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How to Beat United Basic Economy

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By: Travis Cormier

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.

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 40,000 bonus miles after $2,000 spend in 3 months, an additional 25,000 miles after $10,000 spend in 6 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 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.

seat assignments on boarding plane

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.

Basic economy restriction

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 cost $12 each way to select a seat on this flight

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 Earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first 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,

Travis

Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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