Combat the Airline Fee Increase With Credit Cards That Get You Free Checked Bags

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Combat the Airline Fee Increase With Credit Cards That Get You Free Checked Bags

Joseph HostetlerCombat the Airline Fee Increase With Credit Cards That Get You Free Checked BagsMillion Mile Secrets Team

We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

Have you noticed the meteoric rise of airline fees?  Select seats are becoming more expensive, changes and cancellations cost more, and some airlines will tack on fees if you bring anything more than an antibacterial towelette.

Baggage fees are the most common fee to increase among airlines at the moment.  Fortunately, there are steps you can take to negate these extra charges.  And they’re as easy as opening a credit card.  I’ll show you the best credit cards to combat the airline fee increase.

Best Credit Cards to Avoid Baggage Fees

Information for the Barclaycard JetBlue Plus Card, Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, and the United MileagePlus® Club Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets and has not been reviewed by the card issuer.

I Have 3 of the Cards on This List and Continue to Pay the Annual Fee Largely for the Free Checked Bag Perk

Through all the disappointing bag fee decisions airlines are making, there’s still a ray of sunshine from Southwest.  As others jack up prices, Southwest stays firm to its policy of 2 free checked bags per passenger.  No credit card needed!

This is one of the reasons Million Mile Secrets loves Southwest.  Most of us choose to fly Southwest if we can help it.  For everyone else, you need a checked bag game plan, or you could find yourself with a sizable balance on your credit card, even if you used your miles & points know-how to book free flights!

This is especially true for large families that travel together.  Opening one of the cards below could literally save you hundreds on a single trip!

Here are our top recommendations:

Best Cards for Free Checked Bags Bag AllowancesAnnual FeeReview
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®





CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®





Free first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 4 companions on the same reservation (domestic American Airlines flights only)



Free first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 4 companions on the same reservation (domestic American Airlines flights only)
$99







$99
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Review





CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Review
United℠ Explorer Card





United MileagePlus® Club Card





Free first bag for the primary cardholder and 1 companion on the same reservation (must use card to pay for your ticket)




Free first and second bag for the primary cardholder and 1 companion on the same reservation (must use card to pay for your ticket)
$95







$450







Chase United MileagePlus Club Review
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express





Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express




Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express















Free first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 8 companions on the same reservation






Free first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 8 companions on the same reservation






Free first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 8 companions on the same reservation



$95









$95









$195
AMEX Delta Gold Review






AMEX Delta Business Gold Review





AMEX Delta Platinum Business Review
Barclaycard JetBlue Plus CardFree first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 3 companions on the same reservation$99
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card




Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card





Free first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 6 companions on the same reservation




Free first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 6 companions on the same reservation
$75
Barclaycard Hawaiian Airlines Credit CardFree first bag for the primary cardholder
The Platinum Card® from American Express





The Business Platinum Card From American Express OPEN




$200 airline fee credit per calendar year (including baggage fees) with your selected airline




$200 airline fee credit per calendar year (including baggage fees) with your selected airline
$550






$450
AMEX Platinum Review





AMEX Business Platinum Review
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express$100 airline fee credit per calendar year (including baggage fees) with your selected airlineAMEX Premier Rewards Gold Review
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card$325 in annual statement credits for eligible travel purchases (including baggage fees)US Bank Altitude Reserve Review
Chase Sapphire ReserveAnnual travel credit reimbursing you for the first $300 you spend on travel per year (including baggage fees)$450Chase Sapphire Reserve Review
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire CardAnnual $250 airline incidental fee credit (including baggage fees)$450

Best Credit Cards for Free American Airlines Bags

Apply Here:   Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

Our Review:   Even If You NEVER Fly American Airlines, You Might Consider This 50,000-Mile Card Bonus!

Apply Here:   CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

Our Review:   This Is One of the Best American Airlines Card Bonuses Available! 

What’s the Benefit and Who Gets It?  With both the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select personal and small business versions, the primary cardholder and up to 4 companions on the same reservation will receive 1 free checked bag on domestic itineraries (partner airlines don’t qualify for this perk).

You’ll normally pay $25 one-way for a checked bag with American Airlines (or $50 round-trip).  So if you and a travel buddy make ONE round-trip flight each year, you’ve more than made up for the card’s $99 annual fee.

Note:   This benefit does NOT apply to overweight or oversized bags.  So if you’re taking a gun safe or a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, this perk is no good to you.

Other Compelling Benefits:   If the checked bag fees aren’t enough to convince you to keep the card, consider this pro tip:   This card lets you book American Airlines’ Basic Economy fares with very little consequence.

Basic Economy is the absolute cheapest fare American Airlines sells.  But it’s tangled in fees and restrictions.  For example, you can’t choose your seat and you board the plane dead last.

Having one of these American Airlines cards gives you preferred boarding and a free checked bag for EVERY domestic American Airlines flight.  So you can save $20 here and $30 there with Basic Economy without being relegated to the humiliation that comes with it.

Welcome Offers:   The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select comes with 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

The CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select comes with 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.

Both cards have $99 annual fees, waived the first 12 months.

I Spent 30,000 American Airlines Miles to Fly One-Way in a Lie-Flat Business Class Seat From Peru to Miami

That’s a lot of American Airlines miles!  You could fly round-trip to Europe for 60,000 miles.  Or one-way in lie-flat Business Class!  That ticket could cost thousands of dollars otherwise.

Best Credit Card for Free United Airlines Bags

Apply Here:   United℠ Explorer Card

Apply Here:   United MileagePlus® Club Card

Our Review:   Here’s the Best Offer Ever for This Airline Card – Lounge Access, Free Checked Bags, and 50,000 Miles!

What’s the Benefit and Who Gets It?   With the United Explorer Card, the primary cardholder and 1 companion will receive their first checked bag free.  And with the United Club Card, you’ll get the first and second bag free.

United Airlines is upping its checked bag fees:

  • $30 for your first checked bag (previously $25)
  • $40 for your second checked bag (previously $35)

The credit card landing pages indicate that they will cover up to the cost of the old prices.  But a look at the United Airlines website shows that you’ll be covered for the new prices.

Infuriatingly, the Free Checked Bag Perk Is Now Worth Even More

A hugely important note for both of these cards is that you have to pay for your airfare (or the taxes & fees for an award flight) with your card to get the free checked bag.  Just having the card is NOT enough.

PLEASE Tell Me This Card Saves Me From Basic Economy Like the American Airlines Card Does:  Heck yes it does!  United Airlines Basic Economy is just as irritating as American Airlines.  But having one of these cards will give you priority boarding and a free carry-on bag no matter what.  So you can save a few bucks booking Basic Economy fares without much fallout.

Other Compelling Benefits:   These cards have a list of valuable perks, but my favorite about the United Explorer Card is that it gives you access to more available award seats when you’re booking a flight with miles.  So if someone without the card logs into the United Airlines site, they might not see any available seats like you do!

The United Club Card comes with a membership to United Club airport lounges, with free snacks, alcohol, and lots more!

Welcome Offers:   The United Explorer Card comes with 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account.

The United Club Card comes with 50,000 United Airlines miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

United Airlines miles can take you just about anywhere.  For example, you can book a round-trip coach flight to Peru for 40,000 United Airlines miles.  Or a round-trip coach flight to the Caribbean for 35,000 miles!

Open the United Explorer Card and Pet a Baby Llama at the Top of Machu Picchu

The United Explorer Card comes with a $95 annual fee, waived the first year.  And the United Club Card comes with a $450 annual fee, NOT waived the first year.

Best Credit Cards for Free Delta Bags

Apply Here:   Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Here:   Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express

 

Apply Here:   Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express

What’s the Benefit and Who Gets It?   Delta is generous with their free checked bag waivers if you have an AMEX Delta card.  The primary cardholder and up to 8 passengers on the same reservation will have their first checked bag waived.  Delta checked bag fees are $25 one-way.  That means you could potentially save $450 on a single round-trip flight with your unsettlingly large family. 😉

One note, Delta says:

The first checked bag fee waiver will only be applied on flight segments which originate on a Delta or Delta Connection® carrier when you check-in with Delta for both a Delta marketed and Delta operated flight.

I’ve successfully had my checked bag fee waived on itineraries booked through another airline.  For example, I booked an award flight with Korean Air, and flew Delta from Cincinnati to San Francisco.  Even though I didn’t book through Delta, I gave my frequent flyer number to the Delta agent once at the airport, and she waived my bag fee.

Dope.  Same Deal for Basic Economy, as Well?   That’s right.  Delta doesn’t take away your carry-on bag for booking Basic Economy, but they DO have you board dead last.  Holding an AMEX Delta card will give you priority boarding.

Other Compelling Benefits:   Both AMEX Delta Platinum personal and small business cards come with an annual companion certificate that allows you add a second passenger to your domestic round-trip flight reservation (within the contiguous 48 US states) by only paying the taxes and fees for that passenger.  That’s incredible!

Welcome Offers:   The AMEX Delta Gold personal and small business cards come with 30,000 Delta miles after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.

And the AMEX Delta Platinum small business card offers 50,000 Delta miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Offer ends 11/7/18.

Delta miles are worth 1 cent each when you redeem them through Pay With Miles, which is only available to Delta cardholders.  But you’ll typically get much better value by redeeming for award flights instead.  60,000 Delta miles is enough for a round-trip coach flight between the US and Europe!

I Stumbled Upon a Load of Sheep at the Hill of Tara in Ireland.  Magical!

The AMEX Delta Gold cards come with a $95 annual fee, waived the first year.  And AMEX Delta Platinum cards come with a $195 annual fee, NOT waived the first year.

Note:   If you’ve received a welcome bonus on a particular Delta card in the past, you’re not eligible to earn it again on the same card.  But because each of these 4 cards are considered different products, you’re eligible for the welcome bonus on the Gold if you’ve already earned the bonus on the Platinum, and vice versa.  The same is true for business and personal versions of the same card.

Best Credit Card for Free JetBlue Bags

Our Review:   Avoid JetBlue Baggage Fees

What’s the Benefit and Who Gets It?   The JetBlue Plus Card comes with a free first checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to 3 companions on the same reservation.  Similar to the United Airlines credit cards, you have to use your JetBlue Plus Card to purchase the tickets, or the taxes & fees of your award flight.

JetBlue has increased all kinds of fees, including their checked bags.  You’ll now pay $30 for your first checked bag instead of $25.  So this card will save you at least $60 per round-trip when you check a bag.

Nice.  What Else Ya Got?   You’ll earn 5,000 bonus JetBlue points every anniversary year.  Plus an annual $100 statement credit after you purchase a JetBlue Vacations Package of $100 or more.

Welcome Offer:   You’ll earn 40,000 bonus JetBlue points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening and paying the $99 annual fee.

Because JetBlue cards are worth ~1.4 cents each, you can get ~$560 in JetBlue flights from this bonus.  And JetBlue awards are tied directly to the cash price of the ticket.  So when they have a sale, the award price drops, too.

JetBlue flies to lots of fun destinations around the US and Caribbean.  So you’ll get good use from these points.

My Friends and I Would Highly Recommend Barbados.  It’s a Gorgeous Island With Lots of Unique Restaurants in Scenic Areas

This card comes with a $99 annual fee, NOT waived the first year.

Best Credit Card for Alaska Airlines Bags

Apply Here:   Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card

Apply Here:   Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card

What’s the Benefit and Who Gets It?   With both the Alaska Airlines personal and small business credit cards, the primary cardholder and up to 6 other travelers on the same reservation will receive their first checked bag free.  Alaska Airlines charges $25 per bag, so you’ll save at least $50 for a round-trip flight when you check a bag.

Give Me One More Reason to Apply.   Each year you hold onto the card, you’ll get a companion certificate that allows you to bring along a travel buddy for as little as $99 (plus taxes and fees, usually ~$22).

Welcome Offers:   With the Alaska Airlines personal card you’ll earn 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles and the $99 fee waived on your first Companion Certificate after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account (not available if you’ve had the card before).

And the Alaska Airlines small business card comes with 32,500 Alaska Airlines miles, as well as the $99 fee waived on your first Companion Certificate after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of opening your account.

As a reference, you can use 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles to fly American Airlines one-way in Business Class to northern South America.  Or use 55,000 miles to fly one-way in Business Class on Fiji Airways to to Australia or New Zealand!

Visit New Zealand Using Miles Points
New Zealand Is a Bucket List Item for Me.  My Boy Keith and His Wife Recently Spent a Long While Exploring the Island

Best Credit Card for Hawaiian Airlines Bags

What’s the Benefit and Who Gets It?   The Barclaycard Hawaiian Airlines Card comes with 1 free checked bag for the primary cardholder only.  And you must use your card to purchase your tickets or the taxes & fees of your award flight.

Hawaiian Airlines charges $25 for your first checked bag to the mainland US.  So you’ll save $50 for a round-trip.

Snooze.  Other Benefits?   You’ll receive a one-time 50% off companion discount for round-trip coach travel between Hawaii and the mainland US on Hawaiian Airlines.  You’ll also get an annual companion discount of $100 off coach round-trip coach fares between the mainland US and Hawaii after each account anniversary.

Welcome Offer:   You’ll earn 50,000 bonus Hawaiian Airlines miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.  That’s more than enough for a round-trip coach flight to Hawaii!

Waiting for the July 4th Fireworks to Begin at Pearl Harbor

Best Credit Cards for Free Bags on Other Airlines

Apply Here:   The Platinum Card From American Express

Our Review:   AMEX Platinum Review: Travel Like You’re Rich (Even If You’re Not)

Apply Here:   The Business Platinum Card From American Express OPEN

Our Review:   Big Spenders Can Crush It With the AMEX Business Platinum Offer

Apply Here:   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Our Review:   AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card 25,000-Point Offer: Is It Even Worth Considering?


There are other non-airline travel cards that offer statement credits for airline incidental purchases.

There are plenty of American Express cards that cover fees like this:

Just remember, you’ll only be reimbursed if you pay the bag fee separately.  Because paid airfare does NOT qualify for the credit.

You can also use cards like the U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card, which comes with $325 in annual statement credits for eligible travel purchases like checked baggage fees.  And the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with an annual travel credit reimbursing you for the first $300 you spend on travel per year.  Including checked bag fees!

Even the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with an annual $250 airline incidental fee credit, which covers checked bags.

Bottom Line

The best credit cards for free checked bags are:

Don’t forget travel cards that are NOT an airline card, like the AMEX Platinum or the US Bank Altitude Reserve.  These cards come with statement credits which include airline incidental fees like bag fees.

Let me know your favorite card for offsetting the airline fee increase!

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The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • As a Platinum Card Member, you can enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. That's up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Terms Apply | Rates & Fees

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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I always pack a small handbag that can fit either on top of my under the seat carry-on or in the small pocket on the seat in front of you, and pack a carry-on (larger if they offer free carry-ons or smaller if they require you to fit it under the seat or pay. My carry-on bag is adjustable so it works for both. This is a way to either avoid checking a bag or to check less bags.

I fly southwest and also do my best to get what i need into my carryon.

It’s either flying Southwest or using my Platinum Delta Skymiles card benefit.

To avoid fees I usually try and fly Southwest. But I will also use an airline sponsored credit card

I use the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and pretty much only fly American.

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