United Devalues… Checked Baggage

Via Hans Mast United has copied another customer-unfriendly policy developed elsewhere at other carriers. They’re going to stop checking baggage through to your final destination when you’re traveling on separate tickets and your connection is on an airline outside the Star Alliance.

Here instead of immediately following what Delta does by doing the exact same thing, they waited awhile and saw that American is doing it before moving forward themselves.

One of the things I liked about United was that they’re still willing to check bags onto other airlines even when you’re traveling on separate tickets.

Starting on or about March 1, that will only be true when you’re connecting to a Star Alliance airline.

Department of Transportation rules that went into effect in July 2012 mean that a customer pays one set of fees for their entire journey, and ultimately limits how much an airline is keeping of their own fees when checking interline baggage.

If an airline wants to keep its full checked baggage fee for itself, it needs to become even less friendly to the customer. If you’re connecting United-to-American you’ll pay fees to both airlines. But it isn’t legal for United to collect a double fee and pass on half to American. They have to make you collect your bags, re-check in, and then pay American its fee.

This is both an unfriendly rule on the part of the airline, and a completely predictable (and predicted) consequence of a government rule that sought to ‘crack down’ on an unpopular fee.

US Airways was first out with a policy limiting interlining of bags on separate tickets. Then Delta followed suit. That was two years ago, and Delta at least hasn’t enforced this strictly, it seems.

American will be moving to a similar policy next year. They’ll allow through-checking bags on separate tickets onto oneworld airlines, but not other partners (such as Alaska Airlines or Etihad).

It’s American’s version of the policy that United appears to be directly copying. United will allow checking bags onto a Star Alliance airline on a separate ticket, but not onto other airlines — whether partners outside of Star Alliance or not.

If you were to book an award using your United miles on Aer Lingus to Ireland, but had to buy a separate ticket to get, say, from Chicago to Boston on United to start the trip (because United hadn’t made award seats available for this segment), then United will check your bags to Boston only. You would have to collect your bags, and then re-check them in with Aer Lingus. This is a huge hassle, and requires a whole lot of extra time for your connection. It also may screw up trips, if that first United flight gets delayed.

The irony here is that the passenger would save money if United had an award seat for the first domestic flight. The passenger would also save hassle. And they’d reduce the risk of ruining their trip, misconnecting, since they had to wait for baggage and then re-check it. Thanks, United!

For me, separate tickets are common. Sometimes as well I’ll buy part of a trip, and ticket the rest later, especially with awards. Or there might be a good business class paid fare originating from a particular city, but you can’t price it with add-on segments from where you’re starting your journey so you have to ticket that separately.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ howtofree- how does it make sense? The logistics to transfer the luggage already exist, the incremental cost is low. All it does is allow the originating airline to keep 100% of the baggage fee, instead of 50%.

    In many cases, the passenger is going to have a free bag check, either through status, credit card, or connecting to an international flight. So there’s no more revenue generated.

    Finally, in the few cases remaining where the passenger will actually pay two bag fees, I’m sure they would be absolutely happy to do so up front in the original ticket purchase, as long as they could get the bag interlined, rather than waste a couple of hours picking it up and rechecking it in.

    All in all, a stupid policy where the inconvenience far outweighs the revenue generated. I’d be far more upset, except I don’t fly the major American carriers much anymore, and gave up checking bags a long time ago, except for the longest trips.

  2. How does it *not* make sense? By transferring bags to another non* airline, they are incurring a cost they otherwise wouldn’t. They are spending money and effort for a service that gains them absolutely nothing, not to mention none of the other big boys do it.
    And as I Gary said, DOT doesn’t allow airlines to charge bag fees for both airlines even if the customer will end up paying both anyway, so they can’t legally even do that.

  3. This is still better than delta (not saying much). Delta won’t even check through on partners on separate ticket.

  4. Vaguely related stupid question. If I am flying on two tickets, say…

    ORD-LAX on United and then LAX-TPE on EVA. Would I have to pay the $25 to check a bag with United or would some magic happen that I wouldn’t since the second segment is international?

  5. with a Lifetime Red Carpet Club membership and living near SFO I could give a rat’s ass………USA carriers are as dead as the infrastructure…….go new go European and Asian…………..bankrupt carriers are so yesterday………

  6. @Kris:”that gains them absolutely nothing”??? it’s called gaining loyalty through great customer service, admittedly something United knows nothing about…
    When the economy turns down the next time and UA planes are empty, they will throw discount fares and miles around to win the very customers back they are loosing now…

  7. @ Kris- the same logic would apply to serving meals on planes, frequent flier programs, or upgrading people to first class for free. All of those programs incur considerably more cost than it the cost of interlining bags, yet United still offers those.

    Everything on an airlines is a tradeoff between costs and benefits, and I think that United/AA/Delta picked the wrong choice on this one.

  8. I dunno this article seems whiny. Your buying SEPERATE tickets. I think its generous that they used to interline. Now the government made a stringent rule. The Airline still is being generous offering it for any airline in their Alliance, except Delta which are whine worthy over that stupid policy. Your issue is with the government yet you blame United.

  9. This is a first time it happen to me. My wife and I each had two tkts from united and Asiana. Our flt was from Ewr with connections to shanghai and incheon and finally Cebu . Since my first tkt was united to shanghai they told me to claim my luggage check it out. Immigration then custom and bring them up to the second floor to departure and check it in Asiana which is my second tkt to my final destination Cebu. Adding insult to injury Asiana counter personnel(Chinese not Korean) wants me to pay for the for the 3rd check-in luggage. I told her I hold a chase president club card which entitles me 2 luggage for me and 2 for my wife as was usual when we travel. Luckiley I was able to prevail or the supervisor let it go. This is a Terrible experience for us asking people at the airport who don’t speak English and no one from united upon disembarkation. Terrible terrible. I thought it could only happen in shanghai until I came upon this article. I am discourage to travel anytime anymore.

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