Home Credit Cards Chase Credit Cards Alternatives to the United℠ Explorer Card for you to consider

Alternatives to the United℠ Explorer Card for you to consider


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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 they’re too limiting in what they offer. While an airline’s credit card will only earn miles/points in a specific airline’s loyalty program, there are dozens of cards out there that are far more flexible and which will earn points that can be transferred to a variety of airline programs.

Some airline credit cards can be useful for the benefits they offer outside of miles/points earning (the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is a very good example of this), but I consider a lot of other airline cards to be weak and in the grand scheme of things, even a little pointless (no pun intended).

The United℠ Explorer Card from Chase is one of the airline cards whose relevance and uses 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 do far better going with an alternative option.

The United℠ Explorer Card

The United℠ Explorer Card was given a refresh a little over four years ago (June 2018) and since the new benefits come into effect, this is what the card has (primarily) offered in exchange for a $95 annual fee (the fee is currently being waived in the first year of card membership).

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 United℠ Explorer Card)
  • Priority boarding
  • 2 United Club one-time passes every year
  • Primary auto rental collision damage waiver
  • No foreign transaction fees

Considering the cost of 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 MileagePlus Miles.

The entry-level Ultimate Rewards card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card (review) which like the United Explorer Card, costs $95 to hold. However, unlike the United Explorer Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also has the power to make other cards in a consumer’s wallet considerably more valuable.

If the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is held alongside the excellent no annual fee Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card (review), or the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited® credit card (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 for $95 than the United Explorer offers.

My preferred card pairing for consumers would be this:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card + the Chase Freedom Flex℠ credit card

Someone who chooses to hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card (review) alongside the Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card (review) will pay a combined annual fee of just $95 (the same as the annual fee on the United Explorer Card) 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.
  • 3 points/dollar on dining (includes take-out and delivery)
  • 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

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 United℠ Explorer Card.

As far as cardholder benefits go, this is what 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)
  • 5% Cash Rewards on Boxed Wholesale orders for use on future purchases.
  • Complimentary ShopRunner membership (2-day shipping at hundreds or retailers)
  • $5 off movie tickets with Fandango for every 2 movie tickets purchased
  • No foreign transaction fees (Chase Sapphire Preferred 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 United℠ Explorer Card in favor of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card 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

*This is also a benefit offered by the no annual fee United Gateway℠ Credit Card

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 United Gateway℠ Credit Card (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 that most people who are serious about the miles and points hobby almost certainly already have.

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 cellphone insurance and the increased earning rates offered by the Ultimate Rewards cards?

For some, the answer may be yes, but for most, I strongly suspect that the earning rates and benefits offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ credit card will far outweigh what little they’d be giving up by passing on the United℠ Explorer Card.

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 Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ credit card can be transferred to United Airlines as well as another 9 other major international airlines and 3 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 Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card 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 $95 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 United℠ Explorer Card is for you after all. I suspect, however, that you’ll be in a minority.

A Fantastic No Annual Fee Card

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card comes with no annual fee and is a “must-have” credit card for fans of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. Fantastic earning rates + useful benefits + no annual fee is always a winning combination.

Current Welcome Offer

New cardholders will earn $200 (or 20,000 Ultimate Rewards Points) after they spend $500 on the Freedom Flex credit card in the first 3 months of opening their new account.

Some Of The Great Earning Rates & Benefits:

  • 5% cash back (or 5 points/dollar) on:
    • Up to $1,500 of spending in quarterly revolving categories
    • Travel purchased through the Chase travel portal
  • 3% cash back (or 3 points/dollar) on:
    • Dining (includes take-out and delivery)
    • Spending at drugstores
  • 1% cash back (or 1 point/dollar) on spending in all other categories
  • Complimentary cell phone protection

Click for more details on the Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card

Regarding Comments

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser or any other advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility or any other advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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.

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