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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – United MileagePlus Explorer
Last Friday, Chase relaunched a limited-time public offer for the United Explorer card, though I realized after I wrote about it that there is actually an even better public offer with an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles (after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months from account opening) plus a $50 statement credit after your first purchase and an additional 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first 3 months.
The $95 annual fee is also waived the first year. If you didn’t get the $50 statement credit and applied within the last 90 days, you may be able to get Chase to honor it by sending a secure message or calling- it never hurts to ask. The normal bonus on this card is 30,000 miles, so the current offer represents nearly a 67% increase. Once you complete the spending requirement and add an authorized user, you’re looking at no less than 57,000 bonus points, and potentially more if you use the card to purchase United tickets (earning 2x miles per $1 on United airfare), or do things like link the card to United’s dining rewards network and eat at participating restaurants. Plus, if you make $25,000 in net purchases using the card in a calendar year, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles (which will also let you waive the airline’s Premier Qualifying Dollar requirements toward elite status for everything but top-tier 1K status).
With that in mind, I thought I would give a quick rundown on what exactly you can do with all those bonus miles. First, here’s a quick reminder of the key terms of the current offer.
- Earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months from account opening
- Earn a $50 Statement Credit after your first purchase
- Priority boarding (for the cardholder and companions on the same reservation)
- 2 United Club passes per year
- Free first checked bag on United operated flights (for the cardholder and one companion on the same reservation when you use your Explorer card to purchase tickets). When redeeming miles for an award flight, you can still get a free checked bag by using your card to pay for the TSA security fee.
- Earn 5,000 bonus miles when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first three months;
- Earn 2x miles on United purchases
- Earn 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 in net purchases each calendar year
- No foreign transaction fees
- $95 annual fee waived the first year
All in all, this is the best public offer out there on the Explorer card, since it includes the extra $50 statement credit that was not a part of the offer I wrote about on Friday or the offer that Chase customers are able to apply for through a physical bank branch. Maximizing Bonus United Miles While United seriously devalued its mileage program earlier this year by introducing two entirely new award charts with higher redemption levels on United flights as well as even more exorbitantly high award requirements on its airline partners, United miles can still be quite useful, and I value them at about 1.5 cents apiece 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 get a lot of places in coach if that’s how you want to travel.
The Mileage Plus program has a lot of good elements to it, including the ability to redeem for one-way awards, all the great Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa and Singapore, and a very good award search engine that makes booking award travel fairly easy. That said, while 50,000 or even 60,000 miles won’t get you as far as they used to, they can still get you pretty far depending on how you redeem them. Here are a few award chart sweet spots to consider if you get in on the current card offer. I’ve used 60,000 miles as my benchmark since, with all the bonus miles from this offer, you’ll pretty much be there by completing the spend requirement plus a little bit, and adding a user. Roundtrip Domestic Business Class A roundtrip domestic award ticket on United in business class will run you 50,000 miles. That’s true whether it’s San Diego to Las Vegas or Los Angeles to New York aboard the airline’s flagship premium service planes with lie-flat seating. While I’d avoid using these miles on quick short-hauls, if you can snag that premier transcon flight, it could definitely be worth your while considering those tickets can go for upwards of $4,000 at peak times. I find the best strategies for booking these types of awards is either to book as far out in advance as possible, or to be as flexible as possible with your plans and book close in – sometimes within a matter of days of your intended travel times. I’ve had a lot of luck booking tickets anywhere from a week to a few hours in advance this way.
As you can see from this sample roundtrip, I was able to find some options even for days later this week on the premium service 757-200, with returns later this month for a total of 50,000 miles and $86.20 ($75 of that is a close-in booking fee because travel is within 21 days). The same ticket would cost $2,487.20, so you’d be getting about 4.8 cents per mile in value. One-Way Business Class To Europe As I mentioned, one of the bright spots of the Mileage Plus program is being able to book one-way awards for half the price of a roundtrip. So while the cost to redeem miles to Europe from the US jumped from 50,000 miles to 57,500 miles each way in business class, if you maximize this sign-up bonus, you can still earn enough miles from it to redeem a one-way award on United itself (redeeming on a partner like LOT or SWISS will cost you 70,000 miles each way in business class). Even though it’s more miles than before, that’s still cheaper than the 125,000 Delta would charge you for a roundtrip with no option to book a half-price one-way award.
So, for instance, this itinerary on United from Newark to Stockholm via Oslo in business class is just 57,500 miles + $14.90 in taxes. If you were to redeem on a Star Alliance partner, a business class award would be 70,000 miles each way. Don’t forget that economy redemptions from North America to Europe did not go up in the devaluation, so whether you redeem on United or on a partner like Brussels Airlines, you’ll still pay just 30,000 miles each way. This could be very useful if you want to fly to London, where other airlines will typically levy fuel surcharges that can range between $500-$700 even on economy tickets, as you can see in this sample roundtrip from SFO to London in September. (Plus, you can even fly back on the 787-8 Dreamliner via Houston.)
You’d still pay about $220 in taxes/fees, but compared to the $1,150 the ticket would have cost you, you’re coming out ahead and getting a value of 1.55 cents per mile. 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 itself. For instance, let’s say you wanted to get away to Rio for a quick pre-holidays vacation in December; this award search shows availability on United from Houston to Rio via Sao Paulo for 30,000 miles in economy, 55,000 miles in business, and 70,000 miles in Global First, plus just $16.41 in taxes and fees no matter which class you fly.
By comparison, that’s still more than the 100,000 miles American and US Airways would charge you to fly business class or 125,000 miles to fly first class, but less than Delta’s 125,000-mile business class awards. Australia and New Zealand Though it’s costly, I still consider flying from North America to Australia and New Zealand a sweet spot in United’s award chart. That’s because an economy ticket from the continental US to either country is just 40,000 miles each way (that’s 10,000 more miles than Europe or Southern South America), and business class on United (with its flagship lie-flat BusinessFirst service) is 70,000 miles each way. Let’s say you wanted to experience the Australian summer; you could fly there in December from San Francisco for just 40,000 miles and $31.60.
American and US Airways still beat these redemption levels (if you can find Qantas award availability), but United comes out ahead of Delta’s 160,000-mile roundtrip awards to Australia (though Delta charges the same miles whether you’re flying its own metal or a partner like Virgin Australia, while United would charge you 160,000 to fly a partner). Other Redemption Options In my opinion, those are the most interesting award options and ways that you can cash in on those bonus miles for tickets worth several thousand dollars each. However, here are a few more redemption options for you strictly by the numbers. This will show where on the globe you can reach with the bonus miles from the Explorer card using United’s current award charts, starting from the Mainland US, Alaska, and Canada.
Hawaii: One-way in business or first class for 40,000 miles (50,000 miles when business and first are both offered) or 45,000 miles roundtrip in economy. Mexico/Central America/Caribbean: Roundtrip in economy for 35,000 miles, or 60,000 miles roundtrip in business or first class on a two-class plane. Northern South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam, French Guyana): 40,000 miles roundtrip in economy, or 70,000 miles roundtrip in business class on United. Middle East (Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen): 42,500 miles one-way in economy, or 70,000 miles in business class. Northern Africa (Algeria, Canary Islands, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia): 40,000 miles each way in economy, or 70,000 miles in business class. Central and Southern Africa (includes Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote D’lvoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Reunion Island, Rwanda, S. Africa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe): One-way in economy for 40,000 miles, or 70,000 miles in business class on United. Japan: One-way for 35,000 miles in economy, or 65,000 miles each way in business class. North Asia (including China, Mongolia, South Korea and Taiwan): One-way in economy for 35,000 miles, or business class for 70,000 miles on United. Central Asia (including India and Pakistan among others): 42,500 miles each way in economy or 70,000 miles in business class on United. South Asia (including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam): 40,000 miles each way in economy, 70,000 in business class on United. Oceania (includes American Samoa, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu, Western Samoa): 35,000 miles one-way in economy, or 65,000 miles one-way in business on United.