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7 reasons to downgrade from the United Quest to the United Explorer card

June 01, 2022
13 min read
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United Airlines offers a number of cobranded credit cards, running the gamut from an entry-level card with no annual fee to a premium card that includes United Club membership. However, credit cards with high annual fees require a yearly reevaluation of whether or not it's worth paying to keep the card. Are the perks and benefits providing value that outweighs the annual fee?

With its $250 annual fee, the United Quest Card falls near the higher end of the fee spectrum. If you have the Quest card and think the annual fee is no longer worth it, here are seven reasons why you should downgrade to the United Explorer Card.

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United Quest Card benefits

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The United Quest card offers up to $125 in annual statement credits that are automatically applied when United purchases are charged on your card.

The Quest card also includes two 5,000-mile flight credits per year as a reward for redeeming miles, starting with your first cardmember anniversary. You'll receive 5,000 miles back into your MileagePlus account after you take a United or United Express-operated award flight booked with your miles, up to twice per anniversary year.

TPG values United miles at 1.21 cents each, which means that each of these 5,000-mile reward flight credits is worth roughly $61.

In addition to those unique perks, the card offers:

  • Two free checked bags for the cardmember and a companion on the reservation.
  • Up to $100 credit for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or Nexus application (every four years).
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases (includes Wi-Fi, food and beverages).
  • Priority boarding.
  • Travel and purchase protections.
  • Complimentary, space-available upgrades when flying on award tickets if you have United elite status.

Just note that you must use the Quest card to pay for your ticket in order to check your bags for free — though this includes award tickets booked with miles when you pay for the taxes and fees with your card.

Related: Earn 60,000 bonus miles and exclusive travel perks with the United Quest card

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Why downgrade from Quest to Explorer

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If you've looked at your spending and travel habits and decided the Quest card isn't for you, you have two options: closing the card or changing to another card.

Remember that you won't be eligible for a sign-up bonus on the Explorer card if you are downgrading from another credit card. Those offers are only for new applications.

Here are seven reasons why downgrading your card to the United Explorer card could make sense.

You're over 5/24 and can't get the other card through a new application

If you want to earn the maximum number of points and miles, it's normally best to obtain credit cards by applying for them with a sign-up bonus. However, you may be ineligible due to a bank's application rules. This is especially applicable here since we're talking about two credit cards from Chase. This issuer imposes a rule known as 5/24: If you've opened five (or more) credit cards with any issuer over the previous 24 months, you'll almost certainly be denied for any new Chase card.

If you're at (or over) 5/24, the only way for you to obtain the Explorer card is to request a product change from another United credit card.

You want to save money on the annual fee

The Quest card has an annual fee of $250, while the Explorer card has an annual fee of just $95. There is an introductory fee of $0 for the first year on the Explorer card, but this only applies to new applicants. So if you downgrade from the Quest to the Explorer, your new annual fee will be $95. That's a savings of $155 per year.

You don't spend much money with United — especially not on this card

The Quest card offers $125 in annual credits for spending with United. However, you need to make United purchases on your card in order to earn this credit. If you aren't using this credit — which can offset half of the card's annual fee — then the Quest probably isn't well-suited to your wallet.

Additionally, the Quest card earns 3 miles per dollar spent with United, while the Explorer card earns just 2 miles per dollar on these purchases. Yes, you will earn fewer miles per dollar on purchases made with United, but cardmembers who aren't spending much with United on the Quest card likely won't feel the difference.

You may have other cards in your wallet that you prefer for your United flight purchases. The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar on flights purchased directly with airlines. Amex points can't be transferred directly to United Airlines MileagePlus, but you can transfer them to other Star Alliance carriers to book United Airlines flights.

If you're looking for a card with flexible points that can be transferred directly to MileagePlus, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It earns 3 points per dollar on all travel purchases, including flights, and the Ultimate Rewards points you earn can be transferred to MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio.

You don't need the bonus points on streaming purchases

Streaming services grow in popularity each year, and new ones debut frequently. The Quest card earns 2 miles per dollar on these purchases, but that's inconsequential if you don't charge any streaming services to this card.

You may be able to get your streaming services for free or at a discount when using other credit cards, such as the $30 in annual streaming credits from the U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card (see rates & fees). Additionally, the Quest card doesn't have the top earning rate for streaming services. Consider these other cards with better earnings:

The information for the Wells Fargo Propel 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.

Related: Now with Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+: How to use the Amex Platinum digital entertainment credit

You don't need two free checked bags; one will suffice

(Photo by izusek/GettyImages)

The Quest card offers two free checked bags for you and a companion booked on the same reservation. By comparison, the Explorer card offers just one free checked bag per person for you and your companion. How often do you check a second suitcase on your trips with United Airlines?

If one free checked bag will be sufficient, paying the higher annual fee for the Quest card may not be worth it.

Related: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines

Remember, you must pay for the flight with your United cobranded credit card to qualify for the free checked bag(s) benefit.

You aren't spending more than $24,000 on the card each year

United credit cardmembers can earn Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) toward status through credit card spending. The earning rate is 500 PQPs per $12,000 spent on a United credit card.

On the Quest card (and other premium United credit cards, like the United Club Infinite Card) you can earn up to 3,000 PQPs via credit card spending each year. That would require spending $72,000 on your United credit card to maximize this benefit.

The Explorer card also offers PQP-earning ability at the same rate of 500 PQPs per $12,000 spent on the card. However, the maximum you can earn on this card is 1,000 PQPs per year — achieved with $24,000 in spending.

If you aren't pursuing United MileagePlus elite status or aren't spending more than $24,000 on your card in a year so that the bonus PQPs enter the discussion, then you may not need the Quest card.

You use your United miles to fly on partners, not with United

The Quest card offers two 5,000-mile flight credits per year as a reward for redeeming miles, starting with your first cardmember anniversary. This means you can't receive the credits during the first year you have the Quest card.

You'll receive 5,000 miles back into your MileagePlus account after you take a United or United Express-operated award flight booked with your miles, up to twice per anniversary year. TPG values United miles at 1.21 cents apiece, so maximizing this benefit and receiving 10,000 miles is worth $121.

However, if you use your United miles to fly on partners — not with United or United Express — you won't receive this benefit. Consider how often you redeem miles for flights operated by United or United Express. If the answer is "never" or "not often," then this benefit might not provide value to you.

Related: The best sweet spots you can book with United MileagePlus

Things that won't change if you downgrade

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

We've seen that several of your benefits and perks will change if you downgrade from the Quest to the Explorer card. However, that's not to say that everything will be different. Several of your card benefits will remain the same:

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • 2 miles per dollar on dining and delivery services.
  • Expanded access to award redemptions using your United miles.
  • Up to a $100 reimbursement on your application fee for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or Nexus — valid every four years.
  • Priority boarding privileges on United flights.
  • 25% discount on inflight purchases when paying with your card on United- and United Express-operated flights.
  • Various travel and purchase protections included with your card.
  • Tap-to-pay transactions.

Additionally, a benefit of downgrading your card (rather than closing it) is that you will preserve your credit history on that account. Credit age is one of the factors that makes up your credit score.

Other considerations when product-changing a credit card

(Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Aside from simply comparing the benefits on your existing card to the other card you’re considering for a product change, there are a few things you should think about before taking any action.

Remember that you won't be eligible for a sign-up bonus on the Explorer card when downgrading. Those offers are only for new applications, not changing from one card to another. Are you eligible for a bonus on the Explorer card? Consider whether (or how much) it matters to you that you won't get this bonus when downgrading your Quest card.

Also, the welcome bonus you earned when you opened your Quest card has conditions. You should always plan to keep a credit card for at least a year in order to not have those bonus miles clawed back by the bank.

Related: When can you downgrade your credit card?

Changing from one credit card to another card shouldn't result in a "hard pull" credit inquiry since you aren't applying for a new product. You should also maintain the same credit limit on the new card.

Lastly, product changing is the only way to access credit cards that are no longer open to new applicants. Applying for an available credit card and then later changing to a discontinued card could be part of your rewards strategy.

Related: The secret to getting the discontinued Ritz-Carlton credit card — and 4 reasons you need it

How to downgrade from the Quest to the Explorer

(Photo by Tashdique Mehtaj Ahmed/Getty Images)

If you've read all of the information above and decided that changing from the Quest card to the Explorer card is the right move for you, here's how to make the change.

You'll need to call the number on the back of your credit card. Explain to the phone representative that you want to downgrade your card to the Explorer card. Be clear with the agent on the phone that you want to change to the new card, being sure that they don't process a new card application or close your Quest card by mistake.

The phone representative will typically need to read you a mandatory disclosure. This will include things like changes in benefits, when your new card should arrive in the mail and important information about a refund of your annual fee if you qualify.

Pay attention to the disclosure, and ask questions about anything that seems unclear. Once you agree to the terms, the phone agent will process the change. You should be able to continue using your current card until the new one arrives in the mail.

Bottom line

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in the points and miles hobby. For some people, the Quest card may be their favorite credit card. For others, the annual fee is no longer worth it, and downgrading to the Explorer card may be more attractive with its lower annual fee.

Before taking action, look at the differences in benefits and make sure you understand what perks you'll lose if you downgrade your Quest card. If you won't miss them, then downgrading is probably a good idea.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
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60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
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  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees