Skip to content

Unlocking extra award space with a United credit card — reader success story

April 22, 2020
4 min read
a credit card and a model airplane
Unlocking extra award space with a United credit card — reader success story
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Michael, who took advantage of an often-overlooked perk of the United Explorer Card to score an award ticket to Europe:

As big art lovers my wife and I travel from NYC to Venice every two years for the Venice Art Biennale. We normally go in the fall (when prices and crowds are low) but when we realized our schedules wouldn't work we decided to make a last-minute booking for the first week of June and add a couple of days in Rome. Since we were going for only six days it made sense to get direct flights to maximize our time, but as it was both beginning of tourist season and very close to the trip (10 days prior) I knew that our chances for a good deal were low.

As expected, most direct flights were going for above $1,500 per ticket. Award travel wasn't looking a whole lot better with various airlines charging between 100-150k miles per traveler. After a little more digging I realized that as a United Explorer card holder I can get an exclusive deal for 60k miles for a flight that was going for almost $1,900. We ended up paying 120k miles and less than $150 in fees for what could have easily cost us $3,000 to $4,000 or double the miles. To make things better we even got upgraded to Economy Plus on both flights!

When I initially got the United Explorer card it was almost entirely for the sign-up bonus and I honestly didn't think too much of the exclusive deals perk. I was planning to cancel or downgrade the card after a year or two, but after seeing how valuable this perk can be the card is a keeper!

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Michael is spot on in his analysis of cobranded airline credit cards — while they usually offer nice welcome bonuses, outside of free checked bags they don't offer many perks for the average traveler. The United Explorer Card is a great exception to this, as it offers access to expanded saver-level award inventory. In fact United even uses a separate fare class — XN — to designate these awards, making them easy to search both on the United website and on ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures). If you're searching on the United website, make sure you're logged in, but you should automatically see this expanded award inventory in your search results.

While this is a rather niche perk that's easy to forget about over the course of the year, Michael was able to save at least 80,000 miles out of just this one single use. Based on TPG's latest valuations those miles are worth $1,040, or over a decade's worth of the United Explorer card's annual fee! If you're able to use this perk two or even three times a year, it's easy to see how quickly this card can start to pay for itself and then some.

Related: How to unlock additional award availability with United credit cards

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Michael a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured image by 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.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers