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HomePoints and MilesI’ve Never Paid a Luggage Fee for Checked Bags, Here’s How

I’ve Never Paid a Luggage Fee for Checked Bags, Here’s How

Take a flight with your bags, without being taken for a ride. Fees for checked bags and carry-ons are out of control. Here's how I always avoid paying them, without packing less than I need. 

Advertiser Disclosure: Most products in our articles are from partners who may provide us with compensation. However, opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

There’s something about paying a luggage fee that has always bothered me. As someone who’s old enough to remember when all airlines included at least one free checked bag and one free carry-on, I can’t stand paying for things that used to be free. And it really disturbs me that most airlines have started imposing carry-on bag fees for passengers flying on their lowest, “basic economy” fares, as there’s no cost to letting passengers carry their own bags.

So I’ve decided that I would refuse to pay for any luggage fees, and our family has developed several strategies for avoiding them. And we’ve been very successful. In dozens of domestic and overseas trips in the last 20 years, my family of five have never paid a luggage fee.

I’ll let you know how we do it without insulting your intelligence by imploring you to “pack light.”

Southwest is the Only U.S. Domestic Airline with Free Checked Bags

When I shop for domestic flights, and I know I’ll need to carry on or check a bag, I investigate their luggage fees before choosing an airline. In the U.S., one airline always rises to the top, Southwest. Not only is it the last remaining U.S. carrier that doesn’t charge for a checked or carry on bag, they offer all passengers two free checked bags.

And because more Southwest passengers check a bag, fewer are carrying on. So I find that there’s always more space in the overhead, boarding speeds up and flight attendants are less militant about trying to intercept people who they suspect of carrying on a slightly oversized bag. Conversely, I try to avoid the ultra-low cost carriers that charge for both carry-on and checked bags.

The cost of luggage on other domestic carriers

Typically, a single ticket holder can check up to five bags on a domestic flight. Keep in mind, overweight luggage will be charged an additional fee — typically, between $75-$100 for domestic travel, depending on the carrier.

To estimate the baggage fees for a family five, we’re assuming each ticket holder will pay for one checked bag. Additionally, these estimates are based on each bag falling within the normal weight allowance of 50-51 pounds.

  • Alaska Airlines
    • First bag: $30
    • Second bag: $40
    • Third bag: $100
    • Family of five: $150
  • Allegiant Air
    • Prices depend on destination and whether or not you pre-book or check-in luggage at the gate
    • $22-$44 per bag, depending on destination
    • Family of five: $110-$220
  • American Airlines
    • First bag: $30
    • Second bag: $40
    • Third bag: $100
    • Family of five: $150
  • Delta Airlines
    • First bag: $30
    • Second bag: $40
    • Third bag: $100
    • Family of five: $150
  • Frontier Airlines
    • Prices per bag depend the date of travel and whether or not you pre-book or check-in luggage at the gate
    • First bag: $30-$50
    • Second bag: $45-$55
    • Third bag: $85-$95
    • Family of five: $150-$250
  • JetBlue Airways
    • First bag: $30
    • Second bag: $40
    • Third bag: $100
    • Family of five: $150
  • Southwest Airlines
    • Each ticket holders gets two free checked bags
    • Third bag: $75
    • Family of five: $0
  • Spirit Airlines
    • Prices per bag depend on route, frequent flier status and whether or not you pre-book or check-in luggage at the gate
    • First bag: $21-$50
    • Second bag: $31-$60
    • Third bag: $76-$100
    • Family of five: $105-$250
  • United Airlines
    • First bag: $30
    • Second bag: $40
    • Third bag: $100
    • Family of five: $150

Airlines that Check Bags for Free on International Flights

Below are airlines that will check your luggage for free — no matter which class you are flying, your credit card or whichever frequent flier program you’re a member of. Because many airlines only offer free luggage for customers on special programs, we made a list of airlines that will check at least one bag for free — no matter what.

Here are some airline tickets that include free checked luggage:

  • Aeroflot: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Aeromexico: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Air Astana: 1 free bag between 44-66 lbs (23-30 kgs), depending on ticket
  • Air China: 1-2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on the route
  • Air India: 1-2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Air New Zealand: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • All Nippon Airways: 2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • American Airlines: 1 free bag to 50 lbs (23 kgs) for transatlantic, transpacific and South American flights
  • Asiana: 1-2 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on the route
  • Avianca: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Azul: 1-2 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on the route
  • Bangkok Airways: 1 free bag up to 44 lbs (20kgs)
  • Caribbean Airlines: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Cathay Dragon: 2 free bags with a combined weight of 66 lbs (30 kgs)
  • Cathay Pacific: 1-2 free checked bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on route
  • China Airlines: 1-2 bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on route
  • China Eastern: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Copa Airlines: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Delta Airlines: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Egyptair: 2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • El AL: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Emirates: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Ethiad: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Hawaiian Airlines: 1-2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on the route
  • Hong Kong Airlines: 1-2 free bags free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs) for flights to the South Pacific, U.S., Canada, Russia and the Maldives
  • Jet Airways: 1 free bag up to 44 lbs (20 kgs), depending on the route
  • KLM: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Korean Air: 1 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on the route
  • Lufthansa: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs) for intercontinental flights
  • Malaysia Airlines: 1 free bag up to 44 lbs (20 kgs)
  • Middle East Airlines: 1 free bag up to 44 lbs (20 kgs)
  • Oman Air: 2 bags free with a combined total weight of 66 lbs (30 kgs)
  • Quantas: 1-2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on route
  • Qatar Airlines: 66 lbs (30 kgs) of free checked luggage. Number of bags vary depending on the route
  • Singapore Airlines: 1-2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on route
  • SriLankan Airlines: 1-2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs), depending on route
  • SWISS: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs) for international flights outside Europe
  • TAP Portugal: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Thai Airways: 2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs) for flights to both Canada and U.S
  • Turkish Airways: 1 free bag up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)
  • Virgin Australia: 1-2 free bags up to 50 lbs (23 kgs)

Choose the Right Airline Credit Card

Nearly all airline credit card options offer cardholders a free checked bag for yourself and at least one other person traveling with you on the same reservation. As an example, both the United Club and United Quest credit cards both offer two free bags for yourself and a companion, but also there are some no-fee airline cards that don’t include this benefit.

If it looks like I might have no choice but to pay a bag fee for one or more future trips, I’ll sign up for one of these cards and enjoy a valuable welcome bonus while avoiding luggage fees.

Travel Credit Cards that Get You Free Checked Luggage

Whether you’re preparing for international or domestic travel, these airline credit cards will fetch you between 1-2 free checked bags per person. Depending on the card you apply for, you may also get discounts on in-flight purchases and priority boarding.

However, if you want to enjoy perks like annual travel credits or options to use your rewards to rent cars and book hotels (and also book free flights), then consider a general travel rewards card.

  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: Cardholders get a free first bag, as do additional passengers (up to six) on the same reservation.
  • American Airlines via select Citi AAdvantage® cards: Several Citi AAdvantage credit cards offer a free first checked bag on domestic reservations.
  • American Airlines via select Barclays Aviator cards: Select Barclays Aviator cards offer a free first checked bag to the primary cardholder and up to four companions on the same reservations (domestic itineraries only).
  • Delta SkyMiles cards from American Express: Several Delta and Amex co-branded credit cards offer a free checked bag to the primary cardholder and up to eight companions on the same itinerary.
  • Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard: Cardholders enjoy one free checked bag per flight.
  • JetBlue Plus card: This JetBlue credit card provides a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to three others on the same reservation.
  • United Airlines cards from Chase: United co-branded credit cards allow a free checked bag for the primary cardholder and a companion on the same itinerary. Yet, travelers who carry either of United’s premium cards offer two free checked bags the cardholder and a companion.

Maximize Your Carry-Ons

On all but the lowest “basic economy” fares, most airlines offer each passenger both a carry-on and a “personal item” that can fit underneath the seat in front of you (but doesn’t actually have to go there).

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You’d be amazed at how much stuff can fit into those two bags. For example, on a 10-day trip to Hawaii, me, my wife and our three children each had a full size carry-on bag, plus a backpack. In fact, I strapped several of the carry-on’s together so that I could wheel them through the airport with ease. But before boarding, I asked the gate agent if we could gate check all five of our carry-ons suitcases. She was more than happy to do so, leaving each of us with a small backpack with our in-flight entertainment, food and valuables.

In fact, airline representatives often make announcements encouraging passengers to gate-check their bags, in order to save time boarding and to make more room in the overhead compartments.

Read the Rules Carefully

As I see it, airline baggage fees are a game, and the way to win at any game is to know the rules. For example, while airlines will accept skis and snowboards as checked bags, without an additional oversize fee, their rules usually permit up to two pairs of snow skis and associated equipment in one bag and a separate bag for your ski boots. These two bags actually count as a single bag, according to United and other airlines. And if you’re traveling with a child, you’re permitted at no extra charge to carry on a diaper bag, breast pump and milk as well as a government-approved child seat (infant carrying seat or car seat). And note that Alaska, American, British Airways and Delta now allow you to check a bicycle as a regular bag, with no excess size charges.

Also, every airline in the world that I’m aware of will accept a child car seat as checked luggage. To protect the car seat, it’s best to put it in a duffle bag. And I find that If I include some spare diapers, beach towels, winter coats or other bulky but lightweight items in the duffle, underneath the seat, the airline will never know or care. I’ve even strapped bottles of wine into our children’s car seats, which does as good of a job protecting them as it does my children.

Book Award Tickets

Even when you fly in economy class, the tickets that you book with your frequent flyer miles still count as standard economy and are not subject to the draconian carry-on restrictions that travelers flying on “basic economy” fares are subject to. And when you pay with miles, it’s often economical to fly in business class where each passenger can check as many as three bags per person — of up to 70 pounds each — at no extra charge. That’s because a business class ticket that costs four times the price of an economy seat, often only requires twice as many miles.

Travel this way as a family, and your biggest challenge will be getting a large enough vehicle to carry you and your stuff to and from the airport.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have to pay with your airline card to get the free checked bag?

Yes, to enjoy your airline card’s free-checked-bag benefits, you will need to pay for your ticket with the card. If your card also allows free-checked-luggage benefits for your companions, then those flights must also be paid for with your credit card.

What is the cost of a checked bag on U.S. domestic flights?

Most of the major U.S. airlines will charge a $30 baggage fee for the first checked bag. Yet, the cost of additional luggage rises per bag — generally, $40 for the second and $150 for a third. Also, if a paid checked bag exceeds the airline’s weight allowance (maximum of 50-51 pounds), expect to pay extra — often between $100 to $200 more.

What is the cost of a checked bag on transatlantic flights?

While the cost of a checked bag on transatlantic flights will vary depending on your airline, you can generally expect to pay between $100 to $200 per bag for flights originating in North America. However, that cost may increase when a paid checked bag exceeds the carrier’s weight allowance — as much as $50 to $100 more. Check your specific airline’s baggage fees for price points.

Is it cheaper to check an extra bag or send a package to Europe?

As a rule of thumb, no; it is not cheaper to pay for an extra bag than shipping to Europe. However, it really depends on the weight of what you might be shipping, and how quickly you want it to arrive at your destination of choice. As an example, to ship a 50-pound bag from Los Angeles to London via FedEx International Priority Express is anywhere from $450 to $1,000, depending on the delivery date. However, you may be able to reduce that price by selecting a cheaper delivery service.

Read More About Rewards Travel, Points and Airline Miles:

While we work hard on our research, we do not always provide a complete listing of all available offers from credit-card companies and banks. And because offers can change, we cannot guarantee that our information will always be up to date, so we encourage you to verify all the terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply.

Jason Steele
Jason Steele
Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.

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