13 Things I Love About United’s Credit Card

I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).

UnitedSM Explorer Card

This is a fantastic card to have if you live in a city with lots of United service, fly them regularly but not enough for elite status, or you’re an elite who wants upgrades on award tickets or help towards the spending requirement for status.

While I definitely prefer to put spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve because their points transfer to United or other airlines (in other words I prefer the flexibility), the UnitedSM Explorer Card is a great card to have for its benefits.

  1. 65,000 bonus miles. For a limited-time Chase has boosted the signup bonus to earn 65,000 miles: 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.

    United’s Europe and Asia Award Availability in Premium Cabins is Great Because of Star Alliance Partners

  2. $0 annual fee the first year. Traditionally the card’s annually fee has been charged the first year. Chase is now waiving the first year fee on the UnitedSM Explorer Card. (After the $0 first year annual fee it is then $95.)

  3. First checked bag free. What’s great about the UnitedSM Explorer Card is the travel benefits when flying United. You get first bag for free when you use your card to purchase your ticket. Two people traveling with a bag each way really scales the savings.

  4. Priority boarding. Avoid having to gate check your carry on, you don’t actually want to be the first to board this card ensures you don’t have to be last.

  5. Bring full sized carry on bags onboard even on a basic economy fare. On a Basic Economy fare you can still bring on a full-sized carry on bag since the Basic Economy prohibition on full-sized carry on bags is handled via boarding group).

  6. United Club passes With this card you’ll get 2 one-time United Club passes each year for your account anniversary as well. United now charges $59 each for one time club passes.

  7. Waive spending requirement for elite status up to the Platinum level. United requires you to spend $3000 on tickets for silver, $6000 for Gold, or $9000 for Platinum status in addition to miles or segments flown. If you spend $25,000 a year on this card you waive the minimum ‘premier qualifying dollars’ requirement for earning up to Platinum elite status.

  8. United elites get upgrades on domestic award tickets. That’s a benefit which requires a co-brand card to access, elites without a United credit card aren’t eligible.

  9. Miles don’t expire when you have the card. If you’re using the card miles won’t expire anyway, but if you have it just for the benefits and spend on other cards it’s nice to know you can stick it in a drawer and still not face expiring points.

  10. Extra saver award availability United does a really nice job of making extra award space available to elites and credit card customers.

  11. Last seat availability when redeeming extra mileage awards. Airlines offer awards that charge extra miles and in American’s case you get access to the last seat on the plane when spending more miles, at United to get the very last seat on the plane (where these awards can offer real value) you need to be an elite or a co-brand credit card customer.

  12. Statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Even if you already have Global Entry, get it for a spouse, child, friend or co-worker — the cardholder doesn’t have to be the one to use the benefit, just use the card to pay anyone’s application fee you wish.

  13. Primary car rental collision damage waiver. Adult bumper cars! Not really, but if you ding your bumper car and you’re paying with this card your insurance company may not even need to know.

The UnitedSM Explorer Card is a great tool for someone who flies United semi-regularly but not enough to earn elite status, since many of the benefits of the card approximate was entry-level status would be like. And you can get it now with bonus miles and not even pay an annual fee for the first year.

And it’s good for someone looking to waive United’s ‘premier qualifying dollars’ minimum spend for elite status (up to Platinum, the 75,000 mile tier) via credit card spend, as combined spend of $25,000 or more on a United co-brand credit card can take the place of that requirement for a U.S.-based member.

It’s subject to ‘5/24’ meaning they’re most appropriate for folks that haven’t signed up for 5 or more new cards in the last 24 months.

Even if the annual fee applied in the first year, the card would be well worth the signup bonus. The card is even worth the fee if you fly United semi-regularly for the benefits. If you find yourself buying basic economy fares you’re not just saving on checked bag fees each trip but on the fare buy up too and still getting to bring your carry on bag onboard.

Since you get the bonus and the benefits in year one it’s a no brainer, the $0 annual fee the first year lets you “try before you buy” and decide whether or not to keep it into the future.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. If I already got my SA precheck credit on the CSR, will Chase know I shouldn’t get it again for 4 years or can I gift it to someone else to use?

  2. This year, Chase stopped awarding the 10,000 United FF bonus miles for spending $25K in a year. Therefore, spending $25K in a year only provides the waived United Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirements for the elite levels below 1K.

  3. For point #7, I believe they got rid of the 10k bonus when they rolled out the 2x bonus for restaurants and hotels.

  4. Who on God’s Green Earth would pay $59 to get into a UA lounge? Plus, since the changes to saver awards being pushed into everyday awards, it’s far more difficult to find saver award space, especially to the EU. Most are partner awards at 140K RT J with stopovers. Direct saver awards to the EU on UA metal for 120K RT J are very tough to find.

  5. The key here is #10. Live in NYC and back and forth to CA constantly. The ability to get any open biz seat, even at 60k, is impressive. I have three on wed next week that were $3.6k all purchased yesterday

  6. Gary,
    In order to receive the early boarding and free checked luggage benefits of the card, must one charge the airline ticket to it? Or will just having the card (linked to the cardholder’s UA Mileage Plus account number) provide those benefits — so the ticket can be charged to Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred or an AmEx Platinum?
    Thanks …

  7. I keep this card solely for priority boarding, and the free checked and carryon bags. The annual fee pays for itself with one flight if you are flying in basic economy.

    One thing that should be highlighted: Is that these perks transfer to whoever you are traveling with. Friend, wife, etc. If you live near a United hub, like I do(EWR) then this card is a no-brainer.

  8. The devaluation of the lounge benefit coming to restrict access to United ticketed passengers only is it real killer for this card in my opinion.

  9. @ScottB
    Yes, the flight has to have been purchased with that card in order to get those benefits. And on award tickets, the taxes and/or fees have to be payed with that card in order to get the benefits.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *