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United Club Card or Explorer Card? Which MileagePlus credit card is best for you?

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This article was last updated Jan 27, 2014, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

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The information related to the United MileagePlus® Club Card and United℠ Explorer Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

United offers two credit cards that earn miles directly in your MileagePlus® account: The United℠ Explorer Card and the United MileagePlus® Club Card. The best for you depends on several factors we’ll discuss below. Here are the biggest differences between the cards:

  • Annual fee: The United MileagePlus® Club Card annual fee is $450 vs the United℠ Explorer Card at $0 Intro for First Year, then $95.
  • Mile earning: The United MileagePlus® Club Card earns 1.5 miles per dollar spent, while the United℠ Explorer Card lets you Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases, though it also earns a 10,000 mile bonus when you spend $25,000 on the card in a calendar year. This is an important feature, and we discuss it below.
  • Club access: The United  MileagePlus® Club Card offers full United Club membership with unlimited access, while the United℠ Explorer Card offer 2 day passes per year.
  • Free checked bags: The United MileagePlus® Club Card offers your first and second bag free while the United℠ Explorer Card offers just one free. That’s a big difference on some international flights, where a 2nd checked bag can cost $200 or more round-trip.

To justify the higher annual fee of the United MileagePlus® Club Card you’ll usually need to be able to answer ‘yes’ to any one of these three questions. We’ll expand on why below.

  • Do you plan to visit United Clubs several times a year?
  • Will you check a 2nd bag on more than 4 domestic roundtrips a year or 2 transatlantic / transpacific roundtrips a year?
  • Do you expect to spend more than $60,000 a year on the card?

Cheapest United Club Access

If you value United Club access and plan to visit several times a year, there is no cheaper way to enter them than the United MileagePlus® Club Card. It offers full United Club membership and in fact you will receive a separate lounge membership card so you can be sure you get the full benefits of standalone United Club membership.

On its own, without the credit card, United Club membership costs up to $500 a year. Even as a top-tier 1K member who flies 100,000 miles a year, membership without the credit card costs $400 a year. All of these options are more than the $395 annual fee of the United MileagePlus® Club Card.

Additionally, as a United MileagePlus® Club Card holder you can get a $3 discount on premium wines and liquor, something not available to those with standalone membership.

So there really is no better way to get club membership than to hold the United Club MileagePlus® Card. Additionally, if you are a 1K member of United MileagePlus®, you’ll get a $60 annual rebate on your annual fee so the card will cost you just $335 per year.

1.5 miles per dollar isn’t always the best choice

If you *don’t* value United Club access, then you’ll need to evaluate your spending to see which card will earn you the most miles at the lowest price.

The United Club MileagePlus® Card earns 1.5 miles per dollar spent on the card, a 50% bonus over the United℠ Explorer Card’s base 1 mile per dollar.

PartnerTransfer Time
British AirwaysInstant
Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)Instant
HyattInstant
IHG1 Day
Korean AirInstant
Marriott2 Days
Ritz-Carlton2 Days
SingaporeSame Day
SouthwestInstant
UnitedInstant
Virgin AtlanticInstant
 VisaMasterCardTravelexMarket Rate
British Pounds1.6461.6451.8271.646
Euros1.3621.3541.5051.354
Japanes Yen0.010.010.0110.01
Mexican Pesos0.0760.0760.0840.075
Canadian Dollar0.9150.9111.0170.911

If you want to run the numbers for yourself, check out our CardFinder for United credit cards. You can enter your monthly spending and how much you think your United miles are worth. Then it will show you how many miles you’ll earn and how much travel value you’ll earn each year, factoring the cost of the annual fee.

Do you check a 2nd bag? It could cost $100+

United checked bagsMost of us try to avoid checking a bag if at all

possible. Besides the minimum $25 per bag fee, the hassle of getting to the airport earlier and having to wait at baggage claim makes it a choice we’d rather not make.

But sometimes we just have to check bags. Maybe it’s because of gifts, or having to pack supplies, or visiting family abroad.

Most of us need to check just one bag if we do. So for those cases the United℠ Explorer Card works just fine. You’ll be taken care of for the first checked bag fee whenever you fly.

But if you’re in the smaller group of people who checks 2 or more bags when you fly, then the United MileagePlus® Club Card may be worth it just for its free 2nd checked bag.

2nd checked bags are almost always more expensive than the 1st checked bag.

They cost $35 versus $25 for the first bag each way on domestic flights. And on international flights they can be even more expensive.

For example if you’re going to Europe, while the 1st checked bag is free on United, the 2nd checked bag will cost you $100 each way. That’s $200 round-trip. But the United MileagePlus® Club Card will save you from having to pay a 2nd checked bag fee.

So for those trips, just 3 times a year checking a 2nd bag can offset the extra $300 in annual fees you pay for the United MileagePlus® Club Card vs the United℠ Explorer Card. Plus you get full United Club access.

There are other perks with the Club Card

The United MileagePlus® Club Card also offers some extra travel perks like the ability to use priority security lanes, Hyatt Platinum status (free wifi and some room upgrades), and Avis First status (some car rental upgrades).

Both cards offer Primary car rental collision damage coverage, which is a rare benefit among cards.

You can read more about each card’s benefits here:

> United℠ Explorer Card benefits guide

Consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Finally, if you don’t value club access or checked bag benefits, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It earns points you can transfer 1:1 into your United MileagePlus® account at any time. And you can also transfer points into your accounts with Southwest, Marriott, Hyatt, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and more, offering you lots of flexibility.

It also earns 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases, and a 7% bonus on the points you earn each year. For many people, especially if you spend less than $25,000 a year, theChase Sapphire Preferred® Card could earn you more miles than either of the United branded credit cards.

It’s worth using our CardFinder tool to see whether the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card will be a better value for you than the United℠ Explorer Card or the United MileagePlus® Club Card for earning United miles.


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