United’s Now Charging for Bags on Some Europe Flights — but the Worst Is Yet to Come

Jun 8, 2018

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Feeling the pressure from low-cost carriers like Norwegian, Primera Air and WOW, United has quietly introduced a new stripped down fare option for flights to Europe that doesn’t include a free checked bag and doesn’t allow changes or upgrades. Unlike domestic basic economy, this new fare option comes with advance seat assignments, one standard carry-on bag plus one personal item and usual PQM/PQS/PQD earnings  — in addition to the usual on board amenities like complimentary food and drinks.

This move didn’t come as much of a surprise since United hinted the introduction of the basic economy fare class for long-haul flights at an investor’s presentation earlier this year. American and Delta both started selling basic economy fares for travel to Europe in April.

Interestingly, United is not actually marketing the new fare as “basic economy” yet, but rather “Economy (first bag charge/no changes allowed).”  A United spokesperson described the new fare as “a first step towards a trans-Atlantic Basic Economy product,” so we can assume a fully stripped no-frills product is to come.

Several searches reveal that the price difference between the new fare and standard economy is typically $90, though it wouldn’t be too surprising if the new fare is sometimes more expensive than regular coach.

You won’t be able to tell if you’re looking at this new fare on Google Flights, but like domestic basic economy fares, you’ll come across several warnings during the booking process on United’s site that you’re purchasing the restrictive fare.

Although the checked baggage page on United’s website hasn’t been updated yet to reflect the new fees, you’ll need to pay $60 in each direction to check a bag with the lower fare. Fortunately, there are some ways to get around this. The first checked bag fee for this fare is exempt for the following customers:

  • MileagePlus Premier and Star Alliance Gold members
  • Qualifying MileagePlus primary credit card members plus one companion on the same reservation
  • Members of US military

United claims that the new fare option was “created for those who may be more price-sensitive,” but as we’ve seen with domestic basic economy, it won’t actually mean lower fares.

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