After you’ve applied and been approved for either the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you might want to expand your points and miles inventory with co-branded Chase cards, such as the Chase United Explorer Card.

As far as airline credit cards go, it’s a solid choice. It has improved its earning rates and provides perks that other airline cards in the market don’t, which could make it worth the annual fee.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the United MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card and see who will benefit from holding it.

ProsCons
Expanded award space availabilityA free checked bag benefit is only for two passengers
Two United Club passes per yearRewards are limited to Star Alliance flights
TSA Precheck/Global Entry enrollment creditEveryday Awards require too many miles

United Explorer Sign-Up Bonus

The welcome offers on the United Explorer Card vary, and so do minimum-spending requirements. In the past, we’ve seen the card come with as few as 30,000 United miles and as many as 60,000 miles with spending requirements of $2,000 to $3,000 within the first three months. Ideally, you want to apply for the card when the offer is higher.

Often, United miles are worth about 1.3 cents apiece when redeemed for economy flights, which means it’s possible to get about $390 to $780 worth of airfare out of the sign-up bonus alone.

united mileageplus

United Explorer Bonus Categories

Although still not great, the earning rates on the United Explorer Card improved when they added some bonus categories. By using the card on purchases, you’ll earn:

  • 2X United miles per dollar spent directly with United Airlines
  • 2X United miles per dollar spent at restaurants (including delivery services, such as Caviar, DoorDash, GrubHub and Seamless) and hotels (when booking directly)
  • 1X United mile per dollar spent on all other purchases

How Much Are United Miles Worth?

As mentioned, United miles are often worth about 1.3 cents each, but the value you get out of your miles varies greatly. Do you fly domestically or internationally? Do you travel in peak times or off-peak? Do you prefer business class to economy? All these variables will affect your final valuations.

Needless to say, redeeming miles for international business class will net a higher return on your point, but it’s not uncommon to get more than 1.3 cents per mile in economy class, either.

United Explorer Card Benefits

The United Explorer Card costs $95 per year (the annual fee is waived with some offers) and comes with some great benefits. Let’s take a look at what that $95 gets you.

Two One-Time United Club Passes

Upon card approval, and then each year on your account anniversary, two digital United Club day passes (valued at $59 each) are loaded to your United MileagePlus account. The passes are valid for one year and get you one-time access to a United Club at a U.S. airport.

Free Checked Bags When Flying United Airlines

As a cardmember, you and one companion booked on the same reservation are entitled to one free checked bag when you fly with United. To be eligible for the free pieces of checked luggage, you must use your United Explorer Card to pay for the flight (or cover taxes on an award ticket).

United charges $30 for the first checked bag when you prepay in advance and $35 when you pay at the airport. As a United Explorer Card member, you and a companion will save up to $140 per each round-trip flight you take with one checked bag per person.

This perk can save you a lot of money if you regularly fly basic economy. Among the Big Three U.S. airlines, United applies the strictest rules to its basic-economy tickets and doesn’t even allow a free carry-on bag. With the United MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card, you can check a bag at no cost even on the least expensive ticket.

Global Entry or TSA Precheck Statement Credit

You can save up to $100 every four years by enrolling in one of the trusted traveler programs (either TSA Precheck or Global Entry) and using your United Explorer Card to pay for the enrollment fee.

TSA Precheck costs $85 and is valid for five years. Global Entry costs $100 and is also valid for five years. Global Entry also includes TSA Precheck in it, so you might as well enroll in Global Entry—the credit applies toward either program.

Global-Entry-or-TSA-PreCheck-Cre

Expanded Saver Award Availability

My favorite perk of holding the United Explorer Card is having access to more award space when I sign in to my MileagePlus account.

United separates its mileage flights into Saver and Everyday awards. Within those two, dynamic pricing also applies—this means that certain flights could require more miles based on demand.  Saver awards cost fewer miles.

As a MileagePlus cardholder, you get access to additional saver economy award space. This could mean being able to reserve a flight that works better with my schedule, has shorter connections or costs fewer miles.

The United Explorer Card also provides access to additional Everyday business class award space, but these rates are often quite steep.

Keep in mind that you will only see additional award space on United flights.

Priority Boarding

If you hold the United Explorer Credit Card, you’re eligible to board a United Airlines-operated flight before general boarding (but after elite flyers and those requiring special assistance).

This might not sound like a huge perk, but if you prefer traveling with carry-on luggage, the option to board an aircraft early gives you an opportunity to place your bag in one of the overhead bins—preferably one above your seat. This potentially saves you from having to gate-check a bag.

25% Discount on In-Flight Purchases

Should you get hungry aboard a United plane, use your United Explorer Card to pay for a sandwich and a premium beverage and receive 25% back on your card in the form of a statement credit.

In-flight Wi-Fi purchases also qualify for a 25% rebate when you fly United Airlines.

Upgrading Award Tickets

United Explorer Card holders who are also MileagePlus Premier elite members are eligible for complimentary Premier upgrades on United-operated flights. Keep in mind that the benefit doesn’t apply to travel companions or authorized users.

25% Bonus on Purchases Made with MileagePlus X

MileagePlus X is a mobile app that sells popular merchant gift cards and awards United miles. It’s similar to a shopping portal, except you purchase gift cards and not actual products. If a retailer you already shop at is on the MileagePlus X app, you can earn extra United miles per dollar spent on each gift card.

The benefit of being a United Explorer card holder is you get another 25% bonus on the total transaction, including the original point multiplier. For the bonus points to apply, simply link your card with the app and shop. You don’t have to pay with the United Explorer Card to get the additional miles, but it must be saved to the phone app.

Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection

Select Chase credit card members have access to Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection. By booking hotel rooms through the program, you qualify for special perks, such as daily breakfast for two guests, complimentary Wi-Fi, a room upgrade (if available), early check-in/late checkout (if available) and a benefit unique to each property, such as property credits.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

Every time you travel abroad and use your United Explorer Card to pay, you won’t have to pay fees on every transaction made overseas.

Travel Protection

If you use the United Explorer Card to pay for flights (including award ticket taxes and fees) or a rental car, you could be eligible for a variety of travel protections if you run into issues.

Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

The United Explorer Card offers primary auto rental collision damage waiver coverage. Simply decline the rental car company’s collision insurance, pay for the entire cost of the rental with your card and you’re automatically covered against theft or damage.

Baggage Delay Insurance

If your bags are delayed by six hours or more, you’re eligible for reimbursement of essential purchases, such as clothes or toiletries, for up to $100 per day for three days.

Lost Luggage Reimbursement

If your baggage is damaged or lost in transit, you qualify for up to $3,000 in reimbursements per eligible passenger.

Trip Delay Reimbursement

If your flight is delayed by at least 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you’re eligible for lodging and dining reimbursement of up to $500 per ticket.

Trip Cancelation or Interruption Insurance

If you cancel a trip for an illness or severe weather, you’re covered for up to $1,500 per person ($6,000 per trip) for prepaid nonrefundable expenses.

Cards to Pair with the United Explorer Card

If you’re looking for more ways to earn United miles, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

The card offers point transfer capabilities to 13 travel partners, including United MileagePlus. Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Sapphire Preferred can be transferred instantly to United at a 1:1 ratio to top up your balance.

With 2X points per dollar spent on travel and dining, you’ll be able to amass a healthy stash of points quickly.

If you’re an avid traveler, you might want to look at the Chase Sapphire Reserve instead. It’s a premium card with higher rewards earning rates (3X per dollar spent on travel and dining) and a list of perks, including travel credits, airport lounge access, TSA Precheck/Global Entry enrollment credits, complimentary DoorDash DashPass membership and Lyft Pink membership.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, you also have the option to transfer points to United MileagePlus at the same ratio of 1:1.

How Does the United Explorer Card Compare to the United Club Infinite Card?

The United Explorer Card is designed with a casual United flyer in mind—someone who doesn’t have elite status or the free baggage allowance that comes with it. The United Club Infinite Card, on the other hand, targets a frequent United flyer who spends a lot of time at the airport.

The most valuable perk of the United Club Infinite Card is complimentary United Club membership for you and up to two guests or immediate family (normally costs $550 for Premier 1K members to $650 for general MileagePlus members).

You can also check up to two free bags per passenger and earn 4X miles per dollar spent with United Airlines and 2X per dollar spent on dining and all travel, not just hotels. 

United Explorer CardUnited Club Infinite Card
Welcome bonus: 40,000 pointsWelcome bonus: N/A
2X per dollar spent with United Airlines4X per dollar spent with United Airlines
2X per dollar spent at restaurants and on hotel accommodations2X per dollar spent at restaurants and on all travel
2 United Club day passesUnited Club membership (for you and up to two guest / immediate family)
First checked bag freeFirst two checked bags free
Priority boardingPremier Access travel services
Expanded award availabilityExpanded award availability
TSA Precheck/Global Entry enrollment fee reimbursementTSA Precheck/Global Entry enrollment fee reimbursement
25% back on in-flight purchases25% back on in-flight purchases
Luxury Hotel & Resort CollectionLuxury Hotel & Resort Collection
Primary car rental insurancePrimary rental car insurance
No foreign transaction feesNo foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $95Annual fee: $525

The $525 annual fee on the United Club Infinite Card is nothing to sneeze at, but the benefits that come with the card speak for themselves. United Club membership alone can offset the fee easily if you visit the lounge at least nine times per year.

Is the United Explorer Card Worth the Annual Fee?

The United Explorer Card’s annual fee is $95, which is on par with most mid-range airline cards, so let’s recap the benefits you get as a card member.

First of all, the card lets you and one companion check one bag each at no cost when flying with United—that’s a savings of up to $70 per person per round-trip journey. If you use the benefit often, you’ll recoup the fee easily.

Second, you can apply for either TSA Precheck ($85) or Global Entry ($100) membership, pay for the application fee with the United Explorer MileagePlus Card and get your money back. Because Global Entry membership lasts five years, the perk amounts to $20 per year.

United Club day passes normally cost $59 a piece, and you receive two of them at the beginning of each year you hold the card.

Still, the most underappreciated benefit of a co-branded United credit card is the expanded economy award availability for cardmembers, and it’s probably one perk that can’t be measured in dollar amounts. It’s really hard to put a monetary value on flexibility, but I’d say it’s worth at least $95 per year.

Final Thoughts

If you fly United Airlines at least once per year, you might want to give the United Explorer Card a look. The miles can be used to book award flights on Star Alliance carriers, and the annual fee is manageable as long as you utilize the card’s perks.

As always, remember the Chase 5/24 rule and the Chase bonus restrictions before filling out a card application.