Credit card showdown: United Explorer Card versus United Explorer Business Card

Dec 18, 2019

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The number of airline credit cards has multiplied dramatically in recent years. United alone now fields no fewer than five cobranded cards with Chase that are available to new applicants.

The good news is that United’s cobranded products are among not only the best airline cards, but also some of the best overall travel rewards credit cards around.

Budget-minded travelers might opt for the United TravelBank Card, which has no annual fee. At the premium end of the spectrum, the United Club Card and United Club Business Card both confer access to United Clubs among other benefits when traveling — but you have to pay $450 per year in order to enjoy them. The information for the United TravelBank, United Club cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

In the middle of the range are the United Explorer Card and the United Explorer Business Card, both of which charge $95 per year (waived the first year with the personal version).

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
The personal version of the United Explorer card might be a better pick for some travelers. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Both cards are currently offering enhanced sign-up bonuses, and while they offer similar perks, they also differ in significant ways. Here is a snapshot of the two cards and how their benefits stack up:

Card United Explorer Card United Explorer Business Card
Annual fee $95, waived the first year $95 (not waived)
Sign-up bonus Up to 65K miles – 40K after you spend $2K in the first three months; 25K more after you spend $10K in the first six months Up to 100K miles – 50K after you spend $5K in the first three months; 50K more after you spend $25K in the first six months
Earning categories 2x on United

2x at restaurants

2x at hotels

1x everywhere else

2x on United

2x at restaurants

2x at gas stations

2x at office supply stores

1x everywhere else

United benefits Checked bags

Priority boarding

Two one-time United Club passes annually

Expanded award availability

25% inflight purchase discount


Checked bags

Priority boarding

Two one-time United Club passes annually

Expanded award availability

Travel protections and benefits Primary rental car insurance

Trip delay, cancellation

Baggage delay, loss

Purchase protection

Global Entry/TSA PreCheck reimbursement (up to $100)

Primary rental car insurance

Trip delay, cancellation

Baggage delay, loss

Purchase protection

Sign-up bonus

The difference between the two cards’ sign-up bonuses seems obvious: 100,000 miles versus 65,000 miles. But it’s not quite so simple.

With the United Explorer Business Card, you can earn up to 100,000 bonus miles, which are worth around $1,300 by our latest valuations, and can potentially get much more value out of them depending on the redemption. You earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. You can then earn another 50,000 bonus miles after spending $25,000 total on purchases within the first six months of account opening. That’s a lot of spending for the full bonus, but breaks down to under $4,200 a month, and is probably within reach of most small business owners.

By contrast, the United Explorer Card is currently offering up to 65,000 bonus miles – 40,000 after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months, and then an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend a total of $10,000 on purchases within the first six months. That sounds like a lot of money on the surface, but breaks down to about $1,667 per month, which isn’t exorbitant.

So the question here is, do you prefer a lower overall spending requirement for a haul of miles that is still pretty decent, or is it worth going for the business card’s higher bonus?

According to TPG’s latest valuations, the extra 35,000 miles available with the business version are worth around $455 more, which is not a huge return on spending an extra $15,000. But if you’re going to hit that mark anyway, you might as well earn more miles.

Earning categories and bonuses

Gas pump, Oil station hand and fuel nozzle in car
Do you spend more at hotels or gas stations each year? (Photo via Getty Images)

One of the major ways in which these two cards differ is in their bonus earning structure. They both accrue 2x miles on United purchases as well as at restaurants. However, the United Explorer Card also racks up 2x miles on hotel purchases (purchased directly with the hotel) and then 1x on everything else.

By contrast, the United Explorer Business Card earns 2x at gas stations and office supply stores since it is a business card. Not only that, but with the United Explorer Business Card, you receive 10,000 bonus miles each calendar year during which you make at least $25,000 in purchases with your card.

To determine which product is better for your needs, look at your spending habits and what purchases you are most likely to make with your card. If you spend more on hotels each year than on gas and office supplies combined, the United Explorer Card will be the better choice. However, if your expenses are more skewed toward gas and work-related purchases, the United Explorer Business Card will be the better option. That might also be the case if you easily surpass $25,000 in spending each year, since you can score that 10,000-mile annual bonus.

United benefits

Cardholders get access to expanded award availability. (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)
The Polaris cabin on a United high-J 767. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

The two cards come with nearly identical United-related and day-of-travel benefits. Let’s start with what’s the same.

Cardholders get a first checked bag free on United flights for themselves and one companion when paying for their tickets (or taxes and fees on awards) with their card. They are also entitled to priority boarding.

If you have either card, you will receive two one-time United Club passes each account anniversary, too.

One of the most interesting perks offered by these cards is access to increased United award availability. You can read this comprehensive post on the topic to learn more, but leveraged properly, it can save you tens of thousands of miles per year.

Both cards can also help those seeking Premier elite status. Just be aware that this benefit will change along with United’s 2020 Premier program overhaul.

Previously if you spent $25,000 in purchases with either card in the calendar year, your Premier-Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirement would be waived for status up to and including Premier Platinum (not 1K). However, as of Jan. 1, 2020, Premier status depends pretty much solely on spending both on United and its airline partners. PQDs no longer exist. Instead, flyers will earn Premier-Qualifying Points (PQPs) based on airfare.

Those with the United Explorer Card, the United Explorer Business Card and the United Club Card will be able to earn 500 PQPs by spending $12,000 in a calendar year, up to $24,000 in spending and 1,000 PQPs. That’s about a fifth of the way to Premier Silver status. Additionally, bonus PQPs will only apply up to Premier Platinum (not 1K). So while this can be a helpful boost for low- mid-level elites, it might not make a big difference for those at the top tiers.

One point of difference – only the United Explorer Card offers 25% off inflight purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi. The business version does not.

Other benefits

An information board displays flight information follwing disruption, in the South Terminal building at London Gatwick Airport, south of London, on December 21, 2018, as flights started to resume following the closing of the airfield due to a drones flying. - British police were Friday considering shooting down the drone that has grounded flights and caused chaos at London's Gatwick Airport, with passengers set to face a third day of disruption. Police said it was a "tactical option" after more than 50 sightings of the device near the airfield since Wednesday night when the runway was first closed. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Both cards offer important travel protections. (Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

Both products waive foreign transaction fees, which makes either a good choice for international travelers. The United Explorer Card includes primary rental car insurance, as does the United Explorer Business Card, but the latter applies only on rentals made for business purposes.

Both cards also include travel protections such as trip-delay protection and delayed-baggage protection. Trip delay reimbursement kicks in at 12 hours and is capped at $500 per ticket. Baggage delay coverage begins at six hours and maxes out at $100 per day for three days. If your luggage is lost, you are covered up to $3,000 per passenger.

Purchase protection on both cards is good up to 120 days out against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim or $50,000 per account.

One difference? The trip interruption and cancellation coverage on the United Explorer Card only ranges up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip. The United Explorer Business Card covers to $10,000 per trip.

The other major consideration is that the United Explorer Card offers an application fee refund for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years (up to $100), which is almost incredible for a card with such a low annual fee. The business card does not.

If your travel plans change a lot (and do not trigger the exclusions of the coverage), then the United Explorer Business Card might be a better option in this respect. However, the United Explorer Card still offers good travel protections, and that application fee refund is a great value-added bonus.

Business versus personal

Multi-ethnic male and female business professionals discussing over computer in creative office (Photo by Luis Alvarez/GettyImages)
Perhaps a business credit card is better suited to your needs than a personal one. (Photo by Luis Alvarez/GettyImages)

The final thing you need to think about is whether a personal credit card or a business one will work better for your travel needs and credit card strategy.

You could be eligible for a business credit card even if you do not own your own business. Opening one might be a good idea, anyway, because using one can help you keep your work and personal expenses separate. Doing so might even improve your personal credit score in the end by bringing down your debt-to-credit utilization ratio.

One other reason that getting a business credit card rather than a personal one might be a good idea specifically in this case is because Chase’s 5/24 rule usually applies to personal credit cards but not business ones.

The 5/24 rule basically means that Chase will not approve you for a new credit card if you have opened five or more personal credit cards from any issuers in the last 24 months.

While new applications, including for business credit cards, are subject to this rule, open accounts are not. You typically need to be below 5/24 to apply for either the United Explorer Card or the United Explorer Business Card, but once you open the United Explorer Business Card, it should not count toward your 5/24 total.

Read this post on Chase’s 5/24 rule: Everything you need to know for more information.

Bottom line

The United Explorer Card and the United Explorer Business Card are two of the best airline co-branded cards currently available.

They each offer sizeable sign-up bonuses, money-saving travel protections and benefits, and great earning opportunities. Which one is right for your needs will depend on your spending habits, which card’s perks you can maximize more and whether a business or personal card fits into your current credit card strategy.

Featured photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images.

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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