United Airlines has quietly reduced domestic checked baggage allowances for both Star Alliance Gold and Silver members, clandestinely updating its baggage policy with a posthumous disclaimer.
Holders of Star Gold status outside of the Mileage Plus program who once enjoyed up to three free checked bags weighing up to 70lbs each now may only check a single bag without cost on domestic itineraries, weighing up to 50lbs. Star Alliance Silver members no longer will receive one free checked bag on domestic itineraries, further gutting the value of Silver status.
When United announced new elite qualification requirements that included minimum revenue thresholds on tickets issued by United, I penned a story arguing that United's actions constituted a direct attack on Star Alliance. This latest move bolsters my contention that United is undermining the Alliance that it helped to establish in 1997.
Why is United doing this? Put simply, because it can. And extra baggage fees add up fast.
The problem is not that a slim subset of the flying public crediting 20,000 miles to Aegean Airlines each year in order to achieve Star Alliance Gold status is ruining it for everyone. Instead, the problem (if you call it that) is the recovering economy, in which reduced capacity and increased demand have led to more people paying for the pleasure of chasing fewer seats.
With a management decision that United's massive strength will take precedence over the wider Star Alliance partnership, the financial benefits of a 26-member Alliance can now be realized without having to provide the level of benefits that have characterized the last 15 years. The Star Alliance logo itself, and the allure of redeeming miles on other carriers, lounge access, and making seamless connections on a single ticket, is the enduring legacy of Star Alliance. Other benefits like priority check-in, baggage handling, and boarding have been and will continue to be marginalized. Indeed, we have heard rumors that even lounge access and partner award redemptions are not immune from cutbacks. United's joint venture partners are also not excluded from this stealth baggage policy change.
Two things to note. First, United is not violating a Star Alliance rule by making this change--Star Gold policy only require Star Gold members to be permitted one additional checked bag at no cost. Since United does not allow free checked bags on domestic itineraries, no rules have been broken. Nevertheless, this is a significant cutback in a long-term benefit. Second, this policy change does not apply to United's own premier members. For example, a Premier Gold member still can check three bags weighing 70lbs each at no charge on domestic and international itineraries:
Life goes on, but if you are a Star Alliance Gold member outside the Mileage Plus program, keep in mind that your checked baggage allowances have been reduced on United.