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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.
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 $30 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 $130 or $260 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.
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.
- The following Delta credit cards offer a free checked bag
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.
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. In 2021, it's easier than usual to earn elite status with both airlines due to the customer-focused changes made by the carriers in response to the pandemic.
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.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card