Avoid an Overweight Baggage Fee with Entry-Level Elite Status

Entry-level United and Delta elite members get a heavier baggage allowance.
Elina Geller
By Elina Geller 
Edited by Kevin Berry

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Some people frown on low-level elite status; however, if you’re a heavy packer — or prone to paying overweight baggage fees — United Premier Silver and Delta Silver Medallion statuses are game changers.

As a digital nomad and full-time traveler for the past three years, I’ve paid my fair share of checked bag fees when flying. However, my entry-level United Silver status has saved me from paying additional checked baggage fees for my overweight luggage — and I’ve come to appreciate it tremendously.

If you're often struggling with a hefty bag and are sick of packing and repacking your stuff at the check-in counter, consider elite status with one of these two airlines because you can save a lot of money.

You can more likely avoid overweight baggage fees by using the checked bag benefits of the United Premier Silver and Delta Silver Medallion statuses to your advantage.

United Premier Silver: Complimentary 70-pound baggage allowance

An excellent perk of United Airlines elite status is the ability to bring a free checked bag up to 70 pounds. Not only are you getting a free checked bag, but you’re also receiving an allowance for an overweight bag, since many airlines cap standard bags at a 50-pound weight limit.

For example, as a non-elite flying in economy from New York to Los Angeles, you would pay $35 for the first checked bag (up to 50 pounds) and an additional $100 if your luggage is between 51 and 70 pounds. As a United Silver member, you’d save $135 on that ticket, or $270 round-trip — the United Airlines overweight baggage fee can sting.

If you’re flying internationally, the first bag is often free of charge; however, again, you’d need to pay for any weight over 50 pounds. For example, if you’re a general member flying from the U.S. to Europe, you’d get the first bag free, but have to pay $200 for a bag weighing between 51 to 70 pounds. As a Silver elite, you’d save $400 round-trip.

Downside: Only good on United flights

One drawback is that the allowance only applies to flights on United and United Express. One of United’s strong points is its membership in the massive Star Alliance network. Unfortunately, the baggage allowance benefits that come with elite status don't apply to other carriers.

Additional ways to receive a baggage allowance on United

  • Hold Gold status with Star Alliance: Notably, this status only provides a free checked bag up to 50 pounds. If you’re looking for the overweight luggage allowance, focus your efforts on United Silver status.

  • The United℠ Explorer Card and the United℠ Business Card offer one free checked bag.

  • The United Club℠ Infinite Card, United Club℠ Business Card and the United Quest℠ Card offer two free checked pieces of luggage. The cards offer this benefit for you and a companion traveling on the same reservation.

  • Active military personnel receive complimentary baggage allowance whether traveling for work or leisure. For travel on military orders, five free bags weighing 100 pounds are permitted. When traveling for leisure on economy, the baggage allowance is three 70-pound bags. Dependents are also exempt from fees when flying on the same reservation.

Delta Silver Medallion: Complimentary baggage allowance

You can avoid the Delta overweight baggage fee with its entry-level Silver Medallion status, as elites get a nice baggage allowance. On flights within the U.S. and Canada, Silver elites receive a free 70-pound bag. On flights to all other international destinations, you receive two free 50-pound bags. The luggage benefits conferred to Medallion members are also valid for up to eight companions traveling on the reservation. Delta has also made it easier for travelers to earn status in 2021 for the following year.

On an economy flight within the U.S. and Canada, it costs $35 to check your first bag under 50 pounds. If your bag is between 51 and 70 pounds, you’d pay $100. Using the prior example of a flight from New York to Los Angeles by a non-elite with one piece of luggage over 50 pounds, you’d pay $135 or $270 round-trip. If you’re a Delta Silver elite in the same situation, you’d pay nothing.

Although Delta Silver status doesn't offer a free overweight allowance on international flights, you receive a second 50-pound bag for free. If you hold Delta Silver status and you’re a heavy packer — or just going on a long trip — use this as an opportunity to take two bags weighing 50 pounds. Without status, you’d pay $100 for the second bag, amounting to $200 on a round-trip flight.

Bonus: Delta’s partners qualify for the extra luggage benefit

Unlike United, which offers the benefit only on United and United Express flights, Delta provides the perk on partner airlines, including China Southern, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia or on any SkyTeam carrier.

🤓Nerdy Tip

The benefit also extends to up to eight travelers who are traveling on the elite member’s reservation. However, companions don't get to use this benefit on flights departing from Paris or Amsterdam.

Other ways to avoid Delta overweight baggage fees

  • SkyTeam Elite and Elite Plus members benefit from the baggage allowance noted above.

  • Similar to United, active military personnel receive free checked bags when flying on official business or personal travel. When flying on military orders, five complimentary pieces of luggage weighing 100 pounds each are allowed. When traveling for personal reasons, two 50-pound bags are permitted.

  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card.

  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card.

  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card.

  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card.

  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card.

Terms apply.

Tip: American Airlines Gold status allowance won't help with heavy bags

A third major U.S. airline carrier, American Airlines, offers only one free checked bag up to 50 pounds for its entry-level Gold elites. If you’re solely looking for a complimentary checked bag benefit, you’d be better off getting an American Airlines co-branded credit card.

Elite status in United and Delta can help avoid overweight baggage fees

In a nutshell, if you’re a heavy packer and fly often on paid tickets, consider aiming for elite status with United or Delta because you’ll save a lot on overweight baggage fees.

If earning elite status isn’t an option for you, a co-branded credit card that offers a free checked bag is an option to consider as well.

The information related to United Club℠ Business Card (annual fee: $450) has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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