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 as they earn points that can be converted to a variety of airline programs.

Some airline credit cards can be useful for the benefits they offer outside of miles/points earning (e.g. lounge memberships, credit towards minimum spending requirements etc…) but others I consider to be a little pointless in the grand scheme of things.

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card from Chase is one such credit card.

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card

This card is in the process of being revamped by Chase and when the new benefits come into effect from June this is what the card will offer (primarily):

  • 2 miles/dollar on tickets purchased from United
  • 2 miles/dollar at hotels and restaurants
  • 1 mile/dollar on all other spending
  • $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • 25% discount on all inflight purchases (food, beverages, wifi etc…)
  • A free checked bag for the primary card member and one companion traveling on the same reservation (on United operated flights purchased with the United MileagePlus Explorer card)
  • Priority boarding
  • 2 United Club one-time passes every year
  • Primary auto rental collision damage waiver
  • No foreign transaction fees

All of those benefits cost $95/year and I can’t help but feel that you can do better.

Airline Credit Cards

Combine Two Great Cards From Chase

Chase Ultimate Rewards points (earned by credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom cards) transfer over to United Mileage Plus in a ratio of 1:1 so, essentially, these cards all earn United MileagePlus miles.

They are the key to getting a better deal for your $95 annual fee.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card costs $95/year just like the United MileagePlus Explorer card and these are the benefits that it provides:

  • 2 points/dollar on all travel (flights, hotels, car hire, trains etc..)
  • 2 points/dollar at restaurants
  • Primary auto rental collision damage waiver
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Points can be used to purchase travel (flights, hotels etc..) at a value of 1.25 cents/point

The Chase Freedom Unlimited Card has no annual fee and, when paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, earns 1.5 points on all spend.

Holding both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom Unlimited credit cards costs no more than holding the United MileagePlus Explorer card and yet, between them, they essentially allow you to earn….

  • 2 United miles/dollar on all airfare
  • 2 United miles/dollar on all other travel
  • 2 United miles/dollar at restaurants
  • 1.5 United miles/dollar on all other spending in the US (the Freedom Unlimited charges foreign transaction fees)
  • 1.0 United miles/dollar on all other spending worldwide

That’s a lot better than the earning power of the Explorer card.

United Polaris Business Class – Image United

What Would You Be Giving Up?

If you chose to forgo the United Explorer card in favor of the Sapphire Preferred and Freedom Unlimited cards there are somethings you would be giving up.

Specifically these are:

  • $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • 25% discount on all inflight purchases (food, beverages, wi-fi etc…)
  • A free checked bag for the primary card member and one companion traveling on the same reservation (on United operated flights purchased with the United MileagePlus Explorer card)
  • Priority boarding
  • 2 United Club one-time passes every year

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

Priority boarding and free checked bags are something you get if you have status with United and the $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck is a benefit of 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 you?

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

United miles can only be spent on travel with United Airlines or its partners while Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United Airlines as well as another 8 other major international airlines and 3 hotel chains (4 if you count Marriott and Ritz-Carlton separately).

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 and that’s a very big bonus in the miles & points world.

Best Credit Cards

Bottom Line

The combination of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards will earn you 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 far better value for the $95 annual fee than the Explorer card.

If you don’t fly enough to have United status then you may need to ask yourself if you travel with the airline 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 highly enough to sacrifice the better earning rates that the Chase Sapphire/Chase Freedom Unlimited combination offer?

If the answer to those two questions is yes then perhaps the United MileagePlus Explorer card is for you after all….but I suspect you’ll be in a minority of readers.