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Frequent flyer miles are great and earning them through credit card spending is an excellent way to rack up miles, especially with a good sign-up bonus. But did you know the United Explorer card (see current limited time offer) can do much more than earn miles? It can save them, too. Here’s how I saved 7,500 United Airlines MileagePlus miles by being a United Airlines card holder.
How I Saved 7,500 United Miles as a United Explorer Card Holder
With most airlines, when it comes to booking with miles, award availability is pretty consistent across the board. You have to be enrolled in their frequent traveler program, of course, but beyond that, most travelers see the same availability for award bookings. Some Delta American Express Skymiles cards offer cardholders the option to pay for part of their flight in miles and the rest in cash, but the United MileagePlus credit card is different.
As a United MileagePlus® Explorer Card cardholder, I automatically have access to more award seats than non-United Airlines cardholders, especially in the economy Saver and Everyday Awards category. Without the United credit card, far fewer award seats will show as available through the United booking portal. If there is a seat available, cardholders like me have unrestricted access to book an Everyday Award, even if it’s the last seat on the plane. Not so if you don’t have a United Explorer card linked to your MileagePlus account.
For example, when a UnitedPlus member without the Explorer card searches for award flights, one or two might show up that require 10,000 miles for flights that are under 700 miles from point A to point B. Most will be 15,000-35,000 miles for longer domestic flights. The magic number seems to be 17,500, which is what most seats were going for. However, when I log in to search as a member with the Explorer card, a couple lower-priced award flights are available.
Compared to when I search signed out of my MileagePlus account:
As you can see, there are two award flights that show up for me as cheaper. Just having the card saved me 7,500 miles per one-way flight.
Non-cardholders can expect to shell out more United miles simply because award seats don’t show up in search results. Without the United Explorer card, you can still find award flights for 10,000-12,500 miles (the former for flights under 700 miles), there just won’t be as many of them, especially on popular routes. And in reality, if you didn’t have the Explorer card, you wouldn’t even know those discounts were available.
Flying farther than across state lines? I have the potential to save even more on international flights with the Explorer card.
Just watch out for the close-in booking fee. It’ll get you every time. If you try to book an award flight within 21 days of departure you’ll be charged an additional $75 on top of the usual taxes and fees, which are typically $5.60 per one-way ticket.
The United MileagePlus Explorer Card Perks
For starters, the MileagePlus Explorer card by Chase offers a limited time offer of 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card ownership, plus another 5,000 for adding a qualified user. The United credit card falls under Chase’s 5/24 rule.
On top of that, every time you book a flight and pay with the United Explorer card you will get priority boarding and a free checked bag, too. That automatically saves me at least $25 per bag. And every year that you renew the United card, you will also receive two passes to a United Club. Those alone are worth more than $100. And of course, there are no foreign transaction fees.
The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card earns 2 points per dollar spent on United flights and 1 point per dollar on everything else across the board. The annual fee is $95 (waived the first year), but the benefits make it worth it if I’m flying even semi-regularly with United. However, those aren’t the only perks that make the Explorer card worth hanging onto.
How to Earn Miles with the MileagePlus Explorer Card
Everyday spending isn’t the only way you can earn miles with the Explorer card. MileagePlus also offers the opportunity to earn additional miles through their online shopping portal, cruise partners, and dining out. You can earn with numerous partners ranging from car rental company Hertz to loans with Quicken Loans to auto insurance with Liberty Mutual.
United also offers the MileagePlus X app, which allows you to earn additional miles at local stores and restaurants in addition to online. Just log in to the app and when it’s time to check out, type in the total amount due, and use the barcode provided to complete the purchase at the register. It’s like purchasing a gift card for the exact amount you’re about to spend. But instead of earning 1 point per dollar, the app shows you which storefronts and restaurants nearby where you can earn up to 5 points per dollar. It’s a no-brainer.
How it Compares to Other Airlines
Compared to other airlines, United’s MileagePlus is fairly middle-of-the-road. Shorter flights, the ones under 700 miles, don’t require as many miles to redeem as American Airlines. As an AAdvantage member, award flights start at 12,500 miles one-way. But the same flight on Delta requires as little as 5,500 miles each way. Frontier flights range from 10,000-20,000 miles for flights of most distances.
For longer domestic flights, Delta still comes out on top with award flights as low as 5,500 miles. American Airlines and United flights still start at 12,500. Southwest Airlines has a different pricing structure for miles, requiring any amount from 5,136 to 16,689 points for flights with the same destination on the same day.
None of these airlines seem to offer the increased award availability for cardholders that United does, though. Meaning award availability can fluctuate with the popularity of any given flight.
The Bottom Line on The United Explorer Card Award Savings
All airline comparisons aside, if you fly with United often, getting the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card to pair with your MileagePlus frequent flyer account isn’t a bad idea. Plus, you can top off your United MileagePlus account by transferring in Ultimate Rewards.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred or United Explorer Card
- What Is the Best United Airlines Credit Card
- What Can You Do with 55,000 United Miles
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.