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Why You Should Get the United MileagePlus Explorer Card

By: Julie Szpira

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When starting in the points and miles hobby, most people want to sign up for credit cards that offer the largest bonuses and best perks.

Due to the Chase 5/24 rule, there are a handful of cards that are best acquired at the outset of beginning the hobby. Despite our advice to pick up 5/24 restricted cards we routinely hear of readers that choose to pass on signing up for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card.

The reason is almost always the same; “I don’t like to fly United.”

It’s understandable that a bad flight or poor customer service can lead to a customer choosing to take their business elsewhere.

Besides, we all have our preferred airlines, but the sign up bonus from the United MileagePlus Explorer Card can provide incredible value when flying on United or with one of their partner airlines.

Use United MileagePlus Miles to Fly Star Alliance Partners

If you don’t want to fly United, a fantastic use for United MileagePlus miles is to fly on any of the 27 Star Alliance airlines or even Aer Lingus. Star Alliance is the largest global airline alliance and serves more than 1,300 airports worldwide.

In the United States, United reigns supreme in Star Alliance. However, when traveling overseas, Star Alliance offers a variety of partners on which your MileagePlus miles can be redeemed.

United MileagePlus miles can obviously be redeemed for flights operated by United; but they can also be used to book awards on partner airlines. You will notice that the number of miles required for a particular route is sometimes different based on whether you’re flying United or one of their partners.

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United’s Star Alliance/partner award chart will be useful as you travel around the world.

For economy class, the same number of miles is required to fly on flights operated by United or one of their partners. For business class or first class flights, the number of miles required to fly one of their partners is slightly higher.

I used 90,000 United MileagePlus miles to book a business class flight from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Auckland (AKL), and I will not be on a single United flight for the entire trip.

If I were able to find availability on a United flight, the cost would have been 80,000 United MileagePlus miles. However, my routing includes partner airlines, so the number of miles required was slightly higher.

Now, my routing is a bit crazy, as I will fly on EVA Air from ORD to Taipei (TPE), ANA from TPE to Tokyo, and Tokyo Haneda to Sydney (SYD), and then complete my trip to Auckland on Air New Zealand.  This was by choice, as being on a plane in business class is just as fun for me as sightseeing when it comes to vacation!

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Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points To United

Let’s say you are looking for a European getaway.  A round-trip economy ticket from the United States to Europe will cost 60,000 United MileagePlus miles. Depending on the sign-up bonus at the time you apply, you should be pretty close to (or already have) the 60,000 miles required.
However, if you are a bit short of the necessary miles for a redemption, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be earned with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Ink Preferred. If you hold any of these three cards, you can transfer your points to any of nine airline partners and four hotel partners.

With one of these cards, you can also combine the points earned from the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited which can then be transferred.

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By opening a United MileagePlus Explorer Card, you can earn a bunch of MileagePlus miles, and then only use Ultimate Rewards points to top off your MileagePlus account when you want to book an award flight. This will allow you to save your Ultimate Rewards points for other redemptions.

Maximize Redemptions With The United Excursionist Perk

United’s award routing rules offer a free one-way ticket on round-trip award tickets, provided certain limitations are met. United calls this free one-way ticket the “Excursionist Perk”.

For your European getaway, you could add a free intra-Europe flight to your itinerary and still only pay 60,000 miles for the whole ticket.

That means that instead of flying round-trip from Newark (EWR) to Brussels (BRU) for 60,000 miles, you can fly EWR-BRU, with a flight from BRU to Rome (FCO) and fly back to EWR from FCO, and still only need 60,000 miles.

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Enhanced Award Availability For Cardholders

If you are holding the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, you are entitled to enhanced award availability through United.

When booking award travel during high demand periods, having access to extra award availability can be a huge advantage. This is especially important if you are not booking awards from one of United’s hubs. When flying from smaller airport markets, award options can be limited.

For a flight from Destin, Florida (VPS) to London (LHR), finding a one-way saver award for 30,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes/fees during peak summer travel is a steal!

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Use United MileagePlus Miles For Flights When Cash Prices Are High

I have found the most valuable use of my United MileagePlus miles is often for redemptions when I am booking last minute flights and the cash prices of flights are high.

My last three redemptions with United MileagePlus miles have been for one-way domestic economy tickets. Those tickets were each 12,500 miles, booked as saver awards, with the standard domestic taxes and fees of $5.60.

The cash price for each of these tickets were well over $400, as I was booking last minute.

While the cents per point (cpp) valuation for my tickets was not as high as an international business or first class redemption, using MileagePlus miles to book last minute tickets and attend events that are important to me is incredibly valuable.

If I were booking a $400 ticket with Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal, my tickets would have cost 26,666 points each with the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, and 32,000 points through the portal with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Preferred.

Having United MileagePlus miles allowed me to save my Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and book my award flights for fewer points/miles.

Free Checked Bags And Priority Boarding

When using the MileagePlus Explorer Card to purchase a United flight or pay taxes and fees on an award booking, the cardholder and one companion traveling on the same itinerary will receive their first bag checked for free.

The ticket must be paid for with the MileagePlus Explorer Card for the free checked bag benefit to apply. Simply being a cardholder will not provide a free checked bag if the ticket is purchased with a different credit card or with an airline credit.

The primary cardmember and companions on the same reservation also receive priority boarding on United-operated flights. The flight does not have to be purchased with the MileagePlus Explorer Card for the priority boarding benefit to apply. The benefit is associated with your MileagePlus account.

MileagePlus Credit Cards Offer A PQD Waiver For Elite Qualification

If you are hoping to earn elite status with United Airlines, but only book cheap fares that do not earn many Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs), you may have a hard time meeting the PQD requirement for Gold, Silver or Platinum elite status.

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card offers a PQD waiver, wherein a cardholder spending at least $25,000 in net purchases on their United credit card during a calendar year will not have to meet the PQD requirement for Gold, Silver or Platinum status.

The spend waiver does not apply to Premier 1K qualification, so meeting the required PQD threshold is necessary if you are want top tier status with United.

Final Thoughts

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is a card every travel enthusiast should consider. The versatility of United MileagePlus miles and the incredible value that can be found through United’s region based award pricing makes applying for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card a great idea—when the sign-up bonus is high.

Due to the Chase 5/24 rule, it’s important to remember to pick up this card before you fill all your 5/24 slots.

With proper card application planning, you will have a big chunk of United MileagePlus miles and be on your way to an amazing vacation before you know it.

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