United’s new Explorer credit card and some Mileage Plus changes

Chase has just released the details of their new United Mileage Plus Visa Explorer card, which has a few unique benefits. The card offers priority boarding, one free checked bag, and two single entry United Club passes annually. You also earn double miles for all United purchases and your miles never expire as long as you have the card.

The card’s annual fee is $95, so it’s much more of a “middle of the road” card than their high end card which comes with Red Carpet Club access. The card offers a 25,000 mile sign-up bonus after the first use, 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user, and 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 on the card each calendar year.

The sign-up bonus isn’t especially compelling as of now, and on the surface this sounds like a card for non-elites, though they have a couple of huge benefits for elites that have the card.

First, starting in early 2012, elite members that have this credit card will get unlimited domestic upgrades on award tickets. Upgrades will still be prioritized by status and then fare class, with award tickets being considered the lowest fare class in each category.

The other huge change coming to the Mileage Plus program is that non-elites and non-cardholders will no longer have last seat availability on standard awards. Currently at United, anyone can burn miles at the “standard” rate for an award ticket as long as a seat is for sale. In an ideal world no one would have to redeem for a standard award, though when traveling during peak periods (like late December to Australia), it may just be the lesser of evils.

Well, United is following the Continental model here, and only giving elite members and now cardholders the ability to redeem for last seat availability.

So while the sign-up bonus is less than tempting, there’s definitely huge value in having the card, whether you’re an elite member or not.

(Tip of the hat to Gary… and Gary)


  1. As I read the announcement, those are not benefits only for elites who have the card – they are for elites and cardmembers – that elites get UDU and last seat availability, and cardholders get it too. Or are you reading it that you have be elite + cardholder to get this? That would be kind of tacky.

  2. This is a poor product offered by Chase in terms of the card’s benefits. There is no EQM accrual for united.com purchases or spending thresholds on the card. I have the “old” United Mileage Plus Platinum Visa which offers up to 5000 EQMs annually for United.com ticket purchases and an additional 5000 EQMs for spending $35K annually. The best part is 1Ks, whom opened their accounts before September 1, 2006, have the full $140 annual fee waived.

    Being able to upgrade award tickets is nice, but what other real benefits come with the card? Chase needs to introduce a good United card with EQM earnings ability. Maybe this will come later or be tied in with lounge access, but it should not be so as some do not need RCC access tied to their cards? I always have to laugh when I see the Chase offers to upgrade my card, as they now only offer a $60 credit on many of their United cards. The Platinum Mileage Plus Visa is still the best card all these years later, even if you have to pay the full $140 fee.

  3. @ Bonesaz — I mean that if there’s a seat for sale you can redeem miles for it. Let’s say a month out you’re looking at a San Francisco to Sydney flight and there’s a single first class seat for sale. A “standard” award would let you redeem miles for that at United, which is a pretty amazing deal. Does that make sense?

    @ Carl — My understanding is that only elites with the card get UDUs on awards, while all elites OR cardholders get the last seat availability. I could be wrong, though.

    @ chitownflyer — It seems to me like they’re trying to shy away from giving elite qualifying miles through a credit card, which I can definitely appreciate to some extent.

  4. I would like last seat availability on “standard” or “Easy” awards for my family, not just me, and not required to be on same PNR

  5. From the perspective of an elite who already has a club membership, this card seems to be a downgrade from the prior offerings (which, by the way, are no longer offered) in every way except the ability to UDU on award tickets.

    For the same annual fee as this new card (but with $60 waived as a 1K), my current Chase United Select card earns me triple miles on UA/CO purchases, double miles on Star Alliance, gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases, an annual 5,000 RDM anniversary bonus, and up to 5,000 EQMs per year for purchases on united.com.

  6. Still not clear on the change to “last seat availability.” Does this mean that if I don’t have elite status with United, and I don’t have the Explorer card that the only ticket type I’m able to redeem miles for are the few-and-far-between saver awards?

    In reality, I have elite status, but not the Explorer card (and don’t plan on getting it). So I can still redeem miles for either saver or standard awards, right?

  7. @ Charlotte — To be clear, they’re not eliminating standard awards for non-elites and non-cardholders. There will still be standard awards, but just not last seat availability. In other words, availability will still be much better for a standard award than a saver award, but not “last seat” unless you’re an elite or cardholder.

  8. where do you see the note about free UDU for elites on award tickets??? i cant find that anywhere… thanks for a link to the details.

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