Unlocking extra award space with a United credit card — reader success story
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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.
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 email@example.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!
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
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.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees