Know before you go.

Advertisement

Getting caught with an unexpected baggage fee is more than just a nuisance — it's a potentially costly mistake. Luckily, it can be avoided with a little planning. Using United Airlines' DIY online tool, as well as taking advantage of their prepay program, you'll be able to knock a few dollars off the cost of flying. Use the extra money to buy yourself a souvenir while traveling — just make sure you don't go over the weight limit (50 pounds per checked bag) on your way home.

Is there a baggage fee?

When it comes to flying with United Airlines, planning ahead can save you money. The airline offers customers the option to prepay for their checked bags. So, rather than checking your bag at the airport, log in up to 24 hours before your flight, and you'll save $5 per item. For instance, if you're flying economy on a domestic route, you'll pay $30 versus the usual $35 checked bag fee. A second bag costs $45, but if you prepay, it'll come out to $40, and so on.

Meanwhile, on all international flights (Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, and Africa), your first checked bag is complimentary. A second checked bag will incur a fee, but the charge varies according to where you're flying. United's website offers a handy baggage calculator to help you determine the cost. Generally, a second checked bag will set you back $45 on domestic flights, $60 if you're flying to Mexico, and $100 if you're going anywhere in Europe, Australia, or parts of Asia. Again, the fee drops by $5 if you check your bag ahead of time. 

United Airlines Bag Fees
Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

What’s included in the baggage fee?

United allows one carry-on and a personal item for all passengers in economy class. Be sure that both items fall within the maximum dimensions (9 x 14 x 22 inches for a carry-on bag; 9 x 10 x 17 inches for a personal item) to avoid having to check them and possibly pay a fee. Small musical instruments and collapsible strollers both count as carry-on items. 

What’s the catch?

As always, a basic economy ticket restricts what you're allowed to bring on the plane. In this case, basic economy passengers may tote a personal item, but a carry-on bag must be checked; if they catch you trying to board with one, you'll incur a $25 gate handling fee. The exceptions to this rule are international flights to Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa, where a carry-on bag is complimentary. 

Basic economy passengers, beware: Checked bags fall under an entirely different set of rules and fees. For instance, on a flight to Paris, your first checked bag will cost $70, and $45 if you're heading to Rio de Janeiro. For exact pricing on baggage fees associated with basic economy tickets, use the baggage calculator. 

If you frequently fly overseas, consider signing up for United's loyalty reward program, MileagePlus. Members with status typically receive one free checked bag, and often two. You'll also end up with more wiggle room: Whereas the standard weight limit on United is 50 pounds, MileagePlus Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, and Star Alliance Gold members can check bags weighing up to 70 pounds.