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

Aug. 29, 2019
Loyalty Programs, Travel, Travel Credit Cards
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As airlines have begun offering cheaper basic economy fares, bag fees and 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 checked bag fees to help you figure out what to expect and how to avoid them altogether.

» Learn more: United Airlines MileagePlus program: The complete guide

United Airlines checked bag fees

United’s checked bag fees vary by destination and travel class. Barring elite status exemptions or co-branded credit cards, economy class passengers can expect to pay $30 for the first checked bag on domestic flights and $40 for the second. Business and first class passengers receive up to two checked bags free of charge.

On international routes, economy passengers generally receive one or two free checked bags depending on the destination. If you’re traveling in basic economy, the first checked bag will cost you $60 and the second will be $100.

How to determine checked bag fees on United Airlines

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.

You can compare checked bag fees across multiple airlines using the calculator below. It’s especially helpful if you’re considering booking basic economy tickets and want to understand how other fees could add up.

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

How to avoid checked bag fees on United Airlines

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.

If you plan on checking two bags, it’s definitely worth it to compare economy and premium economy fares to determine whether the price difference is worth the free baggage allowance.

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, 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 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, 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 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, 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 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 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.

Credit cards that include free checked bags on United Airlines

Through a partnership with Chase, United offers four co-branded credit cards that have free checked bag benefits. The benefit on all four 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 for the first year, then $95): One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and one companion traveling on the same reservation.
  • United Club℠ Card (annual fee: $450): Two free checked bags for the primary cardholder and a companion traveling on the same reservation.
  • United℠ Explorer Business Card (annual fee: $95): 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.

» Learn more: Benefits of United Airlines credit cards

Credit cards that cover airline incidentals

If you don’t find value in holding a co-branded United credit card, 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.

Additionally, those who have the American Express® Gold Card get a $100 fee credit toward airline incidentals, which can include checked bag fees. To redeem these 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. Terms apply.

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 also 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.

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 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
4 things the United Airlines MileagePlus program gets right
Marriott-United partnership offers extra perks for elites

The information related to the United Club℠ Business Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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