About United MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card

By J.R. Duren
HighYa Staff Updated on: May 12, 2017

Looking for the best airline rewards card? The United MileagePlus Explorer credit card is an excellent choice because of its travel-friendly benefits.

The United MileagePlus Explorer card is a credit card from Chase with an offer of 50,000 frequent-flyer miles if you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

You may have received emails or mail about this airline rewards card, or seen ads in your web browser. United also mentions the card on their flights, a good tactic considering they’re they were the fourth-busiest carrier in the world in 2014 with more than 90 million passengers.

Whether you’ve heard about the card or not isn’t as important as how you make your decision about this card. Airline rewards cards are everywhere, it seems, so it takes a little investigative work to find out which cards offer the best short-term deals (free miles/points, for example) and the best long-term perks.

You’ll also want to figure out what actual customers are saying about the card – all the perks in the world can’t negate an awful customer experience, right?

It’s also a good idea to do a couple of searches for rewards flights through the airline’s booking portal – you might find that certain airline rewards cards are more valuable because their points/miles can go a lot further.

Luckily, we’ve done all this work for you. We love doing credit-card research because it’s a confusing world, and consumers can find themselves in over their heads when it comes to miles, fees and other aspects of airline rewards cards.

We’re going to cover the following sections in this review:

  • Short-term benefits
  • Long-term benefits
  • Fees and penalties
  • The true value of your miles
  • Customer reviews

At the end of this article, we’ll give you our overall opinions about this card.

The Short-Term Benefits of the United MileagePlus Card

Short-term benefits on a credit card are any bonuses or waived fees you get the first year of owning your United MileagePlus Explorer card.

The purpose of these perks is to reel you in and get you to sign up for the card. Some consumers sign-up based on the bonus and it doesn’t always work out for them because, over time, the true value of the card isn’t so great.

As we mentioned earlier, new cardholders get a 50,000-mile bonus if they spend $3,000 in the first three months of owning their card.

You’ll have to set up a MileagePlus account to get these miles, and the miles usually take six to eight weeks to arrive once you’ve hit the spending threshold.

You can also get an additional 5,000 miles if you add an authorized user who makes a purchase in the first three months.

Pro tip: Chase offers the 50K bonus through a specific Explorer card website, www.theexplorercard.com. If you apply for the card through Chase’s website, you’ll get a 30K-mile offer.

The Long-Term Benefits of the United MileagePlus Explorer Card

We like to classify long-term benefits as perks and bonuses you get ever year, not just the first year. The United MileagePlus Explorer card has several benefits, some of which are industry standard and others which make it unique:

  • 10,000 bonus miles if you spend at least $25,000 in a year
  • Two United Club passes every year ($118 value)
  • One free checked bag every flight ($25 per flight)
  • Free priority boarding
  • 2:1 miles on United purchases, 1:1 on everything else

We think these long-term perks are valuable for frequent flyers. If the United MileagePlus Explorer card is the only one you use throughout the year, there’s a very good chance you’ll hit the $25,000 bonus.

Why? The average American household spends around $55,000 a year for all their expenses, and we estimate at least half of that can go on a credit card.

So, with the 25K miles from your purchases and the 10K bonus, you can plan on earning 35,000 miles every year with this card. As we talked about in our Best Airline Rewards Card of 2017 article, 35K miles is enough for one round-trip flight from L.A. to New York.

The MileagePlus Explorer’s other benefits are strong as well. Priority boarding is a welcomed perk for frequent travelers, as are two free passes to any of the airline’s United Club locations, which are members-only airport lounges where travelers can get varying degrees of free beverages, food and peace-and-quiet.

Pro tip: The free-bag allowance is only good on United or United Express flights. If you book what’s known as a “codeshare” (United flight operated by another carrier), you don’t get the free bag allowance.

Travel Protection

You’ll also get reimbursed up to $500 if your flight is delayed at least 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, up to $12,000 in reimbursements if you have to cancel a non-refundable trip and up to $3,000 in coverage for lost luggage.

Purchase and Auto Rental Protection

The United credit card’s long-term benefits aren’t limited to travel.

MileagePlus Explorer cardholders get auto rental CDW (collision damage waiver … insurance, basically), 120 days of purchase protection (reimbursement for stolen or damaged items you buy) and price protection (reimbursement if an item you by goes down in price within 90 days).

In our opinion, the MileagePlus Explorer card’s extensive benefits make it a top-three airline rewards card.

The United MileagePlus Explorer’s Fees and Penalties

Every Chase credit card has a “Pricing & Terms” document that talks about the fees and penalties you might have to pay. The MileagePlus Explorer card is no different:

  • APR: From 16.49% to 23.49% depending on your credit scores and credit history
  • Balance transfer fee: 5% of the amount you transfer
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Late fees: Up to $37
  • Annual fee: $95

The fees you see here are pretty standard for airline rewards cards. All of them charge an annual fee that helps them offset the cost of giving you free travel rewards.

As for APR, the United MileagePlus Explorer card is at the back of the pack with its low-end APR of 16.49%. Both the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select and the Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express cards have lower APR’s.

The True Value of the United MileagePlus Explorer Card’s Miles

In our 2017 rankings of the best airline rewards cards, we did some in-depth research on the value of rewards miles.

You see, it’s not just how many miles you get from a card, but how many miles a flight will cost you. A round-trip rewards flight from Los Angeles to New York will cost you 60,000 miles on Delta, whereas the same flight on Virgin America costs less than 19,000 miles.

United’s rewards flights are pretty reasonable. You can find round-trip flights starting at 25,000 miles, which is a great deal considering you get 50,000 bonus miles if you hit the spending limit with your MileagePlus Explorer card.

Two free flights sound great, right? Better yet, there aren’t any restrictions or blackout dates when you use your miles, which means you can pretty much book any flight you want as long as there’s an open seat.

Here’s the catch: United has a limited number of 12.5K seats. If you don’t book early enough, those cheap seats will disappear and you’ll be stuck paying 25,000 miles for each leg of your trip.

Another thing you may not think about is flight times. United’s cheapest rewards flights usually leave early in the morning or late at night.

If you’re flying by yourself, it may not be a problem. However, families who need reasonable departure times should remember they’ll probably end up paying 50K miles per flight instead of 25K.

I ran into this problem when I was trying to book seats from Jacksonville to San Diego for myself and my wife (our toddler sat on our lap). United’s 12.5K seats were available on planes that left before 7 a.m., which makes for a long day for a family traveling with little ones.

I was disappointed we couldn’t get the two free flights I’d hoped for, but I found a middle ground. We booked cheap one-way flights from JAX to SAN on Delta. Then, on the way home, we used our United miles to book seats on a mid-morning flight.

All in all, we think United’s rewards seats offer decent value, but you’ll most likely have to give up good flight times on at least one leg of your flight to get the cheapest seats.

What Other People Are Saying About the United MileagePlus Explorer Card

As one of the more popular travel cards on the market, the United MileagePlus Explorer has a high profile on many credit card and personal finance sites. That’s good for you, because it gives you a broad idea of what people think about the card.

NerdWallet

The MileagePlus Explorer had 41 reviews at the time of publishing, combining for an average score of 2.7 stars. Many of the positive reviews of the card said the big up-front bonus was nice, the card’s long-term perks were great and that the card was one of their favorites.

Negative reviews were varied. One expressed disappointment that the free-bag allowances didn’t work for code shares, while another said they tried to use their United Club passes on two different occasions and were turned away both times because there wasn’t any room for “temporary passes.”

Credit Karma

More than 25 reviewers gave the United MileagePlus Explorer card 4 out of 5 stars. Credit Karma awarded the card its Cardholders’ Choice away.

Customers noted they were happy with how quickly miles showed up in their account after hitting their spending milestone. Several reviewers also said they received generous credit limits.

One of the negative reviews is worth noting. The person pointed out that United charges $75 if you book a reward seat less than 21 days before the flight.

We checked out this tip and also discovered you’ll be charged $100 if you make a change to your flight less than 21 days before your departure day.

Reviews Summary

We believe these two review sites represent the general feeling people have about the United MileagePlus Explorer card:

  • Great perks (Club passes, free bag, priority boarding)
  • Miles arrive quickly
  • Easy to use
  • Fees for booking late
  • No free bag on United codeshares

Our Final Thoughts About the United MileagePlus Explorer Card

The United MileagePlus Explorer card is one of the best airline rewards cards for consumers who want a comprehensive rewards experience.

Nice Perks

One free checked bag, priority boarding and yearly passes to United’s airport lounges are great perks for people who travel often. Two round-trip flights will earn you enough free baggage to pay for the annual fee on your card.

Possibility for Two Flights

United’s rewards flights guarantee you can get at least one round-trip flight with your 50,000-mile bonus. If you’re willing to cash your miles in for a flight with an early or late departure time, you can squeeze two round-trip flights out of your miles.

The Downside

In our opinion, the downside to this card is its limited cheap rewards seats, as well as its APR. We also think it’s a bit of a disappointment that codeshare flights don’t honor United’s one-free-bag policy for cardholders.

Perfect For

If you are the kind of traveler who likes to get all the perks and who knows you’ll use free airport lounge passes, we think this could be a great card for you.

However, if you’re looking for a card that can get you the most free flights and you don’t care about priority boarding or lounge passes, take a look at the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card. Based on our research, we think you’ll be pleased with how cheap the airline’s rewards flights are.

Consider a Travel Rewards Card

Airlines reward cards aren’t your only option for free flights, though. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card gives you 50,000 bonus points you can transfer 1:1 to United’s MileagePlus program or to several other domestic and international carriers.

The downside to using a travel reward card, though, is that you won’t get the free bags, lounge passes and other benefits related to an airline-branded credit card.

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