Changes To United MileagePlus Explorer Card: Good Or Bad?

Starting on June 1, 2018, the United MileagePlus Explorer card underwent a major overhaul in which several benefits of the card were removed while others were added. The card still has the same price, $95 a year (with the fee waived the first year).  I’m surprised the card wasn’t relaunched, as that seems to be the recent trend, as seen with the new cards from IHG and Marriott. Undergoing major changes to the benefits offered, this United card is being branded as “New” on the Chase website and the card is now called the United Explorer instead of MileagePlus Explorer.

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Get REWARDED with the all-new UnitedSM Explorer Card

Chase and United decided instead to change the card’s benefits for all cardholders, giving a little more than a months notice. While I’ve already reviewed the card, I think it makes sense to look again and see if these changes make the card more or less valuable to United travelers.

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New Benefits

I try to look at the good side of things so let’s look at the new things that were added to the card:

  • Spending Category Bonuses – Previously, the MileagePlus Explorer card earned two miles per dollar for tickets purchased from United and all other spending earned one mile per dollar. The card still earns two miles for United tickets but now also earns two miles per dollar for restaurant purchases and for hotel accommodations purchased directly from the hotel.
  • Discounts – You now will receive a 25% credit back for purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi onboard United operated flights when paying for them with the Explorer card
  • Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ Credit – You will get a statement credit up to $100 once every four years to reimburse the application fee for either program when the fee is charged to the Explorer card.

Discontinued Benefits

There’s usually a price to pay for increased benefits. Here are the benefits of the card that were removed:

  • Price Protection and Return Protection – Both of these card benefits have been removed. Previously if you bought an item with the card and the price dropped, you could claim a refund from Chase. You could also put in a claim if a retailer refused to accept a return for an item purchased with your card. You no longer have either of these protections.
  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption – The maximum amount for these coverages have been decreased. You can now claim up to $1,500 for each covered person up to maximum of $6,000. Previously this coverage was $10,000 per occurrence with no restriction of a maximum per passenger.
  • Bonus Miles – Previously, if you spent $25,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’d receive a bonus 10,000 miles. This effectively meant you’d receive 35,000 miles for spending $25,000 or 1.4 miles per dollar spent. This benefit has been totally removed.

Benefits That Are Remaining The Same

Do The Changes Make The Card Better or Worse?

The addition of the bonus categories for dining and hotels is welcome and better than the sole bonus category for United tickets the card offered before. I can’t get too excited because Chase also offers the Sapphire Preferred card that pays two points per dollar for travel expenses (airfare, hotels, rental cars and more) and dining expenses. The cost of that card is the same $95 a year and points can be transferred from Ultimate Rewards to United. Since those points are more flexible, I can’t see choosing to spend on this card for those categories in favor of the Sapphire.

Providing 25% back on in-flight food, drink and Wi-Fi purchases is nice but how much will that really save you? It only brings them in line with American and Delta’s co-brand cards anyway. They all still fall behind the jetBlue card which offers 50% back on food and drink purchases but not on Wi-Fi, because that’s free on jetBlue.

The $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ is great and nice to see from a card that’s only $95 a year. But since you can only use it once every 4 years (and you’d only need to use it once every 5 years), that’s only worth $20-25 a year?

I did manage to spend $25,000 on this card in one year where we had a large amount of non-bonus category expenditures. Earning 1.4 miles per dollar was great as there are many uses for United miles, even if you’re not going to fly on United. Losing this benefit will make the card less valuable and ends up hurting those who used it the most.

The decrease of coverage from $10,000 to $1,500 for trip insurance is really significant if you used the card to book expensive tickets, once again hurting those who spent the most on the card.

I know that adding bonus categories will make this card more appealing to the general public. Everyone spends money on restaurants and hotels so this card must be great, right? Remember, you’re not the general public. You’re reading my website and an article with my thoughts on a credit card. You know there are better cards to use to pay for your restaurant and hotel expenditures. Now, I still think it’s a good idea to have this card if you fly on United. The benefits are good when you fly and it’s still one of the least expensive cards to provide primary coverage for rental car damages.

The reasons why it made sense for me to have the card haven’t changed. Getting priority boarding, a free checked bag, two club passes and access to additional award space on United along with the card having primary rental coverage made it worthwhile. Since we’ve decided against flying on United planes for the time being, the value just isn’t there for us anymore so I’m thinking about getting rid of it. But that’s what is best for us and as always, Your Mileage May Vary.

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