8 Reasons to Get the United MileagePlus Explorer Card

May 5, 2015

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Some travel rewards credit cards have strong sign-up bonuses, while others have useful ongoing benefits. In this post, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explains how one co-branded United Airlines card fits into both categories.

Last week, Chase and United Airlines announced a new offer for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. You can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of card membership. You can earn an additional 5,000 miles by adding an authorized user and having them make a purchase in those same three months. We’ve seen similar offers in the past, but just like before, this one won’t be around forever. Today, I want to highlight 8 great reasons why you should consider adding the Explorer Card to your wallet.

An award ticket to Europe is easily within reach with the sign-up bonus from the Explorer Card. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

1. The sign-up bonus

This likely goes without saying, but the 50,000-mile sign-up bonus is incredibly lucrative (and a big improvement over the “standard” 30,000-mile bonus). When you factor in the 5,000-mile bonus for adding an authorized user, your miles are worth $825 based on TPG’s most recent valuations. Monetary value aside, 55,000 miles can get you quite far when it comes to award tickets. It’s almost enough for a round-trip economy ticket to Europe, but there are several other reward options it will unlock from North America:

  • Two round-trip coach (saver) tickets within the continental U.S. and Canada
  • A round-trip coach (saver) ticket to Hawaii
  • Three one-way coach (saver) tickets to Alaska, Central America or the Caribbean
  • A round-trip coach (saver) ticket to Northern South America
  • A one-way coach (saver) ticket to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or Australia/New Zealand

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other limited-time offers; just in the last year, we’ve seen discounted award tickets for North America, South America, Hawaii, and for partner redemptions. For more information, check out Jason Steele’s post on how to book awards with United.

You can earn 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year.

2. The annual spend bonus

A less-heralded benefit on this card is the 10,000-mile bonus you earn after spending $25,000 in a calendar year. This is appealing for a couple of reasons. For starters, spending $25,000 on any United-branded credit card will exempt you from the revenue requirements for earning (or retaining) elite status. This can be especially valuable given that United has raised these levels for 2015, though remember that this waiver does not apply to Premier 1K status.

Secondly, this yearly bonus effectively increases the everyday earning rate on the card. If you spend exactly $25,000 on the card (with none of that being spent directly with United), you’ll take home a total of 35,000 miles. Thus, you’re earning 1.4 miles for every dollar spent, for a return of 2.1% on everyday spending (again, using TPG’s most recent valuations). This is a solid earning rate; it’s only unlocked when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year.

No need to worry about your miles expiring when you hold the Explorer Card! Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
No need to worry about your miles expiring when you hold the Explorer Card! Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

3. Keep miles from expiring

Most loyalty currencies have expiration policies (Delta and JetBlue are two notable exceptions). If you don’t have any qualifying earning or redemption activity, your hard-earned miles may disappear. United miles normally expire after 18 months of inactivity, and it could cost up to $2,500 to reinstate them! Fortunately, as an Explorer cardholder you’re exempt from these expiration policies, even if you don’t actually use the card to make a purchase and earn miles.

4. Upgrades on award tickets

Another benefit is reserved for United Premier members who also hold the Explorer Card. Unlike Delta, which allows upgrades for all elite members on award tickets, you must be an elite member and a primary cardholder of a United branded credit card to open up these upgrades. You’ll be prioritized below paid tickets at your Premier level, but above travelers at lower Premier levels. Unfortunately, this benefit doesn’t apply to companions, nor does it apply to authorized users on your Explorer Card account.

Enjoy two passes for the United Club each year.
Enjoy two passes for the United Club each year.

5. Annual club passes

Some credit cards will offer you club passes as a sign-up bonus (like last year’s offer on the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard). Fortunately, the two club passes on the Explorer Card are given every year. United normally charges $50 for a day pass, so this is an easy way to escape the bustle of the airport and a grab a drink or catch up on some work before your flight. These passes are even more attractive now, since Priority Pass recently removed United Clubs from its network of lounges, and the Lounge Club benefit on the Ink Plus Business Card just came to an end last month. Just be aware that these passes are for one person each (with no guest privileges), and typically can only be used at United Clubs, not partner lounges. The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.   

6. No foreign transaction fees

I must confess that I have paid foreign transaction fees before, but today, so many cards waive these fees that it simply doesn’t make sense to incur them. The MileagePlus Explorer Card joined the no foreign transaction fee party back in 2013, getting rid of the 3% surcharge that was tacked onto any purchase made in a currency other than U.S. dollars. If you have an international trip coming up, this can be a great way to save on your purchases abroad; just be sure to avoid dynamic currency conversion!

The Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice is just one of the properties included in the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
The Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice is just one of the properties included in the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.

7. The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection

If you’re not paying foreign transaction fees, you might as well use those savings for luxurious hotel stays! Though it’s not nearly as well-publicized as American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, Chase has its own program for booking stays at high-end properties around the world: the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection. As a cardholder, you can book rooms at over 750 hotels and resorts and enjoy benefits like complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and unique welcome amenities. Of course, you get all of this without the hefty annual fee on The Platinum Card from American Express (See Rates & Fees)!

8. United flight benefits

A final reason to get this card is the pair of benefits you’ll get when traveling on United-operated flights. First, when you purchase your ticket with the Explorer Card, you and a companion on the same reservation can each check your first bag for free — a savings of up to $100 for every round-trip flight. You’ll then be able to board the flight ahead of the general boarding call, giving you first dibs at overhead space. For anyone living in a United hub, this benefit can be a big money saver and can easily cover the $95 annual fee (which is already waived in year one anyway).

Bottom line

This card has always offered a solid value proposition, especially for travelers who fly United a couple of times a year. With the new sign-up bonus, this card should be at or near the top of your credit cards application list. It’s a shame that United has devalued its program so much over the last couple of years. Still, 50,000 miles is no small haul, so if you’ve been eyeing this card for a while, now is the time to pull the trigger.

Which United MileagePlus Explorer benefits are most valuable to you?

For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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