The United MileagePlus Explorer Card’s Biggest Benefit?

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This is a repost from 2013 because this benefit is still available and still under-publicized.

Elite members of United’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program get access to extra Saver award seats in economy class. (Platinum and higher members also get extra business and first class seat availability.)

While helping my friend who has no United status book an award with United miles, I saw that extra economy class award seats popped up when she signed into her account. That confused me, since she has no United status. The only thing I can think of is that her United MileagePlus Explorer Card is conferring her the extra space.

If so, that would be one of the biggest benefits of the card, and one that is completely unadvertised and possibly unintentional.

What I’ve Seen

My friend Megan wanted to book an economy award from Houston to Buenos Aires in the second half of May. The award calendar looked bleak, showing few options when I did a quick search on united.com.

Second half of May 2013 has very little award space IAH-EZE

I signed into her account to take a look at her balance to figure out the options. Here’s my friend Megan’s account.

Megan’s account. No elite status with United. She does have the credit card though.

I performed the search again while signed in to her account, and the space had changed dramatically!

Dramatic improvement in economy class IAH-EZE when signed into a non-elite account.

If you look closely at the new calendars compared to the ones I saw before singing in, you’ll see that only economy space has opened.

Tons of white days turned yellow, which means that days with no Saver space are showing economy Saver space when she signs in. And three blue days turned green–May 3, May 10, and June 13. Blue meant there was only Saver business space. Green means there is saver business space and saver economy space.

As an example date, before signing into her account, May 17 had no Saver award space.

Before signing in…

After signing into her account, Saver economy space magically appears!

…and after

By continuing through the booking process, it became clear what had happened.

The Saver space is fare class XN.

If she continues to book May 17 at the Saver level, the Fare Class shown is XN. “Fare Class” is a one (or in this case two) letter code that signifies what cabin you are in and what you paid for that seat. Airlines divide their available seats into different fare classes that cost different amounts of money or miles.

The normal United fare class for an economy Saver award is X, and a Standard economy award is HN according to the Wandering Aramean. XN is the fare class for economy Saver awards booked by elites.

Elites have access to all the award seats United opens in the X fare class and any extras that United opens only to them in the XN class. Non-elites only have access to seats in the X fare class.

United.com conveniently will display how many seats are available on each flight in each fare class if you use Expert Mode as explained by One Mile at a Time. For the May 17 flight we’re looking at from Houston to Buenos Aires, there are 9 XN seats and 0 X seats.

Translation: an elite could book an award for up to nine people on the flight for the Saver price of 30,000 miles per person. A non-elite couldn’t book a single person at that price, instead having to pay the Standard price of 55,000 miles per seat.

This flight is an extreme example of extra seats available to elites, but it illustrates how valuable the benefit can be to elites.

Except that Megan is not an elite, so why does she have access to the extra XN Saver space?

Her United account is about 45 days old. She has never flown a United flight before. She has the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. The only thing I can figure is that having that card is somehow getting her access to XN space. That’s a pretty neat trick!

I do not believe this is a stated benefit of the card. Here’s the card’s advertised benefit related to award space.

From the United MileagePlus Explorer landing page

This benefit refers to cardholders being able to book any seat, any time as a Standard award. There is some value to the benefit, but in general I try to avoid booking Standard awards, which tend to cost double the price of Saver awards. I would much prefer to get more Saver awards than be able to get any seat as a Standard award.

What this means?

For me, this could be great news. I currently have United Silver status, which gets me the extra economy availability–XN space–that this post discusses. But I will probably lose that status and benefit next year because I doubt I’ll requalify. If my United MileagePlus Explorer Card could pick up the slack and get me the same economy Saver award access, that would be incredible, and it would be worth paying the card’s annual fee to maintain access to elite-level Saver space.

What I don’t know

I don’t know for sure why Megan has access to XN space, giving her a ton more options for economy Saver awards. I’d like to see more data points from people without status but with the card and without status and without the card to try to determine if the card is granting access to XN space.

I don’t know whether the card grants access to IN and ON space too. IN and ON are extra space that United Platinums and above get for business class Saver awards (IN) and first class Saver awards (ON).

I don’t know if this is an intended benefit or a glitch on United’s part.

Recap

The extra economy Saver award space that elites can access is accessible to my non-elite friend who has a United credit card. I’ve never heard of this benefit before.

 


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79 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, this could be the reason I keep my united card with Chase. I already got my 10,000 united miles as a retention bonus. Took the miles over a $95 statement credit.

  2. Cool stuff. Was able to replicate your results. I have United MileagePlus Explorer card and when logged in into my account I got better results than the results that I got when searching on dad’s account. He doesn’t have that card nor does he have any status w/ United.

  3. hmmm. I was thinking of canceling my card but now it seems I need to hold onto it

    but asking for a retention bonus won’t hurt, right? it’s my first time trying for one =p

    • All you have to do is called the Chase number on the back of the card and tell them you are thinking of canceling the card because the annual fee is not worth it. Tell them if they could waive the annual fee that you would keep the card. They will either offer you points or statement credit. If you don’t get an offer you like just hang up and call back.

  4. This is true. I discovered it when I got a Milage Plus Explorer card three years ago and booked to Europe. I had logged off my browser and thought all the flights were booked in five minutes.
    Now that I have United gold status, my first/business availability has been different a time or two than my partner’s (just with the card), but not very often, and not by much.

  5. I was able to duplicate what you did (I am not an elite but have the United Chase card) but I wasn’t able to get the XN to show up on a booking for JNB-JFK or JNB-IAD in July. Only X would show up. I used your award booking service for a trip to South African and I am on the look out to come back a day earlier (7/7) so I really hoping this trick would work:)!

  6. Hi,

    Your friend hasn’t flown United but yet has 60k points on there,were those do to spending and using Explorer Card? Maybe she’s only a member (since she hasn’t flown thos year but is considered a elite do to points.

    • The miles are from the sign up bonus and spending. You cannot become elite on United through spending on credit cards.

  7. Does this also apply to business/first saver awards? If so, are these extra saver awards available to airline partners?

  8. Interesting find, Scott. I am gold elite/non-cardholder and my wife is non-elite/cardholder and we are both seeing the same award availability. United seems to deliberately give these undisclosed benefits to their card holders while retaining the ability to take them away without any backlash. I wonder if holding the club card provides platinum/1K level availability.

  9. I noticed this too when I booked for my wife. Interesting thing is that if X is available they will pul out of that bucket first.
    Another interesting thing for non-elites is that if they pul out of XN, you get to check in 2 bags for free not just one that explorer provides for you.

  10. I forgot to use my United card when booking an award flight on UA (using USAir miles). Can I still receive the benefits of the explorer card: free checked bags, priority boarding, etc?

  11. I believe you are correct. I have the United Explorer card (Annual fee came through today) and I checked without being logged in and my calendars looked almost the same as your first calendars. I then logged in and sure enough my calendars look almost the same as your second calendars. I have no status buy I do have the card.

    Great find.

    Now the problem is what to do about the annual fee if they won’t waive it!

  12. I logged in under my wife’s account who is an authorized user and she doesn’t show the xn availability.

    The only other question I have is what if you didn’t have enough miles in your account. Would it still show xn seats?

    I am going to burn 160Kmiles tomorrow morning. I will no longer have enough miles in my account for any reward. I will see if it still shows available off of the example from today.

  13. Let’s see how long this lasts. Feels like a bug associated with the logic they use to provide the Group 2 boarding benefit.

    Though the bug that confers elite benefits on award tickets issued by elites has yet to disappear.

  14. I think the only difference in seat availability is whether you are logged into a UA account or not. I don’t believe that it matters whether you have a UA Explorer card.

    • This wouldn’t make much sense since the only way to book awards is to sign into an account. Why, then, would they not show all the space at once?

  15. This trick was a lifesaver for me – used it to book tickets to Hawaii on peak dates when there were otherwise none available – love it (I have no elite status with United, but do have the card)

  16. I now only have 739 miles in my account. I checked availability and May/June are showing almost all yellow when signed in. (Just as above) It doesn’t matter how many miles you have in your account.

  17. Logged into my account, cancelled the card two days ago…I’m seeing the increased availability. Never had status.

    Logged into my mothers account, who has status three years ago, however has never had a card…and am NOT seeing the increased availability.

    very very interesting

  18. Yeah the other day I had to call to change an award flight and the (outsourced) agent was not seeing the same availability that I saw. Then he asked if I had the United Explorer card, which I do, and he acknowledged that cardholders see increased availability.
    So this is apparently a feature not a bug.
    (oh and he was able to re-book me in ‘XN’ class)

  19. I have the card, but no status, and I could not replicate the results. I looked for availability first without signing in, then after signing in, I got the exact same results.

  20. Your email came perfect timing when i was struggling to find availability to AEP and GIG for 2014. I was able to book it right way. Thanks.

    Question: I am trying to book GIG-MAO-IGU, IGR to AEP, which credit card I should apply for me to use points?

  21. Oh wow I really hope this isn’t a system glitch. @Concussioner, i’m glad the CSR acknowledged it, but of course to always be 100% safe, I’d wish we can see it in writing by Chase. Also, it doesn’t seem to be working for some people =(

    • I think it’s working for everyone. Just because every flight doesn’t have XN space doesn’t mean you don’t have access to all the XN space.

  22. FYI –

    I have the United credit card and my wife does as well. Neither of us has ever been elite.

    Ten days ago I cancelled my card yet kept hers active. I logged in and did an award search for both of us today. Saw the increased availability under her account but NOT my account.

    Up until cancelling the card we always saw same availability!

  23. I have the Chase MileagePlus Select CC, and I too can see XN availability. I never notice it before. It’s been 2 years since I had United status. Wife does not have a United CC and we did noticed that I have more availability than she does. It would seem logical that Chase would want its cardmembers to have greater award availability due to its strong relationship with the MileagePlus program.

  24. Is it still working?
    I try to better availability with several case, but I can’t find difference when I login/off.
    sure, I’m Chase explore card holder.

  25. XN is still there for Chase CC holders. I did a dummy search LAX-CUN for 5/17/2014 for 3 pax. The two IAH-CUN and the two EWR-CUN connections are XN availability. Under my wife’s account (not a CC holder) it only shows one connection to CUN, CLE-CUN which is X availability.

  26. I put my partner as an additional user on my United Mileage Explorer card many months ago. Got the extra 5k bonus in my account.
    I now want to take my partner off my card and have them apply for their OWN card to get the 30K bonus in their United FF account. Will the fact that my partner was an additional user on my card screw up them getting their own 30k bonus?

  27. Last week I booked an award ticket and had to call in. One leg was available only in XN. CSR initially said it was not available, confirmed that I have the MP Explorer, and then booked it. My status=kettle.

    I am thinking about upgrading to the United Club card, but would not want to lose this perk. Can anyone confirm the Club card comes with the same benefit?

  28. There’s another way of looking at this. I suspect that united did not add more flights to those who have the card. I suspect that instead, they removed flight availability to those who flew for years on united and have a united account, but never applied for a card. I have a card, booked a flight, spent $240 transferring miles to a friend so they can fly with me. Then they log on and can’t get the flight I booked. Then I spent a hour with customer service trying to get this resolved and during the 4th time explaining the situation, got hung up on.

  29. My wife is just move to the USA without much of the credit history. She has hard time to get this credit. I can put her under the authorized user easily.
    Which benefit of this United Mileage Explore credit card can apply to the authorized user?
    Can the authorized user get the free check-in bag? Can the authorized user get to use the club? Thanks.

    • I don’t know what benefits an authorized user gets. I do know that she won’t get access to the club. This card doesn’t come with access to the United Club beyond the two passes.

  30. I actually have a no fee United card that I’ve held on to for more than 10 years (got it before I got into collecting miles and points). This also confers access to the extra availability. I don’t know if it is still possible to downgrade to this card but it might be an option for those who don’t want to pay the annual fee.

    • If you read the post from the beginning, Scott clearly said this was a repost of something from 2013 because he feels it is under publicized.

  31. Great article!

    I just tested this and I am not seeing XN inventory as a non-Premier member with a MP Explorer card – looks like they’ve done away with loophole! Shame!

    • I still see XN saver award inventory as a non-elite. I did a dummy search for 3. I don’t have the United Explorer CC. But I do have an older United MileagePlus Select CC. However, I tried the same search under my wife’s account (non-elite, no United CC) and it only returned HN (saver award) at twice the XN miles for the same flight.

  32. I do acceⲣt as true with all the сonceptss you have intreoduced
    in your post. They’re verdy convincing and will definitely work.
    Still, the posts aгe too brief foгr newbies.
    Could you please extend them a bit from subsequent time?
    Thank youu for thе post.

  33. I did a search today under my wife’s MP account (no Explorer card) to look for first class award tickets BOS-ASE traveling late Feb. Virtually nothing available, even at standard award levels. I then logged in under my MP account (have Explorer card) and found availability at standard award levels. So availability of award seats in first class is also improved for Explorer card holders. Interestingly, though, there was one desirable BOS-DEN-ASE connection that only came up as mixed cabin. The DEN-ASE connecting flight was available in coach only even though all first class seats were empty. So it is clear that UA blocks award seats on some flights even if all the seats are empty.
    I generally find booking award seats an excruciatingly frustrating task. It is increasingly apparent that the airlines only make seats available on the least desirable flights with the worst possible connections. You can’t fly BOS-LHR on a non-stop, but you can get an award seat BOS-ORD (wrong direction)-LHR. Or you can get a three connection, long layover, overnight itinerary.

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