Airline Baggage Fees: How Much Are They And How To Avoid Them

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Airline Baggage Fees: How Much Are They And How To Avoid Them
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When you fly, if you’re not one of the first people on the plane, there’s a good chance you’ll need to check a bag. The primary reason airlines do this is that bag fees are a huge profit center for them. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines made almost $5 billion on checked bag fees in 2018.

But you don’t have to be a statistic! It is possible to avoid paying baggage fees by following these simple rules and paying attention to the fine-print on fares.

Baggage fees can range between $30 and $200 per bag! You can avoid this extra cost by booking your flight with the right credit card.

How Much Are Airline Baggage Fees?

For years, airlines have charged $25 for the first checked bag on domestic flights. However, most major domestic airlines have recently raised these fees by 20%! Airline baggage fees are now $30 for the first checked bag per person each way.

Here’s a breakdown of the baggage fees for popular airlines.

Airline1st Bag2nd Bag3rd BagOversized
Alaska Airlines$30$40$100$100
American Airlines$30$40$150$200
Delta Airlines$30$40$150$100-$200
Hawaiian Airlines$30$40$35-$200$35-$100
JetBlue Airways$30$40$150$150
Southwest Airlines$0$0$75$75
United Airlines$30$40$150$200

When you travel internationally, airlines may have a slightly different fee schedule.

Which Airlines Charge Baggage Fees?

All U.S. domestic airlines charge baggage fees of some type. Even Southwest Airlines charges baggage fees if your checked bag is overweight.

However, while Southwest gives passengers the option to check up to two bags for free, all of the other major airlines charge a fee to check a bag. The airline industry calls this an “unbundling” of fees so that you’re only paying for services that you use.

Which Airlines Have Raised Baggage Fees?

Starting in 2018, airlines started increasing the fee to check a bag. The first airlines to do so were JetBlue and United in the summertime. American and Delta quickly followed suit in September. Hawaiian raised their fees in November to give passengers who booked before then something else to be thankful for. And Alaska upped their fees just in time for Christmas.

To date, most airline carriers now have raised their checked bag fees.

Which Airlines Have Free Checked Bags?

Southwest famously advertises that passengers can check bags for free as a standard benefit. This is one of the many reasons why Southwest is my preferred airline when I’m flying across the U.S. or to Mexico and the Caribbean. The airline now even flies to Hawaii, which is a very popular destination with travelers.

Although major airlines like American, Delta, and United charge passengers a checked bag fee, they do offer methods to avoid those fees. More on that in a minute.

Related: How To Fly To Hawaii For Free Using Miles And Points

Are Carry-On Bags Free?

For most airlines, carrying a bag onto the plane is free. Passengers can bring one carry-on bag and one “personal item” for no charge. A personal item should fit under the seat in front of you and not go in the overhead bin. Examples include purses, briefcases, backpacks, and diaper bags.

The Problem With Basic Economy

In the last couple of years, airlines have introduced “basic economy” fares. These tickets offer fewer benefits and are more restrictive, further unbundling the cost of an airplane ticket.

One restriction of basic economy tickets that frustrates passengers is that they cannot bring a carry-on bag with them. This means that you’re either forced to stuff everything into a personal item or pay a fee to check a bag. In many cases, the price difference between standard economy and basic economy fares is the same amount that you’d pay to check a bag.

Low-Cost Carriers That Charge Baggage Fees

Low-cost airlines have taken unbundling to an extreme. They often charge for even the most basic functions, such as talking an agent at the airport counter.

The most common low-cost carriers within the U.S. are Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant. Popular international low-cost airlines include WOW Air (now bankrupt), RyanAir, and Norwegian Airlines.

The fees for checked bags with low-cost carriers is similar to what the large domestic airlines charge. However, at least passengers on low-cost carriers understand what they’re getting into when they buy one of these ultra-low fares.

Below is a chart detailing fees from the most popular low-cost airlines.

AirlinePersonal itemCarry-on1st bag2nd bag3rd bagOversize
Allegiant Air$0$10-$75$25-$35$25-$35$25-$35$75
Frontier Airlines$0$35-$60$30-$60$45-$55$85-$95$30-$95
Spirit Airlines$0$28-$65$23-$65$33-$62$76-$102$30-$150

Keep in mind that these fees vary based on the length of your flight and when you pay for the baggage fees. In most cases, you get the best prices when you pay for checked bags while booking your flight. You will pay the most if you check your bags at the gate inside the terminal.

Low-cost carriers offer extremely low prices, but you need to be ultra-focused on their rules. The rules are often designed to confuse you and charge you for activities that are normally free with other airlines. For example, some low-cost airlines charge you if they print out your boarding pass at the airport!

How Can I Avoid Airline Baggage Fees?

The airlines are constantly looking at ways to get a bigger share of your travel budget. But you don’t have to play their game! There are several ways to avoid these fees and keep that money in your pocket.

Pick The Right Airline

The easiest way to avoid airline baggage fees is to vote with your wallet. If you don’t like the way a business treats its customers, then don’t give them your money. Southwest is the obvious choice here because passengers get two checked bags for free.

Achieve Elite Status

Elite status offers more than potential upgrades on flights. Your loyalty can earn you priority boarding, better service, and free checked bags. The first tier of elite status with American, Delta, and United will allow you to check one bag free on domestic flights.

Related: The Best Credit Card To Book Flights: Maximize Your Travel Rewards

Book A Premium Class International Award Ticket

I love flying Business and First Class when traveling internationally. The flight attendants offer excellent service, amazing food, and top-shelf drinks. You also have access to the best airport lounges before you depart, and most premium class seats can turn into a bed so you can sleep during your flight.

However, among all of this awesomeness, it is easy to overlook the other, less glamorous perks. One of those is that you can check your suitcase without any airline baggage fees. This is not a primary reason to book one of these flights, but it is a nice perk to have. Who wants to worry about carrying a suitcase around when your hands are full of champagne and caviar?

Airline Credit Card Benefits

I love getting sign-up bonuses on new credit cards, but the perks of those credit cards are sometimes way more valuable. One of the perks that you can use every time you fly is when cardholders receive free checked bags. Take note, however, that not all airline credit cards offer the same benefits. So choose wisely based on your travel needs.

Here are some common airline credit card benefits for popular airlines.

Airline1st BagBank IssuerCredit CardBaggage Fee Waiver
Alaska Airlines$30Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines Visa Signature CardOne for you and up to six other guests
American Airlines$30BarclaysAAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MastercardOne for you and up to four companions
CitibankCiti AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MastercardOne for you and up to four companions
CitibankCiti AAdvantage Executive World Elite MastercardOne for you and up to eight companions
Delta Airlines$30American ExpressGold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card From American ExpressOne for you and up to four companions
American ExpressPlatinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card From American ExpressOne for you and up to eight companions
American ExpressDelta Reserve Credit Card From American ExpressOne for you and up to eight companions
Hawaiian Airlines$30BarclaysHawaiian Airlines World Elite MastercardOne bag for primary cardholder only
$30BarclaysJetBlue Plus CardOne for you and up to three companions
Southwest Airlines$0ChaseSouthwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit CardTwo bags free for each passenger
ChaseSouthwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit CardTwo bags free for each passenger
ChaseSouthwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit CardTwo bags free for each passenger
United AirlinesChaseUnited Explorer CardOne for you and one companion
ChaseUnited MileagePlus Club CardTwo bags free for you and one companion

Many airlines also offer business versions of their credit card as well. You can stack some benefits but having a second airline credit card will not allow you to double the number of free checked bags you can have.

Please note that in order for your companions to receive free checked bags, they will need to be on the same flight itinerary as you. Additionally, the free checked bag benefit from the airline credit cards is generally limited to domestic flights.

Related: How To Plan Your First Trip With Travel Rewards

Use Your Travel Credits

Several premium credit cards offer flexible travel credits or points that cardholders can use to pay for travel-related expenses. I find that these credits are better spent on flights, hotels, or other expenses when I cannot use miles and points.

However, it is always good to know that they’re available when I’m going to be charged a fee.

BankCredit CardAnnual CreditComments
American ExpressPlatinum Card From American Express$200Must choose one airline each calendar year
BarclaysArrival Plus World Elite MastercardUnlimitedEarn 2x points that can cover travel expenses. 5% rebate on redemptions. Minimum $100 redemption.
Capital OneCapital One Venture Rewards Credit CardUnlimitedEarn 2x points that can erase travel expenses. No minimum redemption.
ChaseChase Sapphire Reserve$300Can also pay for baggage fees when booking flights using points.
CitiCiti Prestige Card$250Based on the calendar year.
US BankAltitude Reserve Visa Infinite$325Based on the calendar year.

It’s Easy To Avoid Checked Bag Fees

Airline baggage fees upset travelers on a regular basis. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many easy ways to avoid checked bag fees that nobody should have to pay them. I fly Southwest Airlines whenever I can, but for the times that I don’t, I make sure to have that airline’s credit card so I won’t get charged for checking my bags.

What is your favorite way to avoid paying airline checked bag fees?

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If you really want to maximize your travel rewards check out ChooseFI’s free travel rewards course.

Airline Baggage Fees: How Much Are They And How To Avoid Them

ChooseFI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. ChooseFI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
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2 thoughts on “Airline Baggage Fees: How Much Are They And How To Avoid Them”

  1. The easiest way to avoid bag fees is to simply pack everything into a modest sized backpack that you can fit under the seat. You should be able to fit a bag that is up to 9″-10″ thick under the seat in front of you without any issue. So just about any travel backpack will work, even up to 40L in some cases. A 40L backpack should hold close to what you can get into a roller bag, and anything bigger is excessive. In fact, I’d say that 40L is too much bag even if you have room in the bins rather than under the seat. It’s too much crap to be lugging around. Use this as motivation to slim down your travel packing, and get better gear that enables that.

    I am all about packing for only 1 week tops, and using clothing that can be worn more than once (or easily and quickly washed in a sink/dried overnight). For 5 nights (typical business trip), I pack two pair of merino wool boxer briefs, two merino shirts, two merino socks. I wear jeans/pants/shorts, underwear, t shirt, and nice button-up shirt on the plane. If it’s winter I’ll wear my jacket on the plane and throw it in the bin with my bag (or on the lap/under seat). If it’s summer, I’ll pack one pair of shorts in the bag. All of those clothes can fit in a small space (even better in a vacuum bag or packing cube). If you require fancy suits/dresses/shoes, then you will wear one outfit on the plane with you, and replace a t-shirt with a nice shirt, etc.

    Nobody should be packing a hair drier, a bunch of shoes, and so on. One pair of nice shoes, and you have my permission to pack sandals or light sneakers if you have room. Bring a dopp kit and keep it organized. Pack your chargers and random crap in a zipper pack/bag/cube. Bring stuff to do laundry (bronner’s), doubles as your shower wash. Get a smaller laptop.

    One of the benefits of only taking a backpack is that you can jump right into your trip, skipping the hotel bag check for later and going right to cool places (or work). You can also drop into an airport lounge when you arrive, since you don’t need to go retrieve a bag from the carousel. This means a place to freshen up, deal with any email or work stuff, get a bite to eat, or just grab a beer before getting going.

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