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United MileagePlus Explorer vs AAdvantage Platinum Select: Which Card Is Right for You?

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Typically you’d choose a co-branded airline credit card based on the airline. You’d probably consider if the airline offers a lot of flights out of your local airline and if the carrier can get you where you want to go.

But what if you live someplace that’s served by several carriers and you’re planning a trip to another popular destination? Maybe you’re going to fly from New York to Paris or Los Angeles to Chicago. You could take any number of airlines.

And once you take the airline out of the equation, which co-branded card should you get?
To help answer that question, we’ve compared a couple of midlevel rewards cards offered by two of the major U.S. carriers, United and American.

Here’s a summary of what the United MileagePlus Explorer card from Chase and the American Airlines  from Citi have to offer:

 MileagePlus Explorer CardAAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard
Sign-Up Bonus40,000 MileagePlus miles50,000 AAdvantage miles
Earning Potential2x on United, at restaurants and on hotel stays; 1x all other purchases2x on American, at restaurants, and at gas stations; 1x all other purchases
Annual Fee$95, waived for the first year$99, waived for the first year
Other PerksUp to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck™$125 American Airlines Flight Discount

Let’s take a closer look at these cards.

Sign-Up Bonus

United Explorer Card and AAdvantage Platinum cards come with a 40,000 miles and 50,000 miles sign-up bonus correspondingly, which you’ll get if you spend $2,000 and $2,500 correspondingly in the first three months of having the card.

The MileagePlus Explorer card also offers up to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. The AAdvantage Platinum cardholders can get a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount for spending $20,000 or more in purchases during their cardmembership year and renewing their account.


The miles you’ll earn with these cards can be used on their respective carriers. You’ll also be able to book flights on any Star Alliance member with your MileagePlus miles, or any oneworld member with your AAdvantage miles.

Oneworld has 13 members, including American, but the Star Alliance is the largest in the world with 26 members. Though either alliance can get you just about anywhere in the world, it’s clear that Star offers more options for earning and redeeming miles.

Earning Potential

These cards have the same earning schemes. You’ll get double miles on United purchases with the MileagePlus card, and double miles on American Airlines purchases with the AAdvantage card. The United Explorer card will also give you 2x miles at restaurants and on hotel accommodations. The AAdvantage Platinum will also allow you to earn double miles at restaurants and gas stations. All other purchases earn one mile per dollar spent.

United MileagePlus Explorer
The United MileagePlus Explorer card offers a good sign-up bonus for little spend

What Else Do You Get?

While both cards offer a free checked bag and priority boarding, the MileagePlus Explorer card also comes with two United Club passes every year. Lounge passes are typically $50 a person, so that’s a $100 value. With the AAdvantage Platinum card, you will also get 25 percent off in-flight purchases on American Airlines Flights.

Cardholder Perks

Previously, these cards came with similar cardholder benefits, including trip cancellation and interruption protection, trip delay reimbursement, concierge service, car rental coverage and lost baggage protection. But Citi eliminated most travel perks from their cards and stopped offering any travel benefits. Neither of the two cards charge for foreign transaction fees.

The MileagePlus card also offers free room upgrades, complimentary daily breakfast for two, early check-in, late checkout and other perks at hotels booked through the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.

Annual Fee

The United Explorer Card comes with a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year. And the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard comes with a $99 annual fee, which is also waived for the first twelve months.

Which Card Do You Get?

Once very similar cards, they are offering different sign-up bonuses and earning schemes, as well as different annual fee and travel perks now.
The MileagePlus card gets a nod for giving cardholders up to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. You can also get 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi onboard United-operated flights.
While the AAdvantage card doesn’t offer any credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, it does give you a 25% savings on eligible inflight food and beverage purchases onboard American Airlines-operated flights. Plus, it allows you to earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount for meeting annual spending requirement.

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard
Enjoy great advantages of AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard

If you consider the loyalty programs themselves, MileagePlus gives you more opportunities for earning and spending miles because it’s part of the larger Star Alliance. But there’s nothing wrong with the oneworld alliance. It can get you just about anywhere you want to go.

And while these two frequent flyer programs offer similar redemption rates for flights to many destinations, AAdvantage also offers some great off peak awards. If, for example, you’re willing to travel in the off season, you can get to Europe on a round-trip saver ticket for only 45,000 miles. United always charges 60,000 miles for that route.

Which card would I go for? That’s a tough call. If I didn’t have a reason to boost my points balance with a particular airline, I’d be tempted to go with the AAdvantage card. I like the ability to find discounted tickets with American. However, as much as I like the idea of getting a discount of $125 form AAdvantage, I’m not sure I want to focus all my spending on one rewards card so I can hit that $20,000 mark.

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