What Do United’s Increased Baggage Fees Mean for You?

Elina GellerFebruary 26, 2020

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A couple of days ago, United Airlines announced that in March 2020, it will increase checked bag fees for passengers who do not prepay for their bags online.

A direct statement from United to NerdWallet reads:

"We are making changes to our checked bag fee on certain flights, effective for travel on and after March 6. The changes do not apply to customers who booked their trips before Feb. 21, 2020, and will not apply to customers who prepay online before check-in. As always, MileagePlus Premier customers and those who purchase tickets with an eligible MileagePlus credit card will continue to receive complimentary checked luggage."

Checked bag fees are increasing from $30 to $35 for the first bag and from $40 to $45 for the second bag on certain flights. Although the increase is only $5, it will still be frustrating for flyers who have to pay for it.

United’s increase in bag fees follows JetBlue’s announcement in January that it will also increase checked baggage fees by $5.

Though this news is disappointing, not every flyer will be affected. Read on to see if the fee increase applies to you.

Who will be impacted by the increased fees?

If you purchased your flight before Feb. 21, 2020, you are grandfathered into the old fees.

For flights bought after Feb. 21, checked bag fees on United or United Express flights to certain destinations are eligible for a prepayment discount. If your flight is within the U.S. or flies from the U.S. to the Caribbean, Mexico or Latin America, you are eligible for a $5 discount if you prepay for your bags.

Not sure what applies to you? United has a tool that allows you to calculate the cost of bag fees for your flight.

How can you avoid paying a fee?

1. Get a United credit card that offers a free checked bag

One of the most cost-effective ways to avoid paying a checked bag fee is to get a United co-branded credit card that offers a free checked bag. Although each of the cards mentioned below includes an annual fee, various perks such as a complimentary checked bag, lounge passes, travel credits and Global Entry waivers can help offset the fee if you’ll use these benefits.

The United℠ Explorer Card and  United℠ Business Card each offer one free checked bag to the primary cardholder and a companion traveling on the same reservation.

The United Club℠ Infinite Card and the United Club℠ Business Card each offer two free checked bags.

For all these cards, note that authorized users traveling without the primary cardmember will not receive the baggage (or other) benefits.

Nerd tip: If you already hold a United credit card, book your flight with your card so the free baggage allowance is reflected on the reservation, and have the card with you when you fly. 

2. Achieve elite status with United

Once you attain elite status with United, you are eligible for at least one free checked bag — even on Basic Economy tickets. You will need to meet flying and spending requirements to reach any level of status, so this is certainly not the cheapest way to avoid paying for checked bags.

3. Reach Star Alliance Gold

If you mainly fly on another Star Alliance carrier, you can also benefit from a free checked bag on United if you hold a certain level of elite status with your preferred carrier. Once you reach an elite status level with your preferred airline that equates to Star Alliance Gold, you will get one free checked bag or an additional baggage allowance on United flights.

For example, if you mostly fly with Air Canada, once you reach the airline’s third highest status level (Altitude Elite 50K), you will achieve Star Alliance Gold.

Nerd tip: If you already have Star Alliance Gold, ensure that your United reservation includes the frequent flyer number of the Star Alliance airline you hold status with so your Star Alliance Gold benefits are recognized.

The bottom line

Unfortunately, when one airline starts to increase fees, others follow suit. Though this recent development from United is disappointing, luckily there are still several ways to avoid paying increased baggage fees.

Will this recent announcement affect your loyalty to United? Tell us below in the comments.

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