BEST CREDIT CARDSBEST CREDIT CARDSUNITED EXPLORER: RICHER REWARDS, PERKS YOU’LL ACTUALLY USE

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 Karp Author Avatar
Jun 10, 2024 5:44 a.m. PDT
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This page includes information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the United Club℠ Infinite Card, the United Gateway℠ Card, the United Quest℠ Card and the United℠ Explorer Card, currently unavailable on NerdWallet. The information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the United Club℠ Infinite Card, the United Gateway℠ Card, the United Quest℠ Card and the United℠ Explorer Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been provided or reviewed by the card issuer.

The Bottom Line

5.0

NerdWallet rating

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.

United℠ Explorer Card Image
United℠ Explorer Card
Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $95
Rewards Rate
1x-2x
Miles
Intro Offer
50,000
Miles
Recommended credit score
Intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
21.99%-28.99% Variable APR
Recommended credit score
United℠ Explorer Card Image
United℠ Explorer Card
Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $95
Rewards Rate
1x-2x
Miles
Intro Offer
50,000
Miles
Recommended credit score
Intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
21.99%-28.99% Variable APR
Recommended credit score
  • Annual fee

    $0 intro for the first year, then $95

  • Rewards rate

    1x-2x

  • Bonus offer

    Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • Intro APR

    N/A

  • Ongoing APR

    APR: 21.99%-28.99% Variable APR

    Cash Advance APR: 29.99%, Variable

    Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    $0

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases
  • Up to $100 Global Entry, TSA PreCheck® or NEXUS fee credit
  • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights and on Club premium drinks when you pay with your Explorer Card
  • Free first checked bag - a savings of up to $140 per roundtrip. Terms Apply.
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Member FDIC

Pros and Cons

Pros

Bonus categories

Luxury perks

New cardholder bonus offer

Free checked bag

Cons

Has annual fee

Rewards have limited flexibility

Detailed Review

For travelers who fly United Airlines the United℠ Explorer Card 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 $0 intro for the first year, then $95, 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 United℠ Explorer Card, too.

United℠ Explorer Card: Basics

Card type: Airline.

Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $95.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Rewards:

  • 2 MileagePlus miles per dollar spent on purchases from United.

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on restaurant purchases and hotel accommodations purchased directly with the hotel.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.

NerdWallet values United miles at 1.2 cents 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 1.2 cents or more in value from your United miles.

Interest rate: The ongoing APR is 21.99%-28.99% Variable APR.

Foreign transaction fee: None.

Noteworthy perks:

  • First checked bag free for you and a companion on your reservation.

  • Two United Club one-time use passes per year.

  • Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS statement credit every four years.

  • Trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance.

  • 25% back on in-flight purchases.

  • A one-year complimentary DashPass membership for both DoorDash and Caviar. Terms apply.

Compare to Other Cards

ANNUAL FEE
$0 intro for the first year, then $99
INTRO APR
N/A
REGULAR APR
21.99%-28.99% Variable APR
RECOMMENDED CREDIT SCORE
ANNUAL FEE
$695
INTRO APR
N/A
REGULAR APR
See Pay Over Time APR
RECOMMENDED CREDIT SCORE
ANNUAL FEE
$250
INTRO APR
N/A
REGULAR APR
See Pay Over Time APR
RECOMMENDED CREDIT SCORE
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Benefits and Perks

Airport lounge passes

The United℠ Explorer Card 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 United Club. 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.

Free checked bags

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. Since checking a bag generally costs $40, this could easily cover the card's annual fee.

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.

Rich rewards

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:

  • Restaurant purchases.

  • Hotel stays.

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 award flights and seat upgrades.

🤓Nerdy Tip

You can save on deliveries with the card's one-year complimentary DashPass for both DoorDash and Caviar. It provides unlimited deliveries with $0 delivery fees and lower service fees on eligible orders. To qualify, this offer must be activated by Dec. 31, 2024. After the complimentary year ends, you will be automatically enrolled in DashPass and have to pay the current monthly rate.

In addition to ongoing rewards, the card also comes with a generous sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Other valuable perks

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

  • Primary car rental coverage. This valuable feature is unusual for a card at this price point. Unlike most airline and travel cards, this card comes with car rental coverage that's primary, meaning the card’s benefit kicks in before your own auto insurance. That can save you money — your insurance deductible — if you have an accident in a rental. To use this benefit, you must pay for the rental with the card and decline the rental company's coverage.

  • Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS credit. The card offers a credit for the cost of a Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS application fee when you use your card to pay for it. That could save you up to $100. Each program needs to be renewed every five years; the benefit on this card renews every four years.

  • Priority boarding. Don’t usually check bags? Then priority boarding that comes with the card will help. Getting on the plane earlier — in a lower-number boarding group — means you’re more likely to find overhead bin space for your roll-aboard. And some flyers like to board earlier to get settled in their seat before the cabin gets crowded. Either way, priority boarding is a welcome perk.

How it compares to other United cards

The United℠ Explorer Card is one of four co-branded consumer United Airlines credit cards.

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

United Gateway℠ Card

United℠ Explorer Card

United Quest℠ Card

United Club℠ Infinite Card

ANNUAL FEE

$0.

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

$250.

$525.

BONUS OFFER FOR NEW CARDHOLDERS

Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

FREE CHECKED BAGS

None.

First checked bag free for you and one companion on your reservation.

First and second checked bags free for you and one companion on your reservation.

First and second checked bags free for you and one companion on your reservation.

REWARDS ON SPENDING WITH UNITED AIRLINES

2 miles per $1.

2 miles per $1.

3 miles per $1.

4 miles per $1.

REWARDS ON OTHER SPENDING

• 2 miles per $1 at gas stations.

• 2 miles per $1 on local transit and commuting.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 at restaurants.

• 2 miles per $1 on hotels (when booked directly with the hotel).

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel (including other airlines, hotels, car rentals and more).

• 2 miles per $1 on dining (including takeout and delivery).

• 2 miles per $1 on select streaming services.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 on all other travel.

• 2 miles per $1 on dining.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

AIRPORT LOUNGE ACCESS

None.

2 United Club one-time passes each year.

None.

Annual membership to all United Club locations, plus select Star Alliance lounges.

CREDIT FOR TSA PRECHECK, GLOBAL ENTRY OR NEXUS

None.

Up to $100 every four years.

Up to $100 every four years.

Up to $100 every four years.

Drawbacks and Considerations

Annual fee

This card's annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95 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 Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card. You'll earn an unlimited 3 points per $1 spent on restaurants, travel and transit, gas and EV stations, popular streaming services, and select phone plans. Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards or statement credits.

Reward redemptions

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 general travel cards, 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 Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which can convert its points into United MileagePlus frequent-flyer miles. Also consider the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

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

How To Decide If It's Right For You

If you’re a frequent flyer on United, the United℠ Explorer Card 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.

Alternate Pick: Greater flexibility
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.


Methodology

NerdWallet reviews credit cards with an eye toward both the quantitative and qualitative features of a card. Quantitative features are those that boil down to dollars and cents, such as fees, interest rates, rewards (including earning rates and redemption values) and the cash value of benefits and perks. Qualitative factors are those that affect how easy or difficult it is for a typical cardholder to get good value from the card. They include such things as the ease of application, simplicity of the rewards structure, the likelihood of using certain features, and whether a card is well-suited to everyday use or is best reserved for specific purchases. Our star ratings serve as a general gauge of how each card compares with others in its class, but star ratings are intended to be just one consideration when a consumer is choosing a credit card. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.

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