United Airlines MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card: Good Deal?

I visited a friend last week who doesn’t fly a huge amount each year and he asked me what I thought about United’s Mileage Plus Explorer credit card. United is aggressively promoting the card (and yes… I’m featuring it here now, too), but he wondered if he should hold off applying for the current offer he saw to wait for a better one.

First, I had him log in to his MileagePlus account and then click on the Chase MileagePlus Explorer credit card offer on United’s website. It often will yield a higher bonus mile offer for new applicants than the one promoted by United elsewhere (onboard, in the United Club, airport kiosks, etc).

After he did this, it directed him to the current bonus offer of 30,000 miles – actually 35,000 miles by adding a second cardholder to the account and making a purchase. Many have reported success in getting a 50,000-mile offer this way (as well as a statement credit), but sadly he didn’t. And the links I had previously for the 50k offer all seem to have expired (redirect to the 30k offer). My login only gives the United Club card as I already have a former iteration of the Explorer card. There are reports, though, that once you apply for the current offer, you can contact Chase and ask for the upgraded 50k offer.

The offer of 30,000 bonus miles is as follows:

  • 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months
  • 5,000 additional bonus miles after adding an authorized user and making a purchase on that card during the first three months as a cardmember
  • 10,000 bonus miles each calendar year you spend $25,000 on the card
  • $0 introductory annual fee, $95 thereafter

And the benefits the card carries are as follows:

  • Free checked bag for the primary cardholder and one companion on the same reservation so long as the ticket was purchased on the card
  • Priority boarding for the cardholder and companions on the same reservation, which I believe is Boarding Group 4 right behind Premiers
  • Two United Club passes every calendar year
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United tickets purchased with United directly
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent elsewhere
  • Earn unlimited miles on the card, which never expire so long as you’re a cardmember
  • Other travel perks including hotel room upgrades and car rental protection

He’s primarily a domestic flier, which is good, because this card does charge foreign transaction fees. And the Mileage Plus Club Card didn’t interest him as he doesn’t fly enough to warrant the hefty annual fee after the first year, feeling the two club passes with this card are fine for him. And his flying is normally spread out on Delta, United and US Airways.

I told him the next time this card might see a better offer is at the turn of the year, as Chase seems to make (mostly) quarterly tweaks to their card offers.

So is it a good deal? It really depends on your flying pattern, but for my friend, it does pay off having the card and “buying” the benefits of Premier Silver status, effectively. He decided to apply for the card as the bonus miles will push him over the miles he needs for an international business class ticket. And I’ll be helping him plan it on a Star Alliance carrier (he didn’t know he could use United miles this way!)


  1. Why would you bother posting an inferior deal? He needs to get fresh miles in his account before the higher deal shows up – not using your link.

    • @Al: He wanted the miles relatively quickly and doesn’t have any United flying in the next 6 months. I didn’t think to recommend buying an iTunes song, getting a couple of miles in the process to see if the offer would refresh.
      @Patrick: Ah yes, that would make sense as group 4 is the cutoff for using the blue carpet lane… thanks… I’ve updated the post.

  2. I am pretty sure it’s Group 4, not Group 2. Group 2 is (thankfully) still reserved for butt-in-seat premiers (Platinum, I believe).

  3. I think you are the only Blogger who doesn’t know that Chase will match the 55k offer and $50 statement credit when just sending a SM after you get approved.
    Even dansdeals had a post today and I just did it myself.

  4. Not that the benefit would apply in this person’s case, but a great benefit is that award tickets are CPU eligible (for the cardholder, no companions). Last week I was flying on a saver award and on two of the three flights my upgrade cleared.

  5. I actually think this is the best card for people who are new to credit card bonuses (and are skeptical). Why?

    1. It has a low spend threshold.
    2. It offers a decent amount of miles (55,000… even if it does sometimes require contacting Chase)
    3. That’s almost enough miles for a free ticket to Europe.

    By only having to apply and keep track of one credit card, especially with a low spend, it makes earning the miles easy. In addition, since this is almost enough for one free ticket to Europe, people can see an almost immediate benefit.

  6. @Mofessor:

    Those are all good points, but let’s see how it compares to the US Airways Mastercard:

    1. The United Explorer’s bonus has a minimum spend of $1,000. The US Airways Mastercard bonus pays after first use.

    2. If you can get the 55,000 mile offer it isn’t bad, but 40,000 for first use (and another 10,000 every year) isn’t bad, considering that there isn’t an annual bonus for simply holding the Explorer card and paying the annual fee.

    3. It takes 60,000 to get a roundtrip saver award to Europe with Mileage Plus. An off-peak award is available with Dividend Miles for 35,000 but cardholders are given a 5,000 discount off every award — making it only 30,000 miles (or half the amount) to get to Europe.

    The off-peak business class award is only 55,000 miles, so after a year of card membership (and only paying one annual fee) someone with the U.S. Airways card could get to Europe in Business Class after a year and paying only a single annual fee — while the Explorer card holder would have to spend $1,000 to get the full signup bonus in addition to earning an additional 45,000 miles somehow.

    35,000 of that could be earned by spending $25,000 on the Explorer (earning a total of 90,000 after 10,000 for the threshold bonus plus the 25,000 miles from actual spend) but while a US Airways cardholder could have made it to Europe and back, the Explorer cardholder still has 10,000 miles to earn; plus, a US Airways cardholder would have gained 10,000 EQM and waived award processing fees for spending the same $25,000!

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