The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is the new version of the Mileage Plus card – a result, in part, of the 2010 merger of United and Continental Airlines. The merger allowed Continental OnePass cardholders the opportunity to convert frequent flyer miles, and it currently offers a few bonuses that previous cardholders were not able to take advantage of. But did the new Explorer card include enough updates to entice members to remain part of the United MileagePlus program?
- Sign-up Bonus. After making $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of opening an account, you are awarded 30,000 bonus miles, enough for an economy class ticket, which starts at as low as 25,000 miles. Additionally, if you make a purchase with the card and add an authorized user to your account (within three months), you are awarded 5,000 extra bonus miles. These bonus miles do not count toward Premier Status. If your account is not open for at least six months, your bonus miles may be deducted. Also, keep in mind that previous and existing United Mileage Plus Visa cardmembers are not eligible for any of the bonus offers.
- Fees. The Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card has an annual membership fee of $95, which is waived the first year. Balance transfers are 3% or $5, whichever is greater. There is no foreign transaction fee or over-limit fee.
- APR. The APR on balance transfers and purchases is 15.24%, which may vary based on the prime rate, and is dependent upon your credit rating. In order to qualify for the United Mileage Plus card, you need a credit score at least in the upper 600s.
- Bonus Miles Each Year for Spending. You receive 10,000 bonus miles when you make $25,000 in purchases with the card each calendar year. For the first year, this means the period starting from your enrollment date to December 31st of that year.
- Earn Miles With Purchases. Each dollar spent earns one mile. You earn an additional mile (for a total of two) on purchases that are identified by the merchant as United Airlines on your statement. Miles do not expire, and there is no limit to the miles that can be earned as long as there is activity on your account (such as payment of the annual fee) and your account is open and not in default. You may also earn 500 extra bonus miles on stays at eligible Fairmont hotels, and up to 5,000 bonus miles at participating Hilton HHonors hotels and resorts. For retail purchases, gift cards often earn more miles per dollar than direct shopping – and if you use MileagePlus Shopping, a number of retailers there offer two and three miles per dollar spent. You may also earn miles via the Star Alliance’s 35 member airlines, including Lufthansa, Air China, and U.S. Airways.
- Redemption. Your miles can be redeemed for airfare, hotel awards, rental car awards, dining, and merchandise. Economy class tickets, for example, start as low as 25,000 miles for a standard reward flight or 12,500 for a Saver Award flight from Minneapolis to New York City. In addition to airfare, you can redeem miles for hotel stays and shopping – the value varies based on what you choose to redeem for. For example, if you redeem 70,900 miles for a 16GB Apple iPad, (approximately $399), your miles are worth about 0.56 cents each. If you redeem 50,000 miles for two standard domestic flights at $250 each, your points are worth one cent each. One night at the Hilton Times Square requires 56,850 points ($367) translating each point to a value of 0.65 cents. (These redemption values are based on miles earned at the rate of one mile per dollar spent. Redemption values will increase if bonus miles or miles earned from United Airlines purchases are used.)
- Free Checked Bag. As the primary cardmember, you and one companion on the same flight qualify to check your first bag free. This is only available on United and United Express flights.
- Priority Boarding. Both you and a companion on the same reservation qualify for priority boarding after Premier members, passengers with Premier Access, and people with disabilities.
- United Club Passes. You receive two one-time-use passes for United Club after opening your account and then every 12 months afterward. United Club locations provide complimentary amenities such as beverages and snacks, wireless Internet access, and bar service.
- Premier Statuses. Premier statuses of Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Premier 1K may be attained by traveling with United, Copa, and select airline partners for each level. Flights purchased with awards or bonuses do not qualify as reward-eligible flights, nor do award miles earned through special promotions or partner offers.
- Premier Benefits. Premier statuses qualify for additional benefits which include bonus award miles. For example, Premier Silver members earn a 25% bonus on actual flight miles (requiring a minimum of 500) every time they fly paid flights on United, Copa, or select MileagePlus airline partners. The bonus amount is calculated against the actual flight miles of each segment flown. Premier Gold earns 50%, Premier Platinum earns 75%, and Premier 1K gets a 100% bonus on earned miles. Additionally, Premier status members are eligible for more complimentary checked bags and complimentary Economy Plus seating, if available.
- 35,000 Total Bonus Miles. Economy class tickets are available for as few as 25,000 miles, meaning the bonuses you receive when you sign-up for the card are enough to redeem for a flight. You may also redeem your miles for two or three Saver Award flights, which are as low as 12,500 miles.
- Earn Miles in Multiple Ways. Miles are earned not only with United and its airline partners, but also with hotel stays, car rentals, and MileagePlus Shopping, where you can earn two or three miles per dollar spent.
- Multiple Ways to Redeem Miles. The ability to redeem miles for a range of items including flights, hotel stays, car rentals, dining, and merchandise makes this a very flexible travel rewards card. Additionally, the value of miles increases with periodic deals and offers.
- Earn and Use Miles With Airline Partners. Earn and use miles with the Star Alliance network, which includes more than 35 airlines worldwide.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees. Cards with foreign transaction fees typically charge an additional 1% to 3% on purchases made outside of the United States. For example, the American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Card charges 2.7% and the U.S. Airways Dividend Miles card charges 3%. The Chase United MileagePlus, on the other hand, charges no foreign transaction fee, making it a very valuable tool if you spend a lot of time abroad.
- Annual Fee. The annual fee is waived your first year, but after that the bonus does not cover it. You need to collect two years’ of 10,000 anniversary miles to have enough for one economy class flight.
- Uncompetitive Benefits. Although free checked baggage for you and a companion has a value of $20 to $100 with other airlines, most credit cards allow at least one free bag, and some provide up to two and three. For example, the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard offers the first bag free for the cardholder plus four companions, and the American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles card allows up to nine waivers of checked baggage fees on the same reservation.
- Bonus Offer Limitations. If you are an existing cardholder, or were before the old United Mileage card became the Explorer card, you are not eligible for any of the sign-up bonuses. Additionally, bonuses and award flights do not count toward Premier status, which is where many of the best perks are found. If you previously carried the United card or the Continental card, you can find better travel rewards credit cards that grant new-cardholder bonuses.
- High APR. There is no introductory APR, and while 15.24% and higher is standard with rewards and miles credit cards, you cannot maximize your rewards opportunities if you regularly carry a balance. If you know you can’t pay balances in full every month, consider a credit card with lower fees and interest rates, and just skip the rewards altogether.
The Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer credit card does not offer anything that sets it apart from other airline credit cards. Most benefits are standard, except for the annual fee that is waived the first year. This, at least, allows you the opportunity to see if the rewards and benefits can make up for the $95 annual fee. The United card is beneficial if you travel outside of the United States, as there is no foreign transaction fee. Otherwise, the bonuses provided are barely enough to earn one free flight, unless you fly enough with United Airlines to earn one of the Premier statuses.
The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is great if you travel United frequently or travel often outside of the United States. However, not much distinguishes it significantly from other airline rewards credit cards.
3.8 stars out of 5: Not the best option available compared to other travel rewards cards unless you fly United frequently.
Editorial Disclosure: This content is not provided or commissioned by any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, or airline. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.