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Chase United Explorer review: Lock in your awards now

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Chase United Explorer review: Lock in your awards now

Million Mile SecretsChase United Explorer review: Lock in your awards nowMillion Mile Secrets Team

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INSIDER SECRET: If you have this card, you get access to more free seats than those who don’t have it. You may see plenty of award space when others see little or nothing.

With the announcement that United Airlines is eliminating their award chart for travel after Nov. 15, 2019, it’s smart to earn United Airlines miles now to snag a redemption before the changes take effect.

If you fly United Airlines, either with paid tickets or award seats, the United℠ Explorer Card can save you money and time when you travel — even if you don’t fly often. On top of this card’s welcome bonus, you also get perks when you fly United Airlines, like free checked bags, access to more award seats and two passes to United Airlines lounges each cardmember year.

Plus, the welcome bonus is currently enough for a round-trip coach award flight within the U.S., to the Caribbean or Mexico, or Northern South America. So lock in those awards now. Here’s our Chase United Explorer Card review.

Use your United Explorer welcome bonus for a one-way award flight to see Buenos Aires — that’s something to tango about. (Photo by Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock)

Chase United Explorer bonus

When you open the Chase United Explorer card, you’ll earn 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

There’s a $95 annual fee with this card, but it’s waived the first year.

United Airlines miles can be powerful tools for free travel. You should never have a problem receiving more value than 1.3 cents per United Airlines mile, and if you know what you’re doing, you could even get a value of 12+ cents each.

Further reading: United Airlines miles value

As a an example, you can book a round-trip flight to Peru for 40,000 United Airlines miles. This card’s bonus is enough to get you that trip to Machu Picchu you’ve been wanting to make. A flight from my home airport in Cincinnati to Lima regularly costs $900+ round-trip, so this bonus could easily be worth $900.

Fly to Lima for just 40,000 United Airlines miles round-trip in coach. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Chase United Explorer card benefits

This card is packed with benefits. You’ll get the most out of it if you like to fly United Airlines. Let’s take a look.

A free checked bag for you and a companion

When you use your Chase United Explorer card to purchase a ticket (or pay the taxes and fees on your award ticket) and add your loyalty program number, you’ll get one free checked bag for yourself and a companion traveling with you.

Note: You’ll only get a free checked bag on flights operated by United Airlines and United Express, not partner flights.

Considering United Airlines has raised the fee to $30 for your first checked bag, this perk alone can save you $120 per round-trip flight. If you use this perk just one time a year, it easily covers the annual fee after the first year when it’s waived anyway.

And if you check bags often on United Airlines, having this card is a no-brainer.

Two United Club passes per cardmember year

Each year when you renew your United Explorer card, you’ll get two United Club Lounge one-time passes.

One-day passes are usually $59 each, so if you use both passes, you can easily cover the card’s annual fee once again.

Lounges are a great place to unwind, grab a snack and a drink and use free Wi-Fi. Some locations even have a shower that can come in handy during a long trip.

Keep in mind, starting Nov. 1, 2019, you’ll need to fly United Airlines or one of its partners to access United Clubs.

More open award seats

This is one of my favorite card perks. United Airlines offers you more award seats when you have one of their credit cards — including the United Explorer. Having these awards is valuable because it can shorten (or lengthen, if you want to explore the lounge) a connection, give you a better arrival time to your destination and increase your flexibility by showing awards that aren’t available on other days.

In some cases, you’ll have several more award flights to choose from.

Even better, it’s share-able, meaning you can book these awards for other people.

Further reading: United Card expanded award availability

Priority boarding

You can board after first class and just before general boarding when you have the United Explorer Card. Get in line and stow your bags before everyone else does.

Save 25% on board

When you use your United Explorer to pay for inflight food, drinks or Wi-Fi, you’ll get 25% credited back to your account.

Tthat doesn’t justify a $12 sandwich (or however much they’re charging for food on planes these days), but it eases the sting a little. Cheers, and yes, I’ll have another.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit

With the United Explorer card, you’ll get a credit up to $100 every four years for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, which allows you speed through airport security. I recommend Global Entry, which helps you clear customs faster when you return from overseas, because it includes TSA PreCheck.

Primary rental car insurance

You’ll get primary rental car insurance for most car rentals under 31 days when you charge the entire amount of the rental to your United Explorer card.

Your Chase United Explorer card comes with primary rental car insurance. (Photo by Tanasan Sungkaew/Shutterstock)

This perk means insurance kicks in before you have to file a claim with your personal insurance company.

Purchase protection

New purchases made to your card are covered for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year.

Extended warranty

Manufacturer’s warranties get an additional year added, on eligible warranties of three years or less.

Trip cancellation and interruption insurance

This insurance reimburses you or your immediate family members up to $1,500 if something extreme prevents you from taking a trip (like sudden sickness or a tropical storm), and up to a maximum of $6,000 per trip.

Trip delay insurance

When your travel is delayed 12+ hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, like meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.

Lost luggage reimbursement

If you or an immediate family member check or carry on luggage that’s then lost or damaged, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.

Baggage delay insurance

If your bags don’t arrive when you do, this insurance kicks in after six hours. You can get reimbursed up to $100 a day for three days for things like toiletries, a change of clothes and other essentials until your bags arrive.

Get 25% more miles through MileagePlus X app

The MileagePlus X app lets you buy gift cards to dozens of retailers and earn United Airlines miles in the process. If you haven’t downloaded it, definitely take a look.

I earn thousands of extra United Airlines miles from buying gift cards through the MileagePlus X App with a 25% bonus.

And folks with the Chase United Explorer card get 25% more miles instantly added to their account. Even better, you don’t have to use the card to pay for gift cards within the app — simply having it is enough to trigger the bonus.

Is the Chase United Explorer worth it?

If you fly United Airlines a lot, you might open it to start using the card’s money-saving benefits. I’ve personally had this card for a few years and always get a big return, and it’s not like I’m flying every other weekend.

You can easily cover the annual fee with free checked bags and the two lounge passes. And remember, the annual fee is waived the first year, so you can always see how you like it for ~11 months with nothing to lose.

This card is affected by Chase’s stricter approval rules. So if you’ve opened five or more cards from any bank (not counting Chase business cards and other business cards) in the past 24 months, it’s unlikely you’ll be approved.

Further reading: Chase 5/24 rule

How to earn points with the Chase United Explorer

With the United Explorer card, you’ll earn:

  • 2 United Airlines miles per dollar you spend on purchases from United Airlines
  • 2 United Airlines miles per dollar spent at restaurants and hotels when you book directly
  • 1 United Airlines mile per dollar you spend on everything else

The earning rates are OK if this is the only card you have with a 2x bonus category, but other cards give you a better return for your spending (we’ll get to that shortly).

Further reading: How to earn United miles

United Airlines makes it easy to book award flights directly on their website.

However, United has announced huge changes to its award program. They’re eliminating their award chart for travel after Nov. 15, 2019, so earning and using United Airlines miles for award flights before then will ensure you get the current award prices. It’s almost certain some awards will increase significantly in price for travel after that date.

United Airlines is part of the Star Alliance, which includes partners like Air Canada and Lufthansa. So you can use your miles to travel on United Airlines or any of their 20+ partners.

You can redeem United Airlines miles for award flights on any Star Alliance airline without fuel surcharges.

United Airlines never adds fuel surcharges to award flights like other mileage programs. These junk fees can easily cost hundreds of dollars, so using United Airlines miles can be a huge savings, depending on where you want to visit and which airline you want to fly.

With the current award chart, you can use United Airlines miles for trips like:

  • A round-trip coach award flight within the U.S. or Canada for 25,000 United Airlines miles
  • One-way coach award flight to Hawaii for 22,500 United Airlines miles
  • One-way coach award flight to Europe for 30,000 United Airlines miles
  • One-way coach award flight to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, or Uruguay, for 30,000 United Airlines miles
  • Anywhere else in South America round-trip in coach for 40,000 United Airlines miles
  • One-way in coach to Australia, or New Zealand, for 40,000 United Airlines miles

Does the Chase United Explorer charge foreign transaction fees?


Credit cards similar to the Chase United Explorer

Folks who like to fly United Airlines are spoiled with credit card choices.

If you have a small business, consider the United℠ Explorer Business Card. It’s also under Chase’s application rules, but it won’t count against you when you open it and has similar perks as the Chase United Explorer card.

Further reading: How to complete a Chase business card application.

And if your main goal is collecting United Airlines miles, you’ve got many cards to choose from. United Airlines is a Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer partner, so cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred all earn points that can be converted into United Airlines miles. They also have a better earning rate than United Airlines cards.

For example, I earn three Chase Ultimate Rewards points with my Chase Sapphire Reserve for all my dining and travel purchases. The travel category includes any airline and I can book my hotel through a third party and still earn bonus points.

Further reading: How to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points (video guide)

Folks who like to travel could consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred instead. (Photo by MongkolChuewong/iStock by Getty Images)

But for casual flyers looking to save on checked bags and get perks for flying, the Chase United Explorer card should be enough. It’s done me well for a few years and I plan to keep it long term.

Bottom line

The Chase United Explorer card comes with 40,000 United Airlines miles once you complete minimum spending requirements.

There are so many ways to use United Airlines miles but keep in mind, United is eliminating their award chart for travel after Nov. 15, 2019. So earn this bonus now and book award flights before that date to lock in current award rates.

The Chase United Explorer has money-saving perks like free checked bags, 25% off snacks and Wi-Fi in flight, and two lounge passes every cardmember year. You can save time with Global Entry (there’s a $100 credit for your application every four years), and priority boarding so you can stow your carry-on faster. Plus, you’ll find more award seats.

It doesn’t have the best category bonuses but folks who fly United Airlines can do well with this card. I’ve gotten a great return on the $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.

To learn more about United Airlines miles, check out our guides:

And for the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

United℠ Explorer Card

United℠ Explorer Card

  • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $120 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

More Info

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Doesn’t this card also make primary cardholder with 1K status eligible for upgrades on Mileage Plus award tickets when the taxes/fees are paid with the card? At least in the past my wife could get upgraded even if we used my miles as long as we used her Explorer card to pay the taxes/fees.

Not pleased at all with United’s elimination of its award chart, but the primary rental car insurance on the United Explorer card is a premium benefit, surprisingly available on a $95/year card.

You have helped in the past but this is a UA press release, why?

Agreed in light of what we’ve seen of the award chart changes this is blogger malpractice.