Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
United Explorer Card overview
The United Explorer Card isn’t your average airline credit card. It’s packed with premium perks such as an up-to-$100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee statement credit, two annual one-time lounge passes and free checked bags — easily justifying its modest $95 annual fee (which is waived for the first year). Card rating*: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
*Card rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
Aside from the usual airline credit card perks like free checked bags and priority boarding, the United Explorer offers some premium-level benefits, including a pair of annual one-time United Club passes, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit and excellent travel protections.
Here’s what you need to know about the card and its benefits.
United Explorer welcome offer
Applying for the United Explorer Card will get you a welcome bonus of 60,000 United MileagePlus Miles after spending $3,000 on qualifying purchases in the first three months of opening an account, plus a waived annual fee for the first year.
Earning miles with the United Explorer
As a cardholder, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on purchases from United as well as on dining and hotel spending. You’ll earn 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
While the bonus for cobranded airline purchases is pretty standard, it’s nice that the card also offers bonuses on certain types of everyday spending, which many other airline cards don’t provide.
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Redeeming miles with the United Explorer
United has implemented a dynamic pricing structure on its own flights, so you should expect a fairly consistent value of your miles whenever redeeming for United awards. Domestic awards in economy typically start at just 5,000 miles one-way, but we’ve seen sales with tickets as low as 3,900 miles.
To squeeze even more value out of your miles, you might want to utilize United’s Excursionist Perk. We have an in-depth guide that explains everything you need to know about this perk. Basically, it allows you to add a free flight segment to qualifying, round-trip itineraries between two different regions at no extra cost.
You’ll typically want to avoid non-flight redemptions with your United miles, such as hotel stays or merchandise, as they tend to offer a poor value proposition.
United Explorer benefits
The United Explorer Card offers a good mix of perks for both frequent and occasional United flyers:
Free first checked bag
Get a first checked bag free on United-operated flights for you and one companion on the same reservation. A first checked bag usually costs $35 each way, so this benefit can save you as much as $140 round-trip. You must include your MileagePlus number in your reservation and pay for the flight with the Explorer Card to receive this benefit — which includes just using the card for taxes and fees on an award ticket.
Two one-time United Club passes
Receive a pair of one-time United Club passes deposited into your MileagePlus account each year of card membership. This benefit alone is worth $118 per year, as day passes at the lounge cost $59 each with a same-day boarding pass.
Get Group 2 boarding for you and your companions traveling on the same reservation when you include your MileagePlus number. This means you board after Premier 1K, Premier Platinum, Premier Gold and Star Alliance Gold members and those seated in United Polaris, first class and business class, but before most of the other passengers in economy without elite status.
This is especially valuable for those who buy basic economy tickets, as you’ll also be excluded from the carry-on baggage restrictions, so you will want to get on the plane while there’s still overhead space available.
Expanded award availability
As a cardholder, you’ll have additional access to book United award tickets — even if it’s the last seat on the plane — and may see economy award seats requiring fewer miles when you log in to your MileagePlus account than members without the card.
Elite status shortcuts
United elite status qualification is based on Premier qualifying points (PQPs) and Premier qualifying flights (PQFs). You’ll earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 you spend on purchases with your Explorer Card (up to 1,000 PQPs in a calendar year) that can be applied toward your Premier status qualification — but only up to the Premier 1K level.
25% inflight savings
Receive 25% off inflight United purchases when using your card, including Wi-Fi, food and beverages.
Which cards compete with the United Explorer?
There are a number of cards that are competitive with the United Explorer:
- If you want a premium United experience: The United Club Infinite Card is the ideal card for United lounge access — bar none. For any loyal United flyer who spends significant money with the airline each year, this card would make a great addition to your wallet. For more information, read our full review of the United Club Infinite.
- If you want a more all-around card: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the best-known travel rewards credit cards, featuring 5 points per dollar on travel booked through the Chase travel portal and Lyft purchases, 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services and online grocery store purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs), 2 points per dollar on all other travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. For more information, read our full review of the Sapphire Preferred.
- If you want tons of perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express is one of the top premium travel rewards cards. As a cardmember, you’ll earn valuable Membership Rewards points, receive up to $1,500 in annual statement credits and access to an extensive network of airport lounges worldwide. For more information, read our full review of the Amex Platinum.
For additional options, check out our full list of the best United travel cards.
Is the United Explorer worth it?
Between free Global Entry, annual lounge visits and Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection access, the card is jam-packed with perks that will enhance your trips from start to finish — not just when you’re in the air. The card’s welcome bonus of 60,000 miles, plus a waived annual fee for the first year, is just the cherry on top. It’s worth a try if you’re a United loyalist.
The United Explorer Card isn’t your run-of-the-mill airline credit card. With benefits like an up-to-$100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee statement credit, two annual one-time lounge passes and free checked bags, plus a waived annual fee for the first year, it’s a low-cost card with considerable value.
Official application link: United Explorer Card with a welcome offer of 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on qualifying purchases in the first three months of opening an account, plus first-year annual fee waived.
Additional reporting by Ryan Wilcox and Eric Rosen.