Alternatives to the United℠ Explorer Card for you to consider

a plane on the runway

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I’ve said in the past that I’m not a big fan of most airline credit cards as I find their offerings too limiting, and the card_name is a card that illustrates what I mean by that quite well.

While any given airline’s credit card will only earn miles/points in that airline’s loyalty program, there are dozens of cards out there that are far more flexible and that earn points which can be transferred to a variety of airline programs.

Sure, some airline credit cards can be useful for the benefits they offer outside of miles/points earning (the card_name is a good example of this), but I view most of the other airline cards as weak and, if I’m being especially forthright, even a little pointless (no pun intended).

The card_name from Chase is one of the airline cards whose relevance and value I have a hard time understanding, and while I’m happy to concede that it’s a card that may work well for some people, most travelers would probably get better value by going with an alternative option.

The card_name

The card_name was given a refresh way back in June 2018 and since then, this is what the card has (primarily) offered in exchange for a annual_fees.

Earning rates

  • 2 miles/dollar on spending with United Airlines (includes food, drinks & wi-fi on board)
  • 2 miles/dollar on hotel spending made directly with hotels
  • 2 miles/dollar on dining
  • 1 mile/dollar on spending in all other categories

Benefits

  • Up to $100 in statement credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (every 4 years).
  • A 25% statement credit for all United Airlines inflight purchases (food, beverages, wifi, etc…) charged to the card.
  • A free checked bag for the primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation (on United-operated flights purchased with the card_name)
  • Priority boarding
  • 2 United Club one-time passes every year
  • Primary auto rental collision damage waiver
  • No foreign transaction fees

Considering the cost of holding the card I can’t help but feel that you can do better.

Combine two great cards from Chase

Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer over to United MileagePlus in a ratio of 1:1 so, effectively, any card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points could also be considered to be a card that earns United Miles.

The entry-level Ultimate Rewards card is the card_name (review) which also costs annual_fees to hold. However, unlike the card_name, the card_name also has the power to make other cards in a consumer’s wallet considerably more valuable.

If the card_name is held alongside the excellent no annual fee Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card (review), or the no annual fee card_name (review), the cash back that those two cards earn can be taken in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points – that’s the key to getting better value than the United Explorer offers.

My preferred card pairing for consumers would be this:

card_name + the Chase Freedom Flex℠ credit card

Someone who chooses to hold the card_name alongside the Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card will pay a combined annual fee of just annual_fees (the same as the standard annual fee on the card_name) and will have access to these earning rates:

  • 5 points/dollar on up to $1,500 of spending in quarterly revolving categories.
  • 5 points/dollar on all travel purchased through Chase’s travel portal*
  • 5 points/dollar on Lyft rides (through March 2025) – link
  • 3 points/dollar on dining worldwide (includes take-out and delivery)
  • 3 points/dollar on online grocery spending#
  • 3 points/dollar on select streaming services
  • 3 points/dollar on spending at drugstores
  • 2 points/dollar on all other eligible travel spending (flights, hotels, car hire, trains, etc…)*
  • 1 point/dollar on eligible spending in all other categories

*Hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Anniversary Hotel Credit will not earn 5 points/dollar
^Chase’s “travel” category is very broad so you’ll earn 2 points per dollar on everything from airfare, rental cars, and hotel bookings through to car parking, tolls, and ridesharing services.
#Excludes Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs

As Ultimate Rewards Points transfer over to MileagePlus in a ratio of 1:1, the earning rates seen above can be considered to be MileagePlus earning rates and they’re considerably more impressive than the earning rates offered by the card_name.

As far as cardholder benefits go, these are the key benefits that the Sapphire/Flex pairing offers:

  • Primary auto rental collision damage waiver
  • Cell phone protection up to $800 per claim and $1,000 per year (max 2 claims per year).
  • Earn up to $50 in statement credits each card anniversary year for hotel stays purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% anniversary points bonus (card_name only)
  • 5% cash back on Lyft rides through 31 March 2025.
  • Complimentary 1-year ShopRunner membership (2-day shipping at hundreds or retailers)
  • $5 Fandango Rewards for every $20 spent with Fandango or Fandango’s streaming service.
  • No foreign transaction fees (card_name only)
  • Points can be used to purchase travel (flights, hotels, etc…) at a value of 1.25 cents/point.
  • Extra benefits at select Delano, Mondrian, SLS, and Redbury brand hotels (details).

What would you be giving up?

If you chose to forgo the card_name in favor of the card_name and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card, there are some things you would be giving up. Specifically, these are:

  • Expanded award availability
  • $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every 4 years.
  • 25% discount on all United Airlines inflight purchases
  • A free checked bag for the primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation (on United-operated flights purchased with the United Explorer card)
  • Priority boarding
  • 2 United Club one-time passes every year

I strongly suspect that a lot of people who read this blog won’t really care about a number of these benefits as they can be had from elsewhere.

  • Expanded award availability is also given to holders of the no annual fee card_name (so why pay an annual fee to get it?)
  • Priority boarding and free checked bags are something you get if you have any kind of status with United Airlines (if you don’t have status with United Airlines you probably don’t fly with the airline often enough for a co-branded card to be of much value to you).
  • The $100 statement credit for Global Entry is a benefit that comes with a host of other credit cards and most people who are serious about the miles and points hobby almost certainly have at least one of these already (see here for more details).

The only benefits that are not offered by other non-United credit cards are the 25% discount on in-flight purchases and the 2 annual United Club passes, but how much are those actually worth to most travelers?

Are they worth more than the cell phone insurance and the increased earning rates offered by the Ultimate Rewards cards?

For some, the answer may be yes. For most, however, I suspect that the earning rates and benefits offered by the combination of the card_name and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ credit card will far outweigh what little they’d be giving up by passing on the card_name.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

A key thing not to lose sight of is that while United miles can only be spent on travel with United Airlines or with its partners, the Ultimate Rewards points earned by the card_name and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ credit card can be transferred to United Airlines as well as a variety of other major international airlines and hotel chains.

In addition, Ultimate Rewards Points can be used to book flights through the Chase portal at a value of 1.25 cents/point. There are no blackout dates and there’s no need to search for award availability – if a flight is bookable for cash it’s also bookable with Ultimate Rewards points.

Chase’s currency is considerably more versatile than United’s, so it gives you a lot more options than you would get if you were just earning MileagePlus miles – that’s a very big bonus in the miles & points world.

Bottom line

The combination of the card_name and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card will earn a cardholder United MileagePlus miles a lot more quickly than the United Explorer card so, if you already have United status (and therefore get priority boarding and free checked bags anyway), they’re probably considerably better value for their combined annual_fees annual fee than the Explorer card.

If you don’t fly often enough to have United status, you should probably ask yourself if you travel with the airline frequently enough to make use of the benefits the card is charging you for.

  • Do you travel with checked baggage (on United) often enough to make the free checked bag benefit important?
  • Do you value the 2 United Club passes and the discount on in-flight food & drinks highly enough to sacrifice the better earning rates and some of the benefits that the Chase Sapphire/Chase Freedom Flex combination offer?

If the answer to those two questions is yes and if you genuinely value the Global Entry fee rebate over what the Ultimate Rewards cards offer, then perhaps the card_name is for you after all. I suspect, however, that you’ll be in a minority.

3 COMMENTS

  1. You ask “Do you travel with checked baggage (on United) often enough to make the free checked bag benefit important?” For my wife and I that’s once per year as we don’t have United status and both check bags. United effectively pays us $35 per year to give us two free lounge passes, which we use on that flight. Don’t forget about the 25% MileagePlusX bonus for having the card, which the app gives you even if you use a different card to pay (3 points with the Sapphire Preferred card plus United miles with a 25% bonus for every restaurant in the app = nice). That flight we take once per year is almost always on miles because of that app, so it costs $11.20. There’s your low use value proposition.

  2. Ridiculous, The two club passes and the primary rental car insurance are incredible benefits and more than cover the $95 fee per year. You carry one card. This discussion does not make any sense.

    • My suggestion gives you primary cover and, effectively, twice as many United miles on any rentals you make.

      Your argument appears to be that you would prefer to hold one card and have 2 lounge passes per year in exchange for lower earnings in rentals.

      If that works for you, fine. But that doesn’t make my suggestion ridiculous.

Comments are closed.