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United Explorer Card vs. United Gateway Card

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If you’re a United Airlines loyalist interested in earning rewards to help offset the cost of future travel, the United℠ Explorer Card and the newly launched United Gateway℠ Card are both hard to beat.

When deciding between the two airline credit cards, know that the United℠ Explorer Card may be a better fit if you want access to a broader range of travel benefits and don’t mind paying an annual fee after the first year of card membership. The United Gateway℠ Card, on the other hand, could be better if you want to earn rewards on gas, transit and grocery purchases each month and don’t want to pay an annual fee.

Comparing the United℠ Explorer Card and United Gateway℠ Card

The United℠ Explorer Card and the United Gateway℠ Card are each good options if you want to earn a solid rewards rate on United Airlines purchases, including airfare, seat upgrades, food, beverages, Wi-Fi and baggage service charges.

The United℠ Explorer Card also offers an elevated rewards rate on restaurant purchases and hotel stays, while the United Gateway℠ Card offers additional miles on gas, transit and groceries.

See how these airline cards compare side by side in the table below.

United℠ Explorer Card vs. United Gateway℠ Card
United℠ Explorer Card United Gateway℠ Card
Annual fee $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95 $0
Sign-up bonus 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
Rewards rate Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases 2X miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, 3X miles on grocery store purchases up to $1,500 per month through 9/30/2021
Regular purchase APR 16.49% to 23.49% Variable 16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Foreign transaction fee $0 $0

United℠ Explorer Card pros and cons

Pros

Sign-up bonus. The United℠ Explorer Card offers 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open United℠ Explorer Card miles can be redeemed for travel, merchandise, gift cards, experiences and more.

For some context as to what the United℠ Explorer Card’s current sign-up bonus can get you, we found a one-way economy ticket from New York to London in Feb. 2021 for 30,000 United miles.

Rewards rate. Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Just know, only hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel will qualify for the higher rewards rate.

Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit. Receive a statement credit of up to $100 every four years to cover your Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee.

Free first checked bag. As the primary cardholder, you and one companion traveling on the same reservation will receive your first standard checked bag free on United-operated flights — for a value of up to $35 per person each way.

25% back on in-flight purchases. Cardholders receive 25% back as a statement credit on the purchase of food, beverages and Wi-Fi onboard United-operated flights.

Two United Club one-time passes. After opening your account and each year on your cardmember anniversary, receive two United Club one-time passes, which includes complimentary beverages, snacks, free Wi-Fi and more.

$0 foreign transaction fees. You will not incur additional charges when you use your to make purchases outside of the U.S.

Additional benefits. Priority boarding, auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, purchase protection, Visa Signature Concierge service, extended warranty protection and more.

Cons

Annual fee. The United℠ Explorer Card charges an annual fee of $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95.

Modest rewards on popular spending categories. While the United℠ Explorer Card offers a solid rewards rate on dining, hotels and United purchases, cardholders only earn 1 point per dollar on gas, transit, groceries and airfare on other airlines.

No intro APR. If you’re looking to finance a large purchase, like a vacation, and pay it off over time, the United℠ Explorer Card does not offer a 0% intro APR on purchases.

United Gateway℠ Card pros and cons

Pros

Sign-up bonus. The United Gateway℠ Card offers 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

While this sign-up bonus may seem modest compared to the United℠ Explorer Card, keep in mind that the United Gateway℠ Card charges a $0 annual fee.

Rewards rate. Cardholders earn 2X miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, 3X miles on grocery store purchases up to $1,500 per month through 9/30/2021. If you max out the $1,500 spend cap on groceries, you’ll earn 4,500 miles on those purchases alone.

Annual fee. The United Gateway℠ Card charges a $0 annual fee.

25% back on in-flight purchases. When you pay using your United Gateway℠ Card, get 25% back as a statement credit on food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases onboard United-operated flights.

$0 foreign transaction fees. Like the United℠ Explorer Card, the United Gateway℠ Card does not charge additional fees when you use your card to make purchases outside of the U.S.

Additional benefits. Auto rental collision damage waiver, trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, purchase protection, Visa Signature Concierge service, extended warranty protection and more.

Cons

No intro APR. If you carry a balance on your card from month to month, you will be subject to an APR of 16.49% - 23.49% Variable.

Limited benefits. Although the United Gateway℠ Card offers a variety of travel protections, it doesn’t offer many of the same benefits as the United℠ Explorer Card, such as priority boarding, free first checked back, United Club passes or Global Entry and TSA Precheck credit.

Which credit card is best for me?

If you want to earn an influx of United miles in a short period of time, the United℠ Explorer Card is the better choice. Along with a generous sign-up bonus, the card offers rewards on United purchases, hotel stays and dining. Additionally, the card’s extensive travel benefits can easily cover the cost of the annual fee after the first year of card membership.

But if you want to earn United miles while paying less money upfront, the United Gateway℠ Card may be a better option. That’s because the United Gateway℠ Card requires cardholders to spend considerably less in the first three months to earn the sign-up bonus than the United℠ Explorer Card. Plus, the United Gateway℠ Card charges a $0 annual fee.