Is the United card worth keeping?

Every couple of weeks, I get an email like this one inviting me to earn up to 65K United Miles for signing up for the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card:

image

In reality, I see this as a 55K signup offer.  You get 50K after spending $1000 and another 5K for adding an authorized user.  The final 10K requires $25K in spend per year.  That’s not really part of the signup offer – it’s really just the card’s standard big spend bonus.  Still, 55K United miles is a great offer.  If you haven’t received this offer (but want to), I recommend signing up for United’s MileagePlus loyalty program.  Then, follow this advice by dabearz73 on Flyertalk:

Found a way to trick United to get the 60K bonus rather than 40K


First login to your United Mileage Plus account on united.com.
Most see an offer for 40K for signing up to the Mileage Plus Explorer card. Rather than clicking on that link, click on the link below.
https://www.theexplorercard.com/MPEl…NS9_XXD_110719
As long as you are logged in and have not previously clicked on the 40K link, the 60K offer will pop up in a new window. If you click on the 40K link you need to log out and log back in.

Even though dabearz73 describes the offer as a 60K bonus (which was the offer at the time), the trick above works for the 55K/65K offer.

There’s no question that this is a great sign-up offer, but is this card worth keeping after the first year?  Let’s compare its perks to a few other popular airline cards:

Card

Annual Fee

Free Checked Bag(s)

Priority Boarding

Other Major Annual Perks

United MileagePlus Explorer $95 Yes Yes Two United Club passes per year, Primary car rental insurance
US Airways Dividend Miles $89 No Yes First class check-in; $99 companion ticket good for up to two guests; 10,000 bonus miles per year; 5000 mile discount on award redemptions.
Gold Delta SkyMiles Amex $95 Yes Yes $99 companion pass
AAdvantage Select Visa or Amex $95 Yes Yes 10% rebate on awards

Which ones are keepers?

  • US Airways Dividend Miles: If you value Star Alliance miles, then this one is a no-brainer.  For only $89 per year, you get 10,000 bonus miles.  That’s like paying less than a penny per mile even if you do not use any of the card’s other perks.  To me, the award discount and $99 companion ticket are just icing on the cake.  I’d recommend to everyone interested in collecting miles that they get this card for the sign-up bonus and then keep it for the annual bonus regardless of whether the other perks get used.
  • Gold Delta SkyMiles: For anyone certain to use the companion pass each year, this card can easily pay for itself (although I would then recommend you move up to the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card).  This is also a good card for people who fly Delta regularly, but not enough to earn elite status (since elite status also results in free checked bags and priority boarding).
  • AAdvantage Select Visa or Amex: If you fly American Airlines regularly, but not enough to earn elite status, then this card should be a keeper.  Otherwise, I’d only recommend keeping this card if you plan to redeem AA miles.  If so, the 10% rebate can easily be worth the $95 annual fee.
  • United MileagePlus: I see this card as a keeper only if you fly United regularly, but not enough to earn elite status.  Otherwise, it seems unlikely that the benefits of the free checked bags, 2 club passes, and primary car rental insurance will get used often enough to justify the $95 annual fee.

 

Summary

In general, if you fly a particular airline often, but not enough to earn elite status, then it makes sense to carry that airline’s branded credit card for priority boarding, fee checked bags, etc.  Ironically, the one card that doesn’t offer free checked bags (the US Airways card) is the only one I’d recommend for everyone since its annual 10K mile bonus is alone worth the annual fee. 

Recently I was asked what I thought about the United MileagePlus card.  My response was that it’s a good card, but not as good as the competition.  Since I don’t fly United often, I don’t see much reason for me to keep the card after the first year.  I much prefer the annual perks of the US Airways card.  And I think that Delta’s companion pass, and AAdvantage Select’s 10% award rebate are both good reasons to consider keeping those cards.

What about you?  Do you think the United card is a keeper?

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. “I see [United Explorer] as a keeper only if you fly United regularly, but not enough to earn elite status.”

    I’d say that if you rent cars regularly, the primary collision damage waiver coverage can well be worth the annual fee.

    This is one of a very few card whose coverage is primary rather than secondary, a holdover from the Continetnal Mastercard.

  2. @Gary

    Does this card really covers as the primary collison damage waiver? When you go to rental counter do I just decline what rental car offers and do nothing? or tell the agent the card would be the coverage? thanks.

  3. Sort of strange writing to Gary over here.

    Gary-

    In many countries outside the US, car rental insurance is different in that sometimes a rate will include collision coverage at no extra cost (and with no option to decline). However, this coverage excludes a dedcutible of a high 3 digit amount. Thus, if you damage the car, you (or your policy at home) is stuck for the first dollars of damage.

    I have always wondered what the outcome of using a US credit card with secondary coverage would be, hoping that such usage covered the deductible. One requisite of putting the CC coverage in effect is that you must decline coverage offered by the rental company. I have hoped that declining the CDW is enough, even though the basic rate includes coverage over and above the non-waivable deductible, since you can’t decline something that’s built in.

    Have you ever looked into this?

  4. @sam- the United Explorer card does come with primary collision damage waiver. Just decline the CDW from the rental car agency. Note that this does NOT mean you have any liability coverage, just that the credit card company’s coverage will apply to damage you do to the rental vehicle. And that coverage applies without you having to go to your insurance company first. Although as with all such coverage there may be disputes over certain particulars such as administrative fees or loss of use charges that a rental company may wish to bill.

  5. My boyfriend recently signed up for the card under the 60k offer. He soon after received 2 United club card passes in the mail, as well as a note saying that they were doing a special promotion, and that he was earning 1.5 miles/$ on all purchases. (And yes he does have the Explorer card, not the Club card which normally gives that earning rate.)
    Of course I called to see if I could apply that promotion to my card too, (a holdover Continental OnePass card), and why I hadn’t received any club passes. I was told that the higher earning could only be applied to Explorer cards registered after the merger. And in regards to the club passes- they now send 2 upon sign up, and 2 for every aniversary. However, old card holders can only get them AFTER their annual fee has been paid.
    I tried a second agent but got no where, and canceled it. Definitely not worth keeping the card if I wasn’t going to qualify for any future promotions that they may run.

  6. Good post as usual. Worth noting is that it seems like the Explorer is one of the cards whose fee gets waived most commonly when calling Chase.

    • EggSS4: Good point!

      Paul: Your wife could call Chase to ask to downgrade to a card with no annual fee (such as the Freedom, for example). If they allow that, she should keep her long credit history with them.

      • FM, If she downgrades a card, doesn’t that create a new card account and start the clock over? She’s got a Sapphire card and I’m thinking that its just not wise to close her oldest account since her credit history is only about nine years long and her next oldest card is less than one year.

  7. My wife is pretty tied to her United card, she’s a holdover from the Continental card and they gave her Silver Elite status for some reason, she doesn’t fly that much. But until I got her to start churning cards this year, it was the only card she ever had so I’m afraid that canceling it would affect her credit score since it is by far her oldest card.

  8. this card has 3 % FX fees, but does fives primary card rental cocerage. When 1st year is free or even with $95 fees getting 55K is a no brainer. we got 5X55K minus5K on 5 new cards.. DO we all pay annual fees next year to keep probably NO

  9. What are the restrictions on the $99 companion pass for the Amex delta gold card?

    Also, any idea what the fees would be for changing a ticket on delta? My wife and I have 2 tickets booked already before she got the Delta amex. I’m wondering if it would be beneficial to pay the fee for the change and use the companion pass instead.

    • Joe: There are some restrictions to the companion pass, but I’ve never run into any trouble using them for domestic flights. Delta charges $150 to cancel a non-refundable ticket so I doubt it’s worth switching to the companion pass. Also, your wife won’t get the companion pass until having had the card for 1 year.

  10. Definitely not a keeper. Sorry there are just too many other good products out there, and I have some churning to do. I’ll be pushing this credit line onto another card for sure

  11. it’s definitely worth keeping if they offer a retention bonus. Just call up and tell them you are thinking of canceling for whatever reason (I said I used to fly UA, but don’t anymore). They offered 10k miles with $2k spend, which more than pays for the card.

  12. I was targeted but the offer has an expiration date of the end of the month – that puts me about halfway through my 91 day app period… my credit score is excellent, is it worth applying and upsetting the 91 day rule? Or do you think this offer will continue?

  13. none of the four are keepers for me. I churn the us airways card in less than one year, the citi cards every 18 months, the delta every two years and the same with the united card. each of the above cards has a substitute for earning the same miles when I’m without them.

  14. When canceling the United card the best “retention” offer I was given was a $50 statement credit against the $95 annual fee. Not worth it.

  15. Do you know if United will take away the sign-up bonus if I cancel the card after 1 year? I have a Mileage Plus account with them but do not fly regularly. For those who have applied for the United card for the second time, do they just deposit the sign-up bonus to your existing Mileage Plus acct? Thanks!!

  16. Do all the perks of having these cards apply if you don’t use them to actually purchase your travel? I’d imagine you’d have to use the card for the rental car benefit, but how about the other perks?

  17. Paul: I think (but I’m not sure) that Chase keeps the start date of her overall credit account with Chase irrespective of what specific cards she gets or cancels. It would be simple enough to call or SM and ask.

  18. Rick: I bow to the master churner. For me, I churn, but I don’t really like to. That’s why I love cards like the US Airways card, Priority Club, etc. that have fantastic benefits that you get every year without churning.

  19. Teri: Yes, you’ll keep your miles if you cancel after a year.

    thrashsoundly: It depends on the card. The United card says that you get free checked bags only if you pay with your United card. The Delta card doesn’t require that you pay with the card. I’m not sure about AA, US Air

  20. If you are logged in and do a dummy booking you should get a link to the 65k offer that includes a $50 statement credit. That is what I did at least, and this was at the end of August.

  21. A few questions…
    1) If I add my wife on as an authorized user, is she able to apply for a UAL Visa as well, and then add me on as an authorized user as well?
    2) The United card says that you get free checked bags only if you pay with your United card. What happens when you use miles to pay for a ticket? Do they still waive the baggage fee when checking in at the gate?
    3) I’ve used the Costco Amex for Primary Rental coverage for a couple years now. It costs something like $20 each time I rent (which I still find worth it). I see by this post that the UAL Visa also offers Primary Coverage, but do they offer it at no additional charge?

    Thanks much – Ray

  22. I have the Continental OnePass Mastercard-received it February 2012 before the merger. I called today to add an authorized user and was told that my card was now called the Mileage Explorer card and that I would receive a new card in the mail before the end of the year that reflects this change. The new card would remain a Mastercard unless I wanted to convert it to a VISA card. Am I still eligible to apply for the Mileage Explorer Visa and receive the enrollment bonus? A second unrelated question- I added an authorized user- my mother- in hopes that she may be able to receive the free checked bag on an upcoming flight that I purchased for her with my Continental OnePass card. Do you think she will have any trouble with this as I, the primary cardholder am not traveling with her?

    • Elizabeth S: As long as your new card remains a Mastercard I think you will still get the signup bonus if you signup for the Visa. You can always ask Chase to confirm before you apply. I believe that free checked bags only apply if traveling with the primary cardholder. You might want to call to double check that.

  23. weird !! Barclays could only giveme 25 % discount on fees ; what is that 10K yearly bonus? I thought you have to spend 10K to get that bonus

    I cancelled it since I could hardly get a award ticket in a year after I got 40K and they refused to give me any retuention bonus outher than 35 % discount on fees. Plus they cite I had too many application activities away leading to the rejection of my Virgin America card approval. I did mean to treat the VA card as a work horse to collect VA miles when rebate is only 1 % and AMEX is NOT accepted.. WHen 1% and AMEX is accepted I pull my AMEX SPG card

  24. 99% sure that the United card gives you free bags regardless of how you pay

    Furthermore if you book a flight for someone most all of your perks from the card and your status go with it

    • curtis: Thanks for the info!

      Glenn: Honestly, you’re probably better off trying to get a retention bonus for the personal card you already have. That way you won’t use up a hard credit pull that can be used for more interesting offers. Call and say you’re thinking of cancelling and ask to speak with someone in the retention department. They’ll likely offer you something to keep the card.

  25. Interesting post as my United Explorer is coming up on a year in October, meaning I’ll have to pay the fee. We’re likely going to travel on United in December (don’t travel that much at the moment with a little one, but we like United for certain destinations) and I’ve found it beneficial in the past to have the Explorer card. We got upgraded to first class on both legs to/from Hawaii for example.

    So I’m thinking I’d like to have a United Explorer card before we go.

    I’m new to this whole churning thing, but it seems like the options I’ve got are:

    – Apply for the United Explorer Business card BEFORE I cancel the personal one. Its about 3 months since my last churn anyway, and I can punt a British Airways card if need be to get approved since I’ve already hit the minimum spend. Then cancel the personal card before the charge hits. Yes of course negotiate and see if they’ll offer me anything.

    – Cancel the Personal Card (assuming they don’t offer me something good) before the renewal date. Then before December rolls around, apply for the Business Explorer Card.

    The only obvious advantage to the 2nd is that by allowing more time there might be a better offer for the business card, which at 25,000 miles (I’m probably not going to put $10,000 on the card) is somewhat low. Any chance Chase is going to goose this offer before the end of the year (meaning do they typically do that)?

    What would you recommend?

  26. In my case, the search results page of a dummy booking had the 65k bonus plus $50 statement credit. I also had miles in my account, but I’m not sure if that makes a difference or not.

    From the united.com website, free checked bags have to be paid with the card (unlike with Delta AMEX). I haven’t tried it yet, but I have an upcoming United flight that I booked before I received the card, so we’ll see. I also believe just holding the card gives you priority boarding, even if not used to book the flight.

    http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/baggage/chasebag.aspx

  27. I tend to fly delta more but i dont earn enough quiet yet to get elite. So i might be bias toward the card but i think OPEN Savings can be a good reason to keep the card if you dont already have a card that include that. Especially with your 10X on everything article.

  28. Just learned from Dan of DansDeals and also at MileValue that SOMEHOW those who have the MileagePlus Explorer card have access to more award availability. That upgrades this card from good to great, especially for non-elites like me.

  29. FYI I had the Chase United Signature VISA for a year and a half or so, canceled it in January 2013. Applied for another one in early May via the United login trick and just confirmed via SM with Chase that I will receive the 50K after $1,000 spend etc. Obviously this isn’t what they claim will happen as I’m a previous (recent) cardholder. Don’t know. Just lucky?

  30. Glenn: Was your previous card slightly different than the current MileagePlus card? I know that they changed the card about a year ago — so if you had a previous product, then you can always get a new signup bonus for the new product.

    • I got the previous one 10/1/2011. It certainly looks identical to the new one. I guess you’re right there must have been a change. How can you know if there’s been a “qualifying” change to the card?

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