Credit Cards

What Is The Best United Airlines Credit Card

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 7 minute read

Chase offers a $95 annual fee credit card for frequent fliers who fly with United Airlines called the United Explorer Card. Earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on travel, hotels, and dining out with United Airlines, and 1 mile for every $1 spent anywhere else with United MileagePlus. 

United Airlines flights can be purchased with miles at any time with no restrictions on the number of passengers in a given cabin or the seat number used.

The Explorer card faces tough competition from other airline rewards credit cards like the Chase British Airways Visa Signature Credit Card, the American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, and the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard. 

It’s also similar to more generic travel rewards cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, however, those cards often offer more flexibility when it comes to redeeming rewards.

Interested in finding out more? Learn how this card, complete with cutting-edge contactless tap-to-pay technology, can get you a free United flight in record time.

How the United Explorer Card Measures Up

United’s Explorer Card is a great choice for first-time airline credit card holders due to its low annual fee and rewards program tailored to frequent flyers. Especially United is faithful.

Do you think this airline credit card is the best option for you? Now let’s compare it to the United Club Infinite Credit Card, a more generous alternative for frequent United fliers.

United Explorer Card:

  • $95 annual fee after the first year
  • 50,000 miles as a sign-up bonus after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • Two free United Club passes every year — up to $100 value
  • 2x miles on eligible United purchases
  • Free first checked bag — up to $140 value per fare

United Club Infinite Credit Card:

  • $525 annual fee
  • 80,000 miles as a sign-up bonus after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months
  • Complimentary United Club membership (airport lounge access) every year — $650 value
  • 4x miles on eligible United purchases
  • Free first and second-checked bags — up to $320 value per fare

The Chase United Explorer Card’s Main Characteristics

To what extent can you depend on the United Explorer Card? Expect a generous sign-up bonus, a decent rewards program that (unsurprisingly) prioritizes United Airlines purchases, and some potentially useful bonuses for frequent United fliers.

Sign-up Bonus

If you make at least $3,000 in purchases during the first three months of opening your account, you will receive 50,000 bonus miles. Limitations and other restrictions should be reviewed in the terms.

Rewards & Redemption for Airlines

United Airlines offers unlimited mile accrual at a rate of 2 miles for every dollar spent. The same rate of two miles per dollar is applied to the hotel room and restaurant purchases made directly with the property. 

Spend any amount you choose and get one mile for every dollar. As long as your account remains active, there is no cap on the number of miles you can earn, and your miles will never expire.

How to get the most out of your United Airlines mile accumulation. Total award flight mileage requirements are based on the base fare price, which varies according to departure and arrival airports, fare class, refundability, and other criteria. Partial flight redemptions are also an option (discounts to the full fare).

Travel Benefits

Many travel benefits are included with the United Explorer card. 

The following are some of them:

  • When you pay for your plane ticket using your primary credit card, you get one free checked bag (a $140 value) and other benefits.
  • You’ll get a 25% rebate on your card’s qualifying in-flight purchases.
  • United Premier Status holders who are using their credit card to book an award flight are entitled to complimentary Premier upgrades (if available).
  • A special boarding line forms before the regular line
  • You may get two annual passes to the United Club airport lounge (a $100 value) for free.
  • More than 1,000 hotels across the world are part of the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, which gives guests perks like free breakfast and late checkout.
  • Invitations to special activities, like cooking demonstrations and concert viewing parties.
  • A credit of up to $100 applied to your account for the cost of applying for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (once every four years)

The benefit of DoorDash DashPass

To receive a free year of DoorDash DashPass, activate your account by December 31, 2024, and add your United Explorer card as the payment method.

Advantages include no limits on deliveries with free shipping and reduced service fees for qualified purchases. You will be automatically enrolled in DashPass at the current monthly fee once the initial free year expires.

Benefits of Travel and Purchasing

Many excellent shopping and vacation benefits can be used with this card. 

You won’t have to pay anything more to use them, but there are a few exceptions:

  • You can get up to $3,000 per traveler for lost luggage.
  • In the event of a three-day delay, your bags are covered for up to $100 per day.
  • In the event of trip cancellation or interruption, you are protected up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 total.
  • Waiver of Collision Damages for Rental Cars (complimentary rental car insurance, subject to conditions)
  • As much as $500 in ticket-specific trip delay insurance is included.
  • Buy up to 120 days of protection against damage or theft, up to $10,000 per claim, and $50,000 annually.
  • Cardholders can get extended protection plans on select purchases.

Important Fees

The first year’s $95 annual charge is covered by the company. No additional fees are assessed for any international transactions. In terms of fees, cash advances cost $10 or 5% of the amount borrowed, while balance transfers cost $5 or 5%, whichever is greater.

Credit Required

You need stellar credit to fly United Explorer. Problems with one’s credit score, especially ones that are particularly noticeable, may be insufficient to qualify.

The United Explorer Card’s Advantages

The United Explorer Card offers a number of advantages, from a generous welcome bonus to priority boarding and other conveniences at the airport and during flights. Is it fair to charge $95 a year for them once the first year is up?

  • Motivating and Doable Welcome Offer. The Explorer card offers a generous sign-up bonus of up to 50,000 bonus miles after spending just $2,000 on purchases within the first three months. The overall worth of this bonus package is determined by the cost of the flights purchased with the collected miles, but can safely exceed $1,000.
  • Perks at the Airport and in Flight Two annual passes to the United Club, one free checked bag (up to $100 round-trip value), priority boarding, and the freedom to select any available seat within your fare class are just some of the benefits and perks that come with the Explorer card and help to make air travel more affordable and less stressful. Priority boarding, lounge access, and free checked bags aren’t perks that come with the Capital One Venture Rewards or American Express Gold Cards.
  • Obtain Discounts at Participating Hotels. The Explorer card provides some great hotel privileges, such as late check-out, free breakfast, and room upgrades when applicable, as well as location-specific bonuses like free or discounted spa services. Unlike the American Express Gold Card, the American Express Platinum Card does not have a similar perk.
  • Travel Miles Have No Time Limits. Your accumulated MileagePlus miles will always be valid as long as your account is active and in good standing. In order to preserve your credit card rewards from disappearing into thin air, many airlines and hotels require you to use them at least once a year.
  • There will be no additional fees for international transactions. The card has no additional fees for use in countries other than the one in which it was issued, which is wonderful news for those who frequently travel abroad or over Canadian and American borders. Both the Citi Hilton Honors Visa Signature and the Citi Expedia+, two widely used travel rewards cards, levy a 3% tax on all international purchases.

The United Explorer Card’s Disadvantages

Unfortunately, this card has some flaws. The slow pace of mile acquisition is a problem for infrequent travelers, as is the annual price.

  • Charges a Fee Each Year. The United Explorer Card has a yearly cost of $95, effective after the first year. Compare this to other similar airline and travel rewards cards, and you’ll see that this is a significant increase.
  • Infrequent flyers will see their mileage balances slowly increase. With the exception of expenditures made at restaurants, hotels, and with United Airlines, the Explorer card awards 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. In other words, if you don’t fly United very often, you won’t rack up miles very quickly. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can earn up to 5 points on all transactions and transfer them to a variety of frequent flyer programs at a rate of 1 point for 1 dollar spent (including United Airlines).
  • Non-Negotiable Redemption Terms. United MileagePlus miles can only be used to pay for tickets bought directly from United. If you live near a United hub and take a lot of flights with them, this isn’t a problem, but if you’d rather have more flexibility when redeeming your points, it’s a bummer. You can get things like gift cards and credit on your U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards card which are essentially the same as cash.
  • There will be no cash back for redeeming this. If you decide to use your collected miles for a flight, the Explorer card won’t provide you with a cash-back rebate. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard (10% redemption bonus) is only one example of a travel rewards card that provides a similar incentive.

Bottom Line

Many airlines now offer their own credit cards, such as the United Explorer Card. Almost every major airline in the United States, from Alaska and Southwest to American and Delta, offers a rewards card to their most loyal customers, giving them faster mileage accrual on flights and in-flight purchases.

There are a lot of airline-specific rewards cards out there, and it would be impractical to sign up for and use them all. It’s important to think about your buying habits, how you’d like to redeem your benefits, and how close you are to an airline or partner hub while making this decision.

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