher than that of the United℠ Explorer Card, but so is the spending requirement.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
United℠ Explorer Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.
If you want a lower spending requirement, go with the United℠ Explorer Card.
On the other hand, the points earned from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can be transferred to United or 12 other airline and hotel programs, or redeemed directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which offers considerably more flexibility when it comes time to use them.
» Learn more: Chase 5/24 rule explained
Category bonuses are important because they help you continue earning rewards long after the welcome bonus has been spent. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 5 points per $1 on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, 3 points per $1 on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs), 2 points per dollar on travel and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. Travel and dining are pretty common spending categories for many people who get travel rewards cards, so these are very helpful category bonuses.
The United℠ Explorer Card earns 2 United miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on direct hotel bookings and with United. All other purchases earn 1 mile per $1 spent. These category bonuses are slightly more limiting than the ones offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, in terms of both qualifying purchases and rewards earned. The broader category definition and flexibility of Chase Ultimate Rewards® points gives the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card a definite advantage.
Travel benefits (or lack thereof)
The United℠ Explorer Card wins out when it comes to travel benefits, since it offers several perks that make flying with United a more enjoyable experience.
Cardholders get a free first checked bag for themselves and one travel companion on the same reservation. That can present up to $120 in savings per round-trip flight on checked bags for two people.
Additionally, cardholders get two United Club Passes per year, valued at $100. Cardholders also receive a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit every four years, 25% statement credit on in-flight United purchases, complimentary Premier upgrades on award tickets, priority boarding and more.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card doesn’t offer any travel perks like these, so this round goes to the United℠ Explorer Card.
Travel and purchase protection
Both cards offer valuable travel and purchase protections. It’s important to have at least one card in your wallet that has you covered. Below is a breakdown of how these two cards compare:
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses. That’s significantly higher than the $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip offered by the United℠ Explorer Card.
Trip delay reimbursement
When it comes to trip delay reimbursement, both cards offer up to $500 per ticket in case of delays of over 12 hours that require an overnight stay.
Auto rental collision damage waiver
Both cards offer primary rental collision coverage. Simply decline the additional coverage offered for a fee at the car rental desk. If you’re involved in a fender bender, your credit card company will cover the damage.
Baggage delay insurance
Both cards offer baggage delay insurance in case of baggage delays over 6 hours. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card pays out $100 per day for up to five days, while the United℠ Explorer Card pays out $100 per day for up to three days.
Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in a situation where your baggage is lost for five days, but if you do, those two extra days of coverage offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can be substantial.
Travel and emergency assistance services
If you experience an emergency while traveling, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card’s Travel and Emergency Assistance service can help provide medical and legal referrals. Unfortunately, the United℠ Explorer Card does not offer this service.
The United℠ Explorer Card provides superior purchase protection of up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year. This coverage is valid against damage and theft on purchases for 120 days.
Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card only offers up to $500 per claim or $50,000 per account. Clearly, the United℠ Explorer Card is superior in this regard.
Extended warranty protection
The two cards offer identical extended warranty protection: One additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less.
» Learn more: 4 best credit cards for travel insurance benefits
The bottom line
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and United℠ Explorer Card are similar in many regards, but the best option depends on your travel habits, goals and preferences.
If you’re looking for the biggest welcome bonus for United flights and don’t mind a higher spending requirement to earn the welcome bonus, go with the United℠ Explorer Card. It has lots of other travel perks that reward you for flying with the airline.
If you’re looking for redemption flexibility, broader category bonuses and a lower spending requirement, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card might be a better fit.
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 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card