United Removes a Pain Point for China Flyers, Fixes Inconsistent Checked Bag Policy

China is always ‘the next big thing.’ That was true 10 years ago and it seems like it will be true 10 years from now.

Airlines are betting big on China, since the U.S. and China don’t have Open Skies airlines have to fight for the best routes and then squat on them hoping they’ll be more valuable in the future. In a sense it’s like Havana service but with bigger stakes.

Though this policy may change, Chinese carriers squat on the strangest of routes because their government doesn’t permit more than one Chinese airline to fly the same route. They can’t start service which duplicates an existing flight by a Chinese carrier, and any route they start cannot be duplicated by a Chinese competitor.

Delta bought itself a Shanghai hub with its investment in China Eastern. American figured if Delta did that it must make sense so they invested in China Southern (which is widely expected to leave SkyTeam).

And United made a bit investment in China by serving not just Beijing and Shanghai but also secondary cities (which are still huge by US standards) Xi’an, Hangzhou and Chengdu. Last fall they dropped their 3 times weekly San Francisco – Hangzhou service (Sichuan Airlines flies Hangzhou – Los Angeles 3 times weekly, but other service is connecting.).

American and Delta offer two free checked bags for economy passengers between the US and China. United announced that as of today they’re matching, offering two free checked bags when traveling from North America to China and Hong Kong.

  • Oddly customers already received this benefit when departing China, just not when departing the U.S.

  • And the benefit doesn’t apply to their flight to the Republic of China (San Francisco – Taipei) just to the People’s Republic of China.

This removes a pain point where United wasn’t competitive with other carriers, something they need to be if they want to bet on China as ‘the next big thing’ or at least compete on those routes where other airlines fly — to Shanghai and Beijing.

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. it doesn’t apply to Taipei because Taipei has always been two bags with United (just like all other Asian destinations except for Mainland China and Vietnam, which is now all the same)

  2. I dont understand UA’s one bag from US-CHINA for a while, why would they offer 2 bags to the US but only 1 bag to China.

    I believe DELTA was one time offer 1 bag as well, but soon they changed to 2 bags since all CHINESE airlines give 2 free checked bags.

    AA always offer 2 check bags, never changed.

    There is one time I only book AA flight because they are the only US airline to offer 2 bags.

    Good thing now is all matched.

    I just booked a trip from PVG-LAX for $520 on UA, Cheaper than my xmas trip to OHIO.

  3. @Mike — Thanks for that interesting clarification!

    It does boggle my mind that any “ordinary” leisure traveler would need more than one checked-bag, one carry-on and one personal item. Heck, I’m heading on a camping trip and I can easily bring a tent and massive amounts of camping gear in that allotment along with plenty of ordinary clothing and toiletries. 62″ suitcases (length, width, height) are huge! More than 2 travelers would probably need a truck to get them home from the airport.

    So if you’re not camping or permanently relocating to a new destination, the only reason for more baggage is if you’re buying very large items and importing or exporting them. I can see why travelers would want to do that, but I also think airlines would be right to charge customers SOMETHING for bringing that butt ton of luggage with them.

  4. Agree with iahphx, even on long family trips we’ve never checked more than 1 bag per passenger. The only exception is for ski trips where there is a lot of gear. So I am fine with the current fee-for-service model for checked bags on domestic flights and even extending that to international flights.

    That being said, the checked luggage IS a bit deal for overseas visitors who often want to “stock up” on merchandise that is sold at lower prices in the USA. So the change will probably have more appeal to Chinese visitors than vice versa.

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