United Airlines baggage fees and how to avoid paying them

May 29, 2022

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United Airlines has a fairly comprehensive policy regarding checked baggage fees and carry-on guidelines. While some airlines charge for every single bag, many United Airlines customers will enjoy a free first checked bag or two.

However, it depends on many factors, including where you’re flying and whether you have elite status or carry select United credit cards. This guide will cover all the information you need to know about the United Airlines baggage policy.

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United carry-on guidelines

United Airlines plane
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The United carry-on guidelines are simple and complicated at the same time. Let’s start with the simple stuff.

Everyone is entitled to bring a personal item onto every flight. According to United, a personal item should be no larger than 9 inches by 17 inches by 10 inches and should fit underneath the seat in front of a passenger. Examples of personal items are backpacks, purses, briefcases, laptop bags and approved pet carriers.

The United carry-on baggage guidelines are a bit more complicated. Most passengers are allowed to bring a carry-on bag on board free of charge. The United carry-on size policy requires your carry-on bag to be no larger than 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches.

The exception, and where things get complicated, is if you book a United basic economy ticket. United only allows basic economy passengers to bring one personal item on board. If a basic economy passenger shows up at the gate with a full-size carry-on bag, United will charge them $25 to check that bag on the plane.

However, there are several instances where the basic economy restriction doesn’t apply, including:

  • On all transatlantic flights to/from the U.S., Mexico and Central America, El Salvador, Panama and South America.
  • On all transpacific flights to/from the U.S.
  • For all MileagePlus Premier members and Star Alliance Gold members.
  • For primary cardmembers of most United MileagePlus credit cards.

Except for the $25 fee for basic economy customers who bring a full-size bag to the gate, United Airlines doesn’t have a carry-on fee for any tickets. If your carry-on is bigger than the maximum permitted size, United will check your bag to your final destination (but you might need to pay a checked bag fee).

Related: How to change or cancel a United Airlines flight

United baggage policy

United bag drop
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

United Airlines’ checked bag fees are much more complex than the airline’s carry-on fees. United’s checked bag fees vary based on what region you’re flying to, the weight of your bags, whether you hold select United credit cards (such as the United Explorer Card) and whether you have any Star Alliance status.

Luckily, United Airlines simplifies the picture by providing a baggage fee calculator on its website.

United checked baggage calculator
(Screenshot from united.com)

United Airlines luggage fees for flights within the US, Central America and the Caribbean

United Airlines’ checked bag fees for flights within the U.S., Central America and the Caribbean are pretty straightforward. I’ve outlined them in the chart below for reference. In most cases, if you prepay for your bags at least 24 hours before departure, you’ll receive $5 off each of the first two checked bags.

First bag Second bag
General member $35. $45.
Premier Silver elite member Free. $45.
Premier Gold elite member Free. Free.
Premier Platinum elite member Free. Free (and third bag free).
Premier 1K elite member Free. Free (and third bag free).
MileagePlus Club cardholders Free. Free.
MileagePlus Explorer cardholders Free. $45.

United’s baggage weight limit before incurring fees is 50 pounds per bag for economy-class passengers who don’t have elite status with the airline. If you have elite status or are traveling in business or first class, the weight limit increases to 70 pounds.

United Airlines luggage fees for other destinations

Once your flight takes you outside North America and Latin America, the United Airlines baggage policy gets more complicated. Generally speaking, you can expect the following:

  • All economy passengers on flights to/from South America will receive at least one free checked bag. When a second bag incurs a fee, passengers should expect to pay approximately $55 to $75 per bag.
  • Economy passengers traveling to Europe also receive at least one free checked bag. However, fees for a second bag will range as high as $100.
  • For those traveling to Asia, you can expect to be able to check two bags for free.

Overweight and oversize baggage fees

United Airlines charges both an overweight fee and an oversize fee, so the fees can add up quickly. The United baggage overweight and oversize fees are as follows:

  • Overweight fee: Starts at $100 per bag for 51 to 70 pounds and starts at $200 per bag for 70 to 100 pounds.
  • Oversize fee: Starts at $200 per bag for 63 to 80 inches, including wheels and handles.

Excess baggage fees

The United baggage policy seems designed to dissuade you from bringing a third checked bag. The baggage fees start at $150 for domestic U.S. flights.

Additionally, it’s worth noting there are multiple disclaimers on the United website stating that the airline will only accept extra bags when space is available and that certain destinations, routes and times may have additional restrictions.

Sporting equipment

From bicycles to boogie boards, United Airlines will let you check many types of sports equipment for free. Skis, snowboards, hang gliding equipment, parachutes and many more items can count as a checked bag as long as they meet the requirements.

There are no additional fees beyond any applicable checked bag fees in most cases. Scuba tanks are one exception where there is a fee, and United will not accept kayaks or canoes.

You can check out the requirements and fees for checking sports equipment on United’s website.

Related: The ultimate guide to flying with sports equipment

How to avoid United Airlines baggage fees

United Airlines aircraft
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Luckily, there are several ways to avoid paying United Airlines baggage fees, even if you want to bring checked baggage on your next flight.

Elite status allowances

All four status levels in United’s MileagePlus program offer checked bag benefits.

  • Premier Silver members receive a free first checked bag on all flights for themselves and up to eight traveling companions on the same reservation, up to 70 pounds per bag.
  • Premier Gold members can check up to two bags for free on all flights for themselves and up to eight traveling companions on the same reservation, up to 70 pounds per bag.
  • Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services members can check three bags of up to 70 pounds apiece on all itineraries for themselves and up to eight companions on the same reservation.

Additionally, Star Alliance Gold members receive at least one free first checked bag on all flights operated by United.

Related: What is United Airlines elite status worth?

Credit cards

United has several credit cards that carry baggage fee waivers as a benefit. The United Explorer Card gives the primary cardholder and one traveling companion a free first checked bag on all flights operated by United. You must book the flight with your Explorer Card to receive the benefit, though.

The United Club Infinite Card doubles the Explorer Card benefit, allowing the primary cardholder and one traveling companion to check a first and second bag free. The same restrictions apply in regard to using your card to book travel.

Related: These 27 credit cards can get you free checked bags

Book a premium cabin

If you’re flying in domestic first class, international business class or Polaris business class, you’ll receive an increased baggage allowance. Passengers traveling in a premium cabin can check at least two checked bags for no additional charge.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

Baggage subscription

United Airlines offers several subscription options for travel, including a baggage subscription. If you don’t have elite status with United or hold an eligible United credit card, then a baggage subscription might make sense.

Starting at $349, baggage subscriptions can cover multiple passengers on the same reservation and travel to multiple regions. The most expensive subscription, $999, covers up to two free checked bags for up to eight passengers on any United-operated flight worldwide.

Use card travel credits to cover fees

Several travel rewards cards come with annual statement credits toward travel purchases. Some cards offer a credit that you can use for various travel purchases, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and its $300 annual travel credit.

On the other hand, some American Express cards, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, offer annual credits for incidental airline fees. So long as you enroll in this benefit and select United as your airline of choice, your baggage fees could be eligible for reimbursement through this credit.

Related: Checking a bag with United? Use the ‘bag drop shortcut’ to save time

Bottom line

There are many moving pieces to the United Airlines baggage policy. United provides many ways to avoid checked baggage fees for passengers. And, United generally allows a full-size carry-on bag and a personal item on all tickets, except on basic economy fares.

One important detail is that free bags are for the first and second checked bag fee and can’t be “stacked” on top of each other. For example, a United Premier Gold member who holds the United Explorer Card can’t get three free checked bags, even though they’re entitled to two as a Gold member and a free checked bag with the credit card.

The baggage fee calculator on United’s website is your best friend when in doubt. If you log in to the United website, you can even search your specific itinerary and get the most up-to-date information on United baggage fees.

Additional reporting by Benji Stawski.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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