United Gateway Card
vs. United Explorer Card

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ByDoug Milnes, CFA
Reviewed byBrett Holzhauer
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ByDoug Milnes, CFA
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Reviewed byBrett Holzhauer
Edited byBrett Holzhauer
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Updated: March 19, 2024

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The United Gateway Card offers great value to the United traveler looking for a starter travel card with no annual fees and the opportunity to earn reward miles on flights and everyday spending. With the United Gateway, you can earn two miles per dollar on United purchases, gas station and local commute expenses. In comparison, the United Explorer Card rewards are geared towards travel expenses with rewards of two miles per dollar on United purchases, hotel stays and dining. The United Explorer also offers convenient travel perks like lounge access and free checked bags which are enough to make up for the modest $95 annual fee.

Comparison Overview: United Gateway Card vs. United Explorer Card

  • United Gateway Card
    United Explorer Card
  • Has Annual Fee
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  • Has Balance Transfer Offer
  • Has APR Offer
  • Cash Back Rewards
  • Travel Rewards
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United Gateway Card At a Glance

The United Gateway lets you earn miles on everyday spending. You will earn two miles per dollar on United purchases, gas station purchases and local commuting expenses. You will also earn one mile per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases. This card has no annual fee making it a great card for those who do not fly frequently. This card also comes with perks like purchase protection, 25% back on United in-flight purchases and no foreign transaction fees.


  • United Gateway Card

    A great no-annual-fee rewards card for people who fly United


    • 1 Mile per $1Rewards Rate
    • 21.99% - 28.99% VariableAPR
    • $0Annual Fee
    • Good–ExcellentRecommended Credit

    Pros

    • No annual fees
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • No blackout dates for redeeming miles
    • 25% cash back on United in-flight purchases
    • Travel and purchase cover
    • Use for balance transfers

    Cons

    • Penalty APR may apply if you make a late payment
    • High balance transfer and cash advance fees
    • Earn 20,000 bonus miles
    • No annual fee
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at gas stations, on local transit and commuting
    • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights and on Club premium drinks when you pay with your Gateway Card
    • Member FDIC
    United Gateway Card

United Explorer Card At a Glance

The United Explorer Card has a modest $95 annual fee but offers plenty of travel perks including free checked first bag, priority boarding and 25% off on United inflight purchases. With this card, you can easily rack up miles on all your travel-related expenses since you get two miles per dollar spent on United purchases, as well as dining and hotel accommodation purchases. The United Explorer also offers trip delay and cancellation protection, as well as Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection benefits.


  • United Explorer Card

    A good miles-earning rewards credit card with some perks and no foreign transaction fees


    • 1–2 Miles per $1*Rewards Rate
    • 21.99% - 28.99% VariableAPR
    • $95Annual Fee
    • Good–ExcellentRecommended Credit

    Pros

    • No transaction fees
    • Earn miles
    • Travel perks
    • Welcome bonuses
    • Intro annual fee

    Cons

    • $95 annual fee
    • High APR
    • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
    • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases
    • Up to $100 Global Entry, TSA PreCheck® or NEXUS fee credit
    • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights and on Club premium drinks when you pay with your Explorer Card
    • Free first checked bag - a savings of up to $140 per roundtrip. Terms Apply.
    • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
    • Member FDIC
    United Explorer Card

Comparison Summary

You can compare United Gateway Card and United Explorer Card features and benefits to see which card is best for you.

Card Detail
Comparison Summary

Travel Coverage and Purchase Protection

The United Explorer Card and the United Gateway Card will both reimburse you up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip if your trip is canceled due to covered situations like bad weather. Both cards also offer purchase protection for 120 days against damage or theft, but the United Gateway per claim limit is $500 per claim while the United Explorer cap is $10,000 per claim.

Winner: United Explorer Card

Welcome Bonus

With the United Gateway Card, you can earn 20,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months while the United Explorer Card offers 60,000 reward miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

Winner: United Explorer Card

Rewards

The United Gateway offers a reward rate of two miles per dollar on United purchases, gas station purchases and local commute expenses including trains, tolls, cabs and rideshare services. You also get one mile per dollar on all eligible purchases.

The United Explorer rewards you at a rate of two miles per dollar on all United purchases, dining and hotel accommodation purchases and one mile per dollar for all other eligible purchases.

Winner: Draw

Annual Fee

The United Gateway card has no annual fee while the United Explorer has a $95 annual fee which is waived for the first year of membership.

Winner: United Gateway Card

Loyalty Programs

Both the United Gateway Card and the United Explorer Card earn you MileagePlus miles that can be redeemed for gateways, unique experiences and more.

However, only the United Explorer allows you to earn Premier qualifying points (PQP) for every $12,000 in net purchases that can be applied to earning elite status with United.

Winner: United Explorer Card

Which Card Should You Get?

To get the most value from your travel card, it’s important to compare the United Gateway Card and the United Explorer Card based on your spending habits.

Who Should Consider the United Gateway Card?

The United Gateway Card is a solid card for those who travel infrequently, but still want to rack up reward miles on everyday spending. This card is better than the United Explorer if you spend more on everyday purchases, but do not have many travel-related expenses.

    studentThinking icon

    You’re looking for a starter travel card with no annual fees that still offers you opportunities to earn reward miles on your everyday purchases such as gas and local commute expenses like cab and rideshare expenses.

    boyThinking icon

    You want to earn miles for award flights but do not necessarily need a card with premium United perks like priority boarding or lounge access.

Who Should Consider the United Explorer Card?

The United Explorer Card offers plenty of rewards and perks at a modest annual fee. This card is better than the United Gateway Explorer in terms of travel perks like priority boarding, club access and a free checked bag

    worldTraveler icon

    You are a United traveler looking for rewards and access to perks without a large annual fee.

    homeowner icon

    You have frequent travel expenses like hotel accommodation and dining. This card earns you two miles per dollar on these categories so it will suit you best if you spend a lot on travel expenses.

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EXPERT OPINION

In this comparison, the United Explorer Card is hands down the better choice for several reasons. Mainly, the welcome offer is significantly better, and saving on checked bag fees makes the United Explorer card the clear winner. However, it’s important to select a card based on immediate future travel plans as United miles do expire.

Other Helpful Decision-Making FAQs

If you would like to find out more about the United Explorer Card and the United Gateway Card, here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

Is the United Gateway Card better than the United Explorer Card?
Can you get the United Gateway Card if you have the United Explorer Card?
Can you transfer points from the United Gateway Card to the United Explorer Card?
Can you switch from the United Gateway Card to the United Explorer Card?
What’s harder to get: the United Gateway Card or the United Explorer Card?
How much do you have to spend for the United Gateway Card vs the United Explorer Card to get the welcome bonus?

Still Not Sure About These Cards? Consider These Options

The United Gateway Card is ideal for those who do not travel frequently but want to earn reward miles on both everyday spending and flights. However, with limited travel perks, the United Gateway may not offer much value to United travelers looking to enjoy perks like priority boarding. The United Explorer on the other hand offers premium perks at a modest annual fee and generous rewards on travel-related expenses like hotel stays. If you are not sure which of these cards suits you best you can also look up MoneyGeek’s recommendations for the best travel cards.

About Doug Milnes, CFA


Doug Milnes, CFA headshot

Doug Milnes is a CFA charter holder with over 10 years of experience in corporate finance and the Head of Credit Cards at MoneyGeek. Formerly, he performed valuations for Duff and Phelps and financial planning and analysis for various companies. His analysis has been cited by U.S. News and World Report, The Hill, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and many other outlets.

Milnes holds a master’s degree in data science from Northwestern University. He geeks out on helping people feel on top of their credit card use, from managing debt to optimizing rewards.


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*Rates, fees or bonuses may vary or include specific stipulations. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting/last updated date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. We recommend visiting the card issuer’s website for the most up-to-date information available.
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