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Never Pay Extra Again: 6 Ways to Avoid Paying Checked Baggage Fees (Save $60 or More Round-Trip)

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Never Pay Extra Again:  6 Ways to Avoid Paying Checked Baggage Fees (Save $60 or More Round-Trip)

Alex CurtisNever Pay Extra Again:  6 Ways to Avoid Paying Checked Baggage Fees (Save $60 or More Round-Trip)Million Mile Secrets Team

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Checked luggage has increasingly become a revenue stream used by airlines to squeeze more money out of travelers.  But in 2018, every major airline, with the exception of Southwest, has increased their checked baggage fees to make it cost us even more to travel with checked bags.

Most airlines are now charging $30 for your first checked bag, which can really add up, especially when traveling with family.  A group of 4 now would pay $120 extra each way to check one bag each.  That’s $280 round-trip, which can really hit you unexpectedly if you aren’t prepared for it.

But there is good news!  Checked baggage fees are completely avoidable and savvy travelers know this.

Never Pay Crazy Checked Baggage Fees Again. Here are Ways to Avoid Paying Checked Luggage Fees.
Never Pay Crazy Checked Baggage Fees Again. Here Are 6 Ways to Avoid Paying Luggage Fees

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 6 major US airlines:  Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines.

1.   Go With #TeamCarryOn

As of right now, all of the major airlines allow you 1 free carry-on bag and 1 personal item (watch out for budget airlines like Frontier which still charge you for carry-on bags).  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.

Carry On Luggage Is The Easy Way to Avoid Baggage Fees. Learning to Pack Efficiently can Make it Very Practical to Use Carry On Luggage As Your Only Luggage on a Trip.
Bringing Only Carry-On Luggage Is the Easiest Way to Avoid Baggage Fees.  Learning to Pack Efficiently Is a Life Skill!

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.

2.   Fly First Class or Business Class (Sometimes Even Premium Economy)

Travelers flying Business Class or First Class will usually get 2 checked bags for free.  Some airlines even allow bags to weigh more, up to 70 pounds for most airlines.

This perk extends to all tickets of this class, no matter how you book them.  That means using miles for free (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 1 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 1 free checked bag on flights to/from Hawaii)
  • Delta
    • First Class:   2 free checked bags (up to 70 pounds)
    • Business Class:   2 free checked bags (up to 70 pounds each)
  • JetBlue
    • First Class:   2 free checked bags
    • Business Class:   2 free checked bags
    • Premium Economy:   1 free checked bag
  • United Airlines
    • First Class:   2 free checked bags
    • Business Class:   2 free checked bags
  • Southwest
    • Everyone:   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 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 seat to Premium Economy for less than that price.

3.   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 or oneworld Ruby:   1 free checked bag
    • AAdvantage Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum Pro, or oneworld Sapphire:   2 free checked bags
    • AAdvantage Executive Executive Platinum or oneworld Emerald:   3 free checked bags
  • Delta
    • Silver Elite Status:   1 free checked bag (up to 70lbs)
    • Gold Elite Status:   2 free checked bags (up to 70lbs each)
    • Platinum & Diamond Elite Statuses:   3 free checked bags (up to 70lbs each)
  • JetBlue
    • Mosaic Elite Status Members:   2 free checked bags
  • United Airlines
    • Premier Silver or Star Alliance Gold:   1 free checked bag
    • Premier Gold or Premier Platinum or Premier 1k:   2 free checked bags
  • Southwest
    • 2 free checked bags for everyone (no status required)

When traveling with elite status, these free checked bags usually extend to at least 1 other companion on the same reservation.  This can quickly add up to significantly more savings.

4.   Fly Southwest (No Fancy Status or Tickets Needed)

There are many reasons that so many members of the Million Mile Secrets team and our readers love to fly Southwest.  One of those reasons is that everyone gets to fly with 2 checked bags for free.

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 $70 when priced against other major airlines ($30 for the first bag + $40 for the second).

Start Earning More Miles Towards Your Next Free Award Flight On Southwest Airlines With The Up To 3,000 Bonus Miles You Can Earn From The Holiday Shopping You Are Most Likely Already Planning.
Many of Our Readers Prefer to Fly Southwest Exclusively.  One Benefit of Southwest Is That Everyone Gets 2 Free Checked Bags for Free

5.   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 1 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:

AirlineCredit CardAnnual FeeFree Checked BagsSaving per TicketRoundtrip Savings
Alaska AirlinesAlaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card$751$30$60
Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card$50 for the company and $25 per card
1$30$60
American AirlinesCitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®$99 (waived first 12 months)1$30$60
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®$99 (waived first 12 months)1$30$60
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®$4501$30$60
Delta AirlinesDelta Reserve for Business Credit Card$450 (See Rates & Fees)1$30$60
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express$95 (waived first year) (See Rates & Fees)1$30$60
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express$95 (waived first year) (See Rates & Fees)1$30$60
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express$195 (See Rates & Fees)1$30$60
Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express$450 (See Rates & Fees)1$30$60
United AirlinesUnited Explorer Card$95 (waived first year)1$30$60
United Explorer Business Card$95 (waived first year)1$30$60

The information for the United Club Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets.  The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Many of these cards have annual fees that are lower than the round-trip savings of a single ticket from checking bags.  This makes them a very logical choice to keep in your wallet, since even a single flight each year can justify the annual fee of the 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.

6.   Offset Incidental Airline Fees, Like Checked Baggage Fees

Free checked bag perks are common with co-branded airline credit cards, but many folks forget that these aren’t the only cards that can save you charges of airline checked baggage.  American Express offers several 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:

These statement credits can cover all sorts of fees like in-flight meals, lounge passes, 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 that they offer incredible cost savings and value.

For example, a family of 4 traveling home for the holidays on American Airlines would pay as much as $240 in extra fees on one round-trip itinerary, even with each person bringing just 1 checked bag ($30 for first checked bag each way = $60 round-trip x 4 people).  If they had the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®, they would get a free checked bag for each of the 4 people on the reservation.

This would mean that just making one flight each year would cover the $99 annual fee and save $141!  Plus the annual fee is even waived the first year.

Family in airport. Attractive young woman, handsome man and their cute little daughter are ready for traveling! Happy family concept.
A Family Traveling With Checked Baggage Can Save up to $240 Round-Trip With the CitiBusiness American Airlines Card

Not only would this card save them if they took just a single flight each year, but they would also enjoy other perks essentially for free, such as priority boarding, 25% off inflight wifi, and bonus miles all from just holding onto the card and paying the annual fee.  This card is worth it even if you only used it to book American Airlines flights once a year!

At $240 in savings per flight, the money saved can quickly grow to nearly $1,000 per year if you traveled just 4 times per year.

Bottom Line

2018 was the year that we saw every major US airline (other than Southwest) increase its checked baggage fees.  It now costs $70 each way ($140 round-trip) to bring 2 checked bags on a domestic flight.

These prices significantly add to our overall travel budgets, but luckily there are ways to easily avoid paying checked baggage fees:

  • Simplify your packing down to a single carry-on
  • Fly First Class or Business Class (or Premium Economy on JetBlue or American Airlines)
  • Earn elite status to check bags for free
  • Fly on Southwest which still offers up to 2 free checked bags on all flights, for all passengers
  • Hold 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?

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 Business Card, please click here.

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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AA charges for a checked bag going to the Caribbean even when using AA Barclays card. They say it’s not domestic and it’s not international. Crazy. I’m flying Caribbean Airlines to Jamaica to avoid fees. Any other ways to avoid American to the Caribbean?

1. You omitted the AA Barclay Aviator card. 2. At check in, the clerk said no free bag when flying with an award ticket. Please check this out.

I’ve found a great way to check bags for very very cheap is to tip the guys working the curb to check bags before you go inside. I once checked a tent that weighed 80 lbs on the curb by tipping the guy $10. You can also usually check a couple bags for the same amount saving $50 or so by just helping people that work for tips. They are more than appreciative and eager to help!

So many readers like myself love your blog. Thanks for all the great info and stories! Sorry you’re getting the occasional troll in the comments.

We mainly use carry on bags 90% of the time but for our family of five, we will sometimes check in just one large suitcase for all five of us with extra stuff that didn’t fit in the carry ons! The agent usually looks surprised when they see our family and say “that’s it??!?”