Here’s how to avoid paying for checked luggage on every major US airline — so you can bring along that extra outfit without being dinged for it.
Which airlines have free checked bags?
Southwest is the only airline in the US that gives you two free checked bags with every ticket — whether you’re in coach or first class. Otherwise, checked baggage fees are standard across the airline industry. However, there are usually ways to get these fees exempted, like having a branded credit card or upgrading your seat to first class.
4 ways to get free checked bags
If you’re flying with an airline other than Southwest, you’ll need our pro tips to avoid checked baggage fees.
1. Get an airline credit card
Many cobranded airline credit cards let you check one or two bags for free. This type of card is typically sponsored by an airline and a financial institution, like Delta and American Express. Another example is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, which is sponsored by Citi and American Airlines.
2. Use a travel credit card
This type of card is usually more flexible than a cobranded card. You’ll earn points or miles that you can use for a variety of travel redemptions, such as flights, hotels and car rentals. If the card has travel credits, you can use them to offset different travel expenses: baggage fees, in-flight purchases, airport lounge access and more.
3. Earn elite status
Airlines have loyalty programs in which you can earn elite status. You’ll reach higher status tiers based on how frequently you fly.
Elite status may afford you privileges such as free checked baggage, priority boarding and fare upgrades.
Who gets a free checked bag with elite status?
If you get free checked baggage with your elite status, travel companions on the same reservation may get the benefit as well.
For example, if you have Delta Gold Medallion Status, you and up to eight of your travel companions can each check one bag free on Delta flights.
4. Upgrade your ticket
The quickest way to get a free checked bag is usually by upgrading your fare class. When you fly premium classes, you can often check two to three bags free.
For example, you can check two bags free when flying Premium Economy or Business on American Airlines. And you can check three bags free when you fly First Class on a three-cabin American Airlines aircraft.
Airline credit cards that get you free checked bags
|Card||Annual fee||# of free bags per traveler||Max # of travelers perk applies to (including cardholder)||Potential savings for one traveler (round-trip)||Maximum potential savings (round-trip)|
|Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card||$50||1||7||$60||$420|
|Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card||$50||1||7||$60||$420|
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
|$99 (waived for the first 12 months)||1||5||$60||$300|
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®
|$99 (waived for the first 12 months)||1 on each domestic flight||5||$60||$300|
|Delta Airlines: Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card||$0 intro for the first year, then $99 (Terms apply, see rates & fees)||1||9||$60||$540|
|Delta Airlines: Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card||$250 (Terms apply, see rates & fees)||1||9||$60||$540|
|Delta Airlines: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card||$550 (Terms apply, see rates & fees)||1||9||$60||$540|
|Delta Airlines: Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card||$0 intro for the first year, then $99 (Terms apply, see rates & fees)||1||9||$60||$540|
|Delta Airlines: Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card||$250 (Terms apply, see rates & fees)||1||9||$60||$540|
|Delta Airlines: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card||$550 (Terms apply, see rates & fees)||1||9||$60||$540|
|Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®||$99||1||1||$60||$60|
|JetBlue: JetBlue Plus Card||$99||1||4||$60||$240|
|JetBlue: JetBlue Business Card||$99||1||4||$60||$240|
|United Airlines: United℠ Explorer Card||$0 intro for the first year, then $95||1||2||$60||$120|
|United Airlines: United MileagePlus® Club card||$450||2||2||$140||$280|
|United Airlines: United℠ Explorer Business Card||$95||1||2||$60||$120|
|United Airlines: United℠ Business Card||$450||2||2||$140||$280|
Compare credit cards with checked bag perks
We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you're interested in before making a decision.
How much does it normally cost?
Every airline has its own checked baggage fees. Typically, you’ll pay around $30 for your first checked bag and around $40 for your second.
Here are one-way baggage fees for a few major US airlines:
|Airline||Checked baggage policy (each way; terms apply)|
*For domestic flights.
*For domestic flights.
*For domestic flights between Hawaii and destinations in North America.
*For Blue fares.
*Prices at time of Spirit.com booking.
*For domestic economy flights.
Read more about airlines with free baggage
9 tricks to getting free checked bags
Unfortunately, just because your credit card offers free checked baggage doesn’t mean you automatically get the benefit. There are certain rules to follow beforehand, and the list is rather long:
1. Open your card well in advance.
You might not get your free checked bags if you open your credit card too soon before your flight. For some airlines with free baggage, you must open your card a certain number of days before takeoff — usually seven. United says you should wait at least two weeks after account opening before using your checked-bag benefit.
2. You may need to book your flight with your cobranded airline card.
While most airlines don’t have this requirement, some do — such as United, JetBlue and Hawaiian. Read your card’s fine print to make sure.
Booking an award flight with miles? Use your cobranded card to pay for the fees and taxes.
3. Add your frequent flyer number while booking your flight.
Most airlines will require this. Because you’ll need to link your frequent flyer number to your cobranded credit card, adding this information lets your airline know you’re a cardholder. If you forget to add your frequent flyer number, add it to your reservation before you check in for your flight.
4. The benefit usually doesn’t apply to codeshare flights.
Codeshare means an airline sells tickets for a flight that is operated by another carrier. If you buy one of these flights, your card’s checked-baggage benefit probably won’t apply. Instead, you’ll need to follow the baggage policy of the operating carrier.
5. Your card account may need to be active at the time of check-in.
If you’re thinking about booking your flight with your credit card and then canceling the card, beware: You might later find you’re not eligible for free baggage. Many airlines require an active card at check-in to receive the bag benefit, including Alaska, American, Delta and United.
6. Book published fares.
According to United’s terms, you won’t be eligible for free checked baggage from your card if you buy unpublished fares — for example, those you might find on sites like Hotwire and Priceline.
If you have the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®, you’ll receive the free checked baggage benefit only if you buy your flight directly from the airline. This includes the airline’s website, reservations department and ticket counters.
7. Your credit card usually doesn’t give you additional bags on top of your elite-status benefit.
If your elite status gives you two free checked bags, for example, you typically won’t get another waiver from your credit card.
There’s a notable exception if you’re a Silver Medallion member in Delta SkyMiles. While typically your status gives you just one free checked bag, an eligible Delta credit card will give you a second bag free.
8. The benefit is usually limited to the primary cardholder.
The checked-bag benefit usually goes to the primary cardholder and companions on their flight reservation. The waiver typically isn’t available to authorized users.
9. Know your airline’s baggage policies.
Typically, you’ll be charged extra if you bring oversized or overweight bags. Also, the free checked bag benefit usually doesn’t include pets.
Most airlines charge checked baggage fees. Luckily, there are ways to get around these costs — including travel and airline credit cards, elite status and fare upgrades.
- See rates and fees for Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
- See rates and fees for Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
- See rates and fees for Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
- See rates and fees for Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card
- See rates and fees for Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
- See rates and fees for Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
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