United Airlines baggage policies and fees

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It’s understandable if you’re unfamiliar with those nitty-gritty policies of an airline other than the one with which you most often bestow your patronage. But sometimes you need the cheapest flight listed in a Google Flights search — and that may mean flying an airline you can’t recall the last time you flew.

For me, that airline-less-traveled is United Airlines. I gave myself a refresher and thought it a public service to provide you with one, as well. A prepared traveler will at least do some hasty research to refresh your memory as you pack your bags. How much can your bag weigh? How much are the baggage fees?

United Airlines baggage policies are like most airlines but with some important exceptions. We’ll break it down below to answer all your questions.

Keep in mind that the best United airlines credit cards will usually waive checked baggage fees for you and a companion. 

(Photo by Day Of Victory Studio/Shutterstock)

United baggage policies

Carry on bags

If you’re a savvy packer, you may not be planning to check a bag. United allows each traveler to carry on one bag and one personal item. To ensure space for all passengers, the following bag restrictions apply:

  • Carry-on bag: must fit in the overhead and not exceed 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches 
  • Personal item: must fit under the seat in front of you and not exceed 9 inches, 10 inches x 17 inches

The exception to the one bag and one personal item rule is if you’re traveling within the U.S. on a Basic Economy ticket, which limits you to only one personal item. If you arrive at the gate with a carry-on bag, United will check the bag for the applicable checked bag price plus an additional $25 gate handling charge. The below exceptions to the exception allow you to have a carry-on bag:

  • Your Basic Economy ticketed flight crosses the Atlantic
  • You’re a MileagePlus Premier member or Star Alliance Gold member
  • You’re a companion of a MileagePlus Premier member
  • You hold a qualifying United credit card

Some items that don’t count towards your carry-on allowance include diaper bags, camera bags, or assistive devices such as wheelchairs or crutches. See the full list here

While United still allows pets, cats and dogs specifically, to fly, they must be able to fit and remain in their travel carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. Though a pet carrier doesn’t take away your carry-on bag allowance, you will pay a $125 fee each way and an additional $125 if your layover exceeds four hours.

United no longer recognizes emotional support animals as service animals due to the Department of Transportation amending the rules on animals allowed in an airplane’s cabin.

Checked bags

Though it’s always a bit of a gamble that your checked bag won’t be delayed or lost, checked bags provide the extra space when you’ve failed to pack light or you’re simply taking a lengthy vacation. For standard United coach flights, including Premium Economy, a checked bag has a maximum weight of 50 pounds per bag.

Some exceptions increase the maximum weight to 70 pounds per bag if you have these Mileage plus statuses or tickets:

  • Premier Silver
  • Premier Gold
  • Premier Platinum
  • Premier 1K
  • Star Alliance
  • Business class ticket
  • First class ticket
  • United Polaris business class ticket

The maximum size for any checked bag, regardless of ticket or membership, is 62 inches if you add together the length, width, and height of your bag.

Checked baggage fees

United doesn’t provide the typical chart with baggage fees and instead uses different variables to determine how much your checked bag will cost. They recommend using their calculating tool before your trip (at least 24 hours) to be prepared at the airport. 

For most domestic coach flights, if you choose to pre-purchase your checked bags at least 24 hours before departure, you’ll likely pay $30 for one checked bag and $40 for a second. Prepaying is recommended if you’d like some savings as United ups the price $5 per bag if you wait to pay at the airport. If you already have a United flight booked, the applicable baggage fees will be listed at the bottom of your reservation once you log into your United MileagePlus account online.

Some travelers have no baggage fees based upon their tickets or membership status:

  • Premium economy ticket
  • Business class ticket
  • First class ticket
  • Baggage subscription holders
  • MileagePlus Premier members and companions
(MileagePlus Premier members and companions receive free checked bags based on these requirements)

Economy flights to Europe, the Middle East or India receive the first bag free, and the second bag is $100, even if prepaid. Basic economy tickets pay a $70 bag fee for the first and $100 for the second.

U.S. flights to Mexico pay $35 for their first bag and $60 for their second. If prepaid, United will shave off $5, making the fees $30 and $55, respectively.

Excess baggage fees

If you suspect that your bag is overweight or plan to check more than two bags, you won’t be allowed to prepay for your bags. You’ll incur excess baggage fees or the airline could refuse to accept them if your bag applies to one of these three categories: 

  • An oversized bag that measures more than 115 inches if length, width, and height are added together
  • A bag that weighs more than 100 pounds 
  • More than two bags

United charges per category, meaning if your bag is oversized and overweight, you’ll be charged an extra fee for both. Musical instruments and assistive devices don’t fall into any of the above categories, though musical instruments are capped at 165 pounds.

If you have more than two checked bags per passenger, it’s a gamble as United says they’ll only accept extra bags if there is room on the airplane. 

Some destinations do not allow any oversized, overweight or extra bags, so it’s a good idea to check your ticket or United’s baggage calculator before your trip. 

How to avoid baggage fees

After all that spiel about baggage fees, there’s no reason you should have to pay for them at all! If you have the right credit card, you can avoid checked baggage fees altogether. 

If you’re a regular United customer, the United Explorer card is a good option for you. Though the annual fee is $95, you could easily recoup that money in baggage fees. Once you use the card to pay for your flights, you’ll receive a free checked bag for yourself and a companion. This perk also applies to award flights purchased with points and you pay for the taxes and fees with the card.

Bottom line

Using United’s baggage calculator, travelers can determine the baggage fees they’ll incur. While the calculator is quick and easy to use, you could skip the step altogether if you pay for a checked bag with the right credit card or simply pack a carry-on bag.

Sarah Hostetler is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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