Incidental airline fees are a big business for the major airlines in the U.S., and checked bag fees, in particular, are a key driver of airline profitability nowadays. These added services brought in over $6.7 billion in 2022 alone — and they’ve continued to increase. The last few years have seen airlines like JetBlue and United boost their fees for checked bags.
It’s safe to say that no one wants to pony up an additional $60 to $75 to check a bag on a round-trip, domestic flight — especially when summer airfare is already quite high.
Fortunately, there are a handful of simple ways to avoid paying these fees. Today we’ll go through how to avoid checked baggage fees on the major carriers in the U.S.
Most common bag fees
There are several common bag fees imposed by most of the major airlines in the U.S. The first is for any checked bag, typically starting at $30 each way but quickly increasing as you add a second or third suitcase. You might also fall victim to an additional fee for checking an overweight bag, which generally kicks in once you surpass 50 pounds. Finally, there’s a size element: Massive suitcases will almost certainly require an additional fee, as will certain kinds of specialty luggage, like scuba equipment.
For more details, here are links to our individual guides on U.S. airlines’ bag fee policies:
However, it’s worth noting that published policies may have some wiggle room. I’ve sometimes had an airline accept my 52-pound bag without tacking on an overweight fee, and if you have status and are traveling with a companion on a separate reservation, you may still be able to convince a sympathetic check-in agent to waive that bag fee.
And fortunately, there are some tried-and-true ways to get around these added costs ahead of your next trip.
Best ways to avoid checked bag fees
Generally speaking, there are five main ways to avoid paying checked baggage fees on your next flight:
- Hold elite status (or travel with a friend/family member with elite status)
- Carry the right airline credit card (or travel with a friend/family member with the right card)
- Use a travel credit card that covers ancillary costs like baggage fees
- Purchase a premium ticket (typically premium economy, business or first class)
- Travel under a special circumstance or to a specific destination
Of course, you could also opt to fly with Southwest Airlines, which allows all customers to check two bags weighing up to 50 pounds each for free. Alternatively, you could try to fit everything into a carry-on suitcase, which is still complimentary on many airlines.
Reward your inbox with the TPG Daily newsletter
Join over 700,000 readers for breaking news, in-depth guides and exclusive deals from TPG’s experts.
However, it’s worth noting that some basic economy tickets don’t include rolling carry-ons, including domestic United tickets in basic economy and JetBlue’s restrictive Blue Basic fares. Meanwhile, both Spirit and Frontier typically require you to pay for a larger carry-on bag.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these strategies so you can avoid checked bag fees on your next trip.
Use elite status perks
Airline elite status can be quite valuable to many travelers, and it’s not just about first-class upgrades and lounge access. The vast majority of these tiers — even the lowest ones — allow you to check a bag for free. However, the exact waiver depends on the airline and can vary as you climb the elite status ladder.
For example, all Delta Medallion travelers enjoy a free checked bag on domestic flights and those between the U.S. and Canada. This bag can weigh up to 70 pounds, even for Silver Medallions, Delta’s lowest tier of elite status. This jumps to a pair of 70-pound bags for Gold Medallions, while Platinum and Diamond Medallion travelers enjoy three free 70-pound bags.
United also grants Premier travelers a 70-pound weight allowance for checked bags — one for Premier Silver, two for Premier Gold, and three for both Premier Platinum and Premier 1K.
Meanwhile, American follows a similar method for the quantity of checked bags — one for Gold, two for Platinum, and three for both Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum. However, unless you’re confirmed in first class, you’re limited to 50 pounds.
Note that many of these perks extend to partner flights as well. If you have elite status with any airline in Sky Team, Star Alliance or Oneworld, you should be able to check your bags for free (or enjoy an increased allowance for checked bags) on partner airlines.
For more details on the perks of elite status, check out these guides:
Get an airline credit card
Qualifying for elite status may be out of the question for leisure travelers, but thankfully, most U.S. carriers offer a simpler pathway to free checked bags: opening an airline credit card. The vast majority of cobranded cards from U.S. airlines waive the first checked bag fee on domestic itineraries. In fact, many of these perks extend to companions — up to eight on the same reservation, in some cases. And some are available with annual fees of less than $100.
In other words, simply by holding the right airline credit card, you and your entire family could check a bag for free on your next trip.
Each carrier does use slightly different rules for these policies, but here’s a summary of the cards that offer this perk:
* The information for these cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Unfortunately, the major low-cost carriers in the U.S. — Frontier and Spirit — don’t offer this perk with their respective credit cards.
It’s worth pointing out that many of these perks apply automatically based on the loyalty program account associated with the card. However, for both Alaska and United, you must use the cobranded card for the airfare in order to receive the bag fee waiver.
Use a travel credit card
Many travelers aren’t loyal to a given airline, so it may not make sense to hold a United card if you only travel with United once a year, for example. Thankfully, many of the best credit cards for travel include credits that can cover checked bag fees when you incur them, and some of them aren’t limited to individual airlines.
Here are a few examples:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Each year, Sapphire Reserve cardholders receive up to a $300 travel credit that’s applied to virtually any travel-related purchase, including checked bag fees. Any eligible purchase will be automatically credited back to you within a day or two of posting to your account.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: The Amex Platinum provides cardholders with an up-to-$200 annual airline fee credit to cover incidentals like seat assignments, lounge passes and checked bag fees (enrollment is required for select benefits). The only downside is that you have to designate a single airline at the beginning of the calendar year, so you can’t use this across multiple carriers.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: The Hilton Aspire card has an annual airline fee credit of up to $250 that works just like the Amex Platinum’s credit (enrollment is required for select benefits). If you have both cards, you can designate two separate airlines, one for each card.
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card: If you can’t stomach a large annual fee, consider opening the Premium Rewards card from Bank of America. This card comes with an up-to-$100 annual airline incidental fee statement credit that can be used for checked bag fees, along with a much more reasonable annual fee of $95.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
In addition, you could also look to use a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (see rates & fees) to pay for checked bag fees. The miles you earn on this card can be redeemed to cover any travel purchase, so you have the opportunity to use your miles for a statement credit for these purchases.
Book a premium-cabin ticket
When you travel in a premium class of service, you’ll generally enjoy waived checked bag fees — in many cases above and beyond the standard weight allowance as well. These policies typically apply whether you paid cash or used miles for your ticket, so this can be a great way to use your travel rewards and not have to worry about extra bag fees.
For example, here are the baggage benefits for travelers confirmed in a premium cabin on American Airlines:
- Premium economy: Two free checked bags (up to 50 pounds each)
- Domestic first class: Two free checked bags (up to 70 pounds each)
- International short- and medium-haul business class: Two free checked bags (up to 70 pounds each)
- Flagship First and Flagship Business: Three free checked bags (up to 70 pounds each)
You can check out your operating carrier’s checked baggage page for full details on what’s included for your specific trip.
Travel to select destinations
Beyond the above strategies, many airlines waive checked bag fees for all customers when traveling to specific areas. For example, American has a list of destinations where all customers can check a free bag, including Argentina, Brazil, China, India and Japan. This also extends to all transatlantic travels. And if you’re flying American to either Australia or New Zealand, your free bag can even weigh up to 70 pounds.
However, this often doesn’t apply to basic economy tickets, and there are also seasonal restrictions for certain locales.
Regardless of the airline you’re flying, be sure to research your baggage allowance ahead of time so you know what to expect — and don’t encounter an expensive surprise at the airport.
Whether we like it or not, airline bag fees (and other incidental charges) are likely here to stay. On the major U.S. airlines (other than Southwest), you’ll typically pay at least $60 for the privilege of checking a single bag on a round-trip domestic flight. However, there are many ways you can avoid these fees, including elite status, airline cobranded credit cards and in special circumstances. There are even some general credit cards that can help minimize the impact of these charges.
If you’re just starting out in the world of points and miles, you’ll want to pay close attention to these bag fees, as they can be quite costly if you take multiple flights. And with many strategies to prevent this from happening, hopefully, you’ll rarely have to pay a checked baggage fee.