Credit Card Showdown: United Explorer vs. British Airways Visa

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As mentioned yesterday, there was a frequent traveler conference this past weekend and one of the sessions involved a head to head debate between many points and miles credit cards. You can read more about the conference and this particular session here.

The first debate was between the United Explorer card (represented by blogger Mommy Points) and the British Airways Visa (represented by blogger View from the Wing). At the end of the debate, the British Airways Visa won, but if you looked in the room it was definitely a close call (it was also before we implemented our scientific counting system).

Since many of you were not able to attend, but are probably just as intrigued about the pros/cons, I figured I’d have my own credit card showdown. I’ll give you the benefits of each and then give you the opportunity to vote for the one you like best based on the arguments at hand. So here we go…

United Explorer card

Pros:

  • Currently you can get up 65,000 points! This is an amazing offer for this particular card. (You must log into your United account to access this offer and many are reporting that you must have at least 1 mile in your account). Or if you prefer for a slightly lower offer and a $50 statement credit, you can go for this offer – up to 60,000 bonus miles for new applicants + $50 statement credit.
  • Free checked baggage – this is for your first checked bag for you and a companion on the same itinerary (*note that this only only for United-operated flights) – this can be a savings of $50 per couple each time you fly – $100 savings round-trip!
  • Having the card ensures that your United miles never expire (currently miles expire after 18 months of inactivity, although there are MANY other ways easy ways to extend your miles)
  • Enjoy two passes to the airport lounge yearly
  • Can easily go to Europe on United (or Star Alliance partners) without the ridiculous fuel surcharges that British Airways imposes – the 60-60k bonus points will get you one free round-trip economy flight to Europe.

Cons:

  • If your goal is to put a lot of spend on a card to rack up United miles, Chase Sapphire Preferred card(or Chase Ink Bold based on your spending habits) is more flexible.
  • You are locked into just redeeming your points on United flights and Star Alliance partners – the points earned are not very flexible
  • The only real benefit of the card that you can’t get elsewhere (assuming you have no status) is free checked baggage and two lounge passes. I won’t even include the miles not expiring as there are a million and one ways to ensure this doesn’t happen. If you have status, then this card really provides limited value except for the sign up offer.
  • A short haul domestic trip will cost you 25,000 miles, where if the same route is available on American (non-stop) you can redeem your British Airways miles for 9,000 miles round-trip – big savings there with BA!
  • Foreign transaction fees – BA card has none

British Airways Visa card:

Pros

  • Currently the best offer out there of any points and miles cards – 100,000 Avios points for new applicants!! You can read more about this card here. UPDATE – This offer is now only 50,000 Avios points.
    • You get the first 50,000 Avios points after your first purchase on the card; 25,000 Avios points after spending $10,000 in the first year; another 25,000 Avios points after spending an additional $10,000 on the card in the first year. However, there is another offer out there where you get the 2nd batch of 50k after your first year of having the card. The only kicker with this is that you will then have the pay the annual fee again and you’ll have to wait a decently long time to get those points.
    • To get the 2nd offer you must go on to the BA site and make a dummy booking. When doing that you will see the offer advertised on the screen.
  • You get 1.25 Avois points per dollar spent unlike the United card you only get 1 mile per dollar (this is for none airline spend by the way)
  • With $30,000 annual spend on the card you get a free companion pass “Travel Together Ticket” to use on British Airways operated metal (just remember though – this means a flight to Europe where you will get hefty fuel charges for you and the companion). This ticket is good for 2 years after earned. You can even use this on a first class ticket! $1,500 (approximately) in fuel charges might be so bad when you are looking at 2 tickets that would have cost you over $14,000! You can read more about the companion pass here.
  • No foreign transaction fees – where as the United Explorer card will charge you 3% in fees when using your card internationally.
  • While this is not a benefit of the card, but instead the program – it requires only 9,000 Avios points for a non-stop short haul flight! For example, a $450 RT ticket from NY to Montreal can be had with just 9k points. On United, this same flight would cost you 25,000 miles!

Cons

  • Annual fee of $95 is not waived for the first year, unlike the United and many other cards which waive the card for you the first year
  • British Airways charges hefty surcharges for most European destinations, so just be prepared and have a destination in mind when applying for the card and getting your 100,000k bonus points
  • Avios points is segment based, so if you are in an obscure destination without many direct flights, earning Avios points might not be the program for you

So which card do you think is better?

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Comments

  1. There are a few other things to consider. The United card offers primary CDW coverage for car rentals shorter than 15 days. Also, the BA card has EMV chip-and-signature capability. It isn’t quite chip-and-pin, but it can reduce confusion for cashiers at POS machines in Europe.

  2. BA charges $1000+ in fees on many itineraries to Europe via LHR in ADDITION to the 90,000 miles or so depending on your point of origin. This makes BA miles vastly less attractive for people going from NA to Europe.

    • @Killington – I absolutely agree with you. Unless there is extenuating circumstances, I would not advise to use British Airways on an international flight to London or through London.

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