8 reasons to upgrade from the United Explorer to the United Quest card

May 26, 2022

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There are a lot of United Airlines credit cards on the market, and keeping track of their differences can be a bit difficult.

Maybe you have an entry-level card but wish your credit card offered more perks. This is especially true if you fly more with United than you did when you first opened the credit card. In that case, perks that weren’t of interest at the time may now be more appealing.

Alternatively, maybe you’ve been a longtime holder of the United Explorer Card, and you could never quite justify the upfront cost of the United Club Infinite Card.

The calculus for both of these situations changed last year with the introduction of the United Quest Card, a higher-end option that sits between the Explorer and Club Infinite cards. And some cardholders may be better off jumping up to that product.

If you have the United Explorer Card but are looking for increased benefits, here are eight reasons why you should upgrade to the United Quest Card.

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In This Post

Quick recap of United Explorer Card benefits

a woman looks down at an open wallet while standing over a bed
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Let’s start with a quick refresher on the entry-level United Explorer Card. Beyond the initial sign-up bonus, the card offers a pair of one-time United Club passes deposited into your MileagePlus account each year of card membership. This benefit alone is worth $118 per year, as day passes at the lounge cost $59 each with a same-day boarding pass.

In addition, the card offers:

  • One free checked bag for the cardholder and a companion on the same reservation (when you pay for your ticket with the card).
  • $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 protection.
  • Complimentary, space-available upgrades when flying on United award tickets (if the cardholder has United elite status).
  • Additional award availability.

Just note that you must use the Explorer 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: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines

Why upgrade from United Explorer to United Quest

Photo shows multiple United planes parked at jet bridges
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If you’ve decided the Explorer card isn’t offering enough benefits for you, you have a few options. You can upgrade to several cards that offer more premium benefits, including the ultra-premium United Club Infinite Card ($525 annual fee) and the United Quest Card ($250 annual fee). If you don’t travel enough to utilize a membership to United Club lounges and don’t want to pay an annual fee over $500, then the Quest card is likely your better option.

Of course, it’s worth noting at the outset that you won’t be eligible for a sign-up bonus on the Quest card if you upgrade from another United credit card. Those offers are only for new applications — not changing from an existing card to another credit card.

If you do want to earn a bonus on the United Quest Card (currently 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.), you’ll need to submit a new application.

However, there are instances where it makes sense to forgo a sign-up bonus — and here’s why that may be the case for the Quest card.

1. 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 Quest card is requesting a product change from another United credit card.

2. You have very few credit cards and want to maximize the perks on each one.

If you don’t have numerous credit cards, then getting the most bang for your buck on each card that you do have is important.

For those of us with many credit cards, we may think, “I don’t need this certain benefit on card A, because card B gives me that benefit.” For those with fewer credit cards, ensuring that you have access to the widest range of benefits possible may mean you need to carry mid-tier and top-tier credit cards from airlines and hotels.

If that’s you, several of the points below will fall under the broad concept of getting as many perks as possible on one credit card.

3. You’re fine with paying a higher annual fee.

New applicants for the Explorer card have an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95 every following year. The Quest card has an annual fee of $250. Thus, there’s a difference of $155 in the annual fee for the ensuing years. If you think the benefits will justify that increase, upgrading will make sense.

Read more: Who should (and shouldn’t) get the United Quest card?

4. You regularly spend money with United and want to earn more miles and added perks.

The Quest card offers $125 in annual credits for spending with United. This perk alone can offset 50% of the Quest card’s $250 annual fee. If you’re spending more than $125 with United each year on purchased tickets or fees for award tickets, this benefit could be very attractive.

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. To see how many more miles you could earn in a year, look at how much money you spent with United in the past 12 months. You would earn an additional 1 mile per dollar on each purchase by using the Quest card instead of the Explorer card.

However, don’t forget to consider that other cards might be more advantageous for these purchases. For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5 points per dollar on flights purchased directly with airlines and via Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 in combined purchases each calendar year). However, you should remember that the Membership Rewards earned on these purchases can’t be transferred to United Airlines MileagePlus.

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

Consider which earning path is the best for you. If spending on a United credit card to earn United miles and earn $125 in annual credits makes the most sense, then the Quest card could merit a place in your wallet.

5. You want to earn miles from the money you spend on streaming services.

Streaming services grow in popularity each year, and new ones debut frequently. While the Explorer card earns just 1 mile per dollar on streaming purchases, the Quest card earns 2 miles per dollar here.

However, you should remember that 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. 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.

That said, none of those earnings can be converted into United miles. By paying for your streaming services with the Quest card, United loyalists can get the miles they prefer.

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

6. You check two suitcases when flying with United at least four times a year.

two people sit on a bench near baggage claim while a woman lifts a suitcase off the conveyor belt
(Photo by izusek/Getty Images)

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 that companion.

So ask yourself this question: How often do you check a second suitcase on your trips with United Airlines?

If the answer is more than three times per year, getting a free second checked bag from the Quest card can make sense.

When flying domestically with United or United Express, a second checked suitcase will cost at least $40 per person in each direction (only if you pay in advance — adding a second bag within 24 hours of departure costs $45). That means you’d incur an additional $80 per round-trip flight.

The difference in annual fees from the Explorer card to the Quest card is $155, and paying for this second checked bag (whether it’s for you or your traveling companion) in both directions on a pair of round-trip flights would cost you $160 out of pocket. Thus, you would save money by having the Quest card if you’re checking a second bag four times each year.

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

Remember that, regardless of whether you have the Explorer or Quest card, you must pay for the flight with your United cobranded credit card to qualify for the free checked bag(s) benefit.

7. You spend at least $36,000 on a United card each year.

United credit card holders can earn Premier qualifying points 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 are pursuing United MileagePlus elite status and you spend at least $36,000 on your card in a year, you’re missing out on at least 500 PQPs by spending on the Explorer card. Premier Silver can be achieved with as little as 3,000 PQPs plus eight qualifying flights, so earning extra PQPs on the Quest card could go a long way toward earning status.

8. You redeem your United miles for United flights at least twice a year.

The Quest card offers a pair of 5,000-mile flight credits per year as a reward for redeeming miles, starting with your first cardmember anniversary. The 5,000-mile credits will be put 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).

In layman’s terms, using your miles for a flight operated by United or United Express can lead to 5,000 miles being deposited in your MileagePlus account — up to twice each year. TPG values United miles at 1.21 cents apiece, so maximizing this benefit means an effective refund of 10,000 United miles, worth $121.

Considering that we have seen United redemptions available for just 5,000 miles each, having the Quest card and getting to use this perk could offset two such redemptions each year.

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

Things that won’t change if you upgrade

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

We’ve seen that several of your benefits and perks will change if you upgrade from the Explorer card to the Quest 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 upgrading your card (rather than applying for a new card) is that you will preserve your credit history on that account. Credit age is one of the factors that make up your credit score.

Other considerations when product-changing a credit card

Mastercard and Visa Credit and Debit Cards Stacked
(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 welcome offer or sign-up bonus on the Quest card when upgrading from another credit card. Those offers are only for new applications — not changing from an existing card to another credit card. If you’d be eligible for a welcome bonus, consider whether (or how much) it matters to you that you forgo said bonus when changing to the new card.

Also remember that the welcome bonus you did earn when you opened your card has conditions. You should always plan to keep a credit card for at least a year, in order to not have the bonus points confiscated by the bank.

Related: When can you downgrade your credit card?

You should also know that changing from one credit card to another card shouldn’t result in a “hard pull” credit inquiry. That’s because you aren’t applying for a new product. You should also maintain the same credit limit and keep the same card number.

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 upgrade from the Explorer card to the Quest card

(Photo by Tashdique Mehtaj Ahmed/Getty Images)

If you’ve read all of the information above and decided that changing from the Explorer card to the Quest 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 upgrade your card to the Quest card. Be clear with the agent on the phone that you want to change to the new card. Be sure that Chase doesn’t process a new card application or close your current 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 when you will start paying the higher annual fee.

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 United Explorer Card may be a favorite credit card. For others, the perks aren’t quite enough, so the United Quest Card could be an ideal fit.

Before taking action, look at the differences in benefits and make sure you understand what perks you’ll gain if you upgrade your Explorer card, whether they justify the higher annual fee you’ll pay and when the new fees and perks will take effect. Once you’ve made an informed decision, you can get started by calling the number on the back of your card.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

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More Things to Know
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  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
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