Which United Airlines Credit Cards Override Basic Economy Hand Baggage & Boarding Rules?

a close-up of a credit card

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The introduction of Basic Economy fares by the US legacy carriers has ushered in a new era of fare unbundling and benefit stripping as the airlines attempt to nickel and dime as many passengers as is physically possible.

The degree to which Basic Economy fares strip out passenger benefits varies from airline to airline but they all inconvenience passengers in one way or another. Holding airline status or the right credit card can go a long way to mitigating some of these inconveniences and making the whole Basic Economy experience a little more tolerable.

a plane parked at an airport

In this series of 3 posts (one for each of the US legacy airlines) I’m going to take a look at which credit cards offer a way around some of the more inconvenient Basic Economy rules the airlines have introduced.

Posts in this series:

In this post I’m taking a look at United Airlines

United Airlines Basic Economy

With United Airlines Basic Economy fares the standard rules are as follows (assuming passenger has no airline status):

  • No seat selection unless you pay extra (up to 24hrs beforehand departure) – otherwise seat assigned by the airline
  • No seat changes allowed after the airline has assigned a seat
  • Travelers on Basic Economy fares cannot purchase Economy Plus seating
  • Travelers on Basic Economy fares cannot receive Economy Plus subscription benefits.
  • Fares are not upgradable
  • No full-sized carry-on bags allowed – only a bag that fits underneath the seat in front
  • No ticket changes or refunds allowed
  • Fares are not eligible for Premier qualifying credit or lifetime miles
  • Fares do not count towards the four-segment minimum rule
  • Passengers board in the final group – Group 5

There is nothing passengers can do about a lot of these United Airlines Basic Economy fare rules but there are some United Airlines co-branded cards that will help out with things like the hand baggage allowance and the boarding order.

United Airlines Co-Branded Credit Cards

Passengers who pay for their fare with one of the following credit cards get special dispensations even if they purchase United Airlines Basic Economy Fares.

Cards open to new applicants:

United Explorer Card – $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

a credit card with a chip and a symbol

United Explorer Business Card – $95 annual fee

a credit card with a credit card and a logo

United Club Card – $450 annual fee

a close-up of a credit card

United Club Business Card – $450 annual fee (Not Open To New Applicants)

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Cards only available abroad or no longer open to new applicants:

  • Presidential Plus Card
  • Presidential Plus Business Card
  • MileagePlus Awards Card
  • Ixe United Universe Card
  • Ixe United Card.

The Dispensations

Primary card holders of the credit cards listed above can:

  • Board with 2 items of hand baggage – one that fits underneath the seat and one regular sized item of hand baggage that can be stowed in the overhead bins.
  • Enjoy priority boarding in Group 2 (if this is the only benefit you want you don’t have to pay with the United credit card – just being a card holder is enough).
  • Keep their checked baggage allowance

luggage on a shelf in an airplaneHaving the right credit card will mean you get to use one of these even if you buy a Basic Economy Fare

A primary card holder of one of these credit cards essentially gets to keep the baggage allowance they would have had if they had bought a regular Economy Class ticket as well as keeping their place in the boarding order.

The credit cards listed above offer these dispensations to the primary card holder and to passengers traveling on the same reservation as the primary card holder.


United Airlines Basic Economy rules are the harshest out of the 3 legacy carriers so it’s important to do as much as possible to negate these rules as much as possible.

In the light of the harshness of United’s rules some of these dispensations may not seem like all that much…..but they really can make a big difference.

Being allowed to bring a regular-sized carry-on bag on board as well as a “personal item” means that a passenger can pack enough clothes for a good length trip and bring their laptop in a separate case.

Not having to board the aircraft last means there’s a reasonable chance that there will be space left in the overhead bins to stow bags (and so reduce the risk of having to gate-check a bag).

United AirlinesImage United

All of the United Airlines co-branded credit cards I’ve listed out above offer a wide variety of benefits on top of the once that help circumvent some of the annoying basic Economy restrictions….so I’m not about to rank them or tell you which one I think you should get.

What I will say is that if you’re someone who flys with United a few times a year then it would probably make sense for you to have one of these cards in your wallet.

When deciding which of these cards is best for you make sure you consider the annual fee and how often you actually expect to use all of the cards benefits – if all you’re looking to do is to get a baggage allowance and not board last then why pay a $450 annual fee?