More and more people are asking about baggage fees, and rightfully so. Baggage fees have become a confusing mess and every airline has a different policy, which can be daunting. Rather than going through each airline’s baggage policy, I’ll break down the basics every traveler should know. Prior to purchasing, keep these four basics in mind.
1. Baggage fees are per bag and per direction. So one way = one charge. Round trip = two charges. If your flight has a connection, bags will generally transfer from flight to flight and no additional fees will apply. There are a few exceptions – like if you are connecting from one airline to another and those two airlines don’t have a baggage agreement with each other; or if you actually purchase separate tickets for each leg of your connecting flight. Both of these cases are very rare.
2. Although some web sites are more forthcoming about bag fees than others, these charges are set by the airline and do not change whether you buy your ticket over the phone or online, through the airline, or through a third party website. The bag charge will be the same. If a particular web site doesn’t list a charge for checked bags and another does, it’s simply because the first site is not revealing all of the associated fees – it’s not that they have a better deal!
3. Most airlines don’t charge bag fees for their top frequent flyers (those with “elite” status); members of the U.S. military; business and first class ticket holders; those who purchase fully refundable or other more expensive fares; and in some cases people who have the airlines’ branded credit card.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, onto the nitty gritty:
For domestic flights, bag fees vary and range from free to $200. Southwest Airlines is famous for its “Bags Fly Free” policy – they allow two bags for no charge. But most airlines charge around $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag. (More than two can get really expensive.) JetBlue now charges for bags (they used to allow one freebie), based on the class of service purchased:
Fare option 1st bag 2nd bag 3rd bag + add’l bags
Blue $20 (online/at kiosk) $25 (at ticket counter) $35 – $100 each
Blue Plus Included $35 $100 each
Blue Flex Included Included $100 each
There has been a move in recent years by some airlines to include free baggage allowance (like the JetBlue model) with an upgraded seat. You can check with individual airlines to see if they offer this perk for booking a better class of service.
Baggage fees are based on piece, size and weight. If your bag is too big or too heavy, according to airline standard, you will have to pay extra fees. Bags that weigh more than 70 pounds usually fall into this category.
A common strategy now is to try to bring your bag on board with you to avoid bag fees. That’s usually a good idea, since nearly every airline allows for one free carry-on bag based on size and weight conditions (usually 45 linear inches and less than 30 pounds.) But a couple airlines, Spirit and Allegiant, will actually charge you for your carry-on, even more than the cost of a checked bag!
All airlines, however, including Spirit and Allegiant, allow you to bring one “personal item” such as a purse or laptop free of charge.
Domestic versus international
Another factor driving the costs of baggage fees is whether the flight is domestic or international. Passengers flying internationally can pay fees ranging from $0 – $350, depending on the class of service and destination. When traveling international, the calculation of baggage fees will depend on the destination.
When to pay your bag fees
More and more airlines are charging higher bag fees if you pay them at the airport, as opposed to paying them in advance on the airline’s website. For this reason, we always recommend you checking the airline web site in advance of your flight to see if you can prepay your bag fees. This will save a little time at the airport, too.
Confused yet? Check out our baggage fee charts.
This is a lot of detailed information. We’ve created comprehensive baggage fee charts to help you with your trip planning. Use them for every trip!
Have questions? Just email JeremyB@cheapair.com.
Note: These tips apply for flights to U.S. destinations. Fees can vary for traveling outside the country. Fees are valid as of 06/01/16 but are subject to change.