Many airline credit cards offer one or more free checked bags to cardholders. And in most cases, you don’t need to pay for the airfare with that credit card to get the benefit. Instead, the benefit is tied to your frequent flyer number (See: Free Checked Bags via Credit Card Complete Guide). United is one of the few exceptions. With the United credit cards that offer free checked bags, you must pay for the flight with that credit card in order to get that benefit. So, that leads us to a big question: What happens with award flights?
Award flights always have at least a small fee associated with them. When booking a United flight with United miles, you can simply pay with your United credit card to get the free checked bag benefit. But what if you book a United flight not with United miles, but with partner miles?
United’s page “Free checked bags for eligible United MileagePlus Chase Cardmembers” has this to say about award tickets:
Primary Cardmember is 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.
Notice that there are two requirements to getting the free checked bag benefit on award tickets:
- You must pay “award ticket taxes and service charges” with your United card.
- You must include your MileagePlus account number on your reservation.
The first step is easy, but the second less so. When booking a United flight with non-United miles, your reservation will usually automatically have your non-United frequent flyer number attached. For example, if you book with Singapore miles (which you can now do online), your reservation will have your Singapore number attached.
Add your United MileagePlus account number to your reservation
Once your award ticket is booked, it is usually possible to change the frequent flyer number on the reservation after the fact. One good tool for doing so is the Lufthansa website. Find your reservation by using the record locator from your award booking and then click to view passenger details to change the reservation to your United frequent flyer number.
What if you are still charged for bags?
Readers have reported that they were still charged a fee despite paying for award tickets with their United card. It’s certainly possible that United intended this benefit to be only for awards booked with United miles, but they failed to stipulate that in the terms so you really should get your free checked bag.
Fortunately, reader Greg reports a simple (but annoying) solution: Pay and then submit a refund request. He writes:
I’ve had experience when United’s systems didn’t associate the free checked bag at the time of check-in. I called in, and the representative told me to go ahead and pay for the bag, then submit a refund request after the fact, and include a comment that I’m a card holder. I did so, and the refund came through without incident.
One other little gotcha…
United’s free checked bag terms state that the free checked bag benefit kicks in 2 weeks after account opening:
A new United MileagePlus Chase primary credit Cardmember will be eligible for their applicable free standard checked bag(s) 2 weeks after account opening.
That seems kind of ridiculous to me, but there you go.
I have a question. What if I book on Austrian airlines from vienna to Brussels using United miles, will I be eligible for free checked bag? Austrian airlines have two kind of tickets. One with free 1 bag and one with only hang luggage. So I have no idea what kind of ticket united will issue if I use my United miles on Austrian European flights.
I don’t know. Usually award tickets are more like regular economy than like basic economy or economy-lite. So, I’d guess that you’ll get a free checked bag but that’s totally just a guess
I understand the reason Avianca wants to collect your companion names is to keep an eye on too many “companions” flying solo, and will cancel your account if you are selling tickets. Makes sense.
I think another gotcha about this is if you have both a UA card and a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and you need to pay with the Sapphire in order to get your $300 travel credit, you lose your UA card benefits of free bag and priority boarding. This is true even if flying using UA miles for a UA flight.
My flight is international, so I will get the free bags.
I hope someone tells me I am incorrect about this!
There are so many ways to use the CSR travel credit, you’re better off spending elsewhere with CSR and putting the $11 in fees on your United card to get the free bags and priority boarding benefits. Spend the $300 CSR credit on hotel, rental car, Uber rides, metro tickets, and so on. Should be easy to get to $300 in a year.
I think that a bigger problem with not paying with the Sapphire Reserve is that you are then stuck with the United Explorer card’s inferior insurance such as 12 hour delay vs 6 hour with the Reserve
Thanks for that reminder, and I think I actually thought about that at the time (along with trip cancellation insurance).
I am approaching the 1st anniversary date in March for the Sapphire Reserve, so I was also needing to hit the 2nd $300 travel credit that will never happen again 🙂
Nick, Nick, Nick…..you never fly economy, so why should this be a concern?
(If you fly economy as a blogger you will never make it to the Bloggers Hall of Fame, which happens to be located in Lucky’s basement)
What are you talking about? Confusing Greg with Nick, and throwing shade at another blogger? Congrats loungeabuser, you get a medal today!
I’m just flattered that someone thinks I wrote Greg’s post *and* that I have a legitimate shot at the Bloggers Hall of Fame.
I have two things left to say:
Derek, how do you know the Bloggers Hall of Fame is NOT in Lucky’s basement?
Nick, you have to be out of the business for 5 years before you can be inducted. Notice will come to you by fortune cookie insert
I guess I had never heard about the awesomeness of Lucky’s basement before, as usual I was left out of the cool kid’s crowd (because I fly economy with the fam)
This used to be a PITA for me. I’d have to call up UA, etc.
Now if you book with Singapore Krisflyer they don’t associate a FF number (at least not for me anymore). So I just go to the UA website and type my UA number in and bam, free bag.