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United MileagePlus® Explorer Card Review – Offering Friendlier Skies

by on Sun June 1, 2014 • 84 Comments
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Explorer CardIf 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.

Who should get this card?

There are several cards that can earn you United miles, but you should consider the Explorer Card if you value at least one of these benefits:

  1. A free first checked bag for up to 2 people in your reservation on United Airlines flights – this can save you $25 per bag
  2. Priority boarding for everyone in you reservation so you can stow your carry ons more quickly
  3. A 10,000 mile annual bonus each year you spend $25,000 on the card. That’s like earning 1.4 miles per dollar on your spending.

If the checked bag benefit isn’t useful to you, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a card that can might earn you United miles more quickly. That’s because it earn 2x points on all dining and travel spending, and the points it earns can be transferred directly into your United mileage account, but it doesn’t have the free checked bag and priority boarding benefits.

You can compare how the Sapphire stacks up to the Explorer for earning miles based on your spending using MileCards.com’s Card Finder tool.

They both offer no foreign transaction fees when you travel and both have no annual fee the first year, then $95 after, which is pretty standard for airline branded cards.

How does the free checked bag work?

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.

What is priority boarding?

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.

What’s the bonus like?

You can get the intro bonus for this card even if you have an older United card like the MileagePlus Select.

The current public offer is available here, but sometimes there are higher offers with a different spending requirement if you apply via a Chase branch, and we talk about those here.

How robust is the travel protection?

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.

Are there benefits for Premier members?

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.

What about business owners?

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 card, which each earn points you can transfer into your United account at any time, but also gives you the flexibility to transfer them to many other programs like Southwest and Marriott.

Conclusion

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.

 

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84 thoughts on United MileagePlus® Explorer Card Review – Offering Friendlier Skies

  1. Ann Nguyen

    So we ‘ve had the MileagePlus card for a while now. We love it! My question is if we buy the United tickets from Expedia and we do pay with our MileagePlus card, do we still get one free check bag? Please advise!

    Reply
  2. Fred

    Hi, I read from your previous answers that canceling the card before one year to avoid the $95 fee is OK and no penalties incurred. Is this common practice among point hunters? If I decide to do so, can I re-apply for the card for the second time or am I going to be blacklisted? Thanks for your answer.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Fred – Chase allows a new bonus 24 months after you last received a prior bonus, regardless of when you cancelled your card.

      Reply
  3. Mary

    When I fly using reward miles and I need to purchase additional tickets for my children, there is a glitch in the system, online and when you pay united to book it over the phone. It happens everytime I fly on a “reward” ticket. I am not able to book my companions together which in turn charges me for the companion’s first bag. In my opinion, this is not a reward, it is a punishment. I have been asking for this to be fixed ever since United was Continental and it was a Continental Card. I don’t understand why it can not be programmed to automatically make the companion bag free, once reservations are linked and paid for with the credit card. It is not my fault that I am booking my kids separately it is united’s system. Please make it easier for people who do not fly alone to reap the benefits of this card. I am so tired of the attitude I get at the airport from the United staff, and then later having to deal with get my bag fee reimbursed, which they do every time, but why do we have to deal with this issue? Very frustrating.

    Reply
  4. Jeff

    If I purchase a trip with united vacations, using my mileage plus card, do I still get the free bag benefit? Would seem to me that I should. However after booking a flight/hotel package with them it still shows a bag fee in my reservations? Whys that?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Jeff – It depends on what fare you purchased. If it was a ‘bulk’ fare it may not have the benefit, and on United Vacations there is a designator when the fare you get is ‘bulk’ or ‘published.’ Unfortunately they don’t spell out there that means you won’t get the free bag benefit. It’s worth lodging a complaint with all three sides there so the issue is made more clear on the United Vacations site.

      Reply
  5. unstuck

    If I add an authorized user to the account and they purchase tickets for themselves through United do they get the free checked baggage and priority boarding or do I have to make them a joint account holder to give them these benefits?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @unstuck – Unfortunately no, you’ll have to get that person a separate card account. Basically Chase and United want to make sure the person who pays the annual fee is always the one flying in order to get the benefit. Chase doesn’t allow joint accounts either anymore, though you can apply for a 2nd card account using combined income to qualify.

      Reply
  6. Mark

    Hey,
    I have a Explorer card and I wanted to book a flight for my friend using it. If he travels just by himself can he still get the free checked baggage and priority boarding or do I also have to be traveling with him?

    Reply
  7. Kevin

    Just received a Mileage Plus Explorer card today. When will the 2 United Club Passes arrive? Supposed to be when the account is first opened and then at the anniversary.

    Reply
  8. Dan

    Final questions.
    If I apply for and then obtain the MileCard FIRST, and then a week after I obtain that card I book the United flight, in that case could:
    1. I receive reward miles (points) for using that card to book and pay for that United flight?
    2. I use that card to pay for that United flight?

    Reply
    1. Dan

      To be clearer, can I obtain and actually possess the card without first booking any flight on United; and thereafter (upon my receiving / possessing that card) use it to book and pay for a United flight and get the reward miles (points) for that flight?

      Reply
      1. MileCards

        @Dan – Yes, that’s right – you can hold the card without booking a United flight first. Once you hold it you will get points for 2x the cost of the flight if you book the flight with your card.

        You also earn miles for flying the flight, but you earn those whether you book with the card or not.

        Reply
  9. Dan

    If I apply now on United’s website for this card while simultaneously purchasing a roundtrip ticket at that same webpage:
    1. Is there any way to reserve that flight now (in advance) and still put that flight purchase on that credit card?
    2. That online flight price shows a “Minus $50″ 1st time Statement credit if I get the card, but how can I now book that flight on that card, when that card is only now being applied for? Thus, I cannot really get $50 off that it shows for this flight?
    3. During the anticipated slowness of card application approval, how can I pay for the flight that I want to now advance book on that card, how can I receive the $50 1st time statement credit on that card for the the flight that I want to now advance book on that card, and how can I receive air miles (points) on that card for the the flight that I want to now advance book on that card?

    Reply
  10. Dan

    Can accumulated air miles (points) be applied only to the cardholder’s own ticket or can those accumulated air miles (points) be used towards a second seat used by a traveling companion?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Dan – Yes, you can use your miles to book a seat for anyone you’d like. You don’t need to be flying the same flights either.

      Reply
  11. TommyD

    Was wondering, if I purchase a vacation package through expedia, travelocity or expedia, do I still get the free checked bag, if the carrier is United and I use the United Card to purchase the vacation?

    Reply
  12. Baerbel Miller

    I applied for a Mileage plus explorer card about 2 or 3 weeks ago. As far as monthly income goes, I was way off…I said 50 K less than the actual income..could it be that because of low income (which is not the case), I will not receive a credit card? I am waiting to book a flight.

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Baerbel – Give Chase a call to inquire – at 800-436-7927 – and see what the current status is. You can ask to expedite the card as well.

      Reply
    1. MileCards

      @David – Yes, you will receive double miles for the price of the ticket. So if it’s a $500 ticket you’ll get 1,000 miles. But you won’t earn miles in your account for the miles she flies.

      Reply
  13. TT

    I have a United round trip purchased with reward miles. I used my United Mileage Plus Explorer card to pay the taxes. Am I still eligible to use the travel insurance?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @TT – Yes you are eligible for the travel insurance coverage if you use your MileagePlus miles and pay the taxes with your card.

      Reply
  14. Nancy

    I applied online but saw a 50000 mile offer in the branch so I sent them a message on Chase.com and they honored the higher bonus for me.

    Reply
  15. Kathy

    if i cancel the mileage plus explorer card before it reaches its one year period (because i don’t want to pay the annual fee), is there any penalty i will get?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Kathy – There is no penalty for canceling it early. The only thing to watch out for is if you don’t have the card your miles expire 18 months after the last activity in your mileage account. The good news is any activity – a flight, spending miles, earning miles from a qualified restaurant, resets the 18 month clock for all of your miles.

      Reply
  16. Yana

    Hello!

    I have a MileagePlus Explorer credit card and trying to book a plane ticket with it outside the US. Where can i find any information about foreign transaction fee?

    Thank you.

    Reply
  17. Martin

    If I purchase United tickets with the Explorer card via EXPEDIA would I earn double or single miles per each $1 spent? Or are the double miles earned only via the UNITED travel portal?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Martin- You would earn single miles – the double miles are on tickets purchased *from* United, so either on their website or over the phone with them.

      Reply
  18. Katina

    I have a Mileage Plus Explorer card. I travel to Europe purchasing through United and always am booked on partner Lufthansa. How do I manage to communicate to Lufthansa that I should have priority boarding?

    Also are there any special luggage allowances for international travel? Domestic is first bag free anything for Europe?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Katina- Unfortunately the special boarding and luggage allowances only apply for flights operated by United.

      But for Europe the first checked bag is free on Lufthansa.

      Reply
  19. p_flyer

    Hello,
    I paid for a ticket that someone else is flying on but with my Mileage plus Explorer CC, that should get them a free checked bag allowance, right?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @p-flyer – Unfortunately no. You, the primary cardholder, need to be flying in the same reservation.

      Reply
  20. Mickey

    If I did not purchase round trip tickets, but purchased one-way separately, one with reward miles, and one with the Explorer card:

    1. Do I only get the free checked bag for the trip I used the Explorer card to purchase the ticket?

    2. If I cancelled the Explorer card before the trip, do I still get the free checked bag since I did use the Explorer card to make the purchase?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Mickey – If you used the Explorer card to pay the small taxes on the award ticket, it qualifies for the free bag.

      If you cancel your Explorer card though you won’t be eligible for the free bag benefit, even on tickets you already purchased.

      Reply
  21. Michael

    “Your miles don’t expire as long as you’re a cardmember, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn”

    I have this card and that’s what my documentation says too.. but if you have the miles now in your United MileagePlus account, isn’t that kinda separate from the credit card? I could earn normal miles by flying on United without this card, and they would go straight into my United MileagePlus account.

    Do they keep track of what was earned with the card and what wasn’t? If I was to decide I didn’t want this card in the future, and I cancelled it, would they just take out whatever remaining miles are in my account at that time that were from the credit card?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Michael – They don’t make a distinction between miles earned with the card and flying. If you choose to cancel the card, all of your miles will be subject to the standard policy. That is they will expire after 18 months of no activity in your account. So as long as you earn miles in some form or spend miles in some form, the clock extends for another 18 months for all of your miles. It’s pretty easy to keep them ‘alive’ for many years.

      Reply
  22. SuperKirby

    Hi, Any reason to keep the Explorer card if I earned Premier Silver or even Gold? What advantages do I get with the Explorer card besides Primary car rental CDW. I guess this card is only good for the 1000-24000 mile flyer then? I already put all my spending on my Sapphire Preferred fyi. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @SuperKirby – It’s a good question and the answer is not clear cut. First, you are eligible for your complimentary Premier upgrades if you are on an award ticket and hold the card. That’s an exclusive benefit. Second, if you manage to spend $25,000 on it each year you’ll earn a 10,000 mile bonus. That’s effectively earning 1.4 miles per dollar. You would have to have almost half your spending as dining / travel on the Sapphire Preferred to earn that rate.

      Reply
      1. SuperKirby

        Excellent points! Great reasons for me to keep the Explorer.

        Another question, been browsing around and saw this MileagePlus Awards card. If I happen to want to get rid of the Explorer card, can I downgrade to the Awards card? What is the annual fee on the Awards card? Can one downgrade from the MileagePlus Club Card to the Awards card? Thanks MC!

        Reply
      2. SuperKirby

        Sorry I forgot to ask, what region is the eligible complimentary Premier upgrades for the Explorer? Only domestic or somewhere internationally? Thanks again.

        Reply
        1. MileCards

          @SuperKirby – Right now yes it does open up access to that inventory. But nowhere is it listed as a published benefit so it is possible it is a bug that may be “fixed” once United finds out. The good news is they have a lot of IT issues on their plate so it could be a while.

          Reply
  23. Kevin

    Do I understand this correctly, according to Chase website for United Credit Cards:
    The MileagePlus Explorer Card – allows you to check your first bag free and that of a companion even though you did not purchase your ticket with the card, but for
    The Presidential Plus Card it requires you to have purchased your ticket with the card for this benefit.

    I only had the Pres Plus Card because to get the Premier Access and Priority/Free Baggage since I travel for business and I am required to use our corporate card (Diners Club) for all our flights and, rarely use clubs as the only benefit they offer is a more comfortable chair if there is a flight delay.

    So my real question is when my current Pres Plus Card comes up for renewal do you think they will allow me to switch to the MileagePlus Explorer Card, I will get better benefits (Free Baggae for flights not purchased with the card) pluse the same Premier Access I had with the Pres Plus card except for the club access which I can do without, but I do not want to lose my miles or current credit limit?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Kevin- The Explorer and Presidential Plus are treated the same by United with respect to how you purchase the ticket to get the bag benefit. Officially for both, you are supposed to buy the ticket with your card to get the free bag. But in practice for both, the benefit is tied to your United Mileage Plus frequent flyer account number, so the benefit usually shows up regardless of the credit card you use to make the purchase.

      For your purposes, if you don’t value the lounge benefit, elite qualifying miles, or 2nd free checked bag (United Explorer is just for the 1st bag per person), then no reason to carry the Presidential Plus. You can apply for the Explorer card separately, get the signup bonus for it, and then ask to cancel the Presidential Plus before the fee is due. A tip is to also ask to have the credit line from the Presidential Plus transferred over to your new Explorer account. They will often do that.

      You won’t lose your previously earned United miles if you cancel. But if you earned ‘flexible premier miles’ for elite status with the Presidential Plus those can no longer be applied.

      Just remember – the Presidential Plus is no longer accepting new accounts. And no other cards available to new applicants are offering elite miles that can be earned with purchases. So make sure that’s a benefit you don’t value before canceling.

      Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Jim- Yes there is a 3% foreign transaction fee. If you want to earn United miles without one consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

      Reply
  24. Linda Kalinowski

    I am ready to make air reservations and want to sign up for Explorer card so I can start earning miles.. How fast can I get an Explorer card # to use with my United airlines reservation? Is it possible to start earning points
    within a day or two of filling out paperwork?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Linda – You can sign up for a Mileage Plus account at United.com before you apply for the credit card, and use that account number to earn miles with your reservations. Then, when you fill out the application for the card, just use that Mileage Plus number in the space of the application that asks if you have a Mileage Plus account.

      Reply
  25. Brian H

    I spoke to a Chase representative about the Explorer card today and she told me that in order to take advantage of the free checked back that I could not use curbside or online checkin for baggage, but had to stand in the regular line in the terminal and see an agent to get the benefit. Is that your understanding?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Brian – As long as you purchase the ticket with your Explorer card, the baggage benefit will automatically apply regardless of the method you use to check in. If you happen to have tickets from before you had the card you might have luck going straight to the agent to get the discount applied, which may be what the phone rep was referring to.

      Reply
  26. confused

    If my husband is the primary card holder and I am the second card holder do I not get the same free services?OR Does my husband have to travel with me to get the free bag for me?I am asking because if me and our daughter book a flight does that mean we have to pay for our checked bags? We have our member numbers but I also notice that my husbands starts with UN and ours with UR what does that mean?Sorry I asked maybe to many questions but I am Confused on how this works!!!
    Thanks in Advance

    Reply
    1. er

      I’m the primary cardholder and my husband is an authorized user. He’s flown alone many times for work and doesn’t pay the baggage fee. Last time we flew together we were asked to show the credit card used to purchase the ticket and then didn’t get charged the baggage fee. Hope that helps.

      Reply
    2. MileCards

      @Confused – Usually the free bag is only tied to the frequent flyer number of the primary cardholder so wouldn’t expect free bags otherwise.

      Reply
  27. Barbara Vicario

    I have a Mileage plus Explorer card and will be traveling in two weeks. Will my boarding pass show that I have priority boarding? I will be using award miles. Does this make a difference in getting free bag checked in and priority boarding?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Barbara – As long as you used the card to pay for the taxes on the ticket the benefits will apply. You’ll be boarding in Zone 4, which is the priority zone for this card and you will be eligible for the free checked bag.

      Reply
  28. Joyce

    I have had my explorer card for some time now and want to know how to obtain the club passes for an upcoming flight later this year. I don’t recall ever receiving the two passes. Do I need to request them or are they sent automatically and if so, when?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Joyce – You should have received them several weeks after first getting the card. You’ll also get another pair a few weeks after paying your annual fee later. But may be worth calling Chase at the back of your card to ask about what happened to your welcome club passes.

      Reply
  29. Margaret Walker

    You mention that on the MileagePlus Explorer that there is a bag fee waiver on United. Does that also apply to it’s star alliance airlines?

    Reply
  30. Chuck Carter

    I recently obtained a MileagePlus Explorer card. I then opened up a United MileagePlus account. How do I connect the two so my mileage earned with the card gets credited to my United MileagePlus account?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Chuck- You should have been assigned a MileagePlus number when your Explorer card was issued. Would call Chase at the number on the back of your card to verify which number they assigned. Then would use that MileagePlus number for your travels.

      Reply
  31. Betty

    I already have tickets for an upcoming trip on United, If I get the United Mileage Plus explorer card can I still get a bag free up to 2 people ? or do I have to use the card to purchase my tickets ?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Betty – The free checked bag is supposed to be only for tickets booked with the card. We’ve heard some people have had the computer not charge them when they checked in even without using the card to pay but would not count on that.

      Reply
  32. Freddy

    I also have the Mileage Plus United Visa card. If I apply for a separate MileagePlus Explorer card, will I still receive the 25,000 + 5,000 bonus? According to the website, it appears you cannot be a current or previous United Visa card holder to be eligible. I wasn’t sure if that meant a current or previous Explorer card, or did they mean a United Visa of any kind?

    Also, when my wife logs into her United Airlines account, she sees offers for a 50,000 inital bonus for the MileagePlus Explorer, then 10,000 if you spend over $25,000 annually. But when I log in, I’m only shown the offer you describe above. I’m wondering if Chase is only offering the 50,000 bonus to only certain customers.

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Freddy – Unfortunately as an existing United card holder of any kind you’re not eligible. And yes, that 50,000 initial bonus is for now only offered to targeted customers. Sounds like it might be a worthwhile idea for your wife to apply for one.

      Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Collette- No it won’t automatically convert. If you like the features of your current United card Chase will still support them. If you want a United Explorer you will need to ask specifically.

      Reply
  33. Adam

    Are the benefits like checked bag and priority boarding only eligible if you book the flight with the credit card, or does it connect the Mileage Plus # to the ticket? I.e. I have the Explorer Card but my wife books the ticket, do we still get priority boarding and/or first bag free?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Adam – For the free checked bag, you have to use the card to purchase the ticket. For the priority boarding, it looks like it’s just attached to the Mileage Plus number associated with the card.

      Reply
  34. Kevin Nguyen

    If I have a Continental OnePass Plus card, it automatically gets converted or do I have to call a number to have it converted?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Kevin – It will automatically convert sometime next year. Only change is it will be a Visa. Otherwise the features are absolutely identical.

      Reply

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