Home Credit Cards Chase Credit Cards Alternatives To The Chase United Explorer Card You Should Consider

Alternatives To The Chase United Explorer Card You Should 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 can 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 Amex Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card is a very good example of this), but I consider a lot of other airline cards to be weak and even a little pointless in the grand scheme of things.

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 under three 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 Mileage Plus 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 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 Reserve Card is held alongside the excellent no annual fee Chase Freedom Flex Card (review), or the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited 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:

Pair The Chase Sapphire Preferred With The Chase Freedom Flex

Someone who chooses to hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (review) alongside the Chase Freedom Flex 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.
  • 5 points/dollar on Lyft rides through 22 March 2022
  • 3 points/dollar on dining (includes take-out and delivery)
  • 3 points/dollar on spending at drugstores
  • 2 points/dollar on all other travel spending (flights, hotels, car hire, trains etc..)
  • 1 point/dollar on 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)
  • Monthly $10 Lyft credit after 5 rides are taken
  • 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 Card and the Chase Freedom Flex Card, there are some things you would be giving up. Specifically, these are:

  • $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.

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), and the $100 statement credit for Global Entry is a benefit that comes with a host of other credit cards that those in 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, the Lyft credits, and the increased earning rates offered by the Ultimate Rewards cards?

For some, the answer may be yes. For most, however, I strongly suspect that the earning rates and benefits offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Freedom Flex 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 Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned by the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Freedom Flex Card can be transferred to United Airlines as well as another 9 other major international airlines and 3 hotel chains.

In addition, Chase 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 Card and the Chase Freedom Flex 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 Freedom Flex Credit Card is a no annual fee card from Chase and although it was only released in September 2020, it has quickly become a “must-have” credit card for fans of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. Fantastic earning rates, useful benefits, and no annual fee is always a winning combination.

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 Chase’s travel portal
    • Lyft rides through March 2022
  • 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

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Surprised you would miss this benefit, as a blogger involved in the debate and subsequent referral revenue from credit cards. The United Explorer card also offers the expanded award availability. Not only more seats, but lower redemption rates, as well.

    Earning rates aside; there is no sub-$100 credit card that offers; 2x club passes a year, tsa precheck, and the typical airline affiliated card benefits such as free checked bags + early boarding + discounted inflight purchase.

    Comparing it to any other entry level airline card, United card blows them out of the water. If anyone sees themselves redeeming in Star Alliance 1x/yr, the passes and award availability are reason alone to keep the card. If someone doesn’t want to own a mid-market or premium card with precheck, there isn’t a cheaper card that offers precheck.

    The United Card pays for itself. I find it really hard to cancel it. I expect the card to be devalued. $95/yr for 2 club passes, award availability, precheck, free checked bags, etc is too good.

    Not saying the Chase cards are better. In fact it would be ideal to own those….to earn faster, while the United card makes burning them cheaper + easier. United is genius. Because the card does create an extra connection that makes me want to keep Star Alliance and United on my mind. So flights like Hawaii to midwest/east coast become super palatable with the lounge access, expanded availability, lower redemption rates.

    United chase > Amex Delta > american

    • I didn’t mention the expanded award availability because you get that with the United Gateway card which doesn’t charge an annual fee.

      In hindsight, perhaps I should have included that bit of information in the post for completeness – I’ll add it in when I get a free moment.

  2. That is good to know that the free version also offers expanded availability. I think I (still) like the $95 variant. If 5/24 will allow it, your readers should consider signing up for all (3) cards (Chase United + Chase Sapphire Preferred + Freedom Flex cards).

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