United MileagePlus Explorer Card Review

August 29, 2011 No Comments »
United MileagePlus Explorer Card Review

It’s that time again, where we take a hard look at a new credit card offer to see if it’s right for you.

The latest credit card offer from Chase is the “United MileagePlus Explorer Card.”

In case you weren’t sure, it is indeed an airline rewards credit card, complete with 25,000 bonus miles after first use.

On top of that, cardholders can earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles each year they spend $25,000 on the card, and another 5,000 if they add an authorized user within two months of account opening.

How You Earn Miles

You get one mile for each $1 of net purchases, and double miles for purchase made directly from United and on tickets purchased directly from Continental and at continental.com.

To give you an idea of how many miles you need for a free flight, it’s about 25,000 for “saver” flights ” (the cheapest level) within the mainland United States and Canada, 40,000 for travel from the US to Hawaii, and 60,000 from the US to Europe.

So if you use your card quite a bit, say spending $2,500 a month, you’d earn 30,000 miles plus 10,000 bonus miles annually (40,000 miles total). And obviously more if you used the card to book travel with United/Continental.

You can even earn 4,000 bonus miles for signing up for Netflix, 5 award miles for every $1 spent at Drugstore.com, and bonus miles at partner hotel chains and car rental companies.

So the miles can add up pretty fast if you’re a bit methodical about it all.

If you’re short on miles, you may also be able to combine cash and miles to book your flight.

There are no limitations, restrictions or blackout dates on standard MileagePlus awards, and miles won’t expire as long as there is activity on your account, it’s not in default, and your annual fee is paid.

The Extras

They’ve also got a low-fare guarantee, so if you find the flight for less, they’ll refund the difference and give you 20% off your next purchase.

Cardmembers (and a companion) check their first bag free when flying United and Continental-operated flights, a savings of up to $50 per person round trip.

You also get priority boarding privileges, meaning no scampering to be first in line.

While you wait, you can also enjoy the United Club Access free of charge (2 passes/year), which typically offer free Wi-Fi, complimentary beer, wine, and spirits, and free breakfast and snacks.

United MileagePlus Explorer also comes with a primary auto rental collision damage waiver, along with travel protection benefits.

The Numbers

The downside is that there a $95 annual fee, though it is waived for the first year of card membership.

Both the purchase and balance transfer credit card APR are a variable 14.24%, based on the prime rate, so it’s no good for balance transfers.

The credit card grace period is 21 days after the close of each billing cycle, and the late fee varies from $15 to $35.

Foreign transactions are also hit with a 3% fee, a bummer for a travel credit card.

Thoughts…

All in all, it’s a pretty solid travel rewards credit card.

If you spend a decent amount on your credit card each month and travel often, especially for business, you could rack up miles pretty quickly and earn a lot of free flights.

But you may be better suited with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card instead, which comes with 50,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening.

That’s good for $625 in free flights or $500 cash back, as points are worth 20% more when used for hotel or airfare.

And points can be transferred at a 1:1 basis to participating frequent traveler programs at full value with no penalty, so it could serve the same purpose as the United card.

Additonally, you earn double points on dining and travel, along with a 7% annual points dividend, and there is no foreign transaction fee, so it may be a better alterative.

If the United MileagePlus Explorer Card interests you, apply here (offer expired).

(photo: skinnylawyer)

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