11 Things I Love About United’s Credit Card

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UnitedSM Explorer Card

This is a fantastic card to have if you live in a city with lots of United service, fly them regularly but not enough for elite status, or you’re an elite who wants upgrades on award tickets or help towards the spending requirement for status.

While I definitely prefer to put spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card because its points transfer to United or other airlines (in other words I prefer the flexibility), the UnitedSM Explorer Card is a great card to have for its benefits.

  1. 60,000 bonus miles. For a limited-time Chase has boosted the signup bonus to earn 60,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

    United’s Europe and Asia Award Availability in Premium Cabins is Great Because of Star Alliance Partners

  2. $0 annual fee the first year. Traditionally the card’s annually fee has been charged the first year. Chase is now waiving the first year fee on the UnitedSM Explorer Card. (After the $0 first year annual fee it is then $95.)

  3. First checked bag free. What’s great about the UnitedSM Explorer Card is the travel benefits when flying United. You get first bag for free when you use your card to purchase your ticket. Two people traveling with a bag each way really scales the savings.

  4. Priority boarding. Avoid having to gate check your carry on, you don’t actually want to be the first to board this card ensures you don’t have to be last.

  5. Bring full sized carry on bags onboard even on a basic economy fare. On a Basic Economy fare you can still bring on a full-sized carry on bag since the Basic Economy prohibition on full-sized carry on bags is handled via boarding group).

  6. United Club passes With this card you’ll get 2 one-time United Club passes each year for your account anniversary as well. United now charges $59 each for one time club passes.

  7. United elites get upgrades on domestic award tickets. That’s a benefit which requires a co-brand card to access, elites without a United credit card aren’t eligible.

  8. Extra saver award availability United does a really nice job of making extra award space available to elites and credit card customers at lower prices

  9. Last seat availability when redeeming extra mileage awards. Airlines offer awards that charge extra miles and in American’s case you get access to the last seat on the plane when spending more miles, at United to get the very last seat on the plane (where these awards can offer real value) you need to be an elite or a co-brand credit card customer.

  10. Statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Even if you already have Global Entry, get it for a spouse, child, friend or co-worker — the cardholder doesn’t have to be the one to use the benefit, just use the card to pay anyone’s application fee you wish.

  11. Primary car rental collision damage waiver. Adult bumper cars! Not really, but if you ding your bumper car and you’re paying with this card your insurance company may not even need to know.

The UnitedSM Explorer Card is a great tool for someone who flies United semi-regularly but not enough to earn elite status, since many of the benefits of the card approximate was entry-level status would be like. And you can get it now with bonus miles and not even pay an annual fee for the first year.

It’s subject to ‘5/24’ meaning they’re most appropriate for folks that haven’t signed up for 5 or more new cards in the last 24 months.

Even if the annual fee applied in the first year, the card would be well worth the signup bonus. The card is even worth the fee if you fly United semi-regularly for the benefits. If you find yourself buying basic economy fares you’re not just saving on checked bag fees each trip but on the fare buy up too and still getting to bring your carry on bag on board.

Since you get the bonus and the benefits in year one it’s a no brainer, the $0 annual fee the first year lets you “try before you buy” and decide whether or not to keep it into the future.

UnitedSM Explorer Card

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. I actually considered this card but…

    Bonus Miles: Thanks to dynamic pricing I have no idea what that will get me.

    Lounge passes: Only usable on a UA ticket, that limits their theoretical usefulness.

    Program in general: I still don’t like the whole “your milegage doesn’t matter, only segments and spend do, also we seem to add a couple grand to spend every year”

  2. I’ve had this card for years. I don’t fly United often any more but have transferred Chase Points regularly too United because of extra seat availability open only to card holders enough times to justify the fee. I think it’s a really valuable perk in these days of tight redemption availablity.

  3. If you don’t like the annual fee, call and downgrade to a no annual fee version (you’ll earn 1 mile per $2 spent on general spending). You’ll still be a United Chase card member and have access to the expanded award availability.

  4. “or you’re an elite who wants… help towards the spending requirement for status”

    Except now you have to spend $24,000 on the card just to get 1,000 PQPs, only 25% of the way towards Silver. United is clearly mad at Chase for making Sapphire products more appealing than their co-branded card. I have the Explorer but never use it for spend since I have to buy tickets on a company card, and I’m platinum so I don’t need any of the benefits. I’m going to downgrade to no annual fee soon.

  5. @Global: You will be eligible for upgrades on Award tickets (within North America). This is a pretty huge deal for some.

    Hit or miss benefits:
    United frequently runs events for card holders. I got a nice dinner on United.
    United semi-frequently run reduced award miles promotions to some destinations – card holders get a further reduction on award miles. These typically run during low season.

  6. This card recently saved me $11k. I rented a car from Avis and someone hit it when I wasn’t in it. My insurance wouldn’t cover it. Avis wanted me to pay $11k for damages. When I saw my United card had rental coverage I contacted them. Took about 5 months but they paid off the car. Great benefit if you rent cars often.

  7. I’m envious of the people who don’t have to fly United often. However, if Newark is your primary airport – There is pretty much no way around using United as your primary carrier. They have a near monopoly at the terminal.

    With that said: The card is worth having if your in my position. I generally pay for most of my domestic flights, and free checked bags and free carry-ons, allow me to save money by using basic economy. If Basic Economy is an option, I *ALWAYS* use it. There is just no downside to it if you have the card. (I don’t care about choosing my seat for flights under 3-4 hours)

    Best use of points: I use all mine for international business class rewards. Usually two roundtrips a year. Of course, those points haven’t been going as far lately, and I am not looking forward to seeing how useless they are in 2020….

  8. IS this a benefit or based on experience? “Bring full sized carry on bags onboard even on a basic economy fare.”

    Just booked $97 roundtrip Newark to Fort Meyers basic economy. Will they allow the carry on?

  9. Living in Washington DC, United is the only game in town for international flights, so I keep this card for the early boarding, the miles not expiring, the additional award availability, and the club passes. The first bag free benefit doesn’t help me because first bags are always free on international flights.

  10. Got my United credit card when everyone was mad at United and they offered 75,000 miles. Met the spending requirement by prepaying cable service and other utility type bills. I visit family in the Newark area. Worked out well.

  11. The Club passes aren’t that valuable, since United Clubs may have capacity controls if they become crowded. Club pass holders are the first to be turned away if the Club has capacity controls.

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