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Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card Review

At a Glance
4.3 / 5
Rating

United MileagePlus Explorer Card

  • Sign-up Bonus: Up to 65,000 bonus miles in the first 6 months: 40,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $2,000 in the first 3 months, then 25,000 additional bonus miles when you spend at least $10,000 in the first 6 months
  • Rewards: 2 miles per $1 on tickets purchased from United; 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases with no limit; Miles don’t expire as long as credit card account is open
  • Benefits: First checked bag free for cardholder and a companion; two free United Club passes annually; Priority boarding privileges
  • Intro APR: None
  • Fees: $0 foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived first year)
  • Credit Needed: Excellent

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

The information related to the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card has been collected by Money Crashers and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card from Chase is an airline credit card with a $95 annual fee after a fee-free first year. It earns an unlimited 2 United MileagePlus miles per $1 spent on all United Airlines airfare purchases, and an unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on everything else. Miles can be redeemed for United Airlines airfare with no blackout dates, seat restrictions, or other limitations.

The Explorer card’s biggest competitors are other airline rewards credit cards, such as the Chase British Airways Visa Signature Credit Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, and Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard. It’s also comparable to general-purpose travel rewards cards, such as Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, though those cards tend to have more versatile reward redemption options.

Key Features

Sign-up Bonus

For a limited time, this card has a two-part sign-up bonus.

First, when you spend at least $2,000 within 3 months of opening your account, you get 40,000 bonus miles. This reward is reliably worth up to $800 when redeemed for airfare, depending on the dollar cost of the applicable fares.

Second, when you spend at least $10,000 within 6 months of opening your account, you get an additional 25,000 bonus miles. This portion of the bonus is reliably worth up to $500 when redeemed for airfare. All told, this card’s sign-up bonus adds up to 65,000 miles.

Annual Bonus

If you spend at least $25,000 in a calendar year, you get 10,000 bonus miles – worth up to $200 when redeemed for airfare. This promotion lasts for as long as you remain a cardholder in good standing.

Airline Rewards & Redemption

Every $1 you spend on United Airlines airfare earns 2 miles, with no caps or restrictions. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1 mile per $1 spent. There’s no limit to the number of miles you can accumulate, and miles never expire as long as your account is open.

You can redeem accumulated miles for United Airlines airfare. The minimum redemption for one-way U.S. & Canada economy tickets is 10,000 miles, limited to short-haul flights of 700 miles or less (New York to Chicago, but not Chicago to Boston). Longer-haul one-way U.S. and Canada economy tickets (New York to San Francisco, Chicago to Seattle) require 12,500 miles. First- and business-class one-ways start at 25,000 miles. Depending on how they’re redeemed, miles are reliably worth up to $0.02 apiece, and sometimes more.

Travel Benefits

The United MileagePlus Explorer card comes with a raft of travel benefits. These include:

  • Free first checked bag for the primary cardholder when you use your card to purchase the ticket
  • Priority boarding prior to general boarding
  • 2 complimentary United Club airport lounge passes per year
  • Complimentary room upgrades when available, free breakfast, and extended check-in/check-out hours at more than 700 partner hotels worldwide
  • Access to exclusive or VIP events, such as private cooking classes and musical performances

Important Fees

The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. There is never a foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5% and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.

Credit Required

United MileagePlus Explorer requires excellent credit. Any credit blemishes of note are likely to be disqualifying.

Advantages

  1. Attainable, Valuable Sign-up Bonus. The Explorer card has an attainable, valuable sign-up bonus worth up to 65,000 bonus miles in the first 6 months. To earn it, you’ll need to spend $2,000 in the first 3 months (good for 40,000 bonus miles) and $10,000 in the first 6 months (good for a further 25,000 bonus miles). The total value of this combined bonus depends on the dollar value of the flights the accumulated miles are redeemed for, but it can reliably rise to $1,300.
  2. Airport and In-Flight Benefits. The Explorer card has a nice lineup of benefits and perks that reduce the cost and stress associated with airline travel: two complimentary United Club lounge passes per year, first checked bag free (up to $100 value, round-trip), priority boarding, and the ability to choose any seat in your selected fare class. Capital One Venture Rewards and the American Express Gold Card don’t offer priority boarding, complimentary lounge access, or free checked bags.
  3. Benefits at Partner Hotels. The Explorer card has some nice hotel benefits, including extended-hours check-in and check-out, complimentary room upgrades whenever available, free breakfast, and location-specific perks such as free or discounted spa services. The American Express Gold Card doesn’t offer anything similar.
  4. Bonus Miles for Heavy Spenders. If you spend at least $25,000 in any calendar year, you get 10,000 bonus miles deposited into your account. That’s good for a short-haul one-way domestic flight, or about 80% of the miles cost of a longer-haul one-way domestic flight. While $25,000 is a high bar for some people to clear, it’s definitely attainable if you travel frequently and use the Explorer card as your primary credit card – particularly if you travel for business and can get reimbursed for your airfare purchases. Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard requires you to spend $30,000 before its bonus kicks in.
  5. Miles Never Expire. As long as your account remains open and in good standing, the MileagePlus miles you accumulate with this card never expire. Many airline and hotel rewards credit cards require you to earn or redeem points at least once per year to keep them from winking out of existence.
  6. No Foreign Transaction Fees. This card doesn’t charge extra for foreign transactions – great news for frequent overseas (or north- and south-of-the-border) travelers. Citi Hilton Honors Visa Signature and Citi Expedia+, both popular travel rewards cards, charge 3% foreign transaction fees.

Disadvantages

  1. Comes With an Annual Fee. After the first year, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card carries a $95 annual fee. This is higher than some other comparable airline and travel rewards cards.
  2. Miles Accumulate Slowly for Infrequent Travelers. The Explorer card earns 1 mile per $1 spent on everything except United Airlines airfare. If you don’t purchase United airfare very often, you’re not going to accumulate miles at a breakneck pace. For faster points accumulation on a wider range of spending categories, look to Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on dining and travel, plus one-to-one points transfer to several frequent flyer programs including United Airlines) or Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® (unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on all purchases).
  3. Inflexible Redemption Options. You can only redeem your accumulated MileagePlus miles for United Airlines airfare purchased direct with the airline. This isn’t a problem if you live near a United hub and regularly fly with the airline, but it’s a drag if you prefer a more expansive menu of redemption options. The Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® lets you use rewards to offset virtually any type of travel purchase, while the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards card lets you redeem for cash equivalents too, such as gift cards and statement credits.
  4. No Redemption Rebate. The Explorer card doesn’t give you a rebate when you redeem your accumulated miles for airfare. Many other travel rewards cards, including Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard (10% redemption bonus), offer this extra show of gratitude.

Final Word

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is one of many airline-specific credit cards. Just about every major U.S. carrier, from Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines, to American and Delta, has at least one rewards card that rewards loyalty with accelerated miles accumulation on airfare and/or in-flight purchases.

Since it’s not practical to apply for and use every single airline-specific rewards card out there, you need to give some thought to which card is the best fit for your particular situation. This consideration usually comes down to your spending patterns, how you prefer to redeem your rewards, and whether you live close enough to an airline or partner hub to take full advantage of the rewards program.

Verdict
4.3 / 5
Rating

United MileagePlus Explorer Card

The Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card is ideal for people who regularly fly on United Airlines, spending enough – and accumulating rewards quickly enough – to justify the $95 annual fee. Heavy spenders get more out of this card (thanks to a miles bonus for spending more than $25,000 in any calendar year), and cardholders who like to travel in comfort are likely to appreciate the slew of travel perks. This card isn’t as useful for people who don’t travel often, don’t live near a United hub, prefer cards with better benefits for everyday spending, or prefer flexible redemption options.

A great sign-up bonus, valuable miles, the lack of miles expiration, and great travel benefits are all major perks of this card. The $95 annual fee, slow miles accumulation for non-travel purchases, inflexible redemption, and no redemption bonus all hurt.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

Comments Disclosure: The below responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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