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Points, Miles & Credit Cards

Review: The United℠ Explorer Card

Zanny Merullo Steffgen

Zanny Merullo Steffgen

November 15, 2023

8 min read

Table of Contents

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. Some of all of the card offers that appear on this page are from advertisers; compensation may affect how and where the cards appear on the site; and Going does not include all card companies are all available card offers.

If you live near a United hub or are otherwise loyal to the airline and are looking for some serious travel perks, consider the card_name. The card has been around in its latest form since 2018, offering United travelers a convenient way to rack up miles and take advantage of benefits. Explorer is the second tier in the line of United Airlines credit cards, which means it provides significantly more perks than the $0 a year United Gateway card but has an annual fee.

Some of those perks? For starters, you get two free United Lounge passes each year and $100 toward TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or Nexus. In addition to travel benefits and the ability to earn miles on every purchase, the United Explorer Card comes with regular promotions to help you maximize your points, giving you plenty of ways to earn extra miles and get yourself a free flight.  


  • Annual fee: annual_fees
  • Current welcome offer: bonus_miles_full 
  • Earnings: 2x miles on United purchases, dining, and some hotel stays, 1x miles on all other purchases.
  • Benefits: Two one-time lounge passes each year, free first checked bag for you and a companion, priority boarding, $100 credit toward TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or Nexus, 25% back on in-flight and lounge purchases, no blackout dates, one-year free DoorDash DashPass, plus travel and purchase protection.


  • Lots of perks when flying with United. 
  • Waived annual fee the first year. 
  • Different ways to earn miles. 


  • Annual fee after first year. 
  • High APR. 
  • Low mile earning rate.


What is the annual fee for the United Explorer Card?

The card_name offers a annual_fees. Considering you get two free lounge passes each year with this card (a $118 value), the annual fee kind of pays for itself.

Earning points

It’s worth noting that you earn fewer miles to the dollar on airline purchases with the United Explorer card than you would with other airline cards or the higher-tier United cards—just 2x miles for every dollar spent as opposed to three. While this is a downside, the good thing is that United makes it really easy to earn miles. With the addition of the MileagePlus Shopping extension, MileagePlus Dining program, survey programs, and others, you have plenty of chances to earn extra points without spending extra.

What is the welcome offer on the United Explorer Card?

bonus_miles_full In addition to the extra points, you’ll also get one-time bonuses like a $0 intro annual fee and a one-year free DashPass membership. 

How do you earn points with the United Explorer Card?

With the card_name, you earn miles every time you spend. The number of miles you earn to the dollar depends on the purchase category: 2x miles for each dollar with in-flight or other United purchases, 2x miles for each dollar at restaurants, and 2x miles for each dollar spent at certain qualifying hotels when you book directly with the hotel. On all other purchases, you earn one mile to the dollar. 

If you use your United Explorer Card for a lot of your everyday spending and take advantage of the many MileagePlus programs, you can earn higher mile-to-dollar ratios. The easiest way to do so is with the MileagePlus Shopping browser extension, which offers extra miles when shopping with various online retailers. After activating the extension, you’ll see offers in the corner of your screen as you browse, sometimes offering five or more miles to the dollar or extra bonuses. (At the time of writing, for example, if you sign up for a Verizon phone plan with MileagePlus shopping, you can earn a one-time bonus of 8500 miles, though this may change.) 

While this browser extension is available to all MileagePlus members and works with all credit cards, if you use your United Explorer Card when purchasing through the MileagePlus Shopping extension, you can double up on miles, earning the bonuses plus the miles you’d already get for a purchase.

The same goes for United MileagePlus Dining, which connects you with restaurants in your area and allows you to activate extra mileage deals when taking out or dining in. United also offers a Mileage X app that gives you up to five miles to the dollar for each purchase you make. You can even earn miles while doing some good in the world—like getting up to 15 miles to the dollar when donating to the National Foundation for Cancer Research. 

Redeeming points

Once you’ve built up a hefty chunk of miles, it’s time to spend them. At United, each mile has about 1.2 cents of spending value, although this may vary depending on a few factors, such as how you redeem your points. To spend your miles on flights, you can opt to search for flights through United’s website by mile price rather than dollar price. The site also prompts you to pay for upgrades in miles (plus a co-pay), which may cost 5,000-30,000 miles, depending on the flight. 

Another cool thing about the United MileagePlus program is that your miles are good for more than just flights. You can also use them to purchase electronics, car rentals, hotels, and even pay restaurant tabs when dining in the United terminal at both the Newark (EWR) and Houston (IAH) airports. Although you get credit towards TSA PreCheck with your United Explorer Card, if you wanted to pay for it using miles, you could, for just 11,000 of them. 

While there is no official value for your miles on the United Merchandise Awards site, to give you a sense of how far they can get you, I looked at how much an iPhone 15 would cost in United miles: 138,000. When buying an iPhone 15 directly from Apple, it’s $799. Meanwhile, a one-way flight with a first-class seat from Boston to Honolulu costs 135,000 miles and has a $4,000 value, so you definitely get more bang for your buck when using your miles for flights. 

What are the points transfer partners of the United Explorer Card?

With United, you can book flights with partner airlines through the airline’s website or app. Some of the Star Alliance airlines with flights available on United’s website include Air Canada, Air China, Lufthansa., TAP Air Portugal, and Turkish Airlines, among many others.

When using your United miles to book a flight with a partner airline, you’ll get the same value for your points, although you won’t earn Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) or Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) or get free checked baggage. PQP and PQF are there to measure your loyalty to the airline and allow you to reach different levels of the MileagePlus program. (You need 12 PQF and 4,000 PQP or 5,000 PQP to reach Premier Silver Status, for example, which makes you eligible for complimentary upgrades, among other benefits.) 

You can also use your points on the United Hotels, United Merchandise Awards, and United Cars sites, where their value will vary. The only direct points transfer partner of United is Marriott Bonvoy. When converting Marriott Bonvoy points to United Miles, you get miles at a 3:1 ratio, while the other way around is 1:1. In most cases, these transfers will go through within a few days or a week. 

What kinds of flights can I take using the points I earn from the United Explorer Card?

The current welcome offer can get you a wide variety of travel experiences. Here are some ideas of what you could do with those points:

  • One basic economy, roundtrip fare from the East Coast to Europe. 
  • Two roundtrip flights between the West and East coasts with economy seats. 
  • A first-class trip to Vegas and back from LA. 
  • 1-2 nights at a 4-star hotel in the Bahamas.

What are the other benefits of the United Explorer Card?

Travel perks

This card is all about the travel perks, and they are ones you’ll actually use, like free checked baggage, a huge relief for those of us who don’t pack light. Some other travel perks include those free lounge passes (lounges are only available at some airports and may not be accepting one-time passholders, but still…), no foreign transaction fees, priority boarding, 25% cashback on in-flight purchases, and VIP treatment (like free breakfast for two and dining credit) when you use your card to book a hotel through Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection. You also get free concierge services with your card, so you can get personalized travel recommendations no matter where you are in the world. 


Most credit cards offer some kind of protection, which is worth tapping into if something goes wrong on your trip. With the United Explorer Card, you get built-in baggage delay insurance, giving you up to $100 a day for three days if your bag has not arrived on time and you need to purchase toiletries, clothes, or other necessities. Your carry-on luggage is also protected by the card, as are trip delays or cancellations, accidents, and rental car collisions. The protections go beyond travel, too—you get purchase protection, fraud protection, and extended warranties on eligible products.

Extra freebies

The United Explorer Card is the product of a partnership with Chase, which gives all cardmembers a free year of DashPass, saving you money when you order through DoorDash. Every four years, you also get $100 of credit toward TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Nexus membership. For context, membership for all three programs lasts five years and costs $78 for TSA PreCheck, $100 for Global Entry, and $50 for Nexus. 

What are the drawbacks of the United Explorer Card?

The United Explorer card comes with a lot of benefits and opportunities to earn miles, but with a high annual fee after the first year and relatively few miles earned for each dollar you spend, it’s not ideal for everyone. 

Perhaps the greatest drawback is the rate at which you earn miles for United purchases. It’s quite low compared to other airlines, which award you with three or four times (rather than two) the amount of miles when you spend directly with them. If you’re a frequent United Airlines flier and can afford a higher annual rate, you may also want to go with a higher tier card, like the Quest card that offers annual United purchase credit, free first and second checked bags, and anniversary bonus miles, or the Infinite card with an 80,000-mile welcome offer, 4x the miles on United purchases, and a free United Club membership. 

Who is the United Explorer Card for?

The card_name is for anyone looking for travel perks that will make a real difference in the comfort, ease, and price of their getaways. With free checked baggage, the chance to hang out in a United lounge once a year, and credit toward services like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry that make the security line a breeze, the impact of this credit card is a big one. And can be even bigger if you take advantage of the extra opportunities to earn miles!

While the annual fee is waived for the first year with the United Explorer Card, from there on out, you spend $95 a year to keep the card open. For those who fly regularly with United and take advantage of the travel perks, this annual fee will definitely be worth it. If you don’t live near a United hub or fly only once or twice a year, you may get more out of the lower-tier United card or can just stick to a MileagePlus loyalty account. 

If you’re looking for higher mileage earnings per dollar spent and can afford a significantly pricier annual fee, consider the card_name

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Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. Some of all of the card offers that appear on this page are from advertisers; compensation may affect how and where the cards appear on the site; and Going does not include all card companies are all available card offers.

Zanny Merullo Steffgen

Zanny Merullo Steffgen

Freelance Writer

Zanny Merullo Steffgen is a travel writer currently based in Colorado. She has documented her various adventures and experiences as an expat in Cambodia and Italy for The Discoverer, Matador Network, Scuba Diving Magazine, and Pix Wine, among other publications. You’ll likely find Zanny journaling in cafés around the world, sipping local wine, or exploring the underwater world.

Published November 15, 2023

Last updated March 7, 2024

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