United℠ Explorer Card review: Worth it for frequent United travelers
United℠ Explorer Card
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 PreCheck® every four years as reimbursement for the application fee for either program when charged to your card.
- New cardholders can earn up to 65,000 bonus miles – spend $2,000 in the first three months to earn 40,000 miles and earn another 25,000 after spending $10,000 in the first six 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.
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 up to 65,000 bonus miles – spend $2,000 in the first three months to earn 40,000 miles and earn another 25,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in the first six 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.
- Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
- Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
- Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
- Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
- Redeem on travel-including flights, vacation rentals, car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 15+ travel loyalty programs
- No foreign transaction fees
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.
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.
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®.
Beyond the bonus, the rewards programs are similar, with both cards offering two points/miles per dollar spent on travel and dining and one point/mile per dollar on other purchases. What sets the Sapphire Preferred® card apart though is that rewards are worth 25% more towards travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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 your new card in your first three months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within the same time frame (offer expires 7/28/21). This compares to United℠ Explorer's offer of 40,000 miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months and another 25,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in the first six 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 sign-up 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 and another 25,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in the first six 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 35,000 miles in your first year, you'll effectively earn a total of 70,000 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.
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 for the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card