A United Airlines Airbus A319 in Houston, Texas

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Our quick take: The United℠ Explorer Card lets you save money on checked bags and earn United miles on all of your purchases. Like many Chase credit cards, it also includes various travel and purchase protections.


  • Free checked bag for the cardholder and a companion on traveling the same United itinerary.
  • Group 2 priority boarding on United flights.
  • Two one-time United Club passes per year.
  • 25% rebate on United in-flight purchases.
  • Access to additional United award space when redeeming miles.
  • United elites traveling on an award ticket are eligible for complimentary upgrades when the card is linked to their MileagePlus account.
  • Access to Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection booking portal.
  • TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or NEXUS application fee reimbursement every 4 years.
  • One year of complimentary DoorDash DashPass (must activate by 12/31/2024).
  • Strong travel and purchase protections.
  • Annual fee waived the first year.


  • Earns 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, hotels booked directly and on dining.
  • United miles aren’t as valuable as many other travel rewards points.
  • Limited benefits for United flyers with elite status.
  • United Club passes may be rejected when the lounge is busy.
  • $95 annual fee.

Current welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account.

Best for: United flyers who check a bag when they fly and do not have elite status.

Introducing the United Explorer card

The United Explorer card is great for semi-frequent United flyers looking to save on checked bags and in-flight purchases.

The United Explorer is one of four United credit cards in the US Its $95 annual fee (waived the first year) includes a host of benefits that can make flying United cheaper. The card also earns United MileagePlus miles on all purchases — here’s how many points you can earn:

  • 2 miles per dollar: United purchases.
  • 2 miles per dollar: Hotel stays booked directly with the hotel.
  • 2 miles per dollar: Dining, including eligible delivery services.
  • 1 mile per dollar: All other purchases.

On the benefits side, card holders will enjoy one free checked bag for themselves and one for a companion on the same itinerary. Additionally, card holders and their companions enjoy Group 2 boarding on United flights, which allows for more time to find overhead luggage space on crowded flights.

The Explorer card also gives you 25% back as a statement credit when you purchase food, beverages or Wi-Fi onboard United flights. This is a nice discount if you purchase Wi-Fi on international flights, which can often be $15 or more.

Further, the card includes two United Club airport lounge passes per year. These provide one-time access to any United Club (but not Polaris lounge) in the system. These passes can come in handy during long layovers and delays. However, note that United Clubs sometimes restrict access to one-time pass holders when the lounge is busy. One-time United Club passes usually cost $50 apiece.

In addition to earning redeemable miles, the Explorer card earns Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) toward United elite status too. It earns 500 PQP for every $12,000 spent on the card per calendar year, up to 1,000 PQP per year. This won’t earn United elite status outright but can be helpful for closing the gap to qualification if you’re short of your desired status tier.

Speaking of elite status, United elites with a United credit card — including the Explorer card — are eligible for complimentary space-available upgrades on award tickets. Make sure your MileagePlus number is linked to your Explorer card to qualify. Also, note that travelers must have both the card and United elite status to be added to the upgrade list.

Also note that the Explorer card gives card holders access to more United award flights. This can make redeeming United miles easier and cheaper, as card holders may see lower award prices when compared to United members without elite status or credit card.

Finally, the card includes a $100 statement credit toward TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or NEXUS application fees every four years.

Related: Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best credit cards.

Advantages of the United Explorer card

Three checked bags on a baggage carousel.

The biggest advantage of the United Explorer is free checked bags and priority boarding. Since checked bags on United cost up to $35 per person per flight, this could be $140 in savings on every round-trip United itinerary if you and a companion both take a checked bag.

But remember, to be eligible for free checked bags, the primary cardholder must book tickets directly with United, pay for tickets with their Explorer card and link their MileagePlus frequent flyer number to the reservation. A companion wishing to check a bag must be booked on the same reservation as the primary cardholder. This companion will also be eligible for Group 2 boarding.

The card also includes a variety of travel and purchase protections, which can be advantageous when things go wrong on the road.

On the travel side, the card includes a rental car collision damage waiver, trip delay reimbursement, baggage delay insurance and loss reimbursement and trip cancellation and interruption insurance. Trip delay coverage is the real star here, as you’ll be reimbursed for up to $500 in expenses (like meals and lodging) if your travel is delayed 12+ hours and requires and overnight stay. Note that you must pay for your travel with the Explorer card to be eligible.

Meanwhile, you’re also eligible for purchase protection and extended warranty on products purchased with the Explorer card. Purchase protection covers new purchases against loss, damage and theft for 120 days, with up to $10,000 per claim in coverage, up to $50,000 per year. Extended warranty protection extends the manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on warranties of three years or less.

When it comes to earning miles, the card’s welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account is a solid offer.

One other big advantage is the expanded award space offered by the United Explorer card. It’s not uncommon to see 5,000+ mile discounts on award tickets if you have this card, and it can add up across multiple redemptions. Those earning lots of United miles may find the card worthwhile for this benefit alone.

Disadvantages of the United Explorer card

The main downside to using the United Explorer card is its earning rates on purchases. Earning just 2 miles per dollar on United flights, hotels booked directly and dining is lackluster and more restrictive than other cards with a similar annual fee. It’s also worth noting that travel website The Points Guy values United miles at just 1.1 cents apiece, bringing your total return on these purchases to 2.2%. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar for a 1.1% return.

This card also provides limited value to United frequent flyers with elite status. These members already get free checked bags, priority boarding and access to extra award flights. Likewise, being able to earn only 1,000 PQP per calendar year is limiting for high spenders who want to earn United status.

Stacking up the United Explorer card against our benchmark

CNN Underscored has chosen the Citi® Double Cash Card as our current “benchmark” credit card. That doesn’t mean it’s the best credit card on the market — rather, we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they’re worse.

Here’s how the United Explorer card scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that’s better than our benchmark. Red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark, and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.

Citi Double Cash Card United Explorer Card
Card type Mastercard Visa
Sign-up bonus None 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
Earning rate 2% on all purchases (1% when you buy, 1% when you pay it off) 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, hotels booked direct with the hotel and dining and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
Redemption value 1 cent (cash back) 1.21 cents per mile*
Ease of basic redemptions Easy Easy
Advanced redemption options Can transfer ThankYou points to 16 airline partners if you also have the Citi Premier℠ or Citi Prestige® Booking business class award tickets operated by Star Alliance partner airlines.
Quality of advanced redemptions Good Good
Annual fee $0 $95, waived the first year.
Foreign transaction fee 3% None
Travel perks None Up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every 4 years.
Purchase protections None Purchase Protection, Extended Warranty.
Travel protections None Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Primary Auto Coverage, Baggage Delay Insurance, Trip Delay Reimbursement.
Other perks None At least 12 months of DashPass membership when activated by Dec. 31, 2024.
Introductory APR on purchases None None
Length of introductory APR on purchases N/A N/A
Introductory APR on balance transfers 0% None
Length of Introductory APR on balance transfers 18 months N/A
Introductory balance transfer fee 3% or $5, whichever is greater N/A
APR after intro period ends/standard APR 18.99%-28.99% variable 20.99%-27.99% variable
* Based on point valuations calculated by frequent flyer website The Points Guy.

When reviewing other credit cards, we use this format and these criteria to compare them with our benchmark. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.

Other cards similar to the United Explorer card

NYC Subway train in Long Island City, Queens with Midtown Manhattan in the background

If you’re looking to earn United miles and are OK with skipping United-specific perks like checked bags, you might consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead. This card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points which transfer 1-to-1 to 14 different transfer partners, including United. This means the points are more flexible than earning United points outright.

Additionally, it has a more advantageous earning structure. The card earns 3 points per dollar on dining, select grocery delivery services and select streaming services, 2 points per dollar on all travel purchases and 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides (through March 2025). All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar. These points are valued at 2 cents per point.

Of course, you’re giving up all of the United-specific perks, but you’re gaining a ton of flexibility in how you redeem your points. Likewise, you will earn more rewards on dining and earn bonus points on all travel purchases regardless of what and how you book. This includes flights booked through online travel agencies like Expedia, taxi or Uber rides and even public transit fare.

As discussed, United has a handful of other credit cards on its roster too. The United Quest℠ Card or the United Club℠ Infinite Card cards offer more United perks but have higher annual fees. Frequent United flyers may find the extra perks worth paying for, especially if they’re going for elite status.

For example, the United Quest card has a $250 annual fee but earns 3 points per dollar on United purchases, up to $125 per year in statement credits toward United purchases per year, offers two 5,000-mile rebates each account anniversary and includes two checked bags per flight. Plus, it earns up to 6,000 PQP per year toward elite status.

Should you get the United Explorer card?

The United Explorer card can be a good choice for someone who travels with United frequently and checks bags, but doesn’t have elite status with the airline. The card will let you and a companion check a bag for free, which can save you $35 on each one-way United flight you book. If you’d spend more than $95 per year on checked bags with United, the card’s annual fee will pay for itself.

However, the Explorer card is not great for those looking to earn travel rewards on their everyday spending. You’re restricted to redeeming miles with United with this card and the card’s bonus earning categories are very limited. Those looking to travel on points may be better suited with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred that has broader bonus categories and flexible points that can be transferred to multiple airline and hotel loyalty programs.

Learn more and apply for the United Explorer Card.

Looking for a credit card that earns travel rewards? Check out CNN Underscored’s list of the best travel credit cards currently available.

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