If you fly United, it’s hard to miss the ads for the United Explorer card throughout terminals and on their website. You might already have an older United card and are considering switching to the Explorer Card, or are thinking about getting one for the first time.
United miles are among the most useful around, especially for long international travel thanks to its many airline partners, and the Explorer Card earns a basic 1 mile per dollar on most purchases. There are several cards that can earn you United miles, but you’ll get the most value out of the Explorer if you can take advantage of one of these benefits:
If the checked bag benefit isn’t useful to you, there are other cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred which could earn you United miles more quickly, but don’t have the free checked bag and priority boarding benefits. You can compare how they stack up for earning miles based on your spending at MileCards.com’s card finder. They all offer no foreign transaction fees when you travel and the Explorer Card has no annual fee the first year, then $95 after, which is pretty standard for airline branded cards.
The checked bag can save you $100 roundtrip if you’re traveling as a couple and both of you check bags, but not all of us check bags. So think about how often you really do check bags on flights, and if it’s more than a couple times a year, then carrying the card could be worthwhile just for that. Also remember that some international destinations already give a first checked bag free, so this benefit is most useful for domestic flights and trips to places like the Caribbean and Latin America.
Just be aware that you must purchase your United tickets with the card to enjoy the checked bag benefit. It’s an annoying requirement, as American and Delta don’t make you do that for the free bag that comes with their cards, but that’s how it works at United, so keep that in mind when deciding.
Priority boarding is helpful, but you have to set your expectations straight to get the most out of it. It doesn’t mean you’re the very first to board the plane, as that’s a privilege reserved for the most frequent fliers, people who are flying 75,000 miles or more a year, as well as people in first class.
But it does mean you can board with ‘Group 2′, which includes many of United’s frequent fliers, even those who fly over 50,000 miles a year, so the benefit gives you a decent edge on other passengers who are in Groups 3 – 5. United makes the boarding lanes pretty clear with big signs pointing to Group 2 so you can line up there if you’d like to get an early crack at overhead bin space.
On some flights that are heavy with business travelers you’ll find that over half the plane is lining up to board with Groups 1 and 2, but on other flights that are filled with more people headed on vacation you’ll have less competition for early boarding and can settle in well ahead of the rest of the plane.
Regardless of the situation you can bring your traveling companions along with you in the priority boarding lane.
You can get the intro bonus for this card even if you have an older United card like the MileagePlus Select.
The Explorer Card is like a Swiss Army knife when it comes to travel protection and it’s surprisingly good for an entry level card.
First, you get primary collision damage coverage when you rent cars with the card. Unlike most cards, which only provide secondary coverage, you don’t need to file a claim with your own insurance company if your rental car gets damaged. That can save you from higher premiums on your own policy if you end up damaging your rental.
It also has good coverage if your trip gets delayed.
You’ll get up to $500 reimbursed if your flight is delayed 12 hours or more and you’re stuck paying for hotel rooms, meals, or other reasonable expenses the airline won’t cover.
That’s especially helpful for times when your flight is delayed or cancelled due to weather, because in those cases the government doesn’t require the airlines to help you out, and you’re stuck in the terminal or worse.
There’s also generous trip cancellation coverage in case you or a family member gets sick and can’t make your trip or need to cut it short.
This package of coverage is rare – American Express doesn’t offer trip delay protection with any of its cards, even premium ones that cost more than $400 a year. And if you want to buy a package of trip delay and cancellation coverage separately it can often cost you $25 or more per trip.
With the Explorer Card all you have to do is buy your plane ticket with your card for travel any airline (it doesn’t have to be United) and you’ll be covered.
It even covers tickets you buy with your frequent flier miles, as long as you use the card to pay any associated fees.
If you’re already a MileagePlus Premier level flyer, the free checked bag isn’t of much help since you’re already eligible for that benefit.
But there is one benefit you can only get if you hold an Explorer Card or its more expensive cousin the Club Card.
It’s the ability to get your elite upgrades when you’re flying on an award ticket. If you hold the card your upgrades will process like they normally do on cash tickets whenever you fly on an award.
If you are a business owner looking for a United card for business spending. There is an Explorer Card for business that has extra features like 2x points on dining spending, and you can also consider the Ink Plus and Bold Cards, which each earn points you can transfer into your United account at any time, but also give you the flexibility to transfer them to many other programs like Southwest and Marriott.
If you fly United a few times a year and check bags, the card is worth it for the free bag benefit alone. Otherwise, if priority boarding or primary car rental collision coverage aren’t interesting to you, the Chase Sapphire Preferred might offer you more flexibility since the points it earns can be transferred to United as well as several other airlines. It’s probably worth trying our CardFinder tool to see whether the Explorer or Sapphire Preferred will earn you more miles based on your spending habits.
Leave a comment below -- we'll reply shortly -- no need to use your real name. Or, use the email form at the top of the page for private advice.
"These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered."
We may be compensated when a consumer chooses some products linked from this site.
We make an effort to include the best deals available to the general public, but make no warranty that such information represents all available products. Fees or terms could change at any time and the reader is solely responsible for any decisions made using information on this site.