To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of most airline credit cards. I prefer having a generic travel rewards card that earns points redeemable with a variety of carriers.
But one exception is the United℠ Explorer Card. I’ve had this card before, and found it to offer an impressive range of perks for such a low annual fee.
Here’s a breakdown of 20 United Explorer Card benefits that might wow you, as well.
United Explorer Card Highlights
The Explorer Card’s welcome bonus is currently a really great deal, especially considering the annual fee:
- Intro bonus: 60,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months; 10,000 bonus miles for spending a total of $6,000 in the first 6 months
- Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee, then $95
Though the bonus changes frequently, here’s an example of how far those miles could take you: If you earned 50,000 United MileagePlus miles, that’d be enough for a round-trip award flight from the contiguous United States to Hawaii!
You won’t be limited to United either: You can use your miles on any of United’s Star Alliance partners. And, even better, United miles never expire.
Note you can only get this card if you haven’t received its bonus in the past 24 months. Since it’s a Chase card, the 5/24 rule also applies, and your application will likely be denied if you’ve opened five or more personal cards in the past 24 months.
2X Miles at Restaurants and Hotels
One reason I like this credit card is its bonus miles aren’t limited to United purchases. While you will earn 2X United miles per dollar on United flights and in-flight purchases, you’ll also earn 2X at restaurants and hotels.
The restaurant category includes delivery services like Grubhub and DoorDash, but the hotel category is limited to hotel stays purchased directly with the property. So reservations made on Booking.com, for example, wouldn’t qualify.
At the time of publication, the United Explorer card was also offering a referral bonus: 10,000 bonus miles for each friend who gets approved for the card, up to 50,000 bonus miles per year.
United Club Passes
After account opening, you’ll receive two United Club one-time passes in your MileagePlus account. These passes will allow you two entries to United lounges — good for you on two different layovers, or you and a guest on one layover.
You’ll receive two more passes on your cardmember anniversary each year following. Since United Club day passes normally cost $59 each, this benefit is worth nearly $120 annually.
Even if you have a credit card with broader airport lounge access, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express, these day passes are a welcome backup for when those cards’ affiliated lounges aren’t available at your layover destination.
Free Checked Bags
Paying for bags can quickly turn an affordable weekend getaway into an exorbitant affair. But when you pay for a United flight with your Explorer card (even if it’s just the taxes and fees on an award ticket), you and one companion will get your first checked bags free.
Since bags can cost $35 per person each way, this could be worth as much as $140 per roundtrip journey.
This benefit is only valuable, however, if you normally check bags (which I don’t). Even so, it might come in handy if you’re, say, bringing back some wine from a trip to Napa and can’t bring your bag into the cabin.
I never really cared about boarding order until A) overhead bin space became as elusive as a snow leopard and B) Basic Economy tickets became a thing. And now priority boarding is something I value deeply.
When you book with your United Explorer card, you and your companions will get Group 2 boarding. Even if you purchased a basic economy ticket, you’ll still get Group 2 — and, importantly, will also be allowed one full-sized carry-on bag “if space permits.”
Primary Car Rental Insurance
Most credit cards offer secondary car rental insurance. While this allows you to decline the rental company’s damage waiver, you’ll still need to file a claim with your regular car insurance should anything happen.
The United Explorer card is one of a handful of cards that offers primary car rental insurance. So, in the case of an accident, you can file a claim directly with Chase, completely bypassing your normal insurer (and a potential hike in rates).
This is a pretty huge benefit for a card with such a low annual fee!
Global Entry / TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit
Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are two programs that smoothen the bumps of air travel. And when you pay your application fee with your United Explorer Card, you’ll receive a statement credit of up to $100 to cover it.
This benefit is available once every four years, which is how long membership in either program lasts before you’ll need to reapply.
More Benefits When Flying United
25% Discount on Inflight Purchases
Airplane food and drinks are pricey. But luckily, if you pay with your United Explorer card, you’ll get a nice little discount: 25% back in the form of a statement credit. That goes for onboard WiFi, as well.
No Blackout Dates
When you’ve got a United card in your hand, you won’t have to worry about award availability — if there’s a seat, it’s yours. As United explains, you’ll “have unrestricted access to book an award, even if it’s the last seat on the plane.”
Complimentary Premier Upgrades
If you have elite status in the United MileagePlus rewards program and are also an Explorer cardmember, you’ll get complimentary premier upgrades on United award tickets, when available.
Other Travel & Entertainment Benefits
The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
As a Chase cardholder, you’ll have access to the credit card issuer’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.
When booking a stay at one of these 900 high-end properties, you’ll receive:
- Complimentary daily breakfast for two
- A “special benefit”: usually a dining or spa credit valued around $100
- Early check-in and late checkout, when available
- Room upgrades, when available
No Foreign Transaction Fees
After earning all those bonus miles, you’ll probably want to head abroad. And the good news is, when you do, the United Explorer Card won’t charge foreign transaction fees for purchasing items in another currency.
Other cards charge around 3% for this privilege. So if you spend $3,000 on your trip, you could potentially save $90 by shopping with the Explorer Card. Find more cards without foreign transaction fees here.
United Card Events
Although you’ll have to pay for your ticket, holding the United Explorer card will get you access to private events from Chase, like chef-hosted dinners or celebrity meet-and-greets.
Visa Signature Concierge
You’ll also get 24/7 access to the Visa Signature Concierge. These specialists can assist with an array of tasks, from snagging hard-to-get restaurant reservations to helping you choose last-minute gifts.
Trip Delay Reimbursement
I love this credit card benefit, probably because it’s one of the only travel protections I actually use.
If your common carrier travel is delayed by more than 12 hours, or if it requires an overnight stay, Chase will reimburse you for expenses like meals, lodging, and transportation — up to $500 per ticket.
While that’s not as good as the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review), which only requires your flight to be delayed by six hours, it’s on par with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review), which has a similar annual fee.
For this benefit and the benefits following, you’ll only be eligible if you pay for at least a portion of the trip with your United Explorer Card — even if it’s just the taxes and fees on an award ticket.
Baggage Delay Insurance
I’ve also taken advantage of this benefit, which reimburses you up to $100 per day — for up to three days! — to purchase essentials (think: toiletries, underwear) when your bags are delayed by six hours or more.
Trip Cancellation / Trip Interruption Insurance
Trip canceled or interrupted by an illness? Or a hurricane?
Then Chase will reimburse you up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for any nonrefundable expenses.
Lost Luggage Reimbursement
If the bags of you or an immediate family member are lost or damaged by a common carrier, Chase will cover up to $3,000 per passenger.
Buy an item with your United Explorer Card, and if it gets damaged or stolen within 120 days, Chase will cover you for up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year.
Extended Warranty Protection
If you use your Explorer card to purchase a product with a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty of three years or less, Chase will automatically extend the warranty period by an additional year.
Do the United Explorer Card Benefits Make Up for Its Annual Fee?
Whenever I’m analyzing a credit card, I do a careful comparison of its costs and benefits: the 20 perks mentioned above versus the annual fee.
And in this case, I’d say this United Card is a pretty clear winner — even if you only fly United a few times a year. When compared to other airline credit cards with similar annual fees, it offers much better benefits.
The biggest benefit of the Sapphire Preferred is its versatility. It earns Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to 13 different airline and hotel partners, including United Airlines, making it valuable if you fly a range of different carriers. That versatility is also its downfall, however, as it doesn’t come with any airline-specific perks like lounge access, free checked bags, or priority boarding.
Alternatively, if you’re a frequent flyer on United, you might want to consider the United Club℠ Infinite Card (Review). It offers many of the same benefits as the Explorer card, with the notable addition of a full membership to United Clubs and participating Star Alliance lounges. You’ll pay a pretty price for the privilege, though: a $0 intro annual fee, then $525 per year.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.