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.
|Airline||1st Bag||2nd Bag||3rd Bag||Oversized|
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.
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.
|Airline||Personal item||Carry-on||1st bag||2nd bag||3rd bag||Oversize|
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.
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.
|Airline||1st Bag||Bank Issuer||Credit Card||Baggage Fee Waiver|
|Alaska Airlines||$30||Bank of America||Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card||One for you and up to six other guests|
|American Airlines||$30||Barclays||AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard||One for you and up to four companions|
|Citibank||Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard||One for you and up to four companions|
|Citibank||Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard||One for you and up to eight companions|
|Delta Airlines||$30||American Express||Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card From American Express||One for you and up to four companions|
|American Express||Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card From American Express||One for you and up to eight companions|
|American Express||Delta Reserve Credit Card From American Express||One for you and up to eight companions|
|Hawaiian Airlines||$30||Barclays||Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard||One bag for primary cardholder only|
|$30||Barclays||JetBlue Plus Card||One for you and up to three companions|
|Southwest Airlines||$0||Chase||Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card||Two bags free for each passenger|
|Chase||Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card||Two bags free for each passenger|
|Chase||Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card||Two bags free for each passenger|
|United Airlines||Chase||United Explorer Card||One for you and one companion|
|Chase||United MileagePlus Club Card||Two 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.
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.
|Bank||Credit Card||Annual Credit||Comments|
|American Express||Platinum Card From American Express||$200||Must choose one airline each calendar year|
|Barclays||Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard||Unlimited||Earn 2x points that can cover travel expenses. 5% rebate on redemptions. Minimum $100 redemption.|
|Capital One||Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Unlimited||Earn 2x points that can erase travel expenses. No minimum redemption.|
|Chase||Chase Sapphire Reserve||$300||Can also pay for baggage fees when booking flights using points.|
|Citi||Citi Prestige Card||$250||Based on the calendar year.|
|US Bank||Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite||$325||Based 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.