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United's overhead bin charge is confusing, probably on purpose

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Traveling is so glamorous

As if holiday travels aren’t stressful enough already, United Airlines will somehow make it even more annoying to head home. Earlier this month, it announced a new pricing tier, Basic Economy, that’ll let you snag cheaper air fares. Great! The downside? Starting in 2017, any carry-on or personal items you bring that can’t fit under your seat are subjected to a fee.

This has got many consumers understandably bugging out, and even New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s calling for United to abandon this plan. “The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines — and potentially others — plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling," he said in a statement obtained by Buffalo’s WKBW. “United Airlines should reverse this plan and allow the free use of the overhead bin for all."

There’s some confusion, however, whether this means United will begin charging Basic Economy flyers a fee for bringing larger carry-ons. The answer is... kind of?

Basically, if you’re flying with a carry-on intended to go in the overhead bin, United is suggesting that you purchase the regular Economy fare. The price difference between Basic Economy and Economy varies depending on the flight. If you buy a Basic Economy ticket and bring a carry-on that doesn’t fit under a seat, you’ll have to pay $25 to check it. There are no details on a separate fee for Basic Economy flyers that want overhead bin access — that cost is rolled into a standard Economy fare, which United thinks you should’ve bought in the first place.

But wait! If you buy your Basic Economy ticket with a Chase MileagePlus credit card, then winner, winner, chicken dinner you are allowed to use the overhead bins.

Basic Economy is essentially designed for those who plan to fly with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing and a small backpack, or multiple people who are willing to forego sitting together and save a few bucks by fitting all their stuff into one checked luggage. Which, by the way airfares are looking this holiday season, might not be such a terrible solution.

TL;DR traveling sucks and people are not happy. If you value your overhead bin access, you’ve got a few months left until United’s Basic Economy fare goes into effect some time in Q2 of next year. So far, 2017 ain’t looking too much better than 2016.


Why are we still paying to check bags?