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

Apr 22, 2020

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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!

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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 info@thepointsguy.com; 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!

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.