United Explorer: Richer Rewards, Perks You’ll Actually Use

This card gets you solid ongoing rewards, free checked bags, two airport lounge passes per year, reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fees and primary car rental coverage.
Gregory KarpApr 18, 2018

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Our Take

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: This card's valuable benefits — including useful ones that other airline cards don’t offer — set it apart, making it worth the annual fee, even if you fly United only occasionally.

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $95

Regular APR

16.49% - 23.49% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Bonus categories
  • Luxury perks
  • New cardholder bonus offer
  • Free checked bag

Cons

  • Has annual fee
  • Rewards have limited flexibility

Alternate Pick: Greater flexibility

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Transfer points to United, or use elsewhere

This card earns bonus rewards in a variety of categories including travel and dining. You can transfer points on a 1:1 basis to about a dozen airline and hotel programs, including United, or you can use them to book travel through Chase at 1.25 cents per point. However, you won't get any airline-specific perks. Annual fee: $95.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $95

Annual fee

$525

Annual fee

$95

Regular APR

16.49% - 23.49% Variable APR

Regular APR

16.49% - 23.49% Variable APR

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

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Full Review

For travelers who fly United Airlines the  has the most mass appeal of the airline's cards: It delivers excellent value at a reasonable cost, even for those who fly only a couple of times a year. With an annual fee of , it comes with useful benefits many other airline and travel cards don’t offer.

Most notably, it gets you two airport lounge passes per year, reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fees and primary car rental coverage that will pay up before your own auto insurance. That puts it in a league of its own among other co-branded airline cards with similar annual fees, which generally feature free checked bags, priority boarding and frequent flyer miles — all of which is included on the , too.

Card type: .

Annual fee: .

Sign-up bonus: .

Rewards:

United miles at each. This is a baseline value, drawn from real-world data on hundreds of economy routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer or more in value from your United miles.

Interest rate: .

Foreign transaction fee: None.

Noteworthy perks:

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The  is the only major U.S. airline credit card in this price range that offers free lounge passes. It includes two one-day passes per year at a . They typically cost $59 each, so the value of the passes alone exceeds the annual fee.

Why care about the lounge? Airport lounges can provide serenity, away from the noisy and hectic atmosphere of seating at the gate. United Clubs also offer free bar service, light snacks, free Wi-Fi, along with comfortable chairs and work stations. Agents there will help with reservations, seat assignments and electronic ticketing.

The passes give access to more than 45 United Club locations. To access these lounges, you’ll need to provide a same-day boarding pass for travel on United or a partner.

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It's not the sexiest benefit a credit card can offer, but free checked bags are among the most valuable. You’ll get a first checked bag free for you and a companion on your reservation. That can save you as much as $140 on a round-trip flight for you and a traveling partner ($35 per person each way when you don’t prepay bag fees.). Do that once a year, and you’ve more than made up for the annual fee, assuming you otherwise would have paid to check bags.

One important detail, though: You get the checked-bag waiver only if you paid for the airfare with the card. Not all airline cards have that restriction.

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You can get plenty of value out of this card even without using it for spending. But if your goal is free flights or upgrades to a premium cabin, earning frequent-flyer miles from credit card purchases is key.

You'll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible United purchases, including airfare, bag fees, seat upgrades, and in-flight food, beverage and Wi-Fi. You'll also earn double miles on two other spending categories relevant to travelers:

The card earns 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else. Miles can be spent many ways but generally, they are most valuable when used for .

In addition to ongoing rewards, the card also comes with a generous sign-up bonus: .

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The also comes with several other benefits that set it apart from other airline cards. Here are a few you might find useful:

The is one of three co-branded consumer United Airlines credit cards. Its siblings are:

Among these three cards, the  lands in the middle, offering much richer benefits than the but fewer luxury perks than the .

Here’s how the United Airlines consumer cards compare on key features:

This card's annual fee of is on par with similar airline cards, but not cheap. Be sure you can extract more value from the card than you’re paying to hold it.

If you’re looking for a no-fee general travel card, look at the . You earn an unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, and points can be redeemed for nearly any travel purchase in the form of a statement credit. Another -fee option with similar benefits is the .

Generally, the best redemption options for MileagePlus miles are award flights and seat upgrades on United and its Star Alliance partners. That’s pretty limiting compared with, which allow you to apply rewards to a wide range of travel-related expenses.

Especially if you fly with multiple airlines, a general travel card might be a better fit. Good choices include the , which can convert its points into United MileagePlus frequent-flyer miles. Also consider the.

And if you want to see how this card stacks up against other travel cards, explore NerdWallet’s page.

If you’re a frequent flyer on United, the is loaded with useful and valuable benefits — more than co-branded cards from other airlines give their loyalists. But the card is also good for occasional United flyers because its free checked bags and lounge access passes alone can compensate for the annual fee.