Airline Baggage Fees: How to Get Around Them

In a desperate attempt to cover their costs, airlines across the US are charging for something that was once included in your ticket price: checked luggage. Whether you’re flying overseas or regionally within the United States, airline baggage fees can add up quickly. These days, it’s common to pay $25 each way for just one checked bag. For a family of four, that’s $200 for a round-trip flight! Thankfully there are a few simple ways you can get around checked baggage fees.

1. Book with an Airline that Doesn’t Charge a Baggage Fee

This may sound obvious, but when you’re comparing flights it’s tempting to go for what appears to be the cheapest option. But with airline tickets, things aren’t always what they seem and there can be hidden fees. Before you book your flight, check the airline’s policy on checked luggage. When you factor in the luggage fees, sometimes you’ll pay less by opting to fly with an airline that offers free checked luggage, even if the ticket is more expensive. Thankfully, there are still a few airlines that don’t charge baggage fees.

  • Passengers flying on JetBlue can check one piece of luggage for free. The second will cost $40. If you’re checking a third bag, it will cost you $75. It’s a good idea to pack light!
  • Southwest Airlines still doesn’t charge for your first or second bag. Even though the fare was a little bit higher, my husband and I used them earlier this year when we knew we couldn’t get around having two pieces of checked luggage each. We saved over $100 each way by not paying fees for checking luggage.
  • WestJet flies to a number of destinations in North America and they offer the first checked bag free.
getting around airline checked luggage fees

2. Fly Internationally

Thankfully, most airlines will still give you at least one free checked bag when flying internationally. Delta, for example, offers one free piece of luggage when flying between the United States or Canada and most international destinations. Not all airlines offer free checked baggage on international flights, so be sure to check before you get to the airport.

3. Get a Frequent Flier Miles Credit Card

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to get a credit card just for the card member perks. But when you start to add up how much checked luggage fees can cost for frequent travelers, it makes sense for many people to do what they can to avoid the extra fees.

With Delta’s SkyMiles credit cards, you get one checked bag per person for each flight. I really like that you don’t even have to use your card to book your ticket to get the free first checked bag. Additionally, you can use the benefit for up to 9 people when they’re traveling under the eligible card member’s reservation. United offers a similar program with the United MilagePlus Explorer card. Most of these cards do have annual fees attached, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re using your card enough to actually save money. If so, frequent flier miles cards are a great way to avoid airline baggage fees, especially if you frequently fly the same airline.

4. Go First Class

If you’re really trying to get out of airline baggage fees (or if someone else is footing the bill!), fly first class. Airlines offer up to three free pieces of checked luggage for first class passengers. Plus, you get the perks of the first class cabin — free cocktails, extra legroom, and attentive service.

A decade ago, even the most season travelers wouldn’t have dreamed that they’d be paying extra for checked luggage. Back then, when we purchased an airline ticket, we knew that it would cover the entire cost of our flight. Times have changed, but there are still ways to avoid airline fees. As more airlines start charging for what once was free, use these tips to get around airline baggage fees.

Do you still check luggage, or do you just try to get by with a carry-on? How do you avoid airline baggage fees?

image credit: ToastyKen

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