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Premium perks without a high annual fee: United Explorer Card review

[Mommy Points] Premium perks without a high annual fee: United Explorer Card review: United Explorer Card overview
The United Explorer Card isn’t your average airline credit card. It is packed with premium perks such as an up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit, two annual one-time lounge visits and free checked bags — easily justifying its modest $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year. Card Rating*: ????
*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
Editor?s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
While travel has slowed during the pandemic, cobranded airline credit cards can still come in handy in the coming months. In fact, some of you with a premium United credit card may be looking for a cheaper alternative to downgrade to. Or perhaps you’re looking to stock up on miles for the day when travel restrictions are eased. The United Explorer Card is a great fit in either scenario.
This entry-level card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year and is currently offering a generous sign-up bonus that’s worth $520, based on TPG valuations. Besides the usual airline credit card perks like free checked bags and priority boarding, the United Explorer offers some more premium benefits, such as two annual lounge passes, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit and excellent travel protections.
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Who is this card for?
Since United is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, there are plenty of credit cards that can help boost your United mileage account balance. However, if it’s elite-like benefits you’re after, such as free checked bags and priority boarding, you’re going to need one of the airline’s cobranded cards.
The United Explorer Card offers all of the perks an occasional United flyer might need, as well as a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100) and two one-time United Club passes each account anniversary year. If you’re solely after United Club access, you’ll probably be better off with the United Club Infinite Card, which comes with a full United Club membership ? but also at a significantly higher annual fee of $525.
Keep in mind that as a Chase card, the United Explorer is subject to the issuer?s 5/24 rule. So, if you?ve opened more than five credit cards in the past 24 months (from all banks, not just Chase), you’ll want to hold off on applying, as you likely won?t be approved.
Related: Are cobranded airline cards worth it anymore?
Sign-up bonus: As much as $520 in value
The United Explorer Card is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. That’s worth a very solid $520, based on TPG?s most recent valuations. If you’re wondering how to get the most value out of these miles, be sure read up on United sweet-spot redemptions.
United benefits and perks
The United Explorer Card offers a good mix of perks for both frequent and occasional United flyers. Here’s a look at the United-specific perks the card offers:
Free first checked bag
Get a first checked bag free on United-operated flights for you and one companion on the same reservation. A first checked bag usually costs $30 each way, so this benefit can save you at least $60 per round-trip. You must include your MileagePlus number in your reservation and pay for the flight with the Explorer Card to receive this benefit.
Two United Club passes
Receive two, one-time United Club passes deposited into your MileagePlus account each year of card membership. This benefit alone is worth $118 per year, as day passes at the lounge cost $59 each (as of Nov. 1, 2019, you can only buy a one-day United Club pass with a same-day boarding pass).
Priority boarding
Get Group 2 boarding for you and your companions traveling on the same reservation when you include you MileagePlus number. This means you board after Premier Platinum, Premier Gold and Star Alliance? Gold members and those seated in United Polaris, United First and United Business classes. This is especially valuable for those prone to buying basic economy tickets, as you?ll be excluded from the carry-on baggage restrictions.
Expanded award availability
As a cardholder, you?ll have unrestricted access to book an award ? even if it’s the last seat on the plane ?  and may see economy award seats requiring fewer miles when you log in to your MileagePlus account.
Elite status shortcuts
As of 2020, United elite status qualification is based on Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs). Cardholders will have the opportunity to earn 500 PQPs for spending $12,000 on the card each calendar year, plus an additional 500 PQPs with an additional $12,000 in spend, for a grand total of 1,000 PQPs. Authorized users? spending will count toward the thresholds. (Just note that these bonus PQPs will only count toward status up to Premier Platinum.) 
25% inflight savings
Receive 25% off inflight United purchases, including Wi-Fi, food and beverages.
Related: These are the world?s best United Clubs
Other travel benefits
There are also some general travel perks that are typically only offered by more expensive premium cards:
Application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
The United Explorer Card will reimburse you when you charge the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to the card (up to $100). You can gift this perk to a friend or family member if you don?t need it for yourself. Most other cards that offer this benefit have annual fees above $400.
Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection access
Get valuable on-property perks such as free breakfast and room upgrades when you book hotel stays through Chase?s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.
Finally, the United Explorer Card comes with a strong set of travel and shopping protections that nearly match those offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Card holders receive the following protections when something goes wrong on a trip:
Auto rental collision damage waiver
This is among the few cards that offers primary rental coverage. This means that when you rent a car using your card, you can decline the rental car company?s collision insurance and be covered by the card — up to the cash value of the vehicle — in the case of theft or collision damage.
Trip delay protection
If any common carrier delays your trip by 12 hours, you and your traveling companions are each covered up to $500 to purchase things such as lodging, ground transportation, meals and toiletries. Even award tickets booked using miles are covered as long as a some portion of the cash outlay was paid for with the card.
Trip cancellation/interruption protection
If a trip is canceled, interrupted or extended for a covered reason, you may be reimbursed up to $6,000 per trip.
Lost/delayed baggage protection
If your baggage is delayed by six or more hours, you?re eligible for reimbursement for personal items up to $100 per day for up to three days. If your bag is lost, you may be reimbursed up to $3,000 per traveler ($2,000 per bag for New York state residents).
Shopping benefits
The United Explorer Card offers the following benefits for everyday shopping:
Purchase protection
Get up to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per year for items that are damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase.
Extended warranty protection
Get an additional year of coverage on eligible purchases with a manufacturer?s warranty of three years of less.
How to earn points
As a cardholder, you?ll earn 2x miles per dollar on United, dining and hotel spending and 1x mile per dollar on everything else. While the bonus for airline spending is pretty standard, it’s nice to see that the card also offers bonuses on certain types of everyday spending ? something that the most other airline cards don’t offer.
How to redeem points
You can redeem your MileagePlus miles across United?s vast network of domestic and international routes or on the carrier?s 27 Star Alliance partners. United has implemented a dynamic pricing structure, so you should now expect a fairly consistent value of your miles whenever redeeming for United flights. Domestic awards economy start at just 5,000 miles one-way so the full sign-up bonus of 63,000 miles could be enough to book a whopping 12 one-way tickets.
Related: How many miles do you really save with a United credit card?
The award pricing changes only apply to United-operated flights, so the best use of your miles now might actually for partner redemptions, such as Lufthansa first class between the U.S. and Europe for 110,000 United miles one-way. Plus, United doesn?t pass on fuel surcharges on partner awards. Just note that awards may be subject to a close-in mileage charge if booked within 30 days of travel.
To squeeze even more value out of your miles, you might want to utilize United’s Excursionist Perk, which as of now is here to stay. We have an in-depth guide that explains everything you need to know about this perk, but basically, it allows you to add a free flight segment to qualifying, round-trip itineraries between two different regions at no extra cost.
You’ll typically want to avoid non-flight redemptions with your United miles, such as hotel stays or merchandise, as they tend to offer a poor value proposition.
Which cards compete with the United Explorer Card?
Much like American Express and Delta, Chase has a very close relationship with United, issuing its cobranded credit cards and offering 1:1 point transfers from Ultimate Rewards. Because of that, the card’s competition goes beyond just other United-branded cards.
The closest comparison to the United Explorer Card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which also has a $95 annual fee, albeit not waived the first year. Similar to the United Explorer Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on dining. What makes it stand out, however, is that it also earns 2x points on all travel, including everything from cruises to parking fees, as opposed to just United purchases and hotel stays.
Most of the cards’ travel protections overlap, but the United Explorer gets a slight edge in terms of perks as it also offers the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, as well as all of the United-specific benefits, such as free checked bags and United Club passes.
The sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Those points are more valuable than United miles, as they can be transferred to more than a dozen airline and hotel programs, giving you much more flexibility in terms of redemptions.
Related: The 8 best credit cards for flying United

Bottom line
The United Explorer Card definitely isn’t your run-of-the-mill airline credit card. Between free TSA PreCheck, annual lounge visits and Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection access, the card is jam-packed with perks that will enhance your trips from start to finish ? not just when you’re in the air. The card’s welcome bonus of 40,000 miles is just the cherry on top.
Additional reporting by Chris Dong. 
Featured image by The Points Guy.
Apply here for the United Explorer Card with a 40,000 mile welcome bonus
 

    Credit Card Review: The United Explorer Card

    [The Points Guy] Credit Card Review: The United Explorer Card: Cobranded airline credit cards have evolved significantly over the years. To keep them competitive with other travel rewards cards on the market, issuers have been adding non airline-specific perks and bonus categories. Among the most improved airline cards is the United Explorer Card.
    The entry-level card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year and is currently offering an elevated welcome bonus that’s worth over $800 based on our valuations. Besides the usual airline credit card perks like free checked bags and priority boarding, the United Explorer offers some more premium benefits, such as annual lounge visits, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit and excellent travel protections.
    Who Is This Card For?
    Since United is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, there are plenty of credit cards that can help boost your United mileage account balance. However, if it’s elite-like benefits you’re after, such as free checked bags and priority boarding, you’re going to need one of the airline’s cobranded cards. The United Explorer Card offers all of the perks an occasional United flyer might need, including the benefits just mentioned, as well as a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100) and two United Club one-time passes each year. If you’re solely after United Club access, you’ll probably be better off with the United MileagePlus Club Card, which comes a full United Club membership, but also a significantly higher annual fee.
    Keep in mind that as a Chase card, the United Explorer, along with United’s other cards, is subject to the issuer?s 5/24 rule. So, if you?ve opened more than five credit cards in the past 24 months (from all banks, not just Chase), you’ll want to hold off on applying as you likely won?t be approved.
    Welcome Bonus
    For a limited time, the United Explorer Card is offering an elevated welcome bonus of 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and additional 20,000 miles after you spend $8,000 total in the first six months from account opening. By meeting both tiers of spending requirements, you?ll earn up to 60,000 United miles. That’s worth a solid $840 based on TPG?s most recent valuations, though the value will drop soon due to United’s new dynamic award pricing structure.
    Earning
    The United Explorer Card earns 2 miles per dollar on United, dining and hotel spending and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. While the bonus for airline spending is pretty standard, it’s nice to see that the card also offers bonuses on certain types of everyday spending ? something that the most other airline cards, don’t not offer.
    Redeeming
    You can redeem your MileagePlus miles across United?s vast network of domestic and international routes or on the carrier?s 27 Star Alliance partners. Presently, some of the best uses of the 60,000-mile welcome bonus include a one-way ticket to Europe in Polaris business class or a round-trip domestic first-class ticket.
    United’s implementing a new dynamic pricing structure for travel from November 16, 2019 onwards, so moving forward, you should get fairly consistent value of your miles whenever redeeming for United flights. Domestic awards economy now start at just 5,000 miles one-way so the full welcome bonus of 60,000 miles would be enough to book a whopping 12 tickets.
    The award pricing changes only apply to United-operated flights, so the best use of your miles for travel post-Nov. 15 might actually for partner redemptions. Plus, United doesn?t pass on fuel surcharges on partner awards.
    To squeeze even more value of your miles, you might want to utilize United’s Excursionist Perk, which as of now is here to stay. We have an in-depth guide that explains everything you need to know about this perk, but basically, it allows you to add a free flight segment to qualifying, round-trip itineraries between two different regions at no extra cost.
    You’ll typically want to avoid non-flight redemptions with your United miles, such as hotel stays or merchandise, as they tend to offer a poor value proposition.
    Perks
    Although this isn’t always the case with airline credit cards, the United Explorer Card offers a good mix of perks that don’t just revolve its sponsoring airline. Here’s a look at the United-specific perks the card offers:


    Free First Checked Bag ? Get a first checked bag free on United-operated flights for you and one companion on the same reservation. A first checked bag usually costs $30 each way so this benefit can save you at least $60 for every trip that you take with checked baggage. You must include your MileagePlus number in your reservation and pay for the flight with the Explorer Card to receive this benefit.

    Two United Club Passes ? Receive two, one-time United Club passes deposited into your MileagePlus account each year of card membership. This benefit alone is worth $118 per year, as day passes at the lounge cost $59 each.

    Priority Boarding ? Get Group 2 boarding for you and your companions traveling on the same reservation when you include you MileagePlus number in you reservation. This is especially valuable for those prone to buying basic economy tickets as you?ll be excluded from the carry-on baggage restrictions.

    Expanded Award Availability ? As a card holder, you?ll both be able to book any flight using miles at the standard (non-saver) level, and you should see better saver-level availability in economy when you log in to your MileagePlus account.

    PQD Waiver ? If you?re going for Premier Silver, Gold or Platinum status, you can get the PQD requirement waived by spending $25,000 during the calendar year. Authorized users? spending will count toward the PQD waiver and you can combine spending across cards to meet the $25,000 requirement. Just remember that the waiver does not apply to United?s top-tier Premier 1K level.

    25% Inflight Savings ? Receive 25% off inflight United purchases, including Wi-Fi, food and beverages.

    There are also some general travel perks that are typically only offered by more expensive premium cards:


    Application Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck ? The United Explorer Card will reimburse you when you charge the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to the card (up to $100). You can gift this perk to a friend or family member if you don?t need it for yourself. Most other cards that offer this benefit have annual fees above $400.

    Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection Access ? Get valuable on-property perks like free breakfast and room upgrades when you book hotel stays through Chase?s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.


    Finally, the United Explorer Card comes with a strong set of travel and shopping protections that nearly match those offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Card holders receive the following protections when something goes wrong on a trip:


    Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver ? The United Explorer Card is among the few cards that offers primary rental coverage. This means that when you rent a car using your card, you can decline the rental car company?s collision insurance and be covered by the card up to the cash value of the vehicle in the case of theft or collision damage.


    Trip Delay Protection ? If any common carrier delays your trip by 12 hours, you and your traveling companions are each covered up to $500 to purchase things like lodging, ground transportation, meals and toiletries. Even award tickets booked using miles are covered so long as a some portion of the cash outlay was paid for with the card.

    Trip Cancellation/Interruption Protection ? If a trip is canceled, interrupted or extended for a covered reason, you may be reimbursed up to $6,000 per trip.

    Lost/Delayed Baggage Protection ? If your baggage is delayed by six or more hours, you?re eligible for reimbursement for personal items up to $100 per day for up to three days. If your bag is lost, you may be reimbursed up to $3,000 per traveler ($2,000 per bag for New York state residents).

    The United Explorer Card offers the following benefits for everyday shopping:


    Purchase Protection ? Get up to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per year for items that are damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase.

    Extended Warranty Protection ? Get an additional year of coverage on eligible purchases with a manufacturer?s warranty of three years of less.

    Which Cards Compete With the United Explorer Card?
    Much like American Express and Delta, Chase has a very close relationship with United, issuing its cobranded credit cards and offering 1:1 point transfers from Ultimate Rewards to United. Because of that, the card’s competition goes beyond just other United-branded cards.
    The closest comparison to the United Explorer Card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which also a $95 annual fee, albeit not waived the first year. Similar to the United Explorer Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on dining. What makes it stand out, however, is that it also earns 2x points on all travel, including everything from cruises to parking fees, as opposed to just United purchases and hotel stays. Most of the cards’ travel protections overlap, but the United Explorer gets a slight edge in terms of perks as it also offers the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, as well as all of the United-specific benefits, such as free checked bags and United Club passes. The welcome bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. Those points are slightly more valuable than United miles as they can be transferred to over a dozen airline and hotel programs, giving you much more flexibility in terms of redemptions.

    Bottom Line
    The United Explorer Card definitely isn’t your run-of-the-mill airline credit card. Between free TSA PreCheck, annual lounge visits and Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection access, the card is jam-packed with perks that will enhance your trips from start to finish ? not just when you’re in the air. The card’s elevated welcome bonus of up to 60,000 miles is just the cherry on top.

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