Skip to content

United Airlines baggage fees and how to avoid paying them

May 29, 2022
10 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for more TPG news, deals and points and miles tips delivered each morning to your inbox.

United carry-on guidelines

(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).

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Related: How to change or cancel a United Airlines flight

United baggage policy

(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.

(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 bagSecond bag
General member$35.$45.
Premier Silver elite memberFree.$45.
Premier Gold elite memberFree.Free.
Premier Platinum elite memberFree.Free (and third bag free).
Premier 1K elite memberFree.Free (and third bag free).
MileagePlus Club cardholdersFree.Free.
MileagePlus Explorer cardholdersFree.$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

(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 image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

5X points
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 Points
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees