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United℠ Explorer Card review

Find United perks without a premium annual fee.

finder.com’s rating: 4.4 / 5

★★★★★

  • Get this card if you want United perks like free first checked bag, priority boarding and two United Club one-time passes each year.
  • Pick a general travel card if you want to earn and redeem miles on a variety of airlines.
  • Apply with a good to excellent credit score of 670 to 850.

2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1.5x miles on all other purchases

Rewards

$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)

Annual fee

16.49% to 23.49% variable

Purchase APR

670

Minimum Credit Score

Details

Annual fee$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Welcome offerEarn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Rewards2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1.5x miles on all other purchases
Purchase APR16.49% to 23.49% variable
Balance transfer APR16.49% to 23.49% variable
Minimum Credit Score670
IssuerVisa
Avatar

Review by


Kevin Joey Chen is a credit cards, banking and investments writer whose work and analysis have appeared on CNN, U.S. News & World Report, Business.com, Lifehacker and CreditCards.com. He's passionate about helping you get your finances in order by expertly navigating cutting-edge financial tools — including credit cards, apps and budgeting software.

Expert review

Occasional and frequent United flyers who don’t want to pay a premium annual fee but still get valuable United perks, should consider the United Explorer. Starting with a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95, you get to earn miles on your purchases, which you can redeem toward United flights, seat upgrades, United Club membership and more.

The card’s signup bonus is also worth mentioning, because depending on what you redeem it for — you can get a value of up to $480. This is a great deal consider the bonus is relatively easy to obtain: just spend $3,000 on your card within your first 3 months of account opening.

As far as United perks go, you get your first checked bag free on United-operated flights, priority boarding and 25% savings on in-flight purchases. These are standard features for a cobranded airline card. However, the United℠ Explorer Card goes a step further and adds two annual one-time United Club passes, as well as a credit every four years for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application. Both are welcome additions that set this airline card apart.

Best of 2021
Finder experts pick United℠ Explorer Card as a 2021 best product for credit cards.

How to apply for the United℠ Explorer Card

To apply for the United℠ Explorer Card, you must be at least 18 years old (19 in Alabama and Nebraska, 21 in Puerto Rico).

  1. Go to the provider's site and select Apply now.
  2. Complete the application with details like your name, address, annual income and Social Security number. Then review your application and submit it.

What credit score do I need?

You’ll have a better chance of being approved for the United℠ Explorer Card if you apply with a good to excellent credit score of 670 or higher.

How long will it take to get my United℠ Explorer Card?

Because conditional approval is automated on the Chase website, you’ll often get a decision immediately. In some cases, you’ll need to wait a few days to a few weeks to receive a response.

If you’re approved, look for your card in the mail within seven to 10 days.

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United Explorer Mileage Plus credit card Image: Megan Horner/Finder

United℠ Explorer Card benefits

  • Rewards. Earn 2x miles at eligible restaurants and on hotel stays booked directly with the hotel. Earn 2x miles on such United purchases as flight tickets and in-flight food, beverages and Wi-Fi. Earn 1.5x miles on all other purchases.
  • Signup bonus. Spend $3,000 with your card in the first 3 months to earn 60,000 bonus miles. These miles can go a long way. For example, a round trip Economy flight between Los Angeles (LAX) and New York (JFK) costs 29,000 miles. But you can get the best value if you redeem your miles for limited-time deals where your miles can be worth up to 3 cents. For example, you can get a one-way Economy flight between San Francisco (SFO) and Tokyo (NRT) for 35,000 miles, which typically costs around $1,100.
  • Discounts on eligible in-flight purchases. Get 25% back as statement credit when you buy food, beverages or Wi-Fi with your United℠ Explorer Card on a United flight or a United’s partner airline.
  • First checked bag free. Purchase a trip on a United flight or a United partner airline with your United℠ Explorer Card so you and one travel partner on the same reservation can each check one bag free. That’s a $140 saved for two in one round trip.
  • Priority boarding. Purchase a trip on a United flight or a United’s partner airline with your card to get priority boarding for you and travel partners on the same reservation. You’ll board in Group 2 before general boarding. MileagePlus Premier members, preboarding and Group 1 board first.
  • Free United Club access twice a year. Get two United Club one-time passes each card year. Normally, a one-time pass costs $59. This perk alone offsets the annual fee.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit. Pay your application fee with your United℠ Explorer Card to receive up to a $100 statement credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application every four years. You would typically find this benefit only with premium cards that cost hundreds of dollars each year.
  • The Luxury Hotel Resort Collection. Book a stay with your card for complimentary daily breakfast for two, complimentary Wi-Fi, early check-in, late checkout on availability and an exclusive benefit, depending on the property.
  • United MileagePlus events. Redeem your miles for such special events as private winemaker dinners, live theater shows and museum experiences.
  • No foreign transaction fees. You’ll pay no transaction fee for using your card abroad or on a foreign website.
  • Visa Signature Concierge. Call 24 hours a day for help with reservations, finding gifts, securing tickets to exclusive shows and more.
  • Travel and purchase coverage. Pay for your trip or retail purchase with your United℠ Explorer Card to qualify for coverage. Coverage includes: trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, auto rental collision damage waiver, purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

        Case study: Megan’s experience

        profile pic

        Megan Horner
        Credit Cards Publisher

        I was able to take two roundtrip flights just using the sign up bonus on this card. One was from San Francisco to Austin and the other was from San Francisco to Atlanta, both pretty long flights. I ended up saving $800 total, which is the most mileage I’ve gotten out of a sign up bonus.

        Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a ton of usage from the United-specific perks — like free checked bags and priority boarding. Mostly because you have to buy directly from the airline to get these perks, and I often find cheaper United flights through third-party travel sites. Also, you have to be a primary user to get these perks. So even though my husband’s an authorized user, he can’t use the perks if he flies United without me.

        The lounge passes are pretty sweet though. Just know that once you start visiting lounges, you might start thinking it’s worth getting a card that offers more or unlimited lounge visits — I definitely did. The other perk I’ve used is the Global Entry credit, which also gives you TSA Precheck, and it’s another one I won’t go back on. All in all, there are some good perks, even if you’re not an exclusive United flyer.

        United℠ Explorer Card drawbacks

        • Annual fee. The card comes with a $95 starting from your second card year. However, using the card’s perks is more than enough to cover the annual fee and get rewards on top.
        • Purchase directly from hotels to earn 2x miles from hotel spending. You might not earn accelerated rewards when you book through third-party travel sites.
        • Use your United℠ Explorer Card to qualify for statement credit, purchase protection and travel insurance. You won’t qualify if you use a different card.

        Is the $95 annual fee worth it?

        According to our valuation at the time of writing, United miles are worth an average 1.2 cents each when redeemed for flights. You’ll need to earn around 6,000 miles to break even, which you can do with spending in reward tiers. The annual fee is worth it if you think your spending will amount to enough miles.

        See spending breakdown
        CategoriesRewardsHow much you need to spend
        Restaurants, eligible hotel stays, United purchases2x miles$3,167
        Other purchases1.5x miles$6,334

        Of course, you’ll probably spend in both 2x- and 1.5x-mile categories, affecting your rewards breakdown.

        See spending breakdown
        CategoriesRewardsHypothetical spendingMiles earned
        Restaurants, eligible hotel stays, United purchases2x miles$1,5003,000
        Other purchases1.5x miles$4,3084,308

        Other United℠ Explorer Card perks that might offset the annual fee

        See values from card benefits
        BenefitPotential annual value
        Free first checked bag (4 one-way flights a year)$140
        Annual United Club passes$118
        25% back as statement credit$25
        Global Entry application fee credit$20
        Priority boarding$60

        According to these calculations, you could get $363 of value from the card’s benefits. This doesn’t include potential value from perks like Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection stays, purchase protection and travel insurance.

        Compare travel credit cards

        The United℠ Explorer Card is an excellent card if you fly United at least few times each year. But travelers who tend to switch airlines often may find a better value from a general travel card. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a similar annual fee, but it lets you earn 2x points on multiple airlines not just United. And should you decide to fly United and you get a better deal via the MileagePlus portal, you can transfer your Chase points to United miles in a 1:1 ratio.

        Compare the cards in the table to see if you may find a better alternative to the United℠ Explorer Card.

        Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
        Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
        Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
        Earn unlimited 2x miles on every purchase, every day
        $95
        Earn 60,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening
        Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
        100,000 miles after you spend $10,000 in your first 6 months of account opening
        10x miles on hotel and rental car purchases booked through Capital One Travel, 5x miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, and 2x miles on every other purchase

        $395
        Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
        Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
        Earn unlimited 1.25x miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
        $0
        Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
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        Compare up to 4 providers

        United℠ Explorer Card reviews and complaints

        Cardholders often say they’re pleased with priority boarding and free checked baggage. Others say they’ve had difficulty with approval for their travel insurance claims.

        JPMorgan Chase Credit Card is not accredited with the Better Business Bureau but it has an A+ rating and a composite score of 1.18 out of 5 stars based on 229 customer reviews as of October 2020. Most customer complaints revolve around poor customer service and hidden costs Chase credit cards in general. Make sure you read your card’s terms and the rewards agreement to avoid issues with your account.

        As of October 2020, Chase earns a Trustpilot score of 1.3 out of 5. Most negative reviews cite slow responses to fraud complaints and less-than-helpful customer service. Positive reviews cite the bank’s great mobile app and quick resolutions to their issues. Overall, your mileage may vary with Chase customer support.

        I got the card. Now what?

        • Make payments on time. You can pay your card bill online at the Chase website. You can also enroll in autopay.
        • Avoid interest payments. After the close of each billing cycle, you have a grace period of 21 days to pay your balance. If you do, you won’t pay interest on your purchases. Of course, this assumes you haven’t carried a balance from the previous billing cycle.
        • Avoid fees. Late and returned payments come with hefty fees of up to $39. Balance transfers and cash advances also come with fees.
        • Contact customer service. If you have questions, you can contact Chase support by phone, email or Twitter.

        How do I redeem miles using the United℠ Explorer Card?

        Miles earned miles during a billing cycle automatically transfer to your United MileagePlus account at the end of the cycle.

        Head to the United website and log in to your MileagePlus account to redeem your miles. Redemption options include:

        • Flights
        • Hotel stays
        • Car rentals
        • Cruises
        • Merchandise
        • Gift cards
        • Experiences
        • United Club membership
        • United Wi-Fi
        • TSA PreCheck application
        • Transfer or donate miles
        • Dine at select airports
        • Magazines and newspapers
        • Dining gift cards, certificates and discounts

        Redeeming miles for flights gets you a strong redemption rate on your rewards. Based on the miles redemption site at the time of writing, United miles are worth an average 1.5 cents each when redeemed for flights. But you can also find excellent limited-time deals worth up to 3 cents per mile.

        You may receive a lower rate if you redeem for other options. For example, redeeming miles for hotel stays yields an average value of 0.7 cents a mile

        Bottom line

        Consider the United℠ Explorer Card if you want strong perks without a premium price. If you’re not sure it’s right for you, compare other travel credit cards.

        What’s changed with the United℠ Explorer Card

        07/3/2021Old:New: Welcome offer: 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.

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