Advertiser Disclosure

Is the United Explorer Card Worth Its Annual Fee?

Sept. 7, 2018
Travel, Travel Credit Cards
NerdWallet adheres to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Some of the products we feature are from partners. Here’s how we make money.
We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

If you’re a frequent flyer who prefers United Airlines, you might want to consider signing up for the United℠ Explorer Card. The catch? The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95 every subsequent year.

Here are some details to help you decide if the United℠ Explorer Card is the right choice for you, even with that fee, or if you should consider a different travel credit card.

The annual fee is worth it if you:

  • Are part of a dynamic duo. The United℠ Explorer Card offers a nice bonus offer that becomes even sweeter when you add someone as an authorized user. So if you often fly United with a partner, this is a good move. The current bonus is 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. If you add an authorized user during that time, you get an extra 5,000 miles.
  • Pack the kitchen sink. And the bathroom sink. Some people, no matter how hard they try, simply cannot pack lightly. A weekend away means 10 pairs of shoes. A week? Better bring a suitcase just for the footwear. If this describes you, keep in mind that the United℠ Explorer Card offers free checked bags. As long as you use the card to book the flight, you and your flying partner both get a free first checked bag each way. United Airlines just raised its checked bag fee to $30, so if you’re a big packer, this perk is for you.
  • Like to be first. The United℠ Explorer Card gives cardholders priority boarding. That means you’re among the first on the plane. That might not seem like a big deal, but if you fly often, little perks like this add up.
  • Love United. The United℠ Explorer Card rewards you for flying United. You earn two miles for every dollar spent on United purchases, including airfares and seat upgrades. You can also earn two miles per dollar spent on restaurants and hotels.
  • Actually enjoy airline food. If you like to take full advantage of all the items offered during a flight, the United℠ Explorer Card is a good choice. As a cardholder, you’ll enjoy 25% off in-flight purchases. That covers everything from Wi-Fi to food and beverages.

The annual fee is not worth it if you:

  • Travel with family. As stated above, the United℠ Explorer Card offers one free checked bag for you and your traveling partner. That’s good if you typically travel alone or with just one other person. But it’s bad if you often travel with more than that. Some airline cards offer free checked bags for up to eight travelers. By limiting the free checked bags to just you and one other person, the United Explorer card comes up short here.
  • Are scatterbrained. If you tend to be a bit flighty (no pun intended), recent changes to the United℠ Explorer Card should set off alarms. The card no longer offers price or return protection, and the trip cancellation coverage has been dropped from $10,000 per trip to just $1,500 per trip. If you have a constantly changing schedule or you simply change your mind a lot, you should probably steer clear of this card.

Still not sure?

While the United℠ Explorer Card’s annual fee is standard for this type of card, it’s still a chunk of change. Before you commit to a new credit card, make sure you can earn that annual fee back. Our calculator can help:

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 2018, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
What the new United Explorer Card means for you
United to give away trip to Tahiti to the ‘Hardest Working Person in America’
How to get started with frequent flyer programs

About the author