United Airlines Checked Bag Fees: How They Work, How to Avoid Them

United Airlines baggage fees aren’t going anywhere but there are ways you can avoid paying bag fees.

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​​As airlines have begun offering cheaper basic economy fares, checked baggage and carry-on baggage fees, as well as other incidental charges, are helping make up the difference to their bottom line. If these fees are getting you down, don’t worry. We’ve done our research on United’s baggage fees to help you figure out what to expect and how to avoid them altogether.

Different types of United baggage fees

Checked baggage, carry-on baggage, overweight baggage and oversized baggage are the four different types of luggage fees United charges. Your baggage allowance depends on many factors including your elite status, what United credit card you pay with (if any), your route and the fare type you’ve purchased.

1. United Airlines checked baggage fees

United’s checked bag fees vary by destination and travel class.

United domestic baggage fees

Barring exemptions for elite status or co-branded credit cards, economy class passengers can expect to pay $35 (or $30 if prepaid) for the first checked bag and $45 ($40 if prepaid) for the second checked bag on domestic flights. Business and first class passengers receive up to two checked bags free of charge.

United international baggage fees

On international routes, economy passengers generally receive one or two free checked bags, depending on the destination.

Here’s a summary of what you can expect to pay for baggage fees so long as your bag adheres to United’s size and weight requirements.

Basic economy

Economy

Premium economy, business class or first class

U.S. to/from the Caribbean

1st bag, $35; 2nd bag, $45.

1st bag, $35; 2nd bag, $45.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $0.

U.S. to/from Canada

1st bag, $30; 2nd bag, $50.

1st bag, $30; 2nd bag, $50.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $0.

U.S. to/from Mexico

1st bag, $35; 2nd bag, $60.

1st bag, $35; 2nd bag, $60.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $0.

U.S. to/from South America

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $65.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $65.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $0.

U.S. to/from Europe

1st bag, $60; 2nd bag, $100.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $100.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $0.

U.S to/from Asia, Africa or Australia

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $0.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $0.

1st bag, $0; 2nd bag, $0.

United Airlines baggage fees for basic economy

On some international routes, if you’re traveling in basic economy, the first checked bag will cost you $70 and the second will be $100.

2. United Airlines carry-on baggage fees

Most flights allow passengers to bring on board a personal item and a carry-on bag. The personal item must fit under the seat in front of you, and the dimensions must not exceed 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches. The carry-on bag needs to fit into the overhead bin, and its dimensions can be a maximum of 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches.

Exception for basic economy tickets

Domestic basic economy tickets are an exception to the free-carry-on policy. Those traveling on domestic basic economy tickets are only allowed to bring a personal item — no free carry-on. If you bring a carry-on bag with you to the gate, you’ll have to pay the checked bag fee and a $25 gate handling charge. If you’re traveling with more than just a personal item, evaluate whether a basic economy ticket truly provides a cost savings.

However, there are some conditions under which basic economy tickets allow a carry-on free of charge:

  • Trans-Pacific flights to/from the U.S.

  • Trans-Atlantic flights to/from the U.S., Mexico, Central America and South America.

  • Elite members and companions traveling with them.

  • If you pay with a qualifying United credit card.

  • Star Alliance Gold elites.

3. United Airlines overweight baggage fee

Here's the maximum allowable checked baggage weight, along with fees for overweight baggage.

  • Economy passengers, United non-elites, Star Alliance Gold elites or passengers who book with a United credit card that allows a free checked bag: If you fall into this category, your bag allowance is 50 pounds. If your bag exceeds 50 pounds but is less than 70 pounds, you may have to pay up to $200 per bag. If your bag weighs more than 70 pounds but less than 100 pounds, you may have to pay up to $400 per bag (depending on your destination).

  • United Premier Elites or those traveling in premium cabins. Those who are traveling in business or first class and/or have elite status with United can check a bag up to 70 pounds for free — even on a basic economy ticket. If you’re a heavy packer and your luggage weight usually exceeds 50 pounds, you may want to consider going for United elite status.

If you’re a Marriott Titanium Elite, you’ll get an automatic match to United Silver thanks to the United-Marriott partnership.

4. United excess baggage fee

If your checked bag measures more than 62 inches (length + width + height), you will be charged an additional checked bag fee. The maximum size your checked bag can be is 115 inches (length + width + height); anything larger than that exceeds United’s allowable luggage size and will not be accepted.

How to determine checked bag fees on United Airlines

Now that you’re familiar with the different baggage fees United charges, you can use United’s website to figure out what you’ll have to pay to bring a bag with you on your flight. United Airlines has its own helpful baggage fee calculator, where you can enter a destination, travel date, cabin class, credit card and elite affiliations to determine checked bag fees.

If you’d like to see how United stacks up against other carriers, you can use NerdWallet’s calculator below to compare checked bag fees across multiple airlines. It’s especially helpful if you’re considering booking basic economy tickets and want to understand how additional fees could add up.

Note that this calculator only applies to domestic itineraries; international baggage fees are more complicated.

How to avoid United Airlines baggage fees

Free checked bags for premium cabin travelers

You can avoid United checked bag fees by paying more to travel in premium economy, business or first class. Passengers in these cabins receive two free checked bags on domestic flights. Those flying in business or first class have a 70-pound baggage allowance.

If you plan on checking two bags, it’s a good idea to compare economy and premium economy fares to see if the free baggage allowance you get with premium economy could be worth the higher ticket price.

Free checked bags for elite members

United MileagePlus elite members receive up to three free checked bags, depending on the destination and cabin class. Below is a breakdown of the free checked bag benefit for those with MileagePlus status:

United Premier Silver 

  • One free checked bag when traveling within the continental U.S. or to Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

  • Two free checked bags when traveling between the U.S. and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

  • One free checked bag (in addition to the standard allowance) on all other economy class travel, including intra-Asia and Micronesia.

  • Three free checked bags when traveling in business class, first class or United Polaris.

United Premier Gold

  • Two free checked bags when traveling within the continental U.S. or to Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

  • Three free checked bags when traveling between the U.S. and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

  • One free checked bag (in addition to the standard allowance) on all other economy class travel, including intra-Asia and Micronesia.

  • Three free checked bags when traveling in business class, first class or United Polaris.

United Premier Platinum & Premier 1K

  • Three free checked bags when traveling within the continental U.S. or to Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

  • Three free checked bags when traveling between the U.S. and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

  • One free checked bag (in addition to the standard allowance) on all other economy class travel, including intra-Asia and Micronesia.

  • Three free checked bags when traveling in business class, first class or United Polaris.

Free checked bags for military members

Active-duty U.S. military personnel and their accompanying dependents qualify for free checked bags when traveling on United Airlines. Up to five bags can be checked per person while traveling on official business and three bags for personal travel.

This benefit also applies to dependents when traveling without the military member for relocation or on official orders.

United Airlines credit cards that waive checked baggage fees

Through a partnership with Chase, United offers five co-branded credit cards that have free checked bag benefits. The benefit on all five cards applies to the primary cardholder and one travel companion booked on the same reservation. It’s also only valid on United-operated flights, and cardholders must add their MileagePlus number to the reservation and pay for it using one of the qualifying credit cards:

  • United℠ Explorer Card (annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $95): One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and one companion traveling on the same reservation.

  • United Quest℠ Card (annual fee: $250): Two free checked bags for the primary cardholder and a companion traveling on the same reservation.

  • United Club℠ Infinite Card (annual fee: $525): Two free checked bags for the primary cardholder and a companion traveling on the same reservation.

  • United℠ Business Card (annual fee: $99): One free checked bag for the cardholder and a travel companion on the same reservation.

  • United Club℠ Business Card (annual fee: $450): Two free checked bags for the primary cardholder and a companion traveling on the same reservation.

Credit cards that cover airline incidentals

You may already have a card in your wallet that can cover checked bag fees. If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you receive an annual $200 airline fee credit. Terms apply.

To redeem airline incidental credits through American Express, you will need to designate United as your airline of choice every year. You’ll then receive a statement credit when you pay for checked bags (or other airline incidentals) with one of these credit cards.

If that sounds too restricting, you might want to opt for the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which comes with a $300 annual travel credit applicable to all travel purchases. The Citi Prestige® Card offers a lower $250 annual credit, which can be applied to any travel purchase. These two cards offer more flexibility for those times when you need to check a bag with an airline other than United.

If you book your United flight in the Capital One travel portal with your Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, you can pay upfront for checked luggage and your $300 annual travel credit will kick in to cover those charges.

United baggage subscription

United also offers a baggage subscription for $349 per year for United and United Express flights. A United baggage subscription could be a good solution if you frequently travel with family or friends. The subscriber and up to eight companions can each bring two free checked bags when traveling on the same reservation. This applies to standard-sized bags (50 pounds max); overweight and oversized charges apply if bags exceed the standard allowance.

The subscription is only valid on United and United Express flights. You will need to select a geographic region where you want to use your subscription. If you’re traveling on other carriers or to other regions, additional baggage fees may apply.

Final thoughts on United Airlines baggage fees

When traveling on United, you need to consider the different types of baggage fees you may incur. Depending on your cabin class, elite status (or lack thereof), your origin/destination, and other factors, you may need to pay a fee for checked, carry-on, oversized or overweight bags. Luckily there are ways to reduce or eliminate these fees.

The information related to the Citi Prestige® Card and United Club℠ Business Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.


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