Using the United Explorer Bonus in a Post Devaluation World

by on August 27, 2014 · 16 comments

in Chase, United

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In light of the limited-time sign-up bonus offer for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card of 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months, I thought I would revisit what I think are the best United award options since the recent United devaluation. (Note that there’s a better offer of 50,000 miles plus a $50 statement credit for existing United members.)

This card comes with priority boarding, free first checked bag, no foreign transaction fees, and 2 United Club passes per year. You’ll also get 5,000 bonus miles for adding an authorized user and making a purchase within the first three months. The card does have a $95 annual fee that is waived the first year.

Even will all the recent United Airlines devaluations, some redemptions still make sense.

Even with all the recent United Airlines devaluations, there’s plenty of value to be found.

How To Still Maximize United Miles

In my August valuations of miles and points, I list United MileagePlus miles at 1.5 cents apiece, so at a bare minimum, 50,000 miles is worth $750 in travel to me. However, some redemptions can get you a much better return. Below are some ideas of different ways you can maximize your United miles. As a reminder, Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio, so if you have the Chase Sapphire PreferredInk Plus, or Ink Bold, you can transfer your Chase points over to United to top off your account.

While United massively devalued their MileagePlus program earlier this year by introducing two new award charts with higher redemption levels on United flights and even more exorbitant award requirements on its airline partners, United miles can still be quite useful thanks to their versatility and ease of redemption. Plus, many of the economy redemption levels both on United and its partners either did not go up or went up very little, so you can still cover a lot of distance in coach.

Earning the signup bonus will just about get you a roundtrip award to Europe in coach, or one-way in business class (57,500 miles).

The signup bonus from the Explorer card will just about get you a roundtrip award to Europe in coach, or one-way in business class (57,500 miles).

Europe: Even though United increased their award pricing to Europe, two great features of United MileagePlus miles are that you can easily book on United Airlines partners, and you can book one-way awards. Delta doesn’t presently allow for one-way awards, and if you were to book using American Airlines AAdvantage miles, you’d most likely pay high taxes/fees to travel on British Airways via London (at least if you want saver seats). Economy awards on United start at 30,000 miles one-way, and first/business redemptions are 57,500 miles each way on United or 70,000 miles each-way on partner airlines.

110,000 United miles for a Southern South America award in Business Class.

110,000 United miles for a Southern South America award in Business Class.

Southern South America: Redemptions on United for Southern South America (including Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile) are 60,000 miles roundtrip in economy on United and its partners, and 55,000 miles each way in business class on United metal.

Round-trip flights to Hawaii are 45,000 miles on United in Economy

Roundtrip flights to Hawaii are 45,000 miles on United in Economy.

Hawaii: United award flights to Hawaii are 40,000 miles one-way in business or first class (50,000 miles when both business and first are offered), or 45,000 miles roundtrip in economy.

You can use your United MileagePlus miles to upgrade on transcon flights.

You can use your United MileagePlus miles to upgrade on transcon flights.

Upgrades: You can also use your United miles to pay for upgrades. Your original fare class will determine whether you can upgrade solely with miles or if a co-pay is required. For instance if you wanted to upgrade to Business Class on JFK-LAX from a discount fare such as a N, G, L, K, T, or S, it would cost you $250 plus 20,000 miles each way, but an upgrade from M, E, or U would cost 15,000 miles and a $75 co-pay, which is waived for Premier members. I recently flew on United’s lie-flat business class from JFK-LAX and was quite impressed with the seats, so upgrading can be a worthy use of miles for longer flights.

United Sydney-Bangkok for 17,5000 miles in economy.

United Sydney-Bangkok for 17,5000 miles in economy.

Australia: For United flyers living in Australia or for those who want to travel from Australia, some of the recent changes actually meant a reduction in the number of miles needed for award travel. Award prices from Australia to South Asia have actually decreased and are now 17,500 miles for economy, 30,000 miles for business, or 40,000 miles for first class each way.

You can also redeem your United miles for hotel and car rentals.

You can also redeem your United miles for hotels and car rentals.

Hotel/Car Rental Awards: While not the the most valuable redemption, United allows you to redeem your miles for hotels and car rentals at a fixed value. If you don’t have enough miles, you can also use the Miles & Money option which lets you pay for part of the redemption with miles and the other part with cash. This can be useful if you’re looking fro a cheap car rental or hotel stay and don’t want to shell out the cash.

Even with the recent devaluation you can still get good use out of 50,000 United miles, so I think the current offer is strong, and encourage those who are on the fence to get it while it’s available.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Kurt

    Why would you even link to the inferior offer (and especially why is it the first link in this post)? Trying to trick people into clicking on the link?

  • Redpanda

    Why does it bother you so much. He linked to both offers, it doesn’t matter which one he linked first. You should know that the offer with the $50 statement credit is a targeted offer and doesn’t work for everyone. It asks you to log in to your united account and then you may or may not be able to access the offer. When he goes through the trouble of researching information for you to help you out, it seems a bit ungrateful of you to just attack his decisions

  • AlanB

    Let me start by saying thank you for all the help your blog has given me. I tried to sign up through your link for a business version of the card (thanks to you I got 50K bonus when I signed up for the personal card in a Chase branch while on vacation) but I couldn’t find a business version. I emailed the Chase banker who helped me with the personal card, he said the business version is only available through the United website. I applied there and was approved but the only business offer I could find was only for 30K. I called and asked if 50K was available for business version they didn’t seem to know but they did submit my request to another department to ask for the other 20K, they’ll send a letter in 7-10 days. Do you know if the 50K offer is available for business? Thanks again and at worst I made 30K for 1K spend I was going to make anyway.

  • stvr

    It’s totally immoral for you to even highlight the worse offer. Shame on you TPG.

  • Redpanda

    The $50 statement credit offer is provided by united and not chase; it’s targeted and doesn’t work for everyone.

  • Kurt

    The fact that the $50 statement credit offer shows up in incognito window (no cookies, not logged into United) means it’s not a targeted offer (unless they’re targeting based on IP, geolocation, or browser, which I doubt).

  • Redpanda

    When you click on apply, it will ask you to log onto your united account. This offer is provided by united and I know for a fact that it doesn’t show up for everyone when you click to apply

  • Michael

    Per Flyertalk, 50K business card.

    I don’t think it has the $50 statement credit.

  • AlanB

    Thank you.

  • Alan B

    Wow, if these instructions were given on prior posts I missed them. But this did work, I didn’t follow the instructions to clear cache/cookies because I think that’d wipe out all saved passwords, but I did log into my United account and then copied and pasted the link as advised. It did come up 50K for 2K spend, not the 30K for 1K spend I got when I applied on United (probably without logging into my account). If I get denied for the extra 20K I’ll try again now that I know it was available.

  • Chris

    It is worth mentioning that the “United Metal” price also applies to flights on Copa. This is important because may of the available awards to South America involve flights on Copa.

  • Darren

    i could never get the $50 statement credit offer to show up, I finally gave up and just used the regualr 50,000 offer

  • Gorbal

    The comments from the post earlier this month about the $50 credit are exhibit A of what a pain in the ___ it was for some readers (myself included) to get the better offer. Depending what your time is worth to you, I’d say the first offer is the better one.

  • RR

    United miles are also good for Asia. I just redeemed 70k miles total for a round-trip ticket Seattle-Tokyo.

  • Mike

    Does anyone know how I can use United miles to fly on LOT or other airlines that do not show up on the United search engine?

  • clvus

    I’m rooting for United, they have the best availability for me. SFO to either SE Asia or to London. And the miles are worth more than 1.5c ea. 50k gets you 5/6 of an economy return to Europe which can cost $1200 or 5/8 of an economy return to Bali – worth up to $1600 depending on month. So to me those miles are worth 2c each.
    Props to Chase too for offering so many cards

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