Southwest carry-on and checked baggage policies & fees

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In the era of extraneous airline charges, it can be surprisingly expensive to fly. Yes, you can often find incredible fare sales that seem too good to be true. It’s not uncommon to spot $20 one-ways from low-cost carriers like Spirit Airlines. But once you tack on the cost of checking a bag, carrying on a bag, and even requesting water, the ticket isn’t quite the bargain you thought it was.

Southwest Airlines is an entirely unique species of low-cost airline. They offer the unrivaled best deal in travel, the Southwest Companion Pass, which you can easily earn by opening a couple of the best Southwest credit cards. Their customer-friendly change and cancellation policies are unheard-of. Oh, and their checked bag fees are the most generous in the industry.

Let’s examine Southwest baggage policies to ensure you’re not taken by surprise at the departures lobby.

Carry on bags with Southwest

Southwest doesn’t have any revolutionary policies when it comes to carry-on bags:

  • Carry-on bag – $0
  • Personal item – $0
  • Carry-on pet charge – $95

If you’ve got any other bags, you’ll have to check them. Nobody can bring more than two items.

If you think these Southwest carry-on baggage fees match most other full-service airlines like American Airlines and United, you’re correct. The stunner here is that Southwest is considered a low-cost airline. Other low-cost airlines charge as much as $60 each way for a carry-on item checked at the gate.

Southwest is not interested in nickel-and-diming you for every little thing. They publish super low fares with no catches. That’s why MMS readers fly Southwest whenever they have the choice.

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Checked bags with Southwest

Checked bag fees are expensive and seemingly always on the rise. U.S. airlines like American, Delta, and United all charge $30 each way for your first checked bag and $40 for your second bag. This additional expense is tough to justify. It feels like paying money for a space that would be available anyway.

Southwest’s checked bag policy is as follows (prices are one-way):

  • First checked bag - $0
  • Second checked bag - $0
  • Third checked bag and beyond - $75 each
  • Oversized bag (between 62 and 80 inches) - $75
  • Sports equipment (skis, bikes, surfboards, etc.) - $75

The big takeaway is that each traveler gets two checked bags for free. That means you could potentially save $70 one-way over other airlines. You don’t even need an airline credit card or Southwest elite status to offset these fees, as you do with other airlines.

Granted, it’s not particularly common to bring two checked bags along for your trip, but it’s nice to have the option! You could even check an empty bag if you plan to bring home a lot of souvenirs. My husband and I brought an unbelievable amount of alcohol home from Mexico -- and sitting aboard our Southwest flight back home, we wished we’d have brought an empty bag to take more.

MMS writer Erin took a trip to Mexico City with her husband, and brought nine bags between them:

  • Five checked bags
  • Two carry-on bags
  • Two personal items

Thanks to Southwest’s policies, they only spent $150 round-trip for all these bags. That’s the deal of a lifetime in a world where a carry-on bag can cost $120 round-trip.

For comparison, the same amount of bags on United Airlines would have cost:

  • $280 per person for two checked bags each (round-trip)
  • $300 for a third checked bag (round-trip)

That’s $580 in baggage fees! Southwest saved them $430 -- easily enough for another round-trip flight.

How to avoid Southwest baggage fees

Before you head to the airport, it’s important to review the bag size and weight limits. Southwest checked baggage can’t exceed 50 pounds or be bigger than 62 inches (length + width + height). If your bag weighs more than 50 pounds, it will be considered oversized, and you’ll need to pay $75. If it weighs more than 100 pounds, you’ll have to ship it as air cargo. So it’s crucial to know the size and weight of your bags before you show up at the airport.

Bottom line

In just about every category, Southwest policies put to shame every airline in the world. One of our favorites is the freedom to bring two checked bags for absolutely free. This could save up to $140 round-trip per person over other airlines.

Free checked bags are powerful enough to motivate many of us to choose one airline over another. Again, you could always get a credit card that saves you on checked baggage fees -- but even this tactic won’t save you as much as simply flying Southwest.

Read our post on six tips for checking in online with Southwest! And subscribe to our newsletter for more airline tips and reviews delivered to your inbox once per day.

Featured image by Diversity Studio/iStock.


Sarah Hostetler is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

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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