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Airline Checked Bag Fees and How to Avoid Them

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Baggage fees have been a nuisance to flyers for several years already. These days, checked baggage is almost never free and some low-cost carriers even charge for carry-on bags now. As a result, baggage fees can really add to the total cost of your flight.

Checked bag fees can vary based on where you are flying to and from, fare, date of ticket purchase, loyalty program status and, of course, weight and size. To further complicate matters, airlines do not have any standardized weight and size requirements. Some airlines can have their own size and weight limits for checked bags (as well as carry-on bags and personal items), which means more headache for travelers, especially when they have several connecting flights.

If you do not want to get hit by surprise baggage fees, you should read the baggage policy of each airline you fly with. Here, we outline domestic standard checked bag fee details for some of the popular U.S. airlines and how to avoid them to help you plan your travel.       

How much does a checked bag cost?

For most major U.S. airlines, you can expect to pay $30 to $35 on average to check your bag when flying economy class on a domestic route within the U.S. The chart below compares the cost of your first, second, and third standard checked bag.

AirlineFirst bagSecond bagThird bag
Southwest Airlines$0$0$125
Alaska Airlines$35$45$150
United Airlines$30 to $35$40 to $45$150
Frontier Airlines VariesVariesVaries
American Airlines$30$40$150
Hawaiian Airlines$25 to $30$35 to $40$100
Spirit AirlinesVariesVariesVaries
Allegiant Airup to $75up to $75up to $75
Sun Country Airlines$30 to $59$40 to 65$40 to $65
Delta Air Line$30$40$150
JetBlue Airways$35$60$125

These are typical fees and as you can see, they range from no fee to $75 for the first checked bag. The actual checked luggage fees you will pay may vary based on fair class, destination, and frequent flyer status. For example, with some airlines, you cannot check luggage when you book a basic economy fare, while others may offer bundled tickets that include a checked bag. And sometimes it’s cheaper to check a bag than have carry-on luggage, but most of the time it’s vice versa.

Factors that may change checked luggage fees

As it was already mentioned, actual luggage fees will depend on the destination, fare, frequent flyer status, size, and wight. You may have noticed in the above chart that Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant and Sun Country fees have a range that depends on the flight you booked. With all these airlines, you can use the respective airline’s baggage fees calculator to see the exact price for your specific flight. The tools may also show you how much it will cost you if you pay for your luggage during booking, before and at check-in, or at the airport.

It is usually cheaper to pay for a checked bag when you book your flight. And we would absolutely not recommend paying for your checked bag at the airport boarding gate, as this option has the highest prices.

Other two major factors that can increase your baggage expenses are weight and size. Most major airlines allow you to check a bag of up to 50 pounds (22 kilos). Checking an overweight bag will generally kick in an additional fee. For example, with American Airlines, you will have to pay $100 per bag if the weight is between 51 lbs and 70 lbs (23-32 kilos). Same goes with Southwest: while the first and second checked bags are free, you’ll pay $100 for each overweight bag between 51-70 lbs.     

Those with massive suitcases will also almost certainly have to pay an additional fee. There is no standard for the size of your baggage as each carrier has its own requirements, but in most cases your baggage size should not exceed 62 inches (158 cm) in total dimensions of length + width + height. With an oversized checked bag, you will also have to pay an additional fee. However, with some airlines, your oversized checked bag may not be accepted at all. For example, if you travel with Frontier and your checked baggage exceeds 110 linear inches (length + width + height), your bag will not be accepted.    

We recommend visiting your specific airline’s website to get full details about baggage requirements and fees.

Best ways to avoid checked bag fees

Bet you do not like paying extra fees, especially when they can be avoided. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get around high baggage fees. You could get an airline credit card, buy a premium ticket, earn an elite status with an airline, use a travel credit card that covers travel costs, or always fly Southwest Airlines, which allows all travelers to check two bags of standard weight and size for free. You can also travel without luggage, with a carry-on bag, which is still free with many airlines.

Below we are exploring some of the popular ways of avoiding baggage fees so you could choose the one that works best for you. 

Get an airline credit card or travel credit card

The easiest way is to get the right airline-branded or travel credit card. Almost all major airlines have at least one credit card that will offer a free checked bag benefit but requirements to get the benefit may vary greatly. For example, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® offers first checked bag free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for the cardmember and up to four travel companions on the same reservation. And with the United℠ Explorer Card, you will get a free first checked bag for you and just one companion on United flights.

Here’s the summary of airline credit cards with a free checked bag perk:

AirlineCardsBenefit detailsCompanions
Alaska AirlinesAlaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit CardFree checked bag on Alaska Airlines flights

Must purchase your airfare with the card for the perks to apply
Up to 6 additional guests on the same reservation
United AirlinesUnited℠ Explorer Card
United Quest℠ Card
United Club℠ Infinite Card
Explorer card: Free first checked bag on United flights

Quest and Club Infinite cards: Free first and second checked bags on United flights

Must use your United card to purchase tickets and include your MileagePlus® number
One companion on the same reservation
American AirlinesCiti® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red Mastercard
AAdvantage® Aviator® World Elite Silver Mastercard
First checked bag free on domestic American Airlines itinerariesPlatinum Select and Aviator Red cards: up to 4 travel companions on the same reservation

Executive and Aviator Silver cards: up to 8 travel companions on the same reservation
Hawaiian AirlinesThe Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®Two free checked bags on Hawaiian Airlines flights

The benefit is available only for travel between North America and Hawaii and between Neighbor Islands
Not allowed
Delta Air LineDelta SkyMiles Gold Amex Card
Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex Card
Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex Card
First checked bag free on Delta flightsUp to 9 companions on the same reservation
JetBlue AirwaysJetBlue Plus CardFree first checked bag on JetBlue flights

All ticket purchases must be made with the JetBlue card and the primary cardmember’s membership account number must be entered at the time of booking
Up to 3 travel companions on the same reservation

If you are not loyal to any particular airline, it may not have sense to use an airline credit card. But it does not mean you won’t find a credit card with a benefit that will cover checked bag fees. Best travel credit cards can offer you various credits on your travel expenses, which may include checked bag fees.

Some credit cards may also allow you to redeem earned rewards towards various travel purchases, including luggage fees. 

Here are a few examples:

The Platinum Card® from American Express comes with a $200 Airline Fee Credit benefit that allows cardholders to receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental airline fees charged by their one selected qualifying airline.

– The Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card allows cardmembers to get up to $100 in airline incidental statement credits annually for qualifying purchases such as seat upgrades, baggage fees, in-flight services, and airline lounge fees.

– The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Credit Card gives flexible credit for purchases in the travel category (including such purchases as baggage fees). Cardholders can get up to $300 in statement credit reimbursements each anniversary year for travel purchases.

– The Capital One Venture Rewards Card does not offer credits for travel expenses, but cardholders can use earned miles to get reimbursed for past travel purchases (including baggage fees).     

Earn airline elite status

With loyalty come benefits! When you achieve elite status with your favorite airline, you may get unique perks like early boarding, airport lounge access, or free checked bags. However, elite statuses are not always easy to earn. You will need to fly often enough to earn and to keep your loyalty status. But once you reach higher levels of elite status, you’ll be able to check more bags without incurring extra charges.

Here you can see some major U.S. airlines that grant the checked bag benefit to its loyal elite members:

Alaska Airlines: MVP and MVP Gold members will receive 2 free checked gas, MVP Gold 75K and MVP Gold 100K will be able to check three bags for free.

United Airlines: Premier Silver members get one complimentary checked bag, Premier Gold members get two complimentary checked bags, and Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members get three complimentary checked bags in Economy. Plus, all Premier members get three complimentary checked bags in premium cabin.

– Frontier Airlines: members with Elite 100K status get one free checked bag.

American Airlines: AAdvantage Gold® members get one free checked bag, AAdvantage  Platinum® members get two free checked bags, AAdvantage Platinum Pro® and AAdvantage Executive Platinum® members get three checked bags.

Hawaiian Airlines: Pualani Gold members get two free checked bags and Pualani Platinum members get three free checked bags.

– Spirit Airlines: Gold members get one free checked bag.

Delta Air Line: SkyMiles Silver Medallion members get one complimentary checked bag, SkyMiles Gold Medallion members get two complimentary checked bags, SkyMiles Platinum and Diamond members get three complimentary checked bags.

JetBlue Airways: TrueBlue Mosaic members get first two checked bags free.

Fly in a premium class of service

When you travel in first or business class, you generally don’t have to pay fees to check a bag. Some premium-cabin tickets even allow you to check up to two bags for free. Of course, the ticket will likely be more expensive, but it’s worth looking into if you know you are going to travel with a lot of luggage.

Each airline has its own policy for complimentary bags, so we would recommend visiting the corresponding airline website to get detailed and up-to-date information. For example, American Airlines may allow you to have up to three bags for free when traveling with the airline. Namely, Premium Economy, Domestic First and Business customers can get up to two complimentary bags, and those traveling in Flagship® First and Flagship Business Plus can get up to three checked bags for free.

Travel without a checked bag

Another easy way to avoid baggage fees is not to check bags at all. Those who can travel lightly, can pack all things into a carry-on bag or a travel backpack to take everything on the plane. This simple trick can also save you time at the end of your journey.

However, things may not be as easy with all airlines. Some low-cost airlines may charge you for a carry-on. If you fly with a major carrier and choose a basic economy ticket, you may also need to pay for your carry-on luggage.

Bottom line

No one likes paying bag fees, and it’s unlikely they will go away. You will have to pay at least $30 for a single checked bag on a one-way domestic flight with major U.S. airlines, and you’ll pay $60 for checking a single bag on a round-trip domestic flight correspondingly. As you can see, these fees can be costly, especially if you take multiple flights. Luckily, you can avoid baggage fees if you have elite status, airline co-branded credit card, or fly premium class. There are even regular credit cards that will allow you to at least minimize those charges. No matter what strategy you use to avoid unwanted airline fees, just make sure it works for you and does not cost you even more.

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