I have been a United credit card holder (and a Continental cardholder before that) for years. I have also been a Star Alliance Gold flyer for years as well so it is not for the free bag or priority access that I keep the card. It is something else – something that I have suggested to friends is a reason to get the card even when the mileage amount is not at the higher levels.
A Great Reason to Get the United Explorer Card – Besides the Miles
Link: United Explorer Card
The mileage amount as a bonus floats around between the standard 40,000 (and currently $100 statement credit) and up to 60,000 miles for targeted accounts. Sure, the miles are nice, but if you cannot use them when you want to use them, they are not that valuable!
Enter the feature that opens up availability for your miles! This feature of expanded award availability is available to United credit cardholders and to United elite members. So, elite members will not get that many perks out of holding the United credit card (in fact, there is likely little reason to actually keep the United Explorer card anymore if you are an elite member, unless you need it for the spending waiver).
What Is This Perk?
This perk of expanded award availability applies to the United Explorer, the United Business card, and the United Club card. The no fee United Mileage card does not carry this as a perk but there are many data points that show that it has worked in the past.
How to Use This Perk to Save – Miles and Money
Savings for booking United flights
This can give significant savings in miles if you have the increased availability! I have had to book some awards (for myself and others) that included some business class flights. Each time, we were trying for the 60,000 mile level which is the cost for the US to Europe on United Business class (rather than 70,000 for partner flights). While flying something like Lufthansa or Austrian is certainly a great deal for only 10,000 miles more, the effort was in saving miles.
For each itinerary, there were no United flights available – until I signed in. Then we had several United options open up!
Savings for booking domestic flights vs cash
The same has been true for some flights on certain days. The flights had to be booked and the cash price was very high. We could have booked the standard awards (25,000 miles for one way domestically) but I hated doing that. Again, signing in opened up several saver award options at the 12,500 mile amount!
This also works out very well on the regional flights to connect with a partner flight for overseas. It is not uncommon to have no United availability on the shorter, regional flights – until you log in with a United card attached to the account. Then, the flights start to show up!
Giving You Flexibility Back
United actually withholds a fair amount of award space (at least on routes I search for). This is not really a good thing but if you have the United Explorer card, that availability is opened up for you.
This lets you pick the dates you want to travel (or at least, to see more of them) instead of being forced to plan around the availability you see. Obviously, if you have the United Explorer card, you have miles to use. Having that card gives you the flexibility to book on dates you may not otherwise see.
The United Explorer card was refreshed this summer and it has brought some new things to the table (Global Entry reimbursement) and taken some things away (like the 10,000 bonus miles on $25,000 in spending). However, it still retained what I believe is one of the best features of the card for non-elites – the increased award availability.
I have actually recommended for some people to apply for this card when it was at a low, standard offer because of this feature. They needed to plan trips (in the summer) and there was no availability at all. By having the card, it made the difference between taking the trip or having to wait a few months. Having that flexibility can be worth more than the extra 20,000 miles that would be available as the bonus later on!
Do you get a lot of use out of the increased award availability with the United Explorer card?