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Should You Buy a United Economy Flexible Fare?

Should You Buy a United Economy Flexible Fare?
Joe Cortez

Welcome to FlyerTalk 101, a guide to traveling like an expert from the experts. For more guides like this, check out our FlyerTalk 101 tag or head to the forum links in this article to have any of your questions answered.

Like most common carriers, United Airlines sells a variety of fares – from the bare-bones Basic Economy to the luxurious United Polaris. But the most ignored among the different offerings is the United Economy Flexible fare. It’s not quite as nice as United Polaris and premium economy, but the higher price is certainly more forgiving than basic economy fares.

Should you consider paying more for a United Economy Flexible fare or does your credit card travel insurance offer enough protection in case your plans change? We looked at all the differences and found what you need to know about United flexible economy.

What is Economy Flexible on United?

Nearly every airline sells some form of flexible economy seats, and United is no exception. United Economy Flexible is the lowest-priced available flexible ticket. These tickets cost more than regular economy tickets because they come with more overall benefits.

To find United flexible economy tickets, simply run a search for your flights on When searching for flights, you will usually see four ticket offers: Basic Economy, Economy, Economy (Flexible) and Business/First (Lowest).


United Economy vs. Economy Flexible: What’s the difference?

Both regular United Economy and United Economy Flexible tickets offer seating in the rear section of the aircraft unless you purchase an upgrade to United Economy Plus. However, the difference in the benefits of the two tickets is night and day.

On a regular United Economy ticket, you will only earn between 50 and 75 percent of your base fare as Premier Qualifying Points. This means if you purchase a one-way ticket for $200, you may only earn 150 Premier Qualifying Points for the flight. A United Flexible Economy ticket usually earns 100 percent of your base fare as Premier Qualifying Points. If earning extra points towards United Premier elite status is important to you, then the Economy Flexible ticket may be the better choice.

True to their name, United Economy Flexible tickets also come with more ability for changes. Unlike Basic Economy and regular Economy tickets, flexible fare tickets are refundable with no questions asked. However, if you decide to change flights instead of requesting a refund, you may be required to pay additional fees.

Does United Flexible Economy come with baggage?

Although United Flexible Economy comes with more liberties than a regular economy ticket, they do not come with any checked baggage allowance. All economy tickets aboard United are subject to the same rules: $30 for a first checked bag and $40 for a second checked bag. As always, you will be allowed two carry-on pieces: one carry-on bag and one personal item that can fit underneath the seat in front of you. Both of these pieces are subject to size restrictions.

If you have a United co-branded credit card, like the United Explorer Card or the United Club Card, you may get a checked bag free. United Explorer Cardmembers get their first checked bag free, while United Club Cardholders get their first and second checked bag free. Again, size and weight restrictions apply, and to qualify for free checked luggage you will need to pay for flights with the United-branded credit card.

Are United Economy Flexible Tickets refundable?

With their additional costs, United Economy Flexible tickets are refundable. If your ticket qualifies, you can request a refund by logging into your itinerary on and requesting a refund on your ticket.

If your biggest concern is losing the value of a ticket due to unplanned circumstances, you may not need to purchase a United Economy Flexible ticket. On a case-by-case basis, United may issue refunds for different situations. This includes the death of a traveler or an immediate family member, active jury duty during the travel window, and certain illnesses. To see the entire list of qualifying situations where United may issue a ticket refund, visit their refund policy page at

If you simply decide against taking your trip for any reason, you can also cancel the entire trip within 24 hours of booking and get a full refund. This only applies if you book your trip more than one week ahead of your departure date.

Is there a United Economy Flexible Cancellation Fee?

If you decide to request a refund or change from your United Economy Flexible seat, your ticket may be subject to a cancellation or change fee, depending on the terms and conditions. With most United Economy Flexible seats, you can request a full refund for any reason so long as you cancel your ticket before travel. U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require an airline to process your refund within seven business days of the request.

If you decide you would rather fly on another day or aboard a different flight, you can cancel your original itinerary and apply it to a new itinerary. However, you may be charged up to $150 in change fees, as well as the higher difference between the two fares.

Depending on how you paid for your ticket, you may also have additional benefits as well. Most travel-focused credit cards come with travel insurance that can cover your full fare in the event of an emergency. If your United Economy Flexible ticket doesn’t offer a full refund, your travel insurance may be able to make up the difference. Be sure to check with your credit card provider to see if these valuable benefits apply to your itinerary.

Should I purchase a United Economy Flexible seat?

When deciding whether or not to purchase the more expensive ticket, it all depends on your overall goals. If you value earning United MileagePlus Premier elite status faster every year with the flexibility of having an easy-to-change ticket, it could make perfect sense to purchase United Economy Flexible tickets.

However, if you are less concerned with changing tickets and can live with the limitations of the ticketing terms and conditions, then you may not necessarily need to purchase flexible economy seats. Instead, you may be able to use travel insurance – either purchased third-party or from your credit card – to get the same flexibility in the event of an unplanned situation.

Have additional questions? As always, you can get your questions answered about United Economy Flexible seats in the FlyerTalk forums. Check out this post on Basic Economy Vs Economy Vs Flexible Economy.

For general questions on United, check out FlyerTalk’s United MileagePlus Master Wiki which contains most things that you’d want to know about United Airlines.

Still can’t find the answer to your question? Head to this United Airlines FlyerTalk thread: Have a Simple Question About United Airlines/MileagePlus? Ask Here [2020]




View Comments (2)


  1. glob99

    March 4, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    Wow, you never mentioned the cost difference between regular economy and flex. I just did a pricing on a RDU – SFO round trip on UA. Economy is $409 and flex is $1216! So flex is almost 3X the cost of regular economy.

    In this case you could dump a regular economy ticket and buy a new ticket for way less money than a flex.

  2. Hilmar Lehnert

    March 5, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    The analysis misses the main point: the cost difference vs the value. The cost difference can be all over the place: I’ve seen it anywhere from 5% to more than 200%. If you need to cancel a non-flex ticket, you can still bank the ticket cost for future travel but will have to add $200-$300 of “new money” for a change fee. So if the cost difference between flex and a non-flex ticket is more than $300, it makes almost never sense to buy the flex-ticket, even if a change or cancellation is likely. Only exception would be if there is a very high chance of cancellation AND you are planning to never fly United again.
    The PQP accrual is only a fairly small difference and given the the way United has slashed benefits it’s rarely worth any extra spent. Just safe the cash and buy directly what you want (from any airline). It seems stupid to spent an extra $500 on a ticket only to safe a few $50 bag fees.
    Typically flex tickets are massively over priced and a big windfall for the airline. I’ve seen examples where economy flex was more expensive than regular business. Guess which one I bought :-)

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