In my last post about the amazing United Airlines travel perk so many people don’t even know exists, I mentioned how I currently have 46,000 miles in my frequent flier account at, despite having not flown with United yet (sorry, United–I really need you to move into the Lawton/Fort Sill Municipal Airport). Truthfully, if United flew from OKC to MCI, I probably would make the switch, but since only AA is in Lawton and for some oddball reason anytime I try to book OKC to MCI, it costs $800-900, rather than the normal $350, I assume there is some barrier there, so I can’t commit to UA yet since I have to fly to MCI regularly. That said, once I secure Gold status this year with AA, I look forward to branching out a bit. And that is one reason I obtained the United Explorer Card. First, it came with 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. It’s really not hard to do that. Simply make the credit card your “middle man” and charge groceries, cable bills, etc, and then turn around–right away–and pay it from your bank account. Not only do you get bonus miles, but you also get credit toward those 40K miles. The one downside here is that Chase is awfully slow in depositing them. I had to write them several times about this, and I think it took 2-3 months, so don’t plan any trips on those miles right away. American Express deposits bonus miles for hotels lightning fast, and Barclay deposited my American Airlines bonus miles quite promptly as well, but Chase is not quick; account for that. They are accurate and reliable, but not fast. I still wouldn’t trade my card for anything–except maybe a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve (if I thought I needed the extra benefits in the higher annual fee; I don’t, but some make it pay off). I was considering a Sapphire Preferred until recently, when Chase suddenly converted my discontinued no annual fee Chase Slate card into a no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited, which means I now have the benefit of Chase Ultimate Rewards, which lets me earn points I can transfer on travel, the only benefit I wanted from the Preferred I did not have with the United Explorer card.
So what is this host of benefits that make this United card so incredibly valuable to me? (I’ll explain the rewards part at the end since that’s from another card and not related to the United Explorer, but I mentioned it anyway–excuse my tackiness there!). This list alone makes the annual fee worth every penny to me (not that I have paid anything for it yet since the annual fee is waived totally in the first year, but the benefits are not):
So let’s say I don’t buy trip insurance for my domestic ticket and I end up planning to fly to a place where I’m going to rent a car and drive to a city with a hurricane. Guess what? As far as the airline is concerned, unless where I am flying has a hurricane, too bad. No refunds. But according to Chase, if I have paid for my trip with the card and I can document my plane, car, and hotel at that destination and show the storm is there, I am covered. I can cancel my trip and file a claim. This is why I do not balk at a $95 annual fee. I also don’t balk at it because I live in a city with an airport with 4 flights a day. It’s not unusual for 1-2 flights a day to be canceled. If I am on the last flight of the day and there are 4 raindrops, and they cancel it and list “weather” as the reason, they owe me nothing; however, if I paid for the ticket with my Chase card, I can get a hotel, eat, even buy toiletries, or anything I need, and as long as I can document it and file my claim in accordance with the policy, I can get reimbursed up to $500 for that one.
Oh, and that line about the auto rental coverage being primary? That is key. Many cards have secondary insurance, but primary means my own insurance would not get involved at all. I pay for every car rental with my United Card for exactly that reason (pro tip: but I link my Alamo car rental to my Hilton Honors number, since I don’t use my usual American Express Hilton card and get 500 Honors points with every car rental, plus an Alamo discount, plus the primary car insurance through my credit card).
These are just a few of the many benefits attached to the United Explorer Card. I also received a $100 credit for Global Entry. The moment I paid the fee for it online with my card, immediately underneath the charge was reversed with a credit so it never even had to be paid even to be reimbursed. Of course there is the usual 2 United miles for every dollar I spend on United, plus 1 mile per dollar on other purchases. Then there is priority boarding and a free checked bag on United flights (value: $30 each way). And United also gives Explorer card members 2 free United Club passes a year. It’s not common for airlines to give lounge passes to credit card members unless they hold high tier credit cards with large annual fees, but United does. It’s really one of the best credit cards I have ever had that isn’t a premium card with premium fees. I can honestly say it gives me a lot more than it takes from me (of course, that’s with the caveat that one should never carry a balance on credit cards–especially reward cards, which carry higher interest rates, as a rule).
* Regarding the Chase Freedom Unlimited and my comment above. You can certainly get all of these benefits in the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but if you do fly United and you want the United-specific benefits, including the free checked bag, and the priority boarding, as well as lounge passes and in-flight purchase discounts, you might want to go ahead and get the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card to take advantage of the best of both worlds, plus 1.5% cash back. Chase Ultimate Rewards is a terrific points program where points transfer at a one-to-one rate to many travel partners. One of those partners is United, actually, as well as other Star Alliance group airlines, but also certain hotel groups. Since this credit card has no annual fee, it’s not a big deal to carry both. I like having the access to the travel rewards and the flexibility, but I don’t want to give up the status with my hotel groups, such as IHG, a Chase partner, or benefits with United. So it’s perfect for me. You can learn more about the options with Chase Ultimate Rewards here. Again, these are great cards, but only if you don’t carry a balance. Be responsible. Make credit cards work for you, or you will be a slave to them.