How to maximize the benefits of the United℠ Explorer Card

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In a Nutshell

If you love to fly United, the United℠ Explorer Card could be your ticket to better rewards earnings. But to get the most out of this card, you'll have to dig a little deeper.

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Whether you’re already a United℠ Explorer Card cardholder or thinking about applying, you should know how to maximize this airline rewards card’s impressive benefits.

Some of those benefits are more obvious than others. For example: Most co-branded airline cards come with hefty sign-up bonuses, and the United℠ Explorer Card is no different. For a limited time, you can earn a one-time bonus of up to 65,000 miles.

That’s one seriously nice perk, but did you know that several other benefits on the United℠ Explorer Card can be maximized to make this United Airlines-tied credit card even more enticing?

For starters, the United℠ Explorer Card gives you a taste of a few MileagePlus® Premier status benefits. Perks like priority boarding privileges, a free standard checked bag each for the primary cardholder and one companion traveling on the same reservation and United Club℠ access (two one-time passes each year for your card anniversary) are all included with the card.

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The United℠ Explorer Card also offers additional benefits. You’ll earn two miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, at restaurants, and on hotel stays. You’ll also earn one mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.

With no foreign transaction fees, this one’s a strong option for MileagePlus® flyers.

“The card is great for someone who travels with United frequently but not enough to earn elite status, because the card member still gets many of the [Premier Silver] status benefits,” says Gary Leff, credit card expert and writer for travel site View from the Wing.

There is no annual fee for the first year, and a $95 annual fee after that. So how can you get the most out of this airline rewards card? If you know your benefits and how to make the most of them, the perks of the United℠ Explorer Card can more than make up for the annual fee. Let’s dig a little deeper.

*We estimate the sign-up bonus can be worth $288 when redeemed through the associated rewards program. Here’s how we calculated the dollar value: In May 2018, our editors estimated the redemption value per mile. We multiplied the number of miles you could earn through the current sign-up bonus by that redemption value. You can learn more about our methodology here. The value of the sign-up bonus has been rounded down to the nearest whole dollar.


4 ways to maximize the benefits of the United℠ Explorer Card

  1. Pop into the United Club℠ twice a year.
  2. Take advantage of travel perks normally reserved for Premier status members.
  3. Waive the car rental company’s collision insurance (you don’t need it).
  4. Pack your card in your wallet for international trips.

1. Pop into the United Club℠ twice a year.

The United℠ Explorer Card gives you two one-time passes to any United Club℠ location each year on your card member anniversary. Without this benefit, you’d have to pay $59 for one-time access to any United Club℠ location, the airline’s exclusive airport lounge. That’s a $118 value, which will makes up for the card’s annual fee ($0 intro, $95 after first year) all on its own.

With the two United Club℠ access passes that come with this card, you’ll get a lot more than just complimentary snacks, beverages and Wi-Fi while waiting for takeoff.

“This is a key benefit that gives you access to help during irregular operations, such as when a flight is delayed,” says Leff. “You have access to reservation agents inside the club, which is better than what you might get waiting in a long line.”

What is a United Club℠ membership?

A general United Club℠ annual membership costs $550 or 70,000 miles, with varying membership rates based on your MileagePlus® Premier status. (There’s also an initiation fee of $50 or 7,000 miles for new or expired club memberships.)

United Club℠ membership benefits include complimentary bar service, light snacks and free Wi-Fi at more than 45 United Club℠ locations, as well as access to participating Star Alliance® affiliated airport clubs worldwide. You’ll also get agent assistance with reservations, seat assignments and electronic ticketing.

Check out our ranking of the best airline rewards programs.

2. Take advantage of travel perks normally reserved for Premier status members.

Even if you don’t fly with United enough to earn the benefits of the airline’s Premier Silver status, you can still enjoy a few Premier Silver-level perks as a United℠ Explorer Card cardholder.

“There’s overlap between the benefits of the United℠ Explorer Card and Premier Silver status benefits,” says Leff. “You don’t get all of them, but you get some of them.”

Premier Silver status benefits that you also receive with the United℠ Explorer Card include:

  • Priority boarding privileges. Note: This benefit isn’t quite the same. United℠ Explorer Card cardholders and companions traveling on the same reservation can board the plane before general boarding but after MileagePlus® Premier members.
  • Free first standard checked bag for you and an eligible companion each on United and United Express flights booked with the United℠ Explorer Card. Premier Silver customers and those traveling with them also receive the first checked bag (up to 50 pounds) free. Baggage allowances vary based on the class of service and your MileagePlus® status.

3. Waive the car rental company’s collision insurance (you don’t need it).

The United℠ Explorer Card comes with primary auto rental collision coverage. That means when you pay for a rental car with the card, this primary insurance kicks in before your own insurance if you damage the car. Coverage provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the car for theft and collision damage, and it applies to most rental cars in the U.S. and abroad. So go ahead and kiss that extra expense at the car rental desk goodbye — you’re already covered.

4. Pack your card in your wallet for international trips.

You won’t pay any foreign transaction fees when you use the United℠ Explorer Card outside of the U.S. You’ll still earn one mile per $1 spent on eligible purchases, even while you’re abroad, so the more you use the card, the more miles you’ll earn while saving on foreign transaction fees.


Bottom line

The United℠ Explorer Card is best for someone who flies United regularly but not enough to earn MileagePlus® Premier status, since it provides enough Premier-style benefits to make the card well worth the $95 annual fee after your first year.

The two one-time United Club℠ access passes you’ll receive on your anniversary each year add even more value to the card. If you pay attention to this card’s benefits, you’ll find more than a few reasons to smile every time you fly United.


Other airline credit cards to consider

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card is a good option for travelers who fly frequently on Alaska Airlines. If you prefer Alaska to United, this may be a better choice.

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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers double points on Southwest flights, plus an anniversary bonus. It’s a good option for travelers who fly frequently on Southwest Airlines.

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Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express offers similar rewards to the above cards. You’ll earn two miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and one mile per dollar spent on other eligible purchases.

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