United to Charge for Your Second Checked Bag

Baggage, United

Time and time again, United has proven over the last few years that they really don’t want your business unless you fly a lot, and you want to use them every time. They’ve eliminated Economy Plus access to everyone but elite members of Mileage Plus. Not even elites of Star Alliance partner programs can get it anymore, nor can someone who pays a full fare to fly. The latest knock against non-elites involves a brand-spanking new $25 fee to check a second bag on domestic flights. Oh, where should we start on this one?

08_02_04 uahierarchy

I suppose the good news here is that if you do buy an expensive refundable ticket, you may not get Economy Plus, but you won’t have to pay the fee for that second bag. Let’s be honest though, how many of those full fare business travelers are checking two bags anyway? Not many.

This is aimed squarely at the leisure traveler bringing presents home to grandma for the holidays. Or maybe it’s the college kid lugging his stuff out to school for the year. In other words, it’s the people who are likely price sensitive and pay in advance. For United, it’s just another possible revenue stream without any regard for the consequences of implementing such a fee. See, it’s not the $25 that bothers me but rather the added inconvenience that this brings. You can bet United wasn’t concerned about that.

Without question, this is going to make lines worse at the airport. Remember, it only applies to non-refundable fares. So now if you check a second bag, the already underpaid and overworked ticket counter agent will have to check to see what type of ticket you’re flying on in order to determine whether to charge you the fee or not. What’s the chance the airline has invested in automation to automatically make that call? I think it’s a safe bet to say that’s not happening. Turns out, it’s pretty good. United spokesperson Robin Urbanski says that yes, “the system will be automated to determine whether the fee applies to the ticket. This automation will be integrated into the system that the customer service representatives use and the check-in kiosks.” I’m pleasantly surprised. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but this is just going to create more work for someone who won’t get a single extra dime for doing it. You think they’re motivated to do it right or quickly?

So life goes on for the elite members of Mileage Plus who can sail through their own lines, but what about the non-elites like me? Why would I ever fly this airline? If the fares are the lowest, maybe, but I haven’t seen United at the low end of fares in a long time.

If I’m not an elite, this just pushes me further toward Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, Continental or even Virgin America, because they aren’t going to make my life miserable as a second class citizen. Sure, other airlines are likely to match this, but those will the usual suspects like American, Northwest, and Delta (and yes, maybe Continental). You know how those lemmings are.

United is definitely leading the way here in making its overall customer offering one of the worst around . . . if you aren’t an elite. They’re making it clear that they have more seats than their elites can fill, so they need you to pay up until they can find more elites. How else would they fund their next shareholder dividend?

Edited 12/18 @ 826a to reflect that United will be automating the process.

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24 comments on “United to Charge for Your Second Checked Bag

  1. Once the budget minded consumer hears about this (and I’m sure a lot have given the media hype on this one), I’m sure rather than shell out $25.00 they will try to cram everything they can into one suitcase, check it, and then bring 3 carry-ons aboard the aircraft. We all know that no airline strictly enforces its carry-on allowances so this will wind up costing UA, and the other lemmings that follow, time and money at the gate as they wait for the college student to try to stuff his duffle bag with books in it and his laundry bag into the overheard bin. Good luck UA. I’m sure you’ll make someone a lovely merger partner someday soon.

  2. United should just fold and get it over with…so sad as I just remember growing up that United was this almost mystical/elite airline with their commercials for their Asia destinations…it was like you had “made it” in business if you flew United. Now it’s a vending machine charging you Snickers price but for that no-name candy bar brand you’ve never heard of and then it gets stuck in the machine anyway leaving you with nothing.

  3. > They’ve eliminated Economy Plus access to
    > everyone but elite members of Mileage Plus.

    Not quite sure what you mean by that, Cranky… Wasn’t it essentially always reserved for

    – elites
    – those who purchase Economy Plus Access ($299, recently raised to $349 a year)
    – those who buy-up to E+ access for a particular flights?

    (yes, I know about other Star Alliance members getting the boot, but I don’t think that’s what you were referring to!?)

    As to the second-bag issue, I am personally not affected for a variety of reasons (never check two bags, rarely even one, UA elite status). But I think there is no fundamental law of nature that requires airlines to transport two bags for each passenger. It’s just what people have gotten used to. I am not a big fan of completely unbundling all services, but I certainly don’t feel that this is a case of nickeling and diming customers either.

  4. Oliver – Y+ used to be available for elites on other Star carriers and to people buying the highest economy fares. That is no longer the case. Yes, you can buy access or pay an upgrade upon check-in, but I was referring to a situation where buying a ticket allows you access.

  5. Another Colorado blogger analyzed the cost for those traveling with skis/snowboards.


    Currently ski bags/boot bags count as one item. That plus your regular bag adds $50 to a RT. With two bags it’s $100 extra. And if UAL starts separating your ski gear it would be $125.

    Here’s a quirk I also thought of: International flights beyond Canada will be allowed a second bag sans fee.

    However after arriving the U.S. and clearing customs I wonder if some re-checking their bags will face ill-informed check-in agents demanding $25 for their onward domestic flight?

    Another reason I’d love to somday see transit lounges at our international gateway airports. Yeah I know – likelihood zero.

  6. Cranky, I suspect there really aren’t that many travelers that pay full-fare Y and don’t have any kind of status on UA. I agree that if I *was* one of those, I’d feel nickel’ed and dimed if UA then offered me for an extra $25 an upgrade to E+. As for Star Alliance elites getting free E+, well, considering the “nice” seats I tend to get on LH (think middle seat in the middle section of a 747 on a 10 hr flight FRA-BLR), I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I do think it would be nice if Star Alliance in general offered preferred seating to all their members.

  7. Doesn’t this push travelers to pack one huge bag instead of two risking a fee for being overweight. Now UA can be sure they hit you with a fee one way or another. As a very frequent flyer well past AARP membership, I rarely check bags, but when I must, I opt for two bags because these old muscles ain’t what they used to be. Can I scream age discrimination?

  8. I too used to love United, but this is the end. I almost always check my bags. Planes would fly closer to on time and be far more comfortable is people were courteous enough to do the same. I am SO tired of people bringing everything including the kitchen sink into the cabin as a carry on and then being upset when I ask them to take their stuff out of the overhead at my seat so I can store my briefcase. They will be uncomfortable if it is under the seat in front of them, plus it wouldn’t fit anyway as the bag exceeds carry on limits in the 1st place. If ALL the airlines maintained the sixe limit for carry on baggage I might be more accepting of this terrible decision. This is the beginning of the end. Amtrak is looking very good right now!

  9. “As for Star Alliance elites getting free E+, well, considering the “nice” seats I tend to get on LH (think middle seat in the middle section of a 747 on a 10 hr flight FRA-BLR)”

    I was a Silver on US Airways– about as lowly an ‘elite’ as you can be– and I always got whichever (aisle, window) seat I wanted on LH, and never a middle. I repeatedly got a row of 5 to myself on transats where coach was 50% full. No complaints from me about Lufthansa, (ignoring their TV-in-the-ceiling silliness).

    I got fed up with having to deal with UA and US domestically, so bye-bye Star Alliance!

  10. I think the airlines are really flying backwards on this one. They’re missing a growing trend: both business and leisure travellers want to have more of their personal stuff with them when they are away from home—not less,

    This policy will frustrate fliers and force them into alternatives like shipping items or storing them at the destination if they are frequent visitors.


  11. As a light traveller, I don’t mind UA’s decision. Assuming it translates into main fares being kept low. People check too much luggage as it is, sometimes I even see taped up boxes. If you’re adding weight, you should pay. In fact, if you’re overweight yourself, sorry but you should pay for two seats.

  12. Bryan there’s a difference between weight and bulk though. The commenter above that described themselves “well past AARP membership” said they prefer smaller more carry friendly luggage.

    Why should they be charged more because they prefer a few small/medium sized totes rathing than schlepping around ONE giant Samsonite?

    The fee thresholds should be based on weight, which unlike bulk, is the true factor of fuel consumption.

  13. I see your point, James, perhaps it should be based on weight. (Even then, however, there would be plenty of complaints.) Flying within Europe I have had to pay small fees at the check-in counter whenever my girlfriend’s luggage was a kilo too much. And at FRA, for example, they really enforce carry-on sizes. I think we ought to do the same in the States – Americans aren’t just large and loud, they carry too much junk around.

    Maybe UA’s announcement is so shocking because they charge too much; $25 is a little steep.

    As I said before, I think UA’s decision is fine. And I’m glad they’re looking for ways to break even without raising base fares.

  14. Cranky: Some of the posted comments sound like they could could have been made by employees for United. Why don’t you add two check boxes to every reply. I am an employee of an airline. I am an employee of the airline discussed in this posting. Check yes or no. No to both in my case.

    Some of the above Apologists for United, aka United Apologists (UA) argue that since they don’t check two bags, this will have no impact on them.

    Wrong. This will make all of the lines much longer. I check my bags with the sky cab, because my bags are within the weight limit, and it is faster than using the very long lines at the counter. Now the sky cabs will have to hassle with collecting this lousy $25 and even those lines will get longer. (Yes, sky cabs can collect the money. Just tip them and they’ll do anything.)

    Yes, I do routinely check two bags. One has clothes; one has camera gear and misc items. I will be one of thousands who slow up the lines, including the sky cabs, in order to pay El Cheapo United $25.

    I hope the Apologists for United who posted above are behind me in line for the sky cabs. They can think long and hard about the fact that time is money — and their time will be wasted while United collects a lousy $25 from literally thousands of passengers at a big airport every single day.

    Plan on getting to the airport even earlier if you flying in the Unfriendly Skies. Again, this means that UA will have far longer lines for the United Aologists and everyone else as they collect the money hundreds of times every hour, on the hour.

    Think about that before you want to make excuses for lousy customer service. Cranky got it right. United thinks we are all manure.

  15. It’s sad to think that only the frequent fliers will have access to their economy flights. I am pretty sure that a lot of people won’t be bringing a 2nd bag, so $25 won’t even be used at all. well, if you are gonna pay for it might as well bring as many as you can.

  16. Will you people get a grip? If you’re that snarky about paying $25 AND want to fly overpriced UA anyway just sign up for Mileage Plus. 2 mins of online form filling, a lifetime of unwanted spam/snail mail, and whammo you’ve saved $25 bucks. How about save yourself a few hundred bucks and fly a cheaper airline?

  17. Chrisian – Just to clarify, it’s not as simple as signing up for Mileage Plus. You have to become an elite member which generally means flying at least 25,000 miles a year, though there are a few different ways to get it.

  18. The point being why would you complain about $25 when the ticket itself sells for a premium that can be up to $200 anyway (restricted economy LAX-JFK for example)?

  19. It’s all about total price of the journey. Right now, for example, let’s say you’re flying from LAX to Newark and you plan on eating and checking two bags. If you fly Continental, then you pay the fare but you don’t pay to check bags or for a meal. If you fly United, you have to buy food for $5 to $10 plus pay $25 for that bag.

    Now, this doesn’t mean it’s bad to charge for these things. I personally have no problem with it, but I’d like to know my total costs up front. Nobody outside of Air Canada gives that to you.

    But that wasn’t my big complaint in the beginning (though it is the big complaint of many of the commenters). My big complaint is what this will do to lines at the airport. If you charge for that second bag and you can’t prepay online, then you are likely to increase lines since there’s an extra step now. If you charge only for nonrefundable tickets, you’ve added yet another step where the agent has to look up the type of ticket you have. That’s not going to make for a fun experience.

  20. I heard back from United this morning. It turns out that they will actually be automating the process for agents to determine if the person should be charged or not. Wow. That’s a nice surprise.

  21. We only travel for leisure. This makes us say the heck with it; I’ll drive to my destination instead. Pay extra for the airline to loose my luggage? I dont think so. The service is usually crap to begin with these days, so we won’t pay a dime more. Airline Industry Deathwatch begins. Sorry about u poor business travellers. Take the bus.

  22. Here’s something I just learned about NorthWest Airlines (NWA): The Canadian Gov’t stepped in and said this is not allowed to/from Candadian-US flights. So, although the airlines love to play this Catch22 on us by grouping all of N.America in (e.g. adding in Canada, Mexico and other countries to their U.S. domestic rules (I’ve heard them call this international-domestic: sounds like an OxyMoron to me). Anyways, now they can’t throw this rule at you. I was only informed of this verbally be a person high up at NWA, how it throws a monkey wrench into trying to blanket this rule, and that none of the Gate agents understand this small discrepancy, so they charge you anyways. My question, has anyone heard about this, or is there somewhere online that we can print out this Canadian law and show it to “non-believing” Gate Agents? Does it apply only to NWA or all Airlines? (Perhaps each US carrier must apply for this and be accepted by the Canadian aviation authority, and NWA was too late thus are being held to the exception so far?)

  23. GM – I do recall there being some sort of requirement to give advance notice of a change of this sort in Canada. American Airlines went through something like this with the 2nd bag charge, and there were plenty of news stories about it, but I can’t seem to find them easily. So, maybe that’s the issue. Maybe Northwest didn’t give enough notice. If that’s the case, this will just be a temporary reprieve.

    And I know the international-domestic thing doesn’t seem to make much sense, but from a product perspective it does. They fly domestic aircraft with bare bones first class and limited inflight entertainment to Mexico/Canada/Caribbean. Europe/Asia/Deep South America, on the other hand, have an international product.

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