United Explorer Card Review: Is It Worth It?

By J.R. Duren
HighYa Staff
Updated on: Jul 20, 2019

The United Explorer Card is an airline credit card from Chase that provides frequent flyer miles and other bonuses to make air travel free or discounted.

The card is the only one of its kind for United and, unlike many other airline rewards cards, is the only one to offer free passes for United airline lounges.

Chase’s lineup of United cards includes the TravelBank and the Club, too. The TravelBank is a no-annual-fee card, while the Club is a luxury card with a high annual fee. The Explorer finds the value middle-ground between the two.

In this review, we’ll give you our analysis of the card’s rewards, talk about the extra benefit it provides, then move into its rates and fees. We’ll compare the card to its competition and conclude with a section on who we think the card is good for, as well as what its strengths and weaknesses are.

How the United Explorer Card’s Rewards Work

Quick Facts
United Explorer Card
Pros: Above average yearly rewards, no first-year annual fee, two free United Club airport lounge passes each year, double points on dining and groceries, excellent flight perks.

Cons: Cheapest rewards seats on flights are more expensive than Southwest and JetBlue.

Estimated Yearly Travel Rewards: 41,045 miles
Sign-Up Bonus Annual Fee Regular APR
40,000 miles $0 for the first year, then $95 18.24% to 25.24%
Rewards Rate: 3x on travel and dining, 1x on everything else

When you first get your Explorer Card in the mail, the clock is ticking on the first main way to earn rewards, which are miles you can use through the United frequent flyer program.

This first way to earn miles is called a “sign-up bonus.” If you can spend $2,000 in the first three months you own your card, then Chase will send 40,000 miles to your United frequent flyer program. The program is called “MileagePlus.”

If you don’t have a MileagePlus account, Chase will set one up for you after you submit your credit card application.

The Explorer Card fine print says it will take between six to eight weeks for those bonus points to show up in your MileagePlus account.

As you’re spending to get the 40,000 miles, you’ll discover that you are earning points on every purchase you make to. This is the second way to earn rewards with the card.

The Explorer card gives you two miles for every dollar you spend with United and at restaurants and hotels, and one mile for every other dollar you spend, minus a select few types of transactions (casino chips, gambling accounts, traveler’s checks, etc.).

To calculate how many miles you’ll earn each year with this card, we assume your household will spend around $30,000 on the card. We believe you’ll most likely spend around:

  • $1,000 on airfare: 2,000 miles
  • $3,365 eating out: 6,730 miles
  • $500 on hotels: 2,000 miles
  • $25,315 on everything else: 25,315 miles

This spending pattern means you’ll earn 35,045 miles per year. The final way to earn points is through a 6,000-point bonus Chase gives you on your cardmember anniversary. This extra bonus brings your yearly total to 41,045 miles.

To understand the value of those miles, you need to understand how many miles United requires to book a flight.

To figure this out, you can go to United.com and choose to view the cost of a flight in miles instead of cash. We researched the miles and cash prices of United flights on the three most popular routes in the country:

  • New York (EWR) to Los Angeles: 25,000 miles ($237.00)
  • Los Angeles to San Francisco: 19,000 miles ($127.00)
  • New York (EWR) to Chicago: 25,000 miles ($207.00)

As you can see, your 41,045 miles are good enough for one round-trip per year. Now, the prices we’ve shown here are basic economy seats. These are the cheapest seats on United flights. You can’t bring a full-sized carry-on and you can’t pick your seat. You also board last.

However, as you’ll discover in the next section, the benefits that come with your United Explorer card negate those restrictions.

Travel Perks and Benefits You Get with the United Explorer Card

We believe the strength of this credit card lies in its additional benefits. As someone who probably flies more than the average person—or just someone who is planning an upcoming trip and wants to generate rewards miles—it always helps to have some extra travel-day perks.

The United Explorer Card gives you the following:

  • Reimbursement for expedited security applications
  • Two free United Club airline lounge passes
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% back on in-flight purchases

What we like about this list of rewards is that it takes care of you from the moment you get to the airport through to the point you’re in the air and ready to buy snacks or drinks.

When you book your flight with your Explorer Card, you’ll get one free checked bag. Your next perk is complimentary expedited security via the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck federal programs.

The application fees for these programs range from $85–$100. If you pay the fee, Chase recognizes the charge and will give you a statement credit equivalent to the application fee within 24 hours. You get the reimbursement once every four years.

Once you’ve made it through security, you’ll get priority boarding at the gate. This status allows you to get on before general boarding. You won’t have to deal with long lines in the jetway as you wait to get on the plane. You’ll also have an easier time finding space for your carry-on.

When you’re in the air, you’ll earn 25% back on any purchases you make with your card for food, beverages and/or Wi-Fi.

The United Explorer Card’s Rates and Fees

There are a lot of good things the Explorer Card can offer you. However, just like any credit card, this one has rates and fees that could cost you in the long run. We’ll talk about those possible drawbacks after the list below:

  • Interest rate for purchases and balance transfers: 18.24% to 25.24%
  • Interest rate for cash advances: 27.24%
  • Penalty interest rate: None
  • Balance transfer fee: $5 or 5%, whichever is greater
  • Cash advance fee: $10 or 5%, whichever is greater
  • Foreign transaction fee: None
  • Late/returned payment fee: Up to $39
  • Annual fee: $0 first year, $95 after

The main concern here (and with every card) is the interest rate. If you don’t pay off your entire balance by your due date, Chase will charge you interest based on an APR (“annual percentage rate”) between 18.24% and 25.24%.

It’s hard to understand what those numbers mean in real life. We’ve created the following chart to help you see how much three different interest rates can cost you per year based on five different average daily balances:

18.24% APR for one year 20.24% APR for one year 25.24% APR for one year
$1,000 daily balance $182.40 $202.40 $252.40
$2,000 daily balance $364.80 $404.80 $504.80
$3,000 daily balance $547.20 $607.20 $757.20
$4,000 daily balance $729.60 $809.60 $1,009.60
$5,000 daily balance $912.00 $1,012.00 $1,262.50

The bigger the balance you carry, the higher the interest you’ll pay, especially if you have the highest APR in the chart.

Chase determines your interest rate based on your credit scores and credit history. If you have recent bankruptcies or multiple payments more than 30 days late, there’s a good chance Chase will give you the highest APR.

How the United Explorer Card Compares to Other Airline Rewards Cards

To this point, we’ve talked about the United Explorer Card’s rewards, benefits and rates and fees in the context of the card itself.

In this section, we’ll discuss how all those features compare to cards from American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue:

United Explorer Card AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard Frontier Airlines World Mastercard Gold Delta SkyMiles Card Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card JetBlue Plus Card Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Sign-up bonus 40,000 miles 60,000 miles 40,000 miles 35,000 miles/$50 statement credit 40,000 points 40,000 points 50,000 miles
Rewards rates 2x/2x/2x/1x 2x/1x 5x/3x/1x 2x/1x 2x/1x 6x/2x/1x 2x/2x/2x/1x
Yearly miles/points on $30,000 spending 35,045 31,000 40,730 31,000 31,000 42,428 36,420
Number of free bags 1 1 None 1 2 1 1
Priority boarding Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes
Global Entry/ TSA PreCheck Yes No No No No No No
In-flight discounts 25% $25 per year/25% No 20% No 50% 25%
Annual fee $0 first year/$95 after $99 $79 $0 first/$95 after $99 $99 $0 first year/$99 after
APR 18.24% to 25.24% 18.24%, 22.24% or 27.24% 18.24%, 22.24% or 27.24% 17.99% to 26.99% 18.24% to 25.24% 18.24%, 22.24% or 27.24% 18.24% to 26.24%

In our opinion, the United Explorer Card is one of the best cards in the chart. Its sign-up bonus and yearly rewards are average. However, it is the only card that gives you a free bag, priority boarding, a reimbursement for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, an in-flight discount of at least 25% and no annual fee the first year.

This overall combination is really hard to beat, especially considering that list of leading characteristics doesn’t even include the two free United Club airport lounge passes you get each year or the 6,000 anniversary points.

We believe the closest card in terms of value and rewards is the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard. It has a bigger sign-up bonus than the Explorer and it provides a $99 companion ticket every year if you can spend $20,000.

However, it doesn’t offer the security application fee and its highest APR is a two percentage points higher than the United Explorer Card, a fact you should pay close attention to if you have lower credit scores (between 650 and 675).

The Bottom Line: Pros and Cons, and Who This Card Is Good For

Based on our research, we believe the United Explorer Card’s greatest strength is that no other card can match the rewards and benefits it offers.

Also, United’s cheapest rewards flights range in price from 18,000 to 25,000 points, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to earn a free flight based on your yearly point totals.

The card has few downsides. The one criticism we have is that the airline’s cheapest rewards tickets tend to be pretty limited, so if you don’t book early enough, your round-trip rewards cost could double.

We believe this card is a great fit for someone who flies United frequently and is looking for ways to earn additional rewards points. We also think it’s a great fit if you don’t have an airline preference and want a card that provides excellent all-around value.

Read 6 United Explorer Card Customer Reviews and Complaints

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Average Customer Rating: 1.0
Rating Snapshot:
5 star: 0 4 star: 0 3 star: 0 2 star: 0 1 star:  6
Bottom Line: 0% would recommend it to a friend
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  • 2 out 2 people found this review helpful

    Never received statement credit

    • By K. Wolf,
    • Hillsborough, NJ,
    • Sep 21, 2017
    • Verified Reviewer

    On August 24th, I signed up for this card when booking a United flight for my family to the Bahamas. As you go through the booking process, you are constantly bombarded with banners to get the United MileagePlus Explorer card. I do not usually sign up for cards that have a membership fee, but they were offering a statement credit.

    During the application process, I called Customer Service because I was having issues with applying. When we were finished, I called back customer service to make sure that I was receiving what I signed up for. At the time it was a $50 statement credit with 40,000 bonus miles. She said no problem and I would see it on my next statement.

    The next day I was booking another flight to Savannah, Georgia and to my surprise, a banner popped up offering a $100 credit with the same mileage award. I promptly called customer service, and they said they would now issue a $100 credit. I called again on September 5th, and they assured me that I would be receiving the statement credit.

    Well, today I received a letter telling me that I was only eligible for miles. Again, I called customer service and they said could do nothing. Beware of this card; they do not honor their promises.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 2 out 2 people found this review helpful

    Beware of United MileagePlus Explorer Card!

    I paid with my United MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card for kitchen and bathrooms cabinets to Kitchen Classics in Pleasant Hill, California, a company who after a few months of false promises didn't deliver the cabinets and closed for business. After notifying United MileagePlus Card about the closure and the fact that numerous customers have been defrauded, I requested a refund, but this card declined my request and doesn't want to reimburse several thousand dollars I had paid them.

    BEWARE, United MileagePlus Credit Card will not stand behind its customers and couldn't care less about consumer protection.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 2 out 2 people found this review helpful

    Credit card insurance benefits - beware.

    • By David J.,
    • Denver, CO,
    • May 17, 2019
    • Verified Reviewer

    The benefits that are advertised may be real, but they are very narrow and may be useless in some situations.

    My flight was canceled (by United) due to weather. If you read the benefits quickly, you might think that non-refundable expenses, charged to the card such as hotel, would be covered. But NO.

    Only travel (flight, railroad, cruise) expenses are covered. And those expenses are likely to be reimbursed if you are not responsible for the cancellation (so no benefit).

    So beware. Read carefully and expect that United is only going to provide a benefit that is unlikely to be paid.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 1 out 1 people found this review helpful

    Not possible to redeem award points

    • By Katheryn,
    • Great Falls, VA,
    • Dec 12, 2017
    • Verified Reviewer

    After a year and a half of having the MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card, it is a scam. It took an extra 4 months and several calls to get my initial points in the first place, and when I recently went online to try and redeem my $460 worth of award points, it was not possible at all.

    I tried to redeem them for gift cards of all sorts - the errors that occurred could not be resolved because there was no department in place to handle them. So then I tried to book a rental car - only a reservation was made and no points were used for the car payment. So then I tried to buy an electronic device with an additional $50 of my own only to have my own money STOLEN - the additional $50 was withdrawn from my personal account but the device purchase was never completed and I was never able to get it, OR MY OWN MONEY BACK. I then thought oh-well I can book an upcoming flight - NOPE. It only allows 25K of points to be used on each flight before you have to pay additional money out of pocket. Is this a joke? These points are not real!

    Total scam when it comes to point redemption. BEWARE. Do not get this card!

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 1 out 1 people found this review helpful

    Changed benefits

    • By Bob P.,
    • Richland, WA,
    • Jun 20, 2019
    • Verified Reviewer

    When I signed up for United Card the offer was for $250 credit plus 25,000 mile (both me and my wife). When we got approved a week and a half later the offer change to 40,000 miles for me and 20,000 miles for her and not $250 credit. I called and now they are saying we used the wrong link, asked to sent me information but said cannot provide that. Just be careful what you sign up for, Chase will change it.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • Chase doesn't own up to it's $250.00 statement credit offer.

    • By Khadi M.,
    • New Jersey,
    • Aug 14, 2019
    • Verified Reviewer

    Like many others that I have found on this site and also on the United Airlines Flyertalk forum, many people have been frauded by the explorer card's offer of a $250 statement credit after their first airline ticket purchase on UA. They are not honoring this offer and I've been told the same line of bunk as the others. I guess the next thing is to file a consumer complaint with the FTC and let them get involved. Be very very wary of any Chase United A. cards. It's not the airline, it's Chase. Just don't believe anything they say.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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