United℠ Explorer Card review: Friendlier skies for loyal United passengers

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In a Nutshell

If you fly with United Airlines on a regular basis, the United℠ Explorer Card could help you score free flights thanks to a solid sign-up bonus and strong rewards rates. You’ll enjoy an extra level of comfort when you fly thanks to United Club lounge passes and priority boarding, too. Just make sure you’re comfortable committing to one airline.

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Pros Cons
Good sign-up bonus to help with flight redemptions United’s elite status doesn’t come complimentary
Nice travel and dining rewards No companion fare offer
Travel perks like priority boarding and lounge passes $75 fee for redemptions within three weeks of a flight
Annual fee is waived the first year of card membership (then $95) Annual fee kicks in during the second year

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United℠ Explorer Card

From cardholders in the last year

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4 things you need to know about the United℠ Explorer Card

1. Score rewards flights

With the United℠ Explorer Card, you can earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on qualifying purchases within the first 3 months your account is open.

And for a limited time, you can earn another 20,000 bonus miles if you spend at least $8,000 in total purchases in the first six months your account is open. Note that in order to be eligible for this limited-time offer, you must be a new United℠ Explorer Card holder. And if you’ve received a new-cardholder bonus for this card within the last two years, you won’t qualify.

You’ll earn another two miles for every $1 you spend on qualifying purchases, including tickets, with United. You can also earn two miles for spending on restaurants and on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel. And you’ll earn one mile per $1 on other purchases.

Combined with the sign-up bonus, these rewards could be enough to cover several flights within the U.S., though it all depends on where and when you’re traveling.

2. No companion fare offer

Unfortunately, the United℠ Explorer Card doesn’t come with a companion fare offer.

A handful of United’s competitors offer this feature on their co-branded credit cards. The rules for how to get this perk vary based on the airline, but essentially it allows you to earn discounted airfare on a second ticket, and sometimes a free ticket, apart from the taxes and fees.

Without a companion ticket, you’ll have to rely on your rewards to score flights for another passenger.

3. Relax and enjoy the ride

Even though the United℠ Explorer Card doesn’t include a companion ticket (or complimentary MileagePlus Premier status, for that matter), it does come with several flight perks to make your trip more comfortable.

  • Free checked bags: When you first get to the airport, you can check your first standard bag for free on United Airlines flights when you pay for your ticket with your card and include your MileagePlus number in your reservation. If you’re traveling with someone who’s on the same flight reservation, they can also benefit from this perk.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: You’ll receive a statement credit when you use your United℠ Explorer Card to apply for the Global Entry or the TSA PreCheck program. You can get up to $100 in statement credits to cover your application every four years.
  • Lounge access: Once you clear security, you can relax in a lounge as you wait for your flight. With the United℠ Explorer Card, you’ll receive two one-time United Club passes after account opening and every 12 months thereafter, as long as your account remains open.
  • Priority boarding: When it’s time for your flight, make sure you head over to the gate early to take advantage of priority boarding for you and your companion — as long as you’re both on the same reservation. Remember to use your card to book your flight and include your MileagePlus number in your reservation if you want to get this benefit.
  • Save on in-flight purchases: While you’re in the air, you can also save 25% on in-flight purchases for food, beverages and Wi-Fi when you use your United℠ Explorer Card.
  • No foreign transaction fee: Finally, if your flight takes you overseas, you’ll also enjoy no foreign transaction fees on your purchases.

4. Redeeming your miles

You can use your miles to book flights or upgrade your seat on United Airlines.

According to our points valuations, United MileagePlus® miles are worth around 0.79 cents each when redeemed toward domestic flights with United Airlines. That’s not one of the better rates among airline programs.

Still, the United℠ Explorer Card guarantees no blackout dates when you redeem miles for flights operated by United Airlines. But you’ll be hit with a fee of up to $75 if you use miles to book a flight that’s scheduled to take off in 21 days or less, so be sure to plan ahead when redeeming your miles.

You can also redeem your miles for hotels, cruises, Broadway shows, gift cards and merchandise like electronics, housewares and jewelry. But you’ll probably get less value than if you use your points toward flights.

Keep in mind that the United℠ Explorer Card has a $0 annual fee during the first year of card membership. After that, you’ll have to pay a $95 annual fee. That’s not bad, but you’ll need to decide if the value of the rewards you can earn with the card outweighs the cost.

Who this card is good for

The United℠ Explorer Card can be a great, cost-effective option for passengers who frequently fly with United Airlines. This card can help you save money, travel more comfortably and build loyalty status with the airline.

Those who fly with United only once or twice a year, or who prefer airline flexibility, might want to opt for a more versatile travel credit card. Ultimately, the value of the United℠ Explorer Card depends on how likely you are to redeem earned miles for flights on the airline.

Not sure this card is right for you? Consider these alternatives.

If you don’t fly with United Airlines on a regular basis, you might want to check out one of these other travel credit cards instead.