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Checked luggage has increasingly become a revenue stream used by airlines to squeeze more money out of travelers. And recently every major U.S. airline, with the exception of Southwest, has increased baggage fees so it’ll cost you even more to travel with checked bags.
Most airlines are now regularly charging $30 for your first checked bag, which can really add up, especially when traveling with family. A group of four now would pay $120 extra each way to check one bag each. That’s $240 round-trip, which can really hit you unexpectedly if you aren’t prepared for it.
This is why I haven’t paid to check a bag in 5+ years even though I check about 30+ bags a year.
How to avoid airline checked baggage fees
You don’t need to pay for checked luggage when you plan ahead. For simplicity’s sake, we will focus on domestic flights (because international flights often include at least one free checked bag) on the six major U.S. airlines: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines.
Go with #TeamCarryOn
As of right now, all of the major airlines allow you one free carry-on bag and one personal item (watch out for budget airlines like Frontier which still charge you for carry-on bags), as long as you’re not flying Basic Economy. Not surprisingly, many Million Mile Secrets readers have chosen to simplify their travel by packing lighter and getting everything into one carry-on bag.
For example, Nina told us:
After losing a bag in Rome, I have learned how to pack light and rarely check a bag (even 16 nights in Italy)! But if we have to on the way home… and we usually do… we bring an extra duffel packed inside and check one bag on the return for free (international). It’s usually the one with wine, olive oil, and other yummies. We also bring bubble wrap. 🙂
If Nina can pack for a 16-night trip in a carry-on bag, you can too.
This is a very practical option for many folks, especially when traveling under a week. I have noticed that even when I used to pack tons of things, I was using the same few items over and over. Now I pack those essentials and hardly miss the other stuff. I consider some of those luxuries of home life and going without them is part of the travel adventure.
You don’t only save money when you bring a carry-on, but you save time. You can avoid waiting for luggage at baggage claim and the unnecessarily long lines to drop your bag off when you check-in. This means you can check-in for your flight online and avoid the airline counters entirely, heading straight to the gate.
Fly in a premium cabin
Travelers flying business class or first class will usually get free checked bags. Some airlines even allow bags to weigh more, up to 70 pounds at times.
This perk extends to all tickets of this class, no matter how you book them. That means using miles for award (and sometimes luxurious) business-class tickets will also earn you access to free checked bags.
Million Mile Secrets reader Martine noted:
… I also try to use miles for business-class tickets when I’m traveling abroad … business-class travelers always get at least one bag free.
This is a good tip, and a way to enjoy a nicer flight experience and not pay for checked luggage.
Here is what each airline offers for premium ticket classes:
- Alaska Airlines
- First class: 2 free checked bags (includes upgrades to First Class if you are upgraded before baggage drop off)
- American Airlines
- First class: 3 free checked bags
- Business class: 2 free checked bags
- Premium Economy: 2 free checked bags (only one free checked bag on flights to/from Hawaii and Alaska)
- First class: 2 free checked bags (up to 70 pounds each)
- Business class: 2 free checked bags (up to 70 pounds each)
- Premium economy: 2 free checked bags (up to 50 pounds each)
- Mint fare (business class): 2 free checked bags
- Blue Plus fare: 1 free checked bag
- United Airlines
- First class: 2 free checked bags
- Business class: 2 free checked bags
- Premium economy: 2 free checked bags
- Everyone (no premium class of service): 2 free checked bags
I want to point out one amazingly good deal among this list. You might have noticed that both JetBlue and American Airlines offer free checked bags for “premium economy” type fares. The cost of upgrading to premium economy is generally pretty reasonable and might even be offset by luggage fees alone.
For example, it would cost $70 extra to check 2 bags on American Airlines ($30 for the first and $40 for the second) domestically on a standard coach ticket. In some cases, you might be able upgrade your fare class to include checked bags for less than that price.
Earn elite status
Another sure-fire way to never deal with checked baggage fees again is by earning elite status on an airline. Elite status comes with many great perks to make life while traveling on your favorite airline as easy and comfortable as possible. One of those perks is free checked bags.
How many free checked bags you earn will depend on the level of status you have earned and each individual airline. Here are the free checked bags you can expect for each airline when flying domestically (limits are usually more strict when flying internationally).
- Alaska Airlines
- All elite status levels: 2 free checked bags
- American Airlines
- AAdvantage Gold: 1 free checked bag
- AAdvantage Platinum or AAdvantage Platinum Pro: 2 free checked bags
- AAdvantage Executive Executive Platinum: 3 free checked bags
- All elite status levels: 1 free checked bag for you and up to eight traveling companions
- Mosaic status: 2 free checked bags
- United Airlines
- Premier Silver: 1 free checked bag
- Premier Gold: 2 free checked bags
- Premier Platinum or Premier 1k: 3 free checked bags
- 2 free checked bags for everyone (no status required)
When traveling with elite status, these free checked bags usually extend to at least one other companion on the same reservation. This can quickly add up to significantly more savings.
Fly Southwest (No fancy status or expensive tickets needed)
There are many reasons that so many members of the Million Mile Secrets team and our readers love the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. One of those reasons is that everyone gets to fly with two checked bags for free, even if you don’t have Southwest status.
There is no need for fancy elite status or to buy premium-class tickets. Even the most affordable tickets on Southwest get to enjoy this valuable perk. This perk is worth up to $70 each way when priced against other major airlines ($30 for the first bag + $40 for the second).
Use an airline credit card
One of the easiest ways to ensure you can check a bag for free is by having an airline credit card. These cards usually include at least one free checked bag on domestic flights with that airline. This one card perk alone can often justify a card’s annual fee.
Here are some of our favorite airline credit cards that offer free checked bags:
|Airline||Credit card||Annual fee||Number of free checked bags||Saving per checked bag each way|
|Alaska Airlines||Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card||$75||One free checked bag for the cardholder and up to six other guests on the same reservation.||$30|
|Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card||$50 for the company and $25 per card||One free checked bag for the cardholder and up to six other guests on the same reservation.||$30|
|American Airlines||CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®||$99, waived first 12 months.||First checked bag free for the cardholder and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation.||$30|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®||$99, waived first 12 months.||First checked bag free for the cardholder and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation.||$30|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®||$450||First checked bag free for the cardholder and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation.||$30|
|Delta Airlines||Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card||$550 (See Rates & Fees)||One free checked bag for the cardholder and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation. Terms apply.||$30|
|Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card||$550 (See Rates & Fees)||One free checked bag for the cardholder and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation. Terms apply.||$30|
|Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card||$99, waived first year. (See Rates & Fees)||One free checked bag for the cardholder and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation. Terms apply.||$30|
|Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card||$99, waived first year. (See Rates & Fees)||$30|
|Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card||$250 (see rates and fees)||$30|
|Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card||$250 (See Rates & Fees)||$30|
|United Airlines||United Explorer Card||$95 (waived first year)||Up to two, one for both the cardholder and a companion traveling on the same reservation, when you pay for the flight with the card.||$30|
Many of these cards have annual fees that are lower than the round-trip savings on checking bag fees from two flights. This makes them a very logical choice to keep in your wallet if you don’t have elite status. And there are other benefits to having these cards too. For example, if you have United Airlines elite status you get access to extra award seats, but you also get the same benefit with a United Airlines credit card.
Check each card for restrictions. Many cards only allow for free checked bags on domestic flights. However international flights will usually have a free checked bag anyway.
Offset incidental airline fees, like checked baggage fees
Free checked bag perks are common with co-branded airline credit cards, but it’s easy to forget these aren’t the only type of rewards credit cards that can save you on airline checked baggage fees. For example, there are a few American Express cards that include annual statement credits to cover incidental fees for your preferred airline.
These are the cards that offer statement credits to cover incidental fees:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Up to $200 in annual statement credits for qualifying purchases on your selected airline. Annual fee $550 (See rates and fees)
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Up to $200 in annual statement credits for qualifying purchases on your selected airline
- American Express® Gold Card: Up to $100 in annual statement credits for qualifying purchases on your selected airline Annual fee $250 (See rates and fees)
These Amex airline fee credits can cover all sorts of fees like in-flight meals, lounge passes, change/cancelation fees and checked baggage fees.
Airline credit cards can be worth it even for occasional travelers
Some people debate whether airline credit cards are worth it, but the reality is they offer incredible cost savings and value.
For example, if you and three family members were traveling home for the holidays on American Airlines you would pay as much as $240 in extra fees for a round-trip itinerary, even with each person bringing just one checked bag. But, if you had the CitiBusiness American Airlines Platinum card, you would get a free checked bag for each of the four people on the reservation.
This means just making one flight each year could cover the $99 annual fee and save $141. Plus the annual fee is even waived the first year. You would also enjoy other perks essentially for free, such as priority boarding, 25% off inflight Wi-Fi and bonus miles all from just having the card. This card can be worth it even if you only used it to book American Airlines flights once a year.
We’ve seen almost every major U.S. airline (other than Southwest) increase its checked baggage fees. It now it can cost $70 each way ($140 round-trip) to bring two checked bags on a domestic flight.
These prices significantly add to a travel budget, but luckily there are ways to avoid checked baggage fees:
- Simplify your packing down to a single carry-on
- Fly in a premium cabin (i.e. first or business class)
- Earn elite status to check bags for free
- Fly on Southwest which still offers up to two free checked bags on all flights, for all passengers
- Open an airline credit card that offers free checked bags
- Use a credit card that covers incidental airline fees
Having an airline credit card even just for the free checked bag perk alone can make sense, because the annual fee on the card is less than a single trip checking bags with a family would be.
Which method is your favorite way to avoid paying checked baggage fees?
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For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Business Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Card, please click here.
For the rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, please click here.
For the rates and fees of The Amex Gold Card, please click here.