For purchases starting June 1st, 2013, the United Mileage Plus Explorer credit card will no longer assess foreign transaction fees on purchases outside the United States. The annual fee structure stays the same as before.
That brings it in line with the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred and more expensive United Club credit card.
It also makes it the only entry level credit card among the global U.S. airlines to offer no foreign transaction fees. Which makes sense since United has more international destinations than any other U.S. airline.
It’s not clear whether the legacy United Airlines cards like the Mileage Plus Select will get this benefit, but since they don’t get the free checked bag benefit our guess is no.
And the big question…
Why is there no Chip and PIN functionality built in as well? Lots of cards, including other Chase cards like the British Airways Visa Signature include it. So does the American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select.
We usually only recommend the United Club credit card with a $395 annual fee to people who plan to get real use out of the membership to the United Club airport lounges and can use that to justify the annual fee.
But starting June 1st United is adding a fee for the 2nd checked bag on flights to all regions in Asia. It goes from $0 to $100. That’s matching the $100 2nd bag fee on flights to Europe.
The United Club card is the only card that will waive the 2nd bag fee on United flights. So with $100 fees in place, just one roundtrip can save one person $200 in fees, and 2 people on a reservation $400 in fees. In other words, enough to cover the $395 cost of the card very quickly.
So if you have relatives who go to Asia a couple times a year and check 2 or more bags each time, this card becomes a no brainer. Same goes for Europe.
Just make sure you get the card before purchasing the tickets, as officially you need to do that to get the benefit. Though unofficially once the card is active the MileagePlus number associated with it usually gets the free bag benefits on existing tickets.
Delta SkyMiles are universally loathed for tough redemption for ‘jackpot’ rewards – expensive international business class seats at the lowest advertised miles price. Too often, because Delta.com has a flawed award booking engine, you’ll be shoved into unnecessary ‘mid’ or ‘high’ award redemptions that will cost you hundreds of thousands of miles.
But if you know where to look, there are some great hidden partner redemption options that can get you an award seat to otherwise tough destinations at the lowest advertised miles price, even when Delta.com is telling you otherwise.
The secret: international gateway flights from Delta’s partners.
So, to help you with searches, here are routes you can try that are flown by Delta partners that tend to have better availability than Delta’s own flights. It’s best to do a one-way search of the specific gateway flight to see the availability, and look date by date, don’t trust the Delta calendar. Bookmark this page to keep for next time you book an award.
- Sydney (SYD), Brisbane (BNE), Melbourne (MEL) via LAX
Lots of availability in both business and economy class. This is the hidden gem of the SkyMiles program that can save you thousands of dollars. You can check directly on Delta.com.
Availability can be surprisingly good, especially for routes within Europe. But gateway flights also have good success rates in both Business and Economy class, making Delta a good program for getting to Italy. Availability is on Delta.com.
- Rome (FCO) via BOS, JFK, LAX, ORD, YYZ
- Milan (MXP) via JFK
Air Tahiti Nui
- Tahiti (PPT) via LAX
Sometimes AirFrance code shares with Air Tahiti Nui will show up on Delta.com, but for the most availability, get a subscription to ExpertFlyer.com to check Air Tahiti Nui award availability directly. Or call Delta agents directly to check this specific route. Availability is generous.
- Seoul (ICN) from LAX, SEA, SFO, ATL, ORD, DFW, LAS, JFK, IAD
- Sao Paolo (GRU) from LAX
Availability is decent, but not great. Awards are subject to Korean Airlines’ blackout dates. These awards are helpful to get you to other parts of Asia, via Korean Airlines’ Seoul hub. You can check directly on Delta.com
- Guangzhou (CAN) via LAX (and some good holiday destinations in Asia and Australia beyond via a connection there)
Generous availability on an A380 for now - it’s not available on Delta.com, but you can check by registering for this free tool or call Delta directly and specify these routes. You may have to tell agents to manually request availability. Thanks blog Point me to the Plane for pointing out this oddity.
- Shanghai (PVG) from YVR, SFO, LAX, JFK
Generous availability – it’s not available on Delta.com, but you can check by registering for this free tool or call Delta directly and specify these routes.
Alaska can be helpful for getting to Hawaii or Mexico from the West Coast, with lots of non-hub flights. Availability is on Delta.com
- LIH (Kauai) – via OAK, PDX, SAN, SJC, SEA
- OGG (Maui) – via ANC, BLI, OAK, PDX, SMF, SJC, SEA
- HNL (Honolulu) – via ANC, BLI, OAK, PDX, SAN, SJC, SEA
- KOA (Kona) – via ANC, OAK, PDX, SJC, SEA
- SJD (Los Cabos) – via LAX, SAN, SFO, SJC, SEA
Modest availability - and can be checked via subscription to ExpertFlyer.com or calling Delta directly.
- Moscow (SVO) via LAX, MIA, IAD, JFK, YYZ, CUN (seasonal), PUJ (seasonal)
Availability is modest, and should be seen on Delta.com.
- London (LHR) via MEX
- Madrid (MAD) via MEX
- Shanghai (PVG) via TIJ, MEX
- Taipei (TPE) via YVR, SFO, LAX, JFK
Availability is not great, and can be checked via subscription to ExpertFlyer.com or calling Delta directly.
- Jeddah (JED) via JFK, IAD
Generous availabliity, and can be checked via subscription to ExpertFlyer.com or calling Delta directly. Note Saudia does not serve alcohol on its flights. Thanks blog View from the Wing for calling this out.
- Madrid (MAD) via JFK
Modest availability – it is part of FlyingBlue (the AirFrance / KLM program), which has significantly restricted availability to Delta SkyMiles. Can be checked on Delta.com.
What about Air France / KLM?
They are searchable on Delta.com, but availability has become so restricted to Delta SkyMiles that they are not very useful unless you plan far in advance.
How to do these searches
Our strategy is this. Look for the long international segment on its own by doing the following:
- Do a one-way search (either on Delta.com, or with outside tools we list below) – and check individual dates even if the Delta calendar says there is no availability.
- Work through key international partner routes to get you on the continent you’re looking for (or on the way to a continent you’re looking for) and write down the flight numbers and days that have availability.
- Then find flights that will get you to and from that long flight with more one way searches. Sometimes buying a cash ticket to position can be worthwhile.
- Book either by entering the specific flights in a multi-city search, or calling Delta directly with the flight numbers. When booking, agents may claim they can’t see your flight. Ask them to make sure they are checking to manually request availability as well.
It can be time consuming but if you want thousands of dollars in value out of your SkyMiles® these are the basic steps you’ll need to take.
> Click here to see the top Delta SkyMiles® credit card offers.