Free Checked Bag on United? You *Have* to Use Your United Card!

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You get 1 free checked bag when you use your Chase United Explorer card to buy your flight.  But you HAVE to use the United card to buy your ticket, otherwise you won’t get the free bag!

The free 1st checked bag benefit can save you a LOT of money.  When Emily and I travel, we try to pack lightly, but sometimes we have to check bags.

Free Checked Bag On United You Have To Use Your United Card

Emily Usually Packs Light, but Not Always!

United credit cardholders (and 1 traveling companion on the same reservation) can check their 1st bag for free on United or United Express operated flights.  United charges $25 for the 1st checked bag on flights within the US and Canada (except Puerto Rico).

Although the standard offer for this card is 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in 3 months, you can read my post about a better ~55,000 mile offer that is available.  I don’t receive a commission for the 55,000 mile offer, but it could be the better offer for you!

Free Checked Bag On United You Have To Use Your United Card

You’ll Pay $25 to Check a Bag on United Domestic Flights

If 2 people are traveling, this is a savings of $100 per round-trip flight!  Remember, the free bag only applies to the cardholder and 1 companion, so if you’re a family of 4, you’ll still only get 2 free checked bags.

Other Cards Have Better Bag Benefits

If you fly American Airlines, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® and Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® cards also offer a free 1st checked bag to cardholders and up to 4 traveling companions on the same reservation.  American Airlines charges $25 to check a bag, so for a family of 5 you could save $250 per round trip!

And you do NOT need to use the card to buy your tickets to get the free checked bag.

The Delta GoldDelta Platinum and Delta Reserve American Express cards have an even more generous free 1st checked bag benefit.  Up to 9 people on the same reservation can get the free 1st bag, so you could save up to $450 per round trip if you’re traveling in a large group.

You DON’T need to use the card to buy your tickets to get the free checked bag!

So if you travel regularly as a family or as a group, these might be a better deal for you!

You Have to Use the Card to Buy Your Ticket!

A lot of folks ask if you must buy your tickets with a United MileagePlus Explorer card to get your 1st checked bag free.

The terms and conditions of the free 1st checked bag offer make it clear that you HAVE to use the card to pay for your ticket to get the benefit.

To receive the applicable standard checked bag(s) free, the primary Cardmember must include their MileagePlus account number in their reservation and use their qualifying United MileagePlus Credit Card from Chase to purchase their ticket(s).

Free Checked Bag On United You Have To Use Your United Card

When You Use Your United Card, Your First Bag is Free!

Make sure you check the United Plus Credit Card box when you book your ticket to get your free bag.  You will NOT, repeat NOT, get the checked bag for free if you don’t use your United credit card to pay for your United flight.

This is different from other airlines, where you sometimes get the free bag as long as you have the airline credit card (even if you didn’t use it to pay for the ticket).  You also likely will not get the free checked bag if your confirmation (on the United website) doesn’t indicate that you will get 1 free checked bag.

And United agents at the airport will usually not help you.  Even if you show them your United card.

But you get the 1st checked bag free on United AWARD tickets as well if you pay the taxes and fees with the card.

Primary Cardmembers are eligible to receive applicable standard checked bag(s) free when they use their miles to book award travel on United-operated flights, as long as they pay for their award ticket taxes and service charges with their qualifying Card and include their MileagePlus account number in their reservation.

Free Checked Bag On United You Have To Use Your United Card

We Didn’t Pay for That Bag!

You Won’t Always Get the Free Bag

The free 1st bag benefit only applies on United or United Express operated flights, so if you’re flying another airline first then connect onto United, you’re out of luck.

Free Checked Bag On United You Have To Use Your United Card

Sometimes You Won’t Get the Free Bag!

Also, if you already get a free bag because of elite status, or on international flights, you won’t get a 2nd free bag by using the United card.

Bottom Line

Don’t forget to use your Chase United Explorer card to pay for your tickets if you want your first bag checked for free.

This applies to BOTH paid and award tickets!  But you have to fly on United or United Express, and if you’re traveling internationally or have elite status, you won’t get an extra free bag.

The free bag applies to the cardholder and 1 traveling companion, but you have to travel together on the same reservation.  You could save up to $100 per round trip.

Other credit cards have more flexible free 1st bag benefits, so those might be a better deal for some folks!

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43 responses to “Free Checked Bag on United? You *Have* to Use Your United Card!

  1. What about if you are not the primary card holder on United? If you use your card as a secondary card holder to pay the ticket and primary card holder is not travelling. You have the same card number but your name on it as a secondary user. Can you check in a free bag travelling alone?

  2. Also doesn’t matter when flying internationally as the first checked bag is free anyway

  3. @Caveman – the free checked bag feature applies only to the primary cardholder; the primary cardholder must be on the reservation (PNR).

    @Darius – yes these are the official terms, but in the past the requirement of using the Ecplorer card wasn’t enforced. Have you actually heard or experienced this being enforced?

  4. I’ve found everything above to be the case however, we were able to get the first free bag on a domestic flight… I am a cardholder but the reservation was paid for exclusively with a travel interruption (bump) voucher. See below-

    Fare Breakdown
    Airfare: 162.79 USD
    U.S. Federal Transportation Tax: 12.21
    U.S. Flight Segment Tax: 8.00
    September 11th Security Fee: 5.00
    U.S. Passenger Facility Charge: 9.00
    Per Person Total: 197.00
    eTicket Total: 394.00
    Form of Payment:
    The airfare you paid on this itinerary totals: 325.58 USD
    The taxes, fees, and surcharges paid total: 68.42 USD
    Fare Rules: Additional charges may apply for changes in addition to any fare rules listed.

    Cancel reservations before the scheduled departure time or TICKET HAS NO VALUE.
    Baggage allowance and charges for this itinerary.
    Baggage fees are per traveler

    Origin and destination for checked baggage 1st bag 2nd bag Max wt / dim per piece
    3/29/2014 Albany, NY (ALB) to Atlanta, GA (ATL) 0.00 USD 35.00 USD 50.0lbs (23.0kg) – 62.0in (157.0cm)

  5. What about the benefits of the United Club card? Premier Access, no close-in booking fees on award tickets, 2 free checked bags, etc. Do we have to use the Club card to buy our tickets in order to take advantage of those benefits, too?

  6. Great post, there is a log of good info in here. I do have a related bag question but it is for American. If I am flying American but some of the legs are operated by Hawaiian, would I still get free checked bags as a Citi AA Exec card holder? What about a flight from HNL to OGG operated by Hawaiian but booked as an AA award flight? Thanks!

  7. Arlington Traveler

    The terms and conditions are not currently enforced by United. I have the United Club card, and don’t always use it to purchase my United tickets (or pay the fees on award tickets). I always get the checked baggage benefit, priority security, and priority boarding as long as the Mileage Plus number associated with my United Club card is on my PNR.

  8. If I buy UA tickets, pay with MP explorer, but cancel the card before before I fly, what are the chances I still get a free checked bag and priority boarding?

  9. Free Luggage for friends and family

    If John has points in his United account, and books a flight for Daughter with his points through his account on the United website, and pays with his (John’s) United credit card and does not input a frequent flier number for daughter (not sure if that last step matters–but I do it to be safe), the Daughter will be able to get free luggage benefit–even if she does not have the United card and even if traveling alone. Not sure if this would work if not using points and ticket was just purchased on website through Johns account. This has saved me lots of money for family members traveling. The free luggage benefit shows up in the confirmation of the ticket purchase as $ 0 for first bag and/or second depending on card.

  10. Hi MMS, I agree most of your post. But I think what you state in this post might be wrong according to my own experience. Yes, according the words on the term, what you say is correct. But in reality, I notice that so long as I have that card, whatever credit card I use, I still get the $0 for first checked bag at the end of ticket confirmation email. I think the reason is that once you have the card, they register the benefit to your mileageplus number. So long as the system recognizes you via mileageplus number, you will enjoy the benefits regardless of which credit card you use. This is my last year’s data point. Correct me if I am wrong.

  11. I’m a secondary user on my dad’s card. I don’t get the free checked bag, but whenever I show them the card at check-in, they’re always glad to remove the charge.

  12. @Andy @Darius: I just had a different experience –

    I recently bought a UA ticket on via the “bid” option using a *Discover* credit card because it was two days before I had to depart and bidding on a last minute ticket can always get me a much lower price. Anyways, since the ticket was bought through bidding, I didn’t get to enter my MileagePlus account number when buying the ticket. However, when I checked in using the self service machine at the airport, I entered my MileagePlus number (didn’t expect that I would accumulate miles but just wanted to try if I could get my first bag checked free), and I actually did check my first bag without paying anything. And it’s been two weeks, none of my credit cards gets charged.

    Based on my experience, I wonder if the free first checked bag policy will apply as long as you get to enter your MileagePlus number at some point between buying the ticket and checking in at the airport. But this is just my guess.

  13. And I checked in completely using the self service without any UA representative’s help (so the policy is set in their system). I did look at any information popped up on the screen carefully and am sure no fee appeared when checking my bag.

  14. My experience also has been that in practice, the baggage benefit is linked to the FF# on the reservation, not to the credit card used to pay for the ticket or the traveler. In particular:

    1) I received the free checked bag when paying for a ticket with my corporate Amex.
    2) My sister received the free checked bag when I booked her an award ticket using miles from my account. I paid taxes/fees with my United Explorer card, and she was an authorized user on my account, but neither of those factors seem to matter (see next point).
    3) When I booked a paid flight for my sister using my UA Explorer card and had her FF# in the reservation, the system did not give her a free checked bag, but when she showed the agent her UA Explorer card (AU card), he waived the bag fee but told her she was not supposed to get that benefit. So, it appears that the UA agents can match up FF#s to UA Explorer primary card holders.

    My experiences were in 2012 and 2013, though, so things may have changed since then.

  15. Great post! What about if I use BA avios points redeem AA fights? I do not have chase BA credit card any more but have Citi AA Platinum Select card, do I qualify for free check bag?

    • Glad to read everyone’s experiences. I’ve had 3 recent experiences where we didn’t get the free bag if we didn’t buy the ticket with the United bag. And the agents at the airport weren’t willing to waive the fee. That said, your experience could be difference. However, we did get the priority boarding etc. because that is associated with your United frequent flyer number, even though we didn’t get the free checked bag.

      @caveman – The primary cardholder has to travel to get the free bag.

      @Jason – You won’t get the free bag with Hawaiian Air, unless you checked in with American Airlines first and they transferred your bag.

      @ Danado – You should get the free bag if you link your AA reservation to the booking.

  16. If you fly international – first bag is anyways free
    Do you have any other perks there beside priority boarding?

  17. @Brian – you get two free United Club passes.

  18. I have a UA Club card and flew LGA to ORD on a ticket paid for by a client and received the free bag benefit, along with four or five others on the same PNR. That was in July or August of 2012, but the benefit followed the Mileage Plus member at that time.

  19. ok, I hope all of these experiences are still current. I have a flight coming up, used my MP number, but the ticket was purchased through Ultimate Rewards using my United Club Card Visa. When I checked the receipt on the UA site under my reservation, the payment method had MasterCard, but again, I used Visa. I assume that is from the Ultimate rewards side. At any rate, I hope I still qualify for the 2 free bags. I guess I would just show the agent at check-in my credit card?

  20. Just checked in. First, the agent was skeptical of my card, saying the only cards listed to get free bags were the presidential and explorer. So he felt he had to call someone to verify the validity. BS. Then he tells me that because my card card isn’t listed on the “flight profile”, it didn’t qualify for free bags. I even explained that no where in the terms state this, and showing my flight purchase receipt and bank statement. I will be letting United know about this, but just wanted to give an update.

  21. I’ll be booking 2 United awards out of 2 different accounts (me and mom), but the flights will be operated by Lufthansa.

    I was planning on using Mom’s United credit card to pay for the tickets to Europe (to get free checked bags). But if I’m booking 2 separate awards, the free checked bag won’t apply to my ticket, correct? Since the primary cardholder won’t be on my reservation.

    Or do we get free checked bags anyway since it looks like on the Lufthansa website that economy passengers get 1 checked bag free?

    Hoping to get out of paying for baggage, or if I have to, I’ll put it on a credit card like Barclays Arrival Plus.

    Time for a call to United? 🙂 lol

  22. It doesn’t always work as described. I added the UA MileagePlus Club card to my account profile and bought a ticket on UA’s website using that card for a UA flight while logged into my account. Yet my boarding passes showed Boarding Groups 3 and 4 instead of 2. Also, there was nothing indicating premier access for security lines.

    I then spoke with (and was on hold with) two UA CSRs for 26 minutes. They were both able to verify my eligibility for the benefits, and that the ticket was purchased using the card, however, neither was able to change my boarding pass or re-issue the ticket to reflect those benefits.

    The second CSR suggested I show the TSA agent and the GA my Club card. Not a good solution. First, it is very unlikely the TSA agent is familiar with the benefits conferred by the card. Second, his job is to reference my boarding pass for eligibility to priority security, not to view my credit card.

    Showing it to the GA may work but puts me in the uncomfortable position of looking like I’m trying to flash creds to cut ahead.

    To make it a bit worse, the CSR did not offer to provide any points for my inconvenience and 26 minutes wasted. This is a disappointing start to what I thought would be the beginning of a wonderful relationship. I suppose this is why Chase explicitly (and appropriately) states in the card-member agreement that t is not responsible for any UA benefits not received.

  23. hi, dude

    I wonder, the free checked back is free if I pay the tax and fee for the award mileaged (UA)?

    or expeida?

    please answer

    thank you

  24. Pingback: Top 10 Benefits of the Chase United Explorer Card | Million Mile Secrets

  25. I have a different experience with Citi Platnium selected card via AA flight.
    1. I purchased the ticket via Citi Platnium,
    2. I called citibank ahead and make sure my first check in bag is free for upcoming travel.
    3. I checked in flight via Citi Platnium card and I still got charged for $25 first check in bag fee at airport. I asked the representative at the airport and he told me Citi will credit me back the fee.
    4. When the charge occurred in my statement, I sent a letter to Citibank and asked to waive the fee. However, I got a letter from Citibank and they cannot waive the fee, and I should ask AA for help.

    Did I go anything wrong during the process? I am unable to get the fee waived from Citibank. Thanks.


  26. I bought tickets to Jamaica with my MP explorer card. First, I thought 1st bag would be free on this international flight and second, since I paid with my UA Mileage Plus Visa, I thought first bag free. They charged me $100 for the 4 bags each way. I called Visa and they told me that since my card had since been canceled (switched due to hacking), they would not honor this. Doesn’t seem right….

  27. I also bought two tickets using united’s website and using the MP Explorer card, however, by the time i went to check in, they charge me for the bags…basically, $100 roundtrip. I wont use this card again.

  28. Since I am not the primary united airlines cardholder and traveling by myself, I had to pay for my bag for the first time in October 2015. I had never paid before. But apparently Chase changed the policy a few months ago…

  29. I purchased my ticket through Chase Ultimate Rewards…
    My reservation is for 2 people (myself and my girlfriend, both booked on a single reservation).
    I used ultimate rewards points for MOST of the ticket, but I paid part of the ticket with $$$; I paid $59 per person (total of $118) using my United Mileage Card… Any insight on whether that will entitle us to check 1 bag each for free??? (I’ve checked all over the internet – including United – and haven’t found anything that says the tickets must be “entirely” or “fully” paid with the United credit card, so I’m hoping that, since I did use the card for the paid portion of my purchase, that that’ll count… Any insight?? I’m also calling United, and I’ll try at the airport, regardless, but just want to see if anyone has had any experience and/or tips on how to be successful with this. Thanks!!!

  30. @Cory, I have that same question as well. The best bet is to check your reservation on the United website. It should say at the bottom if you have free bags or not. Please report back what you find, if you are able to.

  31. I am a United MileagePlus member and purchased a United ticket using my MileagePlus card at the Chase Ultimate Rewards website. Now, when I check in, they are not giving me the free checked bag. United says that this is Chase’s fault – they used some other card to make the payment, so I need to talk to Chase. Chase says that the Ultimate Rewards website is “third party” and that is why I will not get the free checked bag. This is all a bunch of bs. They took my money and are not giving me the benefits now.

  32. Good evening!
    Nice reading all the posts, i have a question as well.
    Bougt my award ticket with my explorar card. I will be flying out of Miami to Lisboa. The flight is operated by TAP Portugal. On my reservation states clearly 1st and 2 nd baggage free.

    However UA sent me the reservation confirmation not TAP.

    Will i still have 2 free bags,??

  33. On transatlantic flights, the first checked bag is free anyway. It’s $100 for a second one, even when you book with the Explorer card. Similarly for other international flights. So if you are not flying domestically, the $95/year fee is not worth it IMO.

  34. Arlington Travler

    @ Andrew. It depends. If you hold the MP Explorer card you can get any seat at a “standard” award, without the card you can’t. You also get two United Club passes on renewal which are useful and even at e-bay prices worth $30 to $35. If you are UA elite, you can also get upgraded on awards but only if you have a cobranded UA card. Finally, you get extra miles when using the Mileage Plus shopping portal if you hold the credit card at many merchants, and you get 25% more miles when using the Mileage Plus X app. Finally, most important to me you get priority boarding which is super useful when flying domestically.

  35. I’ve always gotten my first bag free with my Explorer card since I’ve had it for the past five years or so, but I’ve always bought my ticket directly from United. I’m currently looking at a flight/hotel package with a United flight from Priceline or Hotwire which will save me some money over booking directly from United and the hotel.

    Will I get the first bag free using my Explorer card, even if I don’t buy the ticket directly through United?

  36. United is a terrible company. Used my mileage plus card to book a flight for my wife using points as a United Mileage Plus member for 30 years. They charge a baggage fee for my wife. No reasonable business would operate this way. Stupid company. I am canceling my card and won’t fly United. Maybe they need new management or are too stupid for customer service.

  37. All,

    I had a similar experience as most. I booked my wife’s tickets on my United Mileage Explorer card (i was not travelling with her) although she has her own as a primary, they refused to honor that and we were not able to get the fee waived. The airport ground staff are too tired to assist and just rely on automation.

    I was able to get the refund by turning in a request with United by providing them with the the luggage ticket# after she completed her flight. United did not put up a fight to refund, just did it since she has her own account with United.

    Easiest way is to book on your own credit card though.

  38. If I use my Lufthansa miles for a United Award flight domestic and use My Chase United Credit card to
    pay the additional fee, will I be able to get my first check bag free?

    Thanks for any reply.