United Offers 'Free' Checked Bags for a Year, for a Fee

PHOTO: United is raising the fee for a second checked bag from $70 to $100.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
United is raising the fee for a second checked bag from $70 to $100.

United Airlines will let you check bags for a year "free of baggage service charges," provided you pay upfront.

The airline now offers an annual subscription service for checked bags. The cost starts at $349 per year, which covers one checked bag on flights in the continental United States for one person.

The program, announced earlier this week, is the first of its kind.

With a baggage subscription, you and "up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation" can each check "up to two standard bags" per flight for "free," according to the United website.

But the basic subscription doesn't cover all United flights you book. Included in the $349 price tag are flights in the continental United States and one checked bag for one person.

For flights in North America and Central America, add $100. For intra-Asia and Oceania flights, add $50. But that excludes flights from Tokyo to Bangkok, Tokyo to Singapore and Honolulu to Guam.

Just want your bags to fly "free" around the world? That's an extra $450. So that's $799 for your bags to fly "free" for one year on any United flight.

If you want to be able to check two "free" bags, add $50.

If you want to add people to your subscription, that'll also cost you. Add one subscriber, that's $100. Add up to eight companions, that'll be $300.

So for a family of four to check two "free" bags on United for a year and travel anywhere they want, it would cost $999.

Also, don't over pack. "The purchase of a baggage subscription does not waive charges that would ordinarily be assessed for oversized and/or overweight bags," the airline noted.

United spokeswoman Karen May pointed out that premier MileagePlus customers might end up paying less. "For customers who already have checked baggage benefits with United, our system will determine if they are eligible to purchase the checked baggage subscription. Customers also have the option of purchasing all of our subscriptions as gifts," according to the company.

United also announced a subscription service for Economy Plus, the airline's seats with extra legroom near the front of the aircraft. Prices start at $499 for one traveler in the continental United States. Additional passengers and regions come at an extra charge.