Know before you go.
Getting caught with an unexpected bag fee is more than just a nuisance: it’s a problem that can be easily avoided with a little planning. Fortunately, United Airlines has gone the way of its fellow domestic carriers in streamlining policies regarding carry-on and checked baggage.
United has even created a DIY online tool, similar to Spirit Airlines, to help travelers determine their luggage costs before booking a ticket. You'll be able to calculate the applicable fees based on your specific destination and time of flight. The tool can even determine pricing for existing reservations and for travelers with various memberships and levels of status.
Flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta, for example? Expect a $25 fee for your first checked bag, and $35 for the second. Planning a longer trip to Tokyo? Travelers on long-haul international flights typically receive up to two free checked bags with their ticket purchase, so you won’t have to shell out anything beyond the cost of your reservation. Those amounts can vary, however, so it’s always a good idea to use the bag fee calculator to eliminate unforeseen charges.
For a third (and any additional bags), you’ll have to budget $200 per piece. And if any of your suitcases exceed United’s size requirements — and weighs between 51 and 70 pounds — well, that’s a $200 fee. In the rare event that you’re traveling with a bag that weighs between 71 to 100 pounds, that fee skyrockets to $400.
The only exception is for Business and First Class travelers, or United frequent flyers who have achieved Gold MileagePlus Premier status or higher. Travelers in these exclusive tiers can check bags that weigh up to 70 pounds, without penalty.
What’s the catch?
United recently started charging for carry-on bags as part of its new Basic Economy fare. Similar to the ticket level at American Airlines, Basic Economy passengers are only allowed a small personal item that can fit under their seat. Overhead storage space is now reserved for travelers flying Economy or higher.
Show up at the gate with a standard carry-on bag with a Basic Economy ticket, and the airline will make you check your suitcase, resulting in a $50 added expense ($25 checked bag fee, plus a $25 handling charge).
For the rest of us (anyone traveling with a ticket that’s not Basic Economy), a carry-on bag and a personal item are always included. To be sure you don’t incur any penalty fees, read about the airline’s size limits before packing your suitcase.
Traveling on United’s smaller aircraft fleet, United Express? Depending on the size of the actual plane, there might not be room in the overhead bins for your carry-on. But United won’t place the burden on you. Flight crew will simply gate-check your bag, and have you retrieve the suitcase plane-side after landing: no fee of which to speak.