Full Review United Mileageplus Explorer Card
Sign Up Bonus
Let's start with the all-important sign up bonus:
- Start with 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 month
- Earn an additional 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months
First, you'll notice that the initial bonus miles offer is 50,000 which is a recent upgrade from the regular 30,000 bonus miles. All in all, depending on how you use the miles, you're looking at a $250-500 sign up value. This is right about where you expect to see a top tier travel rewards card, and we're off to a good start. Spending $2,000 over the first three months isn't too bad either, and I think most people can pull this off with some creative auto-billing.
The additional 5,000 bonus miles for an authorized user is something we're seeing from Chase with their credit card lines. If you have someone to add, then that's essentially another $50 of bonuses you can yet.
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
Here's a look at the core benefits of the card:
- Check your first bag for free - save up to $100 per roundtrip
- Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club with two one-time-use passes every year
- No foreign transaction fees
- Earn double miles on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
- Your miles don't expire as long as you're a Cardmember, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
First and foremost, if you're looking at this card, then you're probably already someone who flies a lot of United. In that case, you're going to like what you see with these core benefits.
Being able to check your first bag for free on roundtrip flights is worth at least $50 in comparison to other airlines. The fact that they baked this into your credit card benefits makes this is a big plus for frequent flyers. I don't feel as strongly about the priority boarding privileges, but I know some people see that as a big benefit. I suppose if it's free, then why not?
A big deal, however, is the United Club passes. You only get 2 to use per year, but if you're doing research beforehand, then these passes can be worth as much as $30/pass. We're talking about a luxurious airport lounge with free drinks and food and potential other perks like oxygen bar, massage, facial, movies, etc. Considering that most cards with airport lounge access come with a $450 annual fee, this is a good thing.
No foreign transaction fees is expected at this level of credit card, so hurray.
Outside of your essential flight benefits, you don't really have a lot of opportunities to earn points with this card. Your only 2x mile bucket is United tickets which have to be purchased directly (not through Kayak, Priceline, Expedia, etc.) This is an issue as you're rarely going to find the best flight deals only on United so you're shooting yourself in the foot here. At least the miles don't expire as long as you're a card member.
Current Sign Up Bonus
Which perk is the most valuable to you?
Which perk is the most valuable to you?
Much like the sign up bonus, I feel like the other most important differentiation when it comes to credit cards is the annual fee.
$0 annual fee for the first year, then $95/year
So obviously the first year being free is awesome. This makes the credit card a good churn candidate because you can enjoy the benefits and then trade down to another card offered by Chase if you don't want to pay the annual fee.
But, if you look at the $95/year, I think you're still looking at a decent value if you're a frequent flyer. Obviously if you're used to flying on United while checking a bag, then you're going to make up the $95 in 1-2 trips. And if you're also using your airport lounge passes, then you're ahead.
Bottom Line Value
Compared to peer airline credit cards, I would say that the United MileagePlus Explorer is an above average choice. Between the free checked bag, the airport lounge passes and the priority boarding privileges, United makes it well worth your while to sign up for the card and to fly on their flights. The 2x miles for United purchases is typical, and you'll get a similar offering from Southwest Airlines or Alaska Airlines.
The more difficult question is when comparing this card with travel rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Barclay Rewards card. With the current promotion of 50,000 miles on this card, you can finally make the case that it's competitive with other top-tier cards. Add in the fact that the annual fee is 0 for the first year, and at the very least, you should be considering this card for one year of heavy use and United flights. Not having additional buckets of bonus points is a big minus, and I don't see this as a long-term credit card solution unless you are a die hard United frequent flyer.
Don't forget that you need excellent credit to get this card, so if you've got excellent credit and you see yourself flying United in the next 12 months, give it a shot!
United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Is It the card for you?
I believe that being frugal and making smart money choices is like any other exercise. As we continue to practice good habits in saving money where possible, finding deals for what we want, and having a good time at it, then we become better at dealing for a living.
I'm committed to sharing my experiences with getting the most out of using credit cards, saving and spending tips, and I might even add a slice of perspective without trying to be a psychoanalyst like some other personal finance folks out there.
Please let me know what you think and if you'd like to hear my take on a specific topic.