United Airlines baggage fees and how to avoid paying them

Sep 21, 2020

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Every airline has its own fees and policies on baggage. While some airlines allow you to check multiple bags for free, some will charge you just to bring a carry-on. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these policies so that you don’t incur unexpected fees.

Today, we’re going to dive into everything you need to know about flying with carry-on bags, checked bags and special items on United

As you’re going to see, the fees vary based on the cabin you’re flying, the type of ticket you book, the destination and more. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid paying these fees altogether.

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In This Post

United carry-on baggage fees

All United customers are allowed to bring one free personal item onboard. Personal items should fit underneath the seat in front of you. These items may include purses, briefcases, small backpacks or other items that are no larger than 9 x 10 x 17 inches.

Everyone except for basic economy passengers is also allowed to bring one carry-on bag. This would be your more conventional carry-on that would go in the overhead bin. Carry-on bags must fall within the maximum dimensions of 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches. If you’re a basic economy passenger and bring a carry-on to the gate, you’ll pay a $25 gate service fee per item plus the applicable checked bag fee.

The one exception to this rule is on trans-Atlantic flights operated by United and United Express. On these flights, the carry-on baggage allowance for basic economy passengers is the same for standard economy tickets. This means you can bring both a personal item and standard carry-on bag.

United MileagePlus Premier members, Star Alliance Gold and the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, may always bring both a carry-on and a personal item onboard — even on a basic economy ticket.

Related: How to survive Basic Economy on United Airlines

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

United checked bag fees

United’s checked baggage fees vary by destination and ticket type. Additionally, fees may now vary based on whether you prepay your bag fees online or not.

Rather than publish a series of charts with various regions and corresponding bag fees, the carrier has two ways to check how much you’ll need to pay. First, head to United’s checked baggage page. From there, you can either log in to your MileagePlus account, enter your flight confirmation or click the “Any Flights” tab to search for the applicable fees based on your origin and destination and class of service. United also usually lists applicable baggage fees at the bottom of your reservation page.

United's baggage calculator makes it easy for you see what fees you'll incur on your next flight.
United’s baggage calculator makes it easy for you to see what fees you’ll incur on your next flight. (Photo courtesy of United)

Generally, when flying economy class within North America and buying checked bags online at least 24 hours before departure, you’ll pay $30 for your first bag and $40 for your second bag. At the airport, that price goes up to $35 for the first bag and $45 for the second. When traveling to Mexico, the second bag costs $55.

Premium economy (Premium Plus), business and first-class passengers can check up to two bags at no charge. The weight limit is 50 pounds per bag in premium economy and 70 pounds per bag in business and first class.

Related: A comprehensive guide to United Airlines’ same-day flight change policy

Standard economy class passengers traveling to Europe, India or the Middle East are allowed to check one bag at no charge, with the second bag costing $100. However, basic economy passengers must pay $70 for their first bag.

When traveling to South America, coach passengers always get their first bag free, with the second costing $40 to $65.

All passengers traveling to Asia and the South Pacific are allowed to check up to two bags at no charge, regardless of cabin.

Active U.S. military personnel and their dependents are always allowed to check 2-5 bags up to 70 or 100 lbs free of charge, depending on the trip type. Dependents must travel on the same reservation as the active U.S. military personnel unless the travel is due to official orders.

Overweight and oversized baggage fees

As with checked baggage fees, weight allowances and overweight fees vary by destination.

Your bag is typically allowed to weigh up to 50 pounds in economy and premium economy before incurring overweight fees. However, business and first-class passengers are usually allowed to bring bags of up to 70 pounds.

Overweight bags weighing between 51- 70 pounds typically cost $100-$400 extra, while those up to 100 pounds cost $200-$600 extra. You’re not allowed to check a bag weighing more than 100 pounds unless it’s a musical instrument or assistive device, in which case the limit is 165 pounds.

Bags from 63 to 115 linear inches are considered oversized. Oversized bags cost an additional $200 to $400.

Sports equipment is subject to standard fees for oversized and overweight bags. To learn about traveling with sports equipment on United, visit this guide.

Excess baggage fees

Generally, your third bag and above is considered excess baggage. The fee for excess baggage ranges from $150 to $500.

Do note, however, that some destinations, such as Auckland (AKL), Sydney (SYD) and Rio de Janeiro (GIG), have limits for oversized, overweight and extra checked bags. Some limits are year-round, while some are seasonal. When there are limits for checked bags, you’re only allowed to check one box instead of a bag. You’re also not allowed to check certain larger sports equipment, such as bicycles and surfboards when there are limits for checked bags. You’ll want to refer to United’s site for the latest embargo information.

Related: The ultimate guide to flying with sports equipment

Baggage arrives from Delta Air Lines Inc. flights at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday, March 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif. © 2019 Patrick T. Fallon for The Points Guy
(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon for The Points Guy)

How to avoid checked baggage fees on United

Elite status allowances

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

  • Premier Silver members get a free first checked bag (up to 50 pounds) for themselves and up to nine travel companions. 
  • Premier Gold members can check two bags of up to 70 pounds apiece when traveling in economy within or between the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; on all other international flights, they can check three bags of up to 70 pounds apiece.
  • Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services members can check three bags of up to 70 pounds apiece on all itineraries. 

Additionally, Star Alliance Gold members always one to two free checked bags, depending on the itinerary.

Related: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines

Credit cards

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid paying checked baggage fees is by carrying the right credit card (or traveling with someone with the right card).

The United Explorer Card and United Business Card offer a first checked bag free for the primary cardholder and one companion on the same reservation. Both of these cards have a sub-$100 annual fee, so you can easily come out ahead if you incur at least four checked baggage fees each year.

The United Club Infinite Card and United Club Business Card offer a free first and second checked bag for the primary cardholder and one companion. These cards have annual fees of $525 and $450, respectively.

Just note that unlike other airline cards, you must purchase your ticket with the United card to receive baggage benefits.

As previously mentioned, in addition to the checked baggage allowance, these cards also allow you to bring a carry-on bag when flying basic economy.

The information for the United Club Business Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The best credit cards for United Airlines flyers

Book a premium cabin

All United premium cabin tickets — Premium Plus, business, Polaris and first class — include at least two free checked bags. Business, Polaris and first-class passengers are generally allowed to bring bags weighing up to 70 pounds apiece. Meanwhile, Premium Plus passengers are limited to the usual 50-pound allowance.

If you plan on checking multiple bags, it can sometimes be cheaper to book or pay to upgrade to a premium cabin than paying for all the bags. Plus, you’ll enjoy all the other perks of flying in a premium cabin, such as a bigger seat and free-flowing drinks.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

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 can be used for various travel purchases, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and it’s $300 annual travel credit. Many American Express cards, on the other hand, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, offer annual airline fee credits, which are specifically for non-ticket airline incidentals. So long as you select United as your airline of choice, you should get your baggage fees reimbursed by the credit.

Your airline fee credit will cover checked bag fees. (Photo by The Points Guy)
Your airline fee credit will cover checked bag fees. (Photo by The Points Guy)

Bottom line

United’s carry-on and checked baggage policy vary based on a variety of factors. Your best bet would be to use the aforementioned baggage fee calculator to see exactly what you’ll need to pay on a given itinerary. Fortunately, there are many ways to get around paying baggage fees.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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