Earning more miles on United – Chase United Explorer Visa Card

I have held a number of different Chase cards affiliated with United Airlines over the years. If you live in one of the United Airlines hubs, you probably have seen their credit card advertisements all over the place and are wondering, if it makes sense to apply for one of the cards yourselves. Read on to see my recommendation!

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Of the different United credit cards Chase bank offers, the United Explorer card stands out for me as the best balance between features and annual fee – check out the summary below:

  • UA MP ExplorerCard TableSign-up bonus of 30,000 points, worth about $450, after spending $1,000 in three months – there are often bonuses of 50,000 points for sign-up, so not the best right now; the minimum spend is pretty low for a card in this category
  • Earn Points for Spend
    You earn 2 points per US$ spent on United tickets and 1p/$ on everything else – that’s a decent earn rate of 1.5-3ct/$, but there are better cards out there.
  • First checked bag free; priority boarding – benefits similar to low-level elite members, good if you don’t have status with United
  • Miles don’t expire – great benefit if you don’t fly United often anymore (and reason I’m keeping my card!)
  • Two free passes to United Club (worth $100)
  • Visa acceptance; basic travel and shopping protection
  • $95 annual fee (waived first year), no foreign exchange fee, EMV chip

The Explorer card gets some of the basics for a travel card right: There is no foreign exchange fee and it has at least an EMV chip – any card without these features can’t really call itself a travel card!
The sign-up bonus of 30,000 points will get you a domestic economy ticket, but there are frequently offers around 50,000 points. If you can wait for a better offer, it might make sense for you to hold on and wait – there is a limit how often you can apply for Chase cards, so it makes sense to get the best offers when you do!
While the United Explorer card doesn’t offer United MileagePlus status outright, it does offer some of the benefits elite status give you, namely free checked luggage and priority boarding. If you don’t fly enough on United to earn status (or are collecting miles on other StarAlliance programs, like Thai Royal Orchid or Singapore KrisFlyer), it might make sense to get the card for some basic perks that take the sting out of the poor service you are likely to encounter when flying United without any status!
And if you are earning miles in MileagePlus, the Explorer card can help you earn miles faster. Since United turned to a revenue based earning scheme, it’s difficult for many people to earn miles in the program, so a credit card can help get there faster. If you don’t pay your United tickets with your card though, you are better off just getting the United card for the bonus and perks, but putting your spend on the Chase Sapphire card for a better earn rate and transfer to United when needed!

Bottomline, if you live in a United hub city, like San Francisco, Houston or Denver (check my United – Facts & Figures for more info) and fly a few times a year on United (but not enough to earn status), you should apply for the card and hold it – the bonus and value of benefits are worth the annual fee, even if you don’t charge your daily spend on it. If you don’t see the value of the perks after the first year, you can call and ask to be downgraded to a no-fee card with less earn and perks, but still maintaining your miles – that’s what I did!

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