Hey Travel Junkies,

As a Houston native, I fly United quite a bit.

I don’t mind flying United Basic Economy to get to my destination when I am flying alone. Sometimes all I need is a flight from point A to point B.

When flying Basic Economy on United, I want to be sure I’m getting everything I need. If I’m taking a bag with me, I want to be sure I can check it or bring it as a carry-on. I may even want to select my seat.

Many unsuspecting travelers have been caught off-guard by Basic Economy and there are some restrictions that might surprise you.

Let’s take a look at the United’s Basic Economy rules and how you can avoid some of the pitfalls.

For more info on how to beat basic economy on other airlines, check out our guides to Delta and American Airlines.

How To Beat United Basic Economy
United’s Basic Economy rules and how you can avoid some of the pitfalls.

The Best Credit Cards to Beat United Basic Economy

Before we get into United’s Basic Economy rules, let’s look at the available co-branded credit cards that can help you beat United Basic Economy. There are four United credit cards that can help you avoid some nasty fees:

  • United Explorer Card
  • Chase United MileagePlus Club Card
  • Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card
  • Chase United MileagePlus Club Business Card

United Explorer Card

60,000 bonus miles after $3,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more

Most travelers will find the benefits offered by the Chase United Explorer personal or business cards to be enough to beat United Basic Economy. There are additional benefits to the Club cards — United Club access — but these benefits come with a much higher annual fee.

With any of these credit cards, you’ll receive at least one free checked bags for you and one companion when you purchase your ticket using your United co-branded credit card. If you hold either the MileagePlus Club Card or MileagePlus Club Business Card, you’ll receive your first and second bag for free.

An additional benefit is priority boarding. As a cardmember, you receive priority boarding in group 2. This can be particularly useful if you need to put a bag in the overhead bin and don’t want to fight for space or gate-check your bag.

There are other perks, but these are the big ones that help you beat the basic economy. Now let’s dig into the United Basic Economy rules, restrictions and fees to see how much you can save by booking your ticket with a United MileagePlus co-branded credit card.

United Basic Economy Rules

United Basic Economy rules are similar to what you find on low-cost carriers such as Spirit. You won’t be able to select your seat for free or bring free bags. With a co-branded credit card, you can beat some of these restrictions.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the rules and how you can apply your card benefits to beat them.

Baggage Rules

One of the primary restrictions you’ll encounter when flying Basic Economy on United is baggage fees. When flying United Basic Economy, checked luggage costs the same as if you were flying regular Economy.

United doesn’t publish their baggage fees directly, you have to look it up by trip. You can find this information on the United Checked Baggage page where you can enter your origin and destination to see the cost. I did a little bit of searching and found the following general rules, but be sure to check for your own trip:

  • Domestic tickets cost $25 for your first bag, $35 for your second
  • U.S. to Mexico, Caribbean and Central America cost $25 for your first bag and $35-$50 for your second
  • U.S. to Europe costs $0-$60 for your first bag and $100 for your second.

Unfortunately, you can’t avoid these fees by simply bringing a carry-on when flying Basic Economy. If you purchase a Basic Economy ticket, you won’t be allowed to bring a carry-on bag on board.

If you try to do so, you’ll face a $25 gate check fee in addition to the bag fee. What you do get for free is one personal item, no bigger than 9 x 10 x 17 inches, that fits under the seat in front of you. Keep it small — a purse or backpack will often fit just right.

Baggage fees can add up quickly and quickly erase much of what you saved by booking Basic Economy. Remember, these are the one-way fees, so a flight to Mexico will cost $50 round-trip to check just one bag. For Europe, it could cost $120 round-trip.

When you pay for your flight with a United co-branded credit card, you will not have to pay baggage fees for your first or second bag, depending on which card you have. Although the benefit won’t extend to more than yourself and one companion, families that can pack into 2 to 4 suitcases will save a lot of money on baggage fees.

united basic economy seat assignment
Want to sit with your friend, spouse or child? If you’re traveling as a family and need or want to sit together, you must purchase an advance seat assignment.

Seat Assignments

Want to sit with your friend, spouse or child? Don’t count on it with a United Basic Economy ticket. When you book a United Basic Economy ticket, you will not be able to select your seat for free. Your seat will be assigned when you check in for your flight and you cannot change it yourself.

United makes it clear when booking regarding families and groups: they do not guarantee you will be able to sit together. If you’re traveling as a family and need or want to sit together, you must purchase an advance seat assignment.

united basic economy seat assignment | carry on bag

Seat assignment costs can vary with Basic Economy. I did a quick search from Houston to Cancun in March 2019 and the cost varied from $7-12 per seat.

united basic economy seat assignment fee
United Basic Economy cost $12 each way to select a seat on this flight


This brings the total price of $360.23 close to the price of a standard economy ticket of $377.

For many people, this is the most frustrating part of the basic economy. Unfortunately, none of the United credit cards waive this fee. Thankfully, there are quite a few credit cards with travel credits that can be used to cover seat selection costs.

Some credits, such as the airline fee credit that comes with The Platinum Card from American Express, are more restrictive than others but seat selection is covered when booking with your preselected airline. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, the travel credit will apply automatically to a seat selection fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more

If you don’t mind having your seat assigned for you, you can save lots of money flying Basic Economy on United.

Priority Boarding

Many people enjoy priority boarding, but with a United Basic Economy ticket, you will be one of the last passengers on the plane. If priority boarding is a priority for you, a co-branded United credit card will provide it.

Although a small benefit, priority boarding can add comfort to an otherwise hectic boarding process. You can skip the long lines and be seated ready to enjoy your flight sooner.

Bottom Line

United Basic Economy may save you some money on your ticket, but the fees can quickly eat up those savings. If you want to bring a carry-on bag or select your seat, you might even find yourself spending more than a regular economy ticket.

Thankfully, with the right credit card, you can beat United Basic Economy. Chase’s co-branded United cards will help you avoid baggage fees and get priority boarding.

If you want to cover a seat selection fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the easiest but the American Express Platinum Card can also cover it if United is you have selected United as your preferred airline.

Armed with these strategies, now you can beat Basic Economy when flying United.

Travel In Style,


Chase Sapphire Preferred

60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more

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About the Author

Travis became addicted to travel after his first international trip to Nicaragua in 2016. He wanted to travel more but didn’t want to pay for it. He found points and miles, and hasn’t paid cash for a trip since. A self-proclaimed adventurer and beach-bum, Travis is often found at remote island destinations and beaches with scuba gear in tow. If you don’t spot him on a beach, look for somewhere with good wine or a...

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9 Responses to “How to Beat United Basic Economy”


Thank you for sharing! I don’t travel a lot maybe once a year but then I noticed that it is getting too much trouble and reading small prints of airline rules. I just want my a space for a carry on bag, assigned seat, although I could wait for a bit of long lines.
I guess the best bet is opening a co-branded CC.

Eva Mahoney

Thanks for the heads up. I am not too unhappy with this since I am traveling alone. Pretty soon, though, I can imagine them charging me a fee for wearing cargo shorts (extra pockets). 🙂

Every time I book a BE ticket I always regret it. However, I am leaving for London in 2 days on United and somehow I found a special from a third party website travelmerry.com and got a BE ticket one way for $108. Your allowed a carry on luggage for trans-atlantic flights – scored on that one

Kimberlea Hamilton

You can take a carry on and an under the seat bag for international basic economy . Must not be over 50 lbs or over 42″ total . A carryon personal bag as well that is total 36″ . I just got back from England and that’s what they allowed . So checking a bag is not necessary.

I booked United international basic economy to London for my family of 4 this summer using my united card. I actually saved $1000 on the tickets using basic economy, so spent $25 x 4 each way for advanced seat assignments. All of those fees were returned after each flight! So $25 x 4 was refunded after the first flight and $25 x 4 after the return flight as well. Is this a new perk for basic economy bookings with the United Card? Or just a random piece of luck not to expect again? Thank you!

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