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This article was last updated Sep 12, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.
If you want to earn the most United miles, the best bet for you might not be a card with United branded on the front.
In fact, you may be surprised to learn that the credit card with the best earning power and versatility is actually the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and not the United℠ Explorer Card.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, which can be transferred at a rate of 1:1 to a number of travel transfer partners, including United MileagePlus, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, British Airways Executive Club, World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy and more. You can earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide..
One negative mark for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is its $95 annual fee, which isn’t waived the first year. By contrast, the United℠ Explorer Card has an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95.
In addition to the lower annual fee, the United℠ Explorer Card’s value comes from travel benefits not available with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. These include a free first checked bag, priority boarding, up to $100 in credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck fees and two United Club one-time passes for every account anniversary.
Read on to see which card can get you the most value when flying United Airlines.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Most flexible United miles earning
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers unmatched flexibility and good earning power.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These points are valuable because you can transfer them at a rate of 1:1 to United Airlines, as well as Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG® Hotels, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and more partners. This allows you to have additional options if United doesn’t have award flights available on the dates you want.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card also offers 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. You’ll also receive a 25% boost in rewards value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards – bringing the value of the sign-up bonus to $1,000.
What you sacrifice with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the free checked bag, priority boarding, elite upgrade eligibility on award tickets and other travel perks that come with the United℠ Explorer Card.
Note: If you spend more than $3,000 a year on travel or dining expenses, you might want to consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve® instead. It has many of the same features as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, but offers 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Also, the card offers a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.
The catch is that the card comes with a $550 annual fee. Additionally, you’ll get 50% more value from your rewards when you redeem them for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
One Year Complimentary Lyft Pink ($199 minimum value). Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash after activating by 12/31/21.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
- Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
- One Year Complimentary Lyft Pink ($199 minimum value). Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash after activating by 12/31/21.
See additional details for Chase Sapphire Reserve®
United℠ Explorer Card: free bag and other travel perks
The United℠ Explorer Card is good if you have not yet achieved United Premier status, but you plan to fly the airline at least a couple times per year and checking luggage.
One of the biggest benefits of the card is the free checked first bag for you and a companion traveling on the same reservation — which can save you up to $120 per round trip. This more than covers the annual fee after the first year. However, the benefit doesn’t matter much to Premier level flyers (people who fly 25,000 or more miles per year on United), as they already receive a baggage fee waiver.
Additional United℠ Explorer Card travel benefits include:
Priority boarding. As the primary cardholder, you and your companions on the same reservation can board United-operated flights prior to general boarding.
25% back on in-flight purchases. Get 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights.
Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit. Get reimbursed up to $100 every four years for the Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee.
Two United Club passes. Each anniversary, receive two United Club one-time passes.
No blackout dates. The primary cardholder can use miles to book any United-operated flight with no restrictions or blackout dates.
Premier upgrades. The primary cardholder who is also a MileagePlus Premier member and traveling on an award ticket can receive complimentary Premier upgrades on United-operated flights when available.
Hotel perks. Receive room upgrades, complimentary daily breakfast for two, early check-in, late checkout (when available) and more at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.
Note: If you’d prefer unlimited Club access, you may want to consider the United Club℠ Card instead. The card comes with access for you and eligible travel companions to all United Club locations and participating Star Alliance affiliated lounges worldwide.
The United Club℠ Card also offers the first and second checked bags free for the primary cardholder and one companion traveling on the same reservation.
Which card should you choose?
If you are a United loyalist who wants access to valuable perks when traveling on United-operated flights, the United℠ Explorer Card is a good option. But if you want more flexibility in how you earn and where you can use rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card may be the better choice.
The information related to the United Club℠ Card has been independently collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.