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United Explorer Card Review

overall rating

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If you're a United loyalist, the United Explorer card may be a must-have. With multiple opportunities to rack up miles and a suite of airline-specific and general travel benefits, the card promises ample value to justify its annual fee. Even if you don't regularly fly with United, the airline's global reach through its own fleet and partner airlines provides travel opportunities that can potentially make the card worth your while.

United℠ Explorer Card

Overall Rating
United℠ Explorer Card
On Chase's Secured Site.
Current Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.49% - 23.49% variable
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, eligible delivery services, on hotel stays, and on United purchases. Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United ClubSM with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
how this card stacks up
When compared among all rewards cards in our database:
Low Fees
Security/Customer Experience
Low Interest
worst best

Full Review of United Explorer Card

  • Valuable rewards program

  • Special benefits every time you fly United

  • Several travel perks and protections

  • Fewer free checked bags than some other airline cards

Pros Explained

  • Valuable Points Rewards: Like many airline cards, the United Explorer offers 2 miles in the carrier's MileagePlus program for every dollar spent on flights and most other purchases from the airline. But this card also extends that rate to transactions with all restaurants and hotels (provided you book directly with the hotel), not only those that are partners to the carrier, as some other cards stipulate. According to our research, United miles are worth 2.19 cents on average. And, since the card's earning rate is a generous 2 miles per dollar spent on flights, restaurant and hotel purchases, you can end up earning substantial miles with your travel. When redeemed for travel on United that equates to a 2.19% return on spending, which is a real value. However, those are averages, and United doesn’t assign fixed mileage amounts to its rewards flights. So depending on when and for what flights you redeem your rewards, you may get more or less value than the average amount.
  • Relief from Certain Expenses: Like other airline credit cards, the United Explorer offers breaks on the cost of checking baggage and getting a fast-track pass through airport security. On every United/United-operated flight, you get a free checked bag for you and one other person on your reservation, a benefit that can save you up to $120 roundtrip. You also get a statement credit for 25% of your spending on in-flight purchases, including food, drinks, and Wi-Fi. You also get reimbursement for the cost every four years, of up to $100, off applying for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. The first program offers expedited security screening at U.S. airports while the second provides a way to bypass U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection lines, and includes TSA PreCheck eligibility.
  • Fairly Rich Travel Perks: Few travel credit cards with such a modest annual fee provide as many benefits as this one, beginning with priority boarding for flights. You also get two complimentary passes every year to United Club, the airline’s own airport lounge, which offers quiet respite from the hubbub of the airport, plus free drinks and food. The card insures you, too, against trip cancellation and interruption, including covering baggage loss and trip delays. You also get complimentary guest privileges at Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection properties, and other amenities.

Cons Explained

  • Fewer Free Checked Bags Than Other Airline Cards: With the United Explorer card, you and one more person on your itinerary will get one free checked bag. But if you’re flying with a family of four, you’ll still end up paying $70 each way if everyone checks a bag. Many other airline credit cards offer a free checked bag for more people. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, for instance, provides one free checked bag for up to nine people on one reservation.

This Card is Best For

  • Avatar for Loyalty Status Seeker Persona
    Seeks the recognition and perks of branded travel partner status
    Loyalty Status Seeker
  • Avatar for Frequent Flyer Persona
    Flies often for business or leisure
    Frequent Flyer
  • Avatar for Frequent Diner Persona
    Dines out regularly while traveling or in home city
    Frequent Diner
  • Avatar for International Traveler Persona
    Travels outside of U.S. on occasion or frequently
    International Traveler

Unsurprisingly, the United Explorer card is primarily designed for people who fly United, with mileage earnings and redemptions alike focused on the airline’s flights. 

The more you frequent the airline, obviously, the more compelling the card becomes. But even if you only fly once or twice a year with United, the card’s annual fee can be money well spent. For one, the card's introductory bonus is easily earned and is alone worth $800 or more when used for flights based on our valuations, on either United or 38 other international partner airlines. Its travel perks will help make those trips more comfortable and convenient.

Further, the card doubles as a decent dining-rewards card, with the same 2 miles-per-dollar spent earnings at restaurants as for United purchases. (The same applies to hotel spending as well, under certain conditions.)

United Explorer Card One-Time Offer

This card offers 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Based on Investopedia's average point valuation, the bonus is worth about $1098.5.

Rewards Earning Details

The card offers 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, as well as at restaurants and on eligible hotel stays.

Rewards Redemption Details

The best way to redeem your MileagePlus miles is to book flights through United Airlines. And while we calculated an average (and healthy) value of 1.98 cents per mile, it’s possible to get more than that for every point with the right redemption. (More on this in How To Maximize Your Rewards.) 

In addition to booking flights, you can also use your miles to upgrade a flight you've already reserved.

If you're not planning on flying United anytime soon, there are other redemption options available, but you may be better off waiting until your next flight. That said, you can also use your miles to:

  • Book hotel stays, rental cars and cruises
  • Buy Apple products or other merchandise
  • Purchase e-gift cards or use miles to buy gift cards through the MileagePlus X mobile app
  • Get tickets for Broadway shows, events and other unique experiences

Transferring Miles

You can't transfer your United MileagePlus miles to another airline. However, you can redeem your miles through the United Airlines website for flights on one of its many partner airlines, though some partner flights may require booking over the phone. 

That includes any member of the Star Alliance, as well as a handful of other codeshare and connecting partners. In all, you can use your United miles to book flights on more than 38 airlines around the world, giving you a lot of flexibility with where you can travel.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

As with any credit card with an introductory bonus, the first priority is to ensure you receive it. In this case, be sure to charge at least $3,000 to the United Explorer card in the first three months you own it. If that means charging everyday purchases for which you earn only the card’s default 1 point per dollar spent, do so; the generous bonus makes that more than worthwhile.

After you earn the bonus, make sure you use the card for all United flights, hotels, and meals out—the categories in which you earn the highest rewards of 2 points per dollar spent. 

Next comes the prudent redemption of your points for flights. To optimize this process, be prepared to do a little math researching different redemptions and calculating how much value you’re getting. If possible, be flexible, too, about your travel dates and even your destination.

To maximizing the value of your miles may require that you have some flexibility with your travel plans and try different itineraries to see which one will give you the best value. As you research different redemption opportunities, use the average value of 1.98 cents as a rough guide to whether it’s worth using your hard-earned miles on a particular flight or flights.

In our research, we found United flights bought with points ranged widely in value. At the upper end of the range, we found a flight from Chicago to Berlin in business class through partner Turkish Airlines for 140,000 miles plus about $100 in taxes and fees. There was no option to buy the flight with cash, so we priced the flight, with the same dates and class level, with other partner airlines. The best price we found was $3,050 plus $164 in taxes and fees. By paying for the flight in miles, then, and using the partner's ticket price, you’d essentially get a rate of 2.18 cents per mile, which is close to what we estimate United points are worth on average.

Conversely, we found other flights where points delivered below-par returns, For instance, we turned up an economy flight from Los Angeles to Chicago that cost $367 or 34,000 miles. That yields a redemption value of 1.08 cents per mile, or less than our estimated average value of United miles of 2.19 cents. In this case, if you want that flight, it might be better to pay cash for it and hold onto your points in the hope you'll get more value for them on a future trip.

Another way to rack up miles with the airline is to refer your friends and family members. For each person you refer who applies and gets approved, you’ll receive 20,000 miles. You can earn up to 100,000 miles a year in this way.

To calculate how much value you're getting per mile, divide the cash price of the ticket by the number of miles needed to book the same fare.

United Explorer Card's Outstanding Benefits

  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance: If you need to cancel or cut short your trip due to an illness, severe weather, or another covered situation, you can get reimbursed for up to $1,500 per person ($6,000 total) for non-refundable fares.
  • Trip-delay reimbursement: If you're traveling on a common carrier and your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you can get reimbursement for up to $500 per ticket for meals, lodging, and other unreimbursed expenses.
  • Baggage-delay insurance: If your luggage is delayed more than six hours, you can be reimbursed for up to $100 per day for three days for essential purchases such as toiletries and clothing.
  • Lost-luggage reimbursement: If a common carrier loses luggage, yours or that of an immediate family member, or it's damaged, you can get reimbursed up to $3,000 for the luggage and its contents.
  • Primary rental-car insurance: Unlike what most credit cards offer, the rental car insurance provided by this card is primary. This means that you don't need to file a claim with your personal auto insurance company before the card's coverage kicks in.

Standard Benefits

  • Travel accident insurance
  • Purchase protection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • Emergency card replacement and cash services
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Concierge services

Cardholder Experience

Among national credit card issuers, Chase, which issues this card, ranked fourth in J.D. Power's 2021 Credit Card Customer Satisfaction study. That said, its overall rating is only two points less than the average.

The bank offers access to your VantageScore credit score through its Credit Journey program, although the program is available for both cardholders and the general public. Your VantageScore credit score can give you a general idea of where your credit stands, but many other major card issuers offer free access to your FICO credit score, which is what lenders typically use.

If you have questions, Chase provides 24/7 phone customer service, which is standard in the credit card industry. You can also send a secure message through your online account if you need help, but it's not urgent. Account management is possible through your online account or Chase's mobile app.

Security Features

Chase allows cardholders to lock and unlock their card account through the mobile app, which isn't a standard feature among all major credit card issuers. This option can come in handy if your card is lost or stolen, and you want to avoid the headache of dealing with fraudulent purchases.

The United Explorer card also has contactless capability. With this feature, you simply tap your card to a contactless credit card reader instead of swiping or inserting it. It works faster than inserting your card but still provides the same level of security. Contactless credit cards are becoming more popular but aren't yet available from all credit card issuers.

Our Verdict

The United Explorer card offers United enthusiasts plenty of value, as is expected. But, despite its $95 annual fee after the first year, it’s also a card with appeal to those who don’t have a favorite airline and are willing to consider a branded airline card. 

This card allows United points to be earned on dining and hotels as well as flights on the airline, and its hefty and easily earned introductory bonus is alone enough to buy a few domestic flights on the carrier. The card's international reach through United's partner airlines, along with an attractive array of travel perks, only add to its appeal.

Next Steps
For United℠ Explorer Card
on Chase's Secured Site.
Compare This Card
See how this card compares to similar cards
United℠ Explorer Card
overall rating
Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.49% - 23.49% variable
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, eligible delivery services, on hotel stays, and on United purchases. Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United ClubSM with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary.
Investopedia Credit Card Rating Methodology
Investopedia is committed to delivering the best credit card recommendations in the industry. We’ll tell you when a card is good, we’ll tell you when a card is bad, and we’ll only call a card the best if we would recommend it to our friends or family members.
Overall Star Rating Explained
To rate credit cards we objectively assess, score and weight nearly 100 individual card features which roll up into five major feature sets: fees, interest, rewards, benefits and security/customer service. Here’s how we weighted those feature sets for the overall star rating of a card:
We have applied our proprietary rating methodology to every generally-accepted credit card in the U.S. domestic market to allow consumers to make fully informed choices. It’s important to note that for our overall score that we make a number of assumptions about how you would be using your credit card:
  1. While we make no assumption as to whether balances are carried on a given card we do assign varying weights to all credit cards’ introductory APR (if present) in addition to the regular, long term purchase and balance transfer interest rates.
  2. We utilize BLS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) income and average category spending data to calculate annual earnings rates for rewards cards that offer cash back, points or miles rewards at a set rate on all spending or in consideration of bonus rewards for certain spending categories, like gasoline, groceries, restaurants or travel.
  3. We determine the maximum points value of rewards cards by dividing the points, cash back or miles required to exchange for the retail price of the most valuable redemption option (for example, in the case of a card that offers a domestic roundtrip airline ticket as a redemption option vs. another redemption option of lesser value that requires the same amount of points or miles to acquire, we would base the rewards value on the airline ticket).
  • Cards that are selected best overall in their respective categories generally feature most if not all of the following attributes:
  • Low or Reasonable Fees Credit card fees come in many forms but the primary ones involve those for annual card membership and balance transfer. There are a myriad of reward and non-reward card options that charge no annual fee but for the many that do assess an annual fee the cost is often justified by their lucrative ongoing rewards and initial signup bonuses. Balance transfer fees are occasionally waived during introductory periods with certain cards, a factor which is heavily and positively weighted in our scoring model for cards offering this benefit. When charged, balance transfer fees range between 3% - 5%, which we grade accordingly. Other standard fees can generally be avoided, such as those for paying late or taking cash advances but we rate those relative to other cards in the market for reference, though with less weight assigned
  • Competitive Interest Many cards offer 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for varying lengths and then revert to a permanent or regular APR (based on a variable rate tied to the prime rate) that applies to any balances not paid in full. We rate both introductory APR percentage and length (in months) along with the midpoint of the variable regular APR interest rate range.
  • Valuable Rewards Credit card reward programs can be based on cash back, points or travel rewards (which can be generic or travel partner-specific, as with airline and hotel co-brand card programs). For cards that offer rewards we determine the value per dollar spent along with average redemption values and assign more favorable ratings to cards that offer superior consumer value. We also assign value to sign-up bonus offers and their initial spending requirements, when present.
  • Excellent Benefits Credit card benefits cover a range of offerings like concierge service, TSA Pre-check, auto rental coverage, travel accident insurance, lost luggage assistance and free credit scores. We rate cards on the number and level of over a dozen standard and upscale benefits and provide extra weighting emphasis for those travel-related perks that apply to premium travel cards when present.
  • Solid Security/Customer Service Security and customer service features like lost or stolen card replacement, being able to lock one’s card from an issuer app and 24 hour customer support are becoming more standard across the card market and we provide a significant amount of weighting to features in this area.
  • You can also read the full version of our methodology for a more in-depth look at how we assess cards and award them the best in various categories.