United Mileage Plus Credit Card Review

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If you fly on United Airlines often, you’ve probably toyed with the idea of getting the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card. Depending on your travel and credit habits, that might be an exceptionally lucrative idea.

With the United credit card, you’ll earn 2X miles on purchases made directly with United Airlines, plus one mile per dollar spent on all other purchases. Further, you’ll score plenty of United-specific perks such as the first checked bag free on United flights, priority boarding privileges, and complimentary passes to any United Lounge worldwide. Your miles will never expire and, as a cardholder, you can use miles for any seat on any flight without worrying about blackout dates or capacity controls.

As you’ll see, the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is perfect for anyone who flies on United Airlines exclusively and wants some free perks in exchange for their loyalty.

But, what about everyone else?

In this review we’ll explore the various benefits of this card, plus offer alternatives that could be even more rewarding. But first, let’s take a look at the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card’s key benefits.

The Simple Dollar’s Key Takeaways

  • Great earning potential on United Airlines purchases. With the United Airlines credit card, you’ll earn two miles per dollar spent on all United Airlines purchases. If you fly with United often, this is a huge perk that should not be overlooked.
  • No foreign transaction fees. Traveling abroad won’t cost you extra with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card. With this card, you can make purchases overseas without paying foreign transaction fees.
  • Cardholders can book any seat on any flight. Being a cardholder is especially lucrative if you plan to use your miles to book award flights frequently. Cardholders get priority when it comes to rewards, with no blackout dates or capacity controls.
  • Free checked bags on United flights. If you fly on United Airlines all the time, this perk alone could save you hundreds of dollars every year. Just pay for your flight with your card and you’ll score your first checked bag free when you fly.

Review: Perfect Option for United Airlines Frequent Flyers

If you pay for United flights with credit all the time, having the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is a no-brainer. With this card, you’ll earn two miles per dollar spent on all United purchases – and those miles can add up quickly! You’ll also earn one mile per dollar spent on all other purchases, meaning you’ll always be earning miles as long as you use the card.

As a cardholder, you’ll also have the ability to book any seat on any flight with your miles. Pair that perk with priority boarding for cardholders and your first checked bag free, and you can see why this card is perfect for people who fly on United all the time.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card: What to watch for

While the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is ideal for those who only fly on United Airlines, it isn’t a great deal for people who fly other airlines or want to earn flexible rewards. While it’s true you can use United miles for other rewards such as hotel stays and merchandise, you’ll only get around a half cent per mile if you go that route. Getting more value out of your miles requires using them for United flights most of the time, but if you can’t always fly United, this card could be a raw deal.

The fact that the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card only offers one point per dollar spent on all purchases also puts it at a disadvantage when compared to top travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. After all, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 2X points on all travel and dining purchases – plus a slew of other travel perks and the most flexibility of almost any other card out there.

If you want the opportunity to earn more miles, you should probably consider a card that offers flexible rewards and at least one “bonus category.” And if you’re going to fork over a $95 annual fee after the first year, you want to make sure you’re getting the most value possible.

Who This Card is Good For:

  • People who fly United Airlines almost exclusively
  • Someone who buys plane tickets directly from United frequently
  • Anyone who wants United Airlines perks such as priority boarding and a free checked bag

Who Should Pass:

  • Someone who wants to earn more than one mile per dollar spent on everyday purchases
  • People who want to earn flexible rewards
  • Frequent flyers who aren’t loyal to a specific airline

How Does It Compare to Other Airline Credit Cards?

You’ll find there are all kinds of co-branded rewards credit cards that cater to frequent flyers who are loyal to a specific airline. To see how the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card stacks up, we decided to compare it to another airline credit card – the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. The following table highlights the biggest perks and drawbacks each of these cards offers:

 United MileagePlus® Explorer Card Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Annual Fee$95 (waived the first year)$95 (waived the first year)
Earning MilesEarn 2X on tickets purchased from United, 1X miles on everything elseEarn 2X miles on Delta purchases, 1X miles on everything else. Terms Apply.
Foreign Transaction Fees0%0%
Signup BonusYesYes
First Checked Bag Free for CardholderYesYes
Priority BoardingYesYes
Transfer PartnersChase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at a 1:1 ratioAmerican Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta Air Lines 1,000:750

As you can see, the way each of these cards works is eerily similar. The main difference is that the miles you earn with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card are good on United Airlines and the miles you earn with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express can only be used to book flights with Delta Air Lines. Because of this detail, the card that’s best suited for you depends a lot on which airline you’re most loyal to – or which one offers the most flights out of your home airport.

The other big difference between these two cards is which loyalty programs you can transfer points from – and how much those points are worth. Where 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1,000 United miles, 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points are only worth 750 Delta miles. If you plan to earn extra miles with a flexible rewards card and transfer them frequently and are able to fly both United and Delta, the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is the clear winner here.

Best Strategy with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

If you are already loyal to United Airlines and want to earn as many miles as possible, it makes a lot of sense to pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. The Ultimate Rewards points you’ll earn with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio, which means you can boost your point balance frequently if you want – plus maintain access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

Since the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 2X miles on travel and dining, you could also leverage this card for those categories in order to earn as many miles as possible. Further, you could consider using your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for all purchases – even flights booked directly with United Airlines – since you’ll earn 2X miles on travel and flexible points that you can transfer to United at your leisure. Then, you can keep the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card for the extra perks including priority boarding, free checked bags, and no blackout dates for award seats. If you are having trouble picking between the two cards, it might make sense to get both.

Want to Earn Flexible Rewards? Consider This Card Instead

If you don’t care about perks like priority boarding and free checked bags, you could forgo the United card altogether and sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead. After all, this card earns 2X miles on travel and dining, which cancels out the 2X miles you earn booking flights directly with the airline with the United card. And since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio, you’ll end up in the exact same spot. And since both cards charge an annual fee, it makes sense to choose one with the most perks and focus your energy and spending in one area.

One big benefit that comes with choosing the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead is that Chase Ultimate Rewards points are good for more than just United flights. If you find yourself willing to fly with another airline, for example, you can consider one of the other Chase Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners such as Southwest Airlines or British Airways. Or, you could book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal at a 20% discount using points. It may help to read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card before you decide, but here are some additional details to consider:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Highlights:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Final Thoughts

While the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is a clear winner for people who only fly on United Airlines and want perks like priority boarding and free checked bags, there are other cards to consider that might be more rewarding in the long run. And if you love Chase Ultimate Rewards, it might make sense to get both the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. That way, you can leverage the benefits of both and reach maximum earning potential.

Still, there are plenty of other travel credit cards to consider if you are willing to consider other airlines and loyalty programs. The directory below lets you compare all of your options and filter cards by the features you value most.

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