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United MileagePlus Explorer Card

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By : Mr Credit Card


More than 10 years have flew by since United merged with Continental Airlines. But I just wanted to give you folks a brief background of the United Explorer Card. On May 2009, Chase and United announced that they have replaced their old United cards (there were four of them) with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card. Whereas the old United cards had slightly different features and price points, Chase and United essentially consolidated into just one card. At that time, the benefits of this card also extended to the Continental OnePass Card (because of the Continental and United merger)

When this card was announced, Continental and United were still in the midst of their merger. The intention was to continue to issue the Continental OnePass for the rest of 2011. On 3rd March 2012, Chase and Continental stopped issuing the Continental card and this card is now the official frequent flier card of Continental United.

With that out of the way, let's get into this review.

How You Earn Miles

With this card, you can earn United miles the following way:
  • 2X miles on United Airline Ticket and Related Purchases - You earn 2 miles total for each $1 spent on airline tickets purchased from United, and on the following purchases made from United: seat upgrades; Economy Plus®; inflight food, beverages and Wi-Fi; baggage service charges or other United fees.

    The following United related purchases DOES NOT earn 2X: United Cruises®, United MileagePlus X, DIRECTV® and Merchandise Awards, are excluded. United tickets booked through some discount travel websites or as part of a third-party travel package will also not qualify.

    Opinion - 2X on United tickets is pretty much standard for an airline credit card. All United cards earned 2X miles on United tickets until just recently with the launch of the United Club Infinite, which allows you to earn 4X on United flights. Many United flyers also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred (which allows you to earn 2X on travel which can be transferred to United) and the Chase Sapphire Reserve (which allows you to earn 3X on travel).

  • 2X on Restaurant WORLDWIDE - You can earn 2X United Miles when you use the card in restaurants worldwide.

  • 2X on Hotel booked directly with Hotels - You will also earn 2X United miles when you book a hotel directly with the hotels themselves.

    Opinion - While some of you will not like this (because you would rather search for the cheapest rates on travelocity, expedia etc), I always prefer booking hotels directly from their websites because it is always easier to change dates, cancel and make adjustments if you book them directly rather than through a travel portal.

  • 2X on purchases of events through CHASE INSIDE ACCESS - If you book tickets for an event through Chase Inside Access, you will earn earn 2X miles.

    Opinion - Nobody looking at this card is honestly going to care about this but it is worth pointing out that the United Club Infinite Card lets you earn 4X for events you book through INSIDE ACCESS.

Benefits Premier Members Do Not Have

The following are benefits that even Premier members with Elite Status do not have and will get if you have this card.

  • Earn Up to 1000 PQP from Card Spending - From 2020 onwards, you earn elite status on United (they call it Premier) by a combination of number of flights you fly (PQF - Premier Qualifying Flights) and the amount of dollars you spend on United tickets (PQP - Premier Qualifying Points) or from PQP alone (at a greater amount than using PQF + PQP). With the Explorer card, you can earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 that you spend on the card and another 500 PQP for an additional $12,000 spending. You can earn up to 1,000 PQP (ie spending up to $24,000 to earn PQP).

    Please Note That: - Existing holders of the old United MileagePlus Select Card and United MileagePlus Platinum Class Visa Card can earn up to 3,000 PQP and holders of United Presidential Plus Card and United Presidential Plus Business Card can earn up to 10,000 PQP. PQPs earned on this card can count towards 1K premier status while PQPs earned on this United Explorer Card can only be used for up to Premier Platinum Status.

  • 2 Anniversary United Club Passes - Every year, you will be given 2 United One-time Club Passes. You do have to produce a United ticket on the same day to use the United Club Lounge. Just as a background, you can only access United Club Lounges when you purchase Polaris, Business Class on a TransContinental Flights. For international flights on United or Star Alliance flights, you can access their club if you buy Premier Cabin Business or First Class tickets. If you have Star Alliance Gold or United Premier Gold status, you can access United Club lounge even on economy flights in Star Alliance International flights.

  • Upgrading Award Tickets - If you are a Premier Elite member, you are eligible for complimentary seat upgrades. But these only applied to certain classes of paid tickets. However, if you are a Premier elite member and have this card, you are eligible for upgrades even on award tickets. So this benefit applies only to Premier Elite members. Those who are not Premier members (ie no elite status) cannot enjoy this benefit.

  • 25% back on food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases onboard United- and United Express-operated flights - The 25% back you will receive is in the form of a statement credit.

Benefits Premier Member Have

  • First Free Checked Bags - Cardholders and ONE traveling companion will get a free checked bag IF you book your United ticket with this card. To ensure this process goes smoothly when you book online, you need to include your United Mileage Plus number and use this card when you book your ticket. The price of checking in a first bag is $35 and $45 for the second bag. So if you use this benefit, it will cover the $95 pretty quickly.

    There are three things you have to be aware of. The first is that if you take an international flight, you will be allowed one free checked bag anyway. This card DOES NOT wave the fee if you need to check in a second checked bag.

    You should also be aware that those with Premier ELITE status get their checked bags fee waived anyway. Premier Silver status gets you one free checked bag while Gold status gets you two free checked bags. Platinum status and above gets you three free checked bags. The allowance for elite members is 32kg/70lbs (which is the allowance for business class and above). So for those with elite status, this perk is essentially useless to you.

    It is also important to note that the standard weight allowed in economy is 23kg/50lbs and in business class above is 32kb/70lbs. If you exceed this amount, you still have to pay a fee for exceeding the allowed weight.

  • Award Availability - If you have Premier Elite Status, more award tickets are available to you. Even if there is just one seat left on a flight, you would be able to use book it via award tickets (ie use miles). This benefit is given to holders of this card. So once again, if you have Elite Status in United Mileage Plus, this perk is not relevant to you.

  • Priority Boarding - Zone 2 - Cardmembers will be able to board at zone 2 together with Premier Silver members and those who have purchased Priority Boarding ($15). An important thing to be aware of it that if you purchase Basic Economy tickets, you cannot purchase Priority Boarding ($15). As we just mentioned, Premier Silver gets to board at Zone 2. Premier Gold, Platinum members get Zone 1 boarding while Premier 1K members get pre-boarding. So as you can see, if you have Premier Elite status, this perk is not relevant to you.

Premium Benefits

The United Explorer also has a couple of benefits seen in premier credit cards.

  • Credits for Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check Application Fee Statement Credit - You have to pay a $100 fee to apply for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check. You will get back that fee in the form of a statement credit. Since Global Entry is valid for 5 years, so you can use this credit once every five years. This perk and benefit is rarely found in cards with a $95 annual fee. But rather it is normally found in cards with annual fee of $450 and above.

  • Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection (LHRC) - Room Upgrade and Amenities - If you use your card to book hotels and resorts through, you might get room upgrades and added amenities.

Who Should Not Get This Card?

While this card has some great features, they are not for everyone. I will list out those who I think might should give this card a miss.

Those with Premier Elite Status

Many of the perks and benefits of this card does not apply to those with Premier Elite status. For example Premier status members get free checked bag, Priority Boarding in Zone 1,2 or even pre-boarding for 1K members and expanded award availability. Here is a comment from a Premier Member. For Premier status members who do not care about lounge access or the Global Entry credit, then there is really no need to get this card. Here is a comment from a lifetime Platinum member:

"I am lifetime Platinum on UA. This card offers benefits that I already have (e.g. free checked bags, priority boarding). I might consider this card if there are other benefits that I do not have. But for me, the CSP will do just fine."

Those who want to maximize earning United Miles from credit cards

For folks who want to earn United miles through credit card spending (despite United ending their award chart and doing dynamic pricing on awards), this is not the best card to earn United miles. The Chase Sapphire Reserve (3X on travel and allows you to transfer points to United miles) and the new United Club Infinite Card (4X on United Tickets and 2X on other travel) are much better cards for earning United miles from spending on United tickets.

Who Should Consider This Card?

Those Who Do Not Have Premier Elite Status

Those of you who fly United a few times a year but do not fly enough for at least Premier Silver status and check in bags when you fly might find this useful. That is because it cost at least $30 to check-in your baggage and if you fly just 2-3 times a year, the Free First Checked Baggage feature will already cover the annual fee.

Furthermore, you get 2 annual Club Lounge Passes which is a nice perk, priority zone 2 boarding and upgrade opportunities for award tickets. These are perks you will never get if you are not a Premier Elite member. And you also get statement credits for your Global Entry application fee.

Premier Elite Members Who Need Extra PQP from Credit Card Spending

I honestly think that the amount of PQP you get from credit card spending is ridiculously low (500 PQP for $12,000 in spending up to max of 1,000 PQP). However, if you are consistently just on the cusp of reaching your preferred status, then this card might make sense for you. It is probably best to just spend $24,000 on the card to earn the maximum PQP (ie 1000), and then perhaps shift your spending to other cards. Here is a comment from a Premier Platinum member:

"I have Premier Platinum Elite Status and I just get better service, better access to award seats, including Super Saver Business Class, frequent free upgrades and also upgrade certificates) So once I am done spending $24k to earn the 1k PQP, I'll just put this card in the drawer."

Chase Sapphire Preferred Holders or Chase Trifecta folks who fly United Occasionally

Most folks who have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Trifecta (the CSP, CF and CFI version) also fly United occasionally but have decided to use the Trifecta as a way to earn more points and miles than any United Card can offer. However, the Chase trifecta does not get you free baggages and things like credits for Global Entry. Even if you are an occasional United flyer, the free checked bags and Global Entry application fee credit can make this card a worthwhile addition to your Chase Trifecta.