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3 tips to avoid Explorer Card bag hassles

by on Wed October 2, 2013 • 1 Comment

united170The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is one of the most popular cards for earning airline miles. But a lot of people don’t get it for the miles – they get it for the free first checked bag benefit. Primary card members and one companion on the same reservation can each check their first bag free on United-operated flights when purchasing tickets with their Explorer Card. That can save $100 on a roundtrip.

But we’ve heard many stories of people who applied for the card and didn’t get the free first bag, leaving them surprised with charges at the airport. That’s not so friendly.

Here are three ways those problems get started, and how to avoid them:

1. When you apply, enter your existing MileagePlus® number

Most of us already have a United MileagePlus® number. And there is a place to input it into your Explorer Card application, but it’s not very prominent and not required.

So a lot of people accidentally skip that step. The problem then is if you do that United will create a brand-new MileagePlus® number to go along with your new credit card. So if you book a flight with your new card, but do it from your account (which is set up with your prior MileagePlus® number) the free bag benefit won’t register in their system.

If you already applied and think this happened, you can call United to merge your MileagePlus® accounts.

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If you already have a MileagePlus® number, make sure you enter it here when applying

2. Make sure your MileagePlus® number is in your reservation

Your MileagePlus® frequent flyer account number is the way United knows you’re eligible for the Explorer Card benefits. Some people think (not unreasonably) that buying your ticket with the card means it will automatically link up. Unfortunately that’s not the case, as this horror story reported in the news can attest.

If you’re using just make sure you log in before buying tickets and it will link up. But if you’re buying tickets somewhere else, like, make sure you put the number in. When you buy the ticket there’s usually a place at the end to do it. Or go to, select ‘Manage my reservations’ and enter your confirmation number. You can then choose ‘Edit Traveler’ to input your MileagePlus® number.

You can also call United directly at 1-800-UNITED-1 to add it.

3. Use your card to pay for the reservation. 

In the past the free bag benefit was just linked to your MileagePlus® number. So as long as the MileagePlus® number associated with your card was in your reservation you would earn the baggage benefit. However the rules state you must use your Explorer Card to pay for the ticket in order to get the bag benefit.

That rule is now being enforced, so if you were getting away with using another card to pay for your flights and getting the free bag, don’t count on that anymore. You need to use your Explorer Card to buy the tickets – full cash or with miles.

This also means the free bag won’t count on trips you purchased before you signed up for the card. That’s been a big source of frustration, but it’s understandable. The point of the benefit is to reward actually using the card for purchases, not just signing up and paying the annual fee.

Learn more about the Explorer Card

Once you get past the pitfalls above the Explorer Card can be very useful for saving money on United travel. And United miles are among our favorite to collect.

Learn more about them:

> Best and worst airline miles programs

> United MileagePlus® Explorer Card review

> Earn 70,000+ United miles with bonus offers


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One thought on “3 tips to avoid Explorer Card bag hassles

  1. Janet C

    I had this issue with my card – not putting the right mileage number in my reservation. Turns out i had two accounts going on, one with the card and the other with my miles in it. Too a few phone calls to sort it all out which was really annoying but its figured out now that they merged them all in one now.


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