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United℠ Explorer Card review: Worth it for frequent United travelers

Loyal to United Airlines? This card rewards that loyalty with a 40,000-mile bonus opportunity (details in the review), two miles earned on United Airlines purchases, dining purchases and hotel stays, free checked bags, and more.
By Jennifer Doss  CardRatings Editor  | Updated

United℠ Explorer Card

United℠ Explorer Card
Our Rating:   
Excellent, Good
on Chase's secure website

CardRatings Editor's Analysis: Pros & Cons

  • Enjoy 25% back on United in-flight purchases.
  • Cardholders are eligible for up to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® every four years as reimbursement for the application fee for either program when charged to your card.
  • New cardholders can earn 40,000 miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
  • If you are not a devotee of United Airlines or you simply don't travel very often, you'll likely want to consider a more general rewards card instead.

UNITED℠ EXPLORER CARD BENEFITS

If United is your airline of choice, then the United℠ Explorer Card is a "must have" for your wallet, if only for the solid travel perks.

The benefits kick in immediately when you arrive at the airport. You get one free checked bag for both you and a companion, as well as free trip cancellation/interruption insurance. (Pro tip: You really don't know how valuable trip cancellation/interruption insurance is until that first time something completely unexpected happens and you need it.) You also get 25% back on all in-flight purchases. If you fly frequently, this can really add up.

Looking to expedite the check-in process? Cardholders are also eligible for up to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck™ every four years as reimbursement for the application fee for either program when charged to your card.

If you book your rental car using your Explorer card, you also get included auto rental collision damage coverage. Simply decline the collision coverage offered by the rental company. This is good on most rental cars in the United States and around the world.

And the cherry on top? United℠ Explorer Card is presently offering 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Depending on your travel dates and destination, this bonus alone has the potential to pay for multiple one-way flights.

On an ongoing basis you'll earn two miles per dollar spent on purchases from United, at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash, and on hotel stays, and one mile per dollar on all other purchases.

Top Features

 Rewards
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays and United purchases. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
 Bonus Rewards
Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
 Annual Fee
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

UNITED℠ EXPLORER CARD FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE

United℠ Explorer Card does not charge foreign transaction fees. If you travel frequently overseas for business or pleasure, this perk can be a huge savings for you or your company.

Many credit card companies charge foreign transaction fees, with many averaging around 3%. So, as an example, if you make monthly trips to Europe on business and spend just $1,000 during each trip on meals, entertainment, etc., you could easily find yourself paying several hundred dollars each year on foreign transaction fees alone. With the United℠ Explorer Card, there are no fees, so that money stays in your bank account.

UNITED℠ EXPLORER CARD POTENTIAL DOWNSIDES

If you are not a devotee of United Airlines or you simply don't travel very often, this is probably not the card for you. While there is a $0 annual fee for the first year, it jumps to $95 a year after that.

The rewards program is fairly average, offering two miles for every dollar spent on United, hotel, and restaurant purchases, and one mile for each dollar spent on other purchases. It can add up, but only if you travel frequently.

On the outside chance you would use the United℠ Explorer Card to transfer a balance from another card, you should be aware there is no balance transfer promotional interest rate and the normal APR is 16.49% to 23.49% Variable. There is also a fee on all balance transfers: Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

HOW THE UNITED℠ EXPLORER CARD COMPARES TO OTHER CARDS

United℠ Explorer Card vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

United℠ Explorer Card is the go-to card for loyal United Airlines travelers, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card matches up well if you tend to travel on various airlines. Both have a $95 annual fee but United℠ Explorer waives the fee for the first year.

Sapphire Preferred® offers 100,000 points to new cardholders (earned once spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening an account). This bonus is worth as much as $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

On an ongoing basis, the Sapphire Preferred® offers 5X total points on all travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal; 3X points on dining, including eligible delivery services and takeout; 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 3X points on select streaming services; 2X points on travel purchases; and 1X point on all other purchases.

The United℠ Explorer Card offers numerous perks specific to United Airlines (detailed above). The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card might not offer United specific perks, but the real benefit of Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is that you aren't tied to one specific airline when it comes to redeeming your rewards. This card has a number of travel loyalty partners, including United, offering you more freedom in how you travel.

Neither card charges foreign transaction fees.

United℠ Explorer Card vs. Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

In many ways, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is, for fans of Delta Airlines, what the United℠ Explorer Card is for fans of United Airlines. Both offer perks that reward brand loyalty.

Both cards waive their annual fee for the first year with Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card jumping to $99 a year after that and United℠ Explorer Card jumping to $95. Both cards also offer perks on their respective airlines, such as one free checked bag. They each have decent welcome offers, too. For a limited time, new Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card users can earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases on the card in your first three months of card membership. This compares to United℠ Explorer's offer of 40,000 miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Amex Delta takes things a step further with a $100 Delta flight credit, earned once spending $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year.

United℠ Explorer Card vs. Discover it® Miles

If you tend to fly a variety of airlines or tend to use different modes of transportation to get to your destination, Discover it® Miles has some features that United℠ Explorer Card doesn't offer.

To begin with, Discover it® Miles has no annual fee. United℠ Explorer Card waives the fee for the first year but then it jumps to $95 annually.

The rewards programs and welcome bonuses for the two cards are very different. While United℠ Explorer Card has different tiers, offering either two miles or one mile per dollar spent, Discover it® Miles offers a flat 1.5 miles for every dollar spent on every purchase.

The United℠ Explorer Card offers a signup bonus of 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. The Discover card offers something rather unique. It will match every mile you accumulate during the first 12 months after you open your account. If you accrue 20,000 miles in your first year, you'll effectively earn a total of 40,000 miles thanks to the match on your first-year anniversary.

With Discover it® Miles, miles can be redeemed for travel vouchers, statement credits or even cash. There is no limit on how many miles and bonus miles you can earn and no minimum redemption amount.

Neither card charges foreign transaction fees.

IS THE UNITED℠ EXPLORER CARD A GOOD CARD?

If United Airlines is your airline of choice and you tend to travel frequently on business or pleasure, the United℠ Explorer Card is well worth the annual fee of $95 (after the first year) and should be a fine addition to your wallet. The numerous perks, along with the absence of a foreign transaction fee could save you hundreds of dollars a year, as well as time and aggravation.


See Rates and Fees; terms apply for the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

United℠ Explorer Card Compared to Other Travel rewards Cards

Apply online for Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Apply online for Citi Premier® Card
Citi Premier® Card
Apply online for Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Apply online for The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Rewards
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays and United purchases. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases 
Rewards
2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. 
Rewards
Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets. Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels. Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases. 
Rewards
Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases 
Rewards
Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel. 
Bonus Rewards
Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. 
Bonus Rewards
60,000 Miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening  
Bonus Rewards
Earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening  
Bonus Rewards
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.  
Bonus Rewards
Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.  
Annual Fee
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 
Annual Fee
$95 
Annual Fee
$95 
Annual Fee
$550 
Annual Fee
$695 

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