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When it comes to co-branded airline credit cards, United loyalists have two main options: the United MileagePlus Explorer Card or the United MileagePlus Club Card, both of which are issued by Chase.
While the average traveler might get more mileage (so to speak) out of a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or The Amex EveryDay Card from American Express — which earn bonus points on a wide range of purchases that can be transferred to a number of different airline and hotel partners — those looking for United-specific benefits who might not fly quite enough to earn elite status probably want to take a look at both United cards. Here are the factors to help you decide which one is the better choice for you.
Main Benefits and Features
Before we get into the specifics of each card’s benefits, let’s look at a side-by-side comparison:
|Card||United MileagePlus Explorer Card||United MileagePlus Club Card|
|Current sign-up bonus||50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, plus another 5,000 miles after you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months||50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months|
|Annual fee||$0 the first year, then $95||$450|
|Earning rates||2x miles on purchases with United, 1x on everything else||2x on purchases with United, 1.5x on everything else|
|Airline benefits||First checked bag free, priority boarding, complimentary upgrades on award flights for United elites, waived PQD requirements when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year up to Premier Platinum||First and second checked bags free, Premier Access check-in and boarding, waived close-in award booking fees on United, complimentary upgrades on award flights for United elites, waived PQD requirements when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year up to Premier Platinum|
|Club benefits||2 United Club passes on each anniversary||United Club membership|
|Other benefits||No foreign transaction fees, Visa Signature Hotels, Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, earn 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year||No foreign transaction fees, World of Hyatt Discoverist status, Hertz President’s Circle elite status, Visa Signature Hotels, Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection|
Now, let’s see how these benefits specifically stack up against one another.
Both cards offer decent sign-up bonuses. The United Club Card’s is higher, but so is its spending requirement.
United MileagePlus Club Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months your account is open.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months your account is open, and an additional 5,000 bonus miles after you add the first authorized
Things are equal here, but it’s also important to note that the United Club card hasn’t historically come with any sign-up bonus, so if you decide you want the card, now is the time to get it.
Now we’re getting into the major differences between the two cards. The United Explorer’s annual fee is a mere $95, and even that is waived the first year. By contrast, the United Club Card’s annual fee is $450 (which has been waived on some offers in the past), but you get a number of greater benefits for it.
Both United cards earn 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United. However, the Explorer earns just 1 mile per dollar on everything else, while the United Club Card earns 1.5 miles per dollar on other purchases, a 50% premium. Since TPG values United miles at 1.4 cents apiece, that means you’re earning an extra 0.7 cents on every dollar you spend with the Club Card.
However, the standout benefit that the United MileagePlus Explorer Card offers in this category that the Club Card does not is that cardholders who spend $25,000 or more in net purchases in a calendar year earn 10,000 bonus miles. If you meet that spending threshold exactly, you’re effectively earning a 40% bonus on everyday purchases (you’d be earning 35,000 miles for $25,000 worth of purchases), which comes pretty close to the Club Card’s 1.5x earning rate.
As you’d expect, both cards offer benefits specifically for flying United. Here’s what you’ll get with each.
The United MileagePlus Explorer Card gets the primary cardholder and one travel companion on the same reservation their first standard checked bag free when the cardholder purchases the tickets directly from United using the card. This is valued at $25 each way per person. Explorer cardholders also get priority boarding after premium cabin travelers and elites, but before general boarding.
United MileagePlus Club Card cardholders get first and second checked bags free for themselves and one travel companion on the same reservation when the primary cardmember includes their United MileagePlus number in their reservation and purchases their tickets from United with their card. This is valued at up to $60 per person each way.
Club cardholders also get Premier Access, meaning priority check-in, priority security screening where available, priority boarding and baggage handling privileges. In short, it’s like low-level elite status. The final benefit the Club Card offers that the Explorer does not: Waived close-in award booking fees that can save you $75 a pop, which is the equivalent of a United Premier Platinum status benefit.
Travelers who have either of these cards as well as United elite status are eligible for complimentary upgrades on award tickets. Both cards also allow cardholders to waive the Premier Qualifying Dollar requirements for Unite elite status up to the Premier Platinum level by spending $25,000 or more in net purchases in a calendar year. They also get access to expanded award availability when using their miles, which offers extra low-level award space on United-operated flights, and the ability to book any United flight at any time at the applicable Everyday Award level.
This one is no contest, really. The United MileagePlus Explorer Card gives cardholders two United Club one-time passes deposited into their MileagePlus account each year for their cardmember anniversary.
By contrast, the United MileagePlus Club Card comes with outright United Club membership and access to United Clubs for cardholders holding a boarding pass for same-day travel. Depending on your level of elite status, that represents between $450-$550 in value per year, essentially covering the card’s annual fee. Existing United Club members are eligible to receive a pro-rated refund for any unused portion of their current membership if the refund is greater than $15. United Club members may also bring their spouse and dependent children under 21, or up to two guests, into any United Club location. Unfortunately, this access does not extend to the airline’s flagship Polaris Lounge locations, but your Club membership will get you into Star Alliance lounges.
Like many top travel credit cards, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card waives foreign transaction fees and gives cardholders access to both Visa Signature Hotels and Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resorts Collection portals so they can enjoy extra perks like free Wi-Fi or valet parking and on-property credits. Cardholders also have access to Chase’s Inside Access events, United MileagePlus Visa Signature cardmember events and the Visa Concierge service.
In addition to those same benefits, the United MileagePlus Club Card carries some additional perks. Those include automatic World of Hyatt Discoverist status, which provides benefits when you stay at Hyatt hotels such as bonus points, room upgrades, complimentary premium internet, late check-out and a special reservations line.
United Club cardholders are also eligible for Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle membership with benefits like confirmed vehicle availability, one-car-class upgrades, bonus points earning and all the benefits of Hertz Gold service.
The travel and purchase protections on these two United cards are identical. Here’s a summary:
Trip Cancellation / Trip Interruption Insurance: If your trip is cancelled or cut short by sickness, severe weather, or other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels.
Travel Accident Insurance: When you pay for your air, bus, train, or cruise transportation with your card, you’re eligible to receive accidental death or dismemberment coverage of up to $500,000.
Baggage Delay Insurance: Reimburses you for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays of over 6 hours by passenger carriers, up to $100 a day for 3 days.
Lost Luggage Reimbursement: If you or an immediate family member check or carry on luggage that’s damaged or lost by the carrier, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.
Trip Delay Reimbursement: If your common carrier travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.
Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver: Coverage is primary and provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for theft and collision damage for most rental cars in the US and abroad. You must decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card.
Purchase Protection: Covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year.
Price Protection: If a card purchase you made in the US is advertised for less in print or online within 90 days, you can be reimbursed the difference up to $500 per item and $2,500 per year.
Return Protection: You can be reimbursed for eligible items that the store won’t take back within 90 days of purchase, up to $500 per item and $1,000 per year.
Extended Warranty Protection: Extends the time period of the US manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less.
What’s interesting here is that, because both cards are Visa Signature products, they come with the same package of travel benefits and purchase protections, even though the United MileagePlus Club Card’s annual fee is much higher than that of the Explorer Card. The other thing to point out is that both cards offer primary rental car insurance, which is a rarity even among travel credit cars, and a benefit that can save time, hassle and money.
There are a number of differences between these two cards, including their annual fees, airline and club-related benefits and earning potential. If what you care about is earning miles with a co-branded airline card, then the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is probably the one for you. Not only does it offer a decent sign-up bonus of up to 45,000 miles (and sometimes more) for spending $2,000 within three months of becoming a cardholder and adding an authorized user, but it also has that $25,000 spend threshold that would net you both a PQD waiver for (most) United elite status levels along with an additional 10,000 bonus miles. Its other benefits and travel protections are largely the same as those of the United Club Card for a lower annual fee.
On the other hand, if you’re going to purchase United Club membership anyway, then it makes sense to get the United MileagePlus Club Card, since it basically lets you do so at a discount and comes with benefits like Hyatt and Hertz elite status, not to mention that 1.5x earning rate on everyday purchases. The close-in award fee waiver is also valuable if you book even a few last minute award tickets each year, since you’ll save $75 on each one.
So what it comes down to is, which card’s benefits will you maximize enough to meet your travel goals and justify paying its annual fee? The answer to that question will help you decide which of these cards is the right choice for you.