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United Airlines has a little bit of a bad rep when it comes to the battle of airline prices. Between the high prices of United baggage fees to their lackluster cancellation policy, it’s an airline you have to hack in order to save money.
Fortunately, we’ve done that. Whether you’re looking to book a random last-minute trip or you’re trying to earn free reward flights, we’ve got a bunch of ways that’ll make your United Airlines flying experience less stressful (and less expensive).
Check out all our KCL travel tips to save on your upcoming jaunts.
1. Find United flight deals within your budget on the Special Offers page.
The United flight deals page is the clearance rack for United, where they’re trying to fill seats in otherwise full flights, at a discounted rate.
Not only can you browse United’s best deals generally on domestic and international flights, but you can also set your departure city, departure date, fare class, and — best of all — the maximum price you want to pay.
Here are some deals we found:
- New York-Newark to Miami: $79 round trip, Economy class
- Chicago-O’Hare to Fort Lauderdale: $81 round trip, Economy class
- San Francisco to Los Angeles: $79 round trip, Economy class
- New York-Newark to Los Angeles: $187 round trip, Economy class
2. If you’re flexible on dates and destinations, browse the United Weekly Deals.
Before you just do a search for United flights, you have another stop: the United Weekly Deals page.
This is where you can browse round-trip flights from predetermined locations, during a predetermined time frame.
These flights overlap with the Special Offers, but Weekly Deals has a great menu of international flight deals, including:
- New York-Newark to Lisbon, Portugal, Feb. 16-23: $427 round trip
- New York-Newark to Paris (CDG), Feb. 23-March 4: $494 round trip
- Miami to Madrid, Feb. 8-22: $495 round trip
3. Basic Economy fares are the cheapest — unless you try to bring a carry-on.
Basic Economy is the cheapest fare on United, but before you celebrate your money-saving prowess, keep these things in mind:
- The actual amount you’ll save on Basic Economy vs. Standard Economy is anywhere between $20-$150, depending on the flight.
- You can’t pick seats with Basic Economy.
- No guarantees you’ll sit with your family on Basic Economy.
- No refunds for cancellations unless you cancel within 24 hours of booking.
- You board with the last boarding group.
- United won’t let Basic Economy passengers bring a carry-on — unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member.
- One personal item is allowed per passenger.
- If you do bring a carry-on, they’ll make you check the bag and will charge you a checked bag fee ($35) plus a $25 handling fee — eating up any savings you might’ve gained from the cheaper ticket.
4. Buy United flights midweek, but check the calendar bar to make sure that’s the best price.
It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that flights are cheapest — across all airlines — when they’re early morning or late night flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
After doing a few searches on United.com, that’s not always the case with United Airlines; the lowest-priced days of the week are all over the place.
Put in your preferred flight destination and travel dates, and when United shows results, you’ll see a bar just above the flights that has flight prices for the other days of the week. The cheapest flights of the week will be listed in green.
Wanna learn when other airlines have sales? We did the work for you and found the Best Time to Book Flights by Airline.
5. Book United flights on Tuesdays around 3 p.m. ET to get better ticket prices.
Why? Most airlines launch new ticket prices on Monday nights, and then they all start scrambling to make their prices more competitive.
By mid-afternoon Tuesday, they’ve all tried to match or beat each other, which means you can really see the best prices! We’ll call this the “3 p.m. Tuesdays rule.”
It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a great place to start with any airline you’re looking at, including United Airlines.
6. Join the United MileagePlus program to get 5.5% cash back.
The free United Airlines MileagePlus loyalty program rewards you not based on how far you travel, but on how much you spend — to the tune of at least 5 miles per $1 spent.
Each one of the miles you earn is worth about 1.1 cents, on average — that’s lower than both Delta and American Airlines. Still, that means you get 5.5% cash back on all ticket purchases. For example, 5,000 miles will be worth about $55 in United credit.
You can use MileagePlus miles to buy an entirely free flight on United and 30+ partner airlines, or you have the option to pay with both miles and cash to cover the flight cost — a make-your-own-sale kind of thing.
Miles don’t expire as long as you have your MileagePlus account.
7. Get a United MileagePlus credit card to earn more miles and perks.
If you want to earn MileagePlus miles faster, get one of the United Airlines credit cards. There are four tiers of MileagePlus card: United Gateway, United Explorer, United Quest, and United Club Infinite.
If you can pay it off quickly (to avoid the 14.24% interest rate), it’s a good way to get some good perks like:
- 25% back on in-flight purchases on United Airlines
- Bonus miles for hitting spend thresholds in the first 3 months of having your card:
- 20,000 miles after spending $1,000 with United Gateway
- 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 with United Explorer
- 80,000 miles after spending $5,000 with United Quest
- 100,000 miles after spending $5,000 with United Club Infinite
- Earn an extra 2 – 4 miles per $1 spent (that means a minimum of 7 miles per $1 spent)
- Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on gas, local transit and commuting
- Earn 2 miles per $1 on dining and hotels (Explorer, Quest & Club Infinite)
- Earn 2 miles per $1 on all other travel and streaming services (Quest & Club Infinite)
- Free checked bags (1 for Explorer, 2 for Quest & Club Infinite)
- Free United Club membership (Club Infinite)
8. Earn miles faster and get a free checked bag when you earn Premier status.
The VIPs of United are the MileagePlus Premier members. When you earn Premier status — by completing a set number of Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) and spending a set number of dollars with the airline (PQPs) — you earn miles faster and get to dodge some checked baggage fees.
Here’s what it takes to earn each tier, and what the perks are:
Qualifications: 8 PQFs and 3,000 PQPs (or just 3,500 PQPs)
Perks: Earn 7 miles for every $1 spent, 1 free checked bag (up to 70 lbs)
Qualifications: 16 PQFs and 6,000 PQPs (or just 7,000 PQPs)
Perks: Earn 8 miles for every $1 spent, 2 free checked bags (up to 70 lbs)
Qualifications: 24 PQFs and 9,000 PQPs (or just 10,000 PQPs)
Perks: Earn 9 miles for every $1 spent, 3 free checked bags (up to 70 lbs), complimentary access to Economy Plus for you & 8 companions
Qualifications: 36 PQFs and 13,500 PQPs (or just 15,000 PQPs)
Perks: Earn 11 miles for every $1 spent, 3 free checked bags (up to 70 lbs), preboarding, 1 free drink and snack in Economy
9. You can earn and use MileagePlus miles with 30+ Star Alliance airlines.
The big three — American, Delta, and United — all have partnerships with dozens of global and domestic airlines. And like the other airlines, United lets you earn AND spend miles with airlines in the Star Alliance. You can book award flights with Star Alliance partners through UA.com.
Here are some of the Star Alliance partners:
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- Asiana Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- Croatia Airlines
- Eva Air
- Polish Airlines
- Shenzen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- Swiss Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
Note: If you’re trying to earn Premier status, you have to fly a minimum of 4 PQFs with United, but you can earn the rest of them with these partner airlines.
10. United baggage fees are some of the highest — even for carry-ons.
United baggage fees are the stuff of infamy among travelers. Not only are their checked bag prices some of the highest in the travel industry, but they have the distinction of charging for carry-ons too.
Although you’d want to use the baggage calculator to get the most legit price, here’s what you can expect to pay to bring your bags on a trip:
- Carry-ons cost $25 (unless you’re a United MileagePlus Premier member)
- One checked bag costs $35 each way
- Add $45 for a second checked bag ($80 total)
- Add $150 for each additional bag
- If your bag is overweight or oversized, you’ll pay an extra $200 – $400 on top of the normal fee for that bag.
11. There are, however, a few ways to dodge United baggage fees.
The easiest way to not pay United’s baggage fees is to literally fly almost any other airline. But if you’re loyal to United, there are a few things you can do to avoid United baggage fees:
- Put everything you need for your trip in backpack or other “personal item.”
- Purchase a Business Class or First Class fare; you’ll receive up to two free checked bags, but additional bags cost $150 – $200 each.
- Attain MileagePlus Premier status; you’ll get 1 – 3 free checked bags depending on your tier.
- Present your military ID and take advantage of United’s free checked baggage for active duty personnel.
12. Babies in laps fly free on U.S. flights.
Babies fly free on United flights within the U.S. if they’re younger than 2 years old, and if they don’t require their own seat — laps only. If the flight is international, lap-seated children get a 10% discount on an adult fare.
All you have to do is indicate you’re traveling with an infant when you’re making your reservation.
If you’re traveling with kids under 2, you can request pre-boarding at the gate.
13. United lets you check strollers and car seats for free.
Children’s strollers and child safety seats don’t count against you when it comes to checking baggage. They’re free, and can be checked at the curbside, ticket counter, or gate if needed.
Diaper bags, breast pumps, and booster seats won’t count as a carry-on or personal item.
14. United lets you pay for your tickets over time with Uplift.
If you need a little extra time to pay for your plane tickets, Uplift lets you divide your fares into fixed monthly payments.
You’ve gotta be approved after a credit check in order to use Uplift. They do charge interest, which is 15% APR on average (but can range between 0-36%, depending on your credit), so keep that in mind.
15. United lets you make changes to flights for free, unless you have a Basic Economy ticket.
Change fees are a thing of the past at United. The airline has made all flight changes free — unless you have Basic Economy. Technically speaking, Basic Economy doesn’t allow changes, but you can upgrade your ticket to Standard Economy for $45 each way, and then make a free change to your flight.
Otherwise, you’ll need to cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking if you want a shot at getting your money/credits back.
16. You can cancel your United flight for free within 24 hours of booking.
While it costs nothing to change flights, it’s a different story with canceling flights. You can cancel within 24 hours of booking, regardless of fare type — assuming your flight was more than a week away. If you have to cancel after 24 hours, here’s what you can expect:
- Basic Economy: You can’t cancel or change flights; no refund on ticket or baggage fees. You’re gonna eat the cost.
- Non-Refundable Tickets: After being charged a cancellation fee of $200 for domestic flights and up to $400 for international flights, any remaining funds will be refunded as an electronic travel credit. No baggage fee refunds.
- Refundable Tickets: Fully refundable to your original form of payment and with no cancellation fee, no matter when you cancel.
- Award Flight Tickets: No cancellation fees and your points will be refunded to your account, as long as you cancel up to 31+ days before departure. If you cancel within 31 days of departure, you’ll pay up to $125 to cancel, depending on your MileagePlus status.
17. Make sure you download the United app BEFORE you board for free in-flight entertainment.
No really, do it right now. On most flights, United offers free streaming from their library of movies, shows, music, and more through the United Airlines app. But once you’re on the plane, it’s too late to download it — so make sure you download it nice and early. That goes for smartphones and tablets — but if you have a laptop, you’ll be able to access United’s entertainment with no problem.
The app also lets you preorder food, change and check your flight, track your bags, and get trip notifications. (There aren’t any special deals exclusive to the app, however.)
18. Buy United drink vouchers on eBay to save nearly 60%.
If you want to buy beer, wine, or spirits on a United flight, expect to pay $8-$12. But frequent flyers are often selling their voucher booklets on eBay, giving you four drink coupons for $19.95, on average. That’s 37-58% off!
Be careful, though. . . make sure these vouchers are current (find the expiration date) and read the seller’s reviews to see if they’re legit. And watch out for shipping fees that make the vouchers not worth it. Scammers are out there, but so are some good deals.
19. Get an extra 5% off if you’re a college student (or college age).
United gives MileagePlus members between the ages of 18 and 22 a 5% discount on all fares when they buy through the United app.
If you’re not a college student and you want to get the discount, have a college-age person buy tickets for you, and then reimburse them. Instant 5% discount.
20. Veterans Advantage members (and their families) get up to 5% off United Airlines flights.
We’re constantly watching for the best military discounts, but an easy way to get lots of them is to enroll in the VetRewards program.
When you book United Airlines flights through Veterans Advantage, you’ll get up to 5% off flights originating in the US and Canada every day, all year. This discount is valid for all fare classes except Basic Economy, so keep that in mind when booking.
Active military members also get free 2-3 free checked bags, depending on the circumstance (that also extends to family traveling with them).