Cuba and the Caribbean – American Airlines’ Free Checked Bag Dead Spot

I’ve held the Barclay’s American Aviator Red card for a few years now. As I was grandfathered in on an old policy which gives 10,000 bonus miles each year upon paying the $89 annual fee, this is likely a card I’ll keep forever as long as the bonus keeps showing up. The fact that you get free checked bags on flights is icing on the cake, and a perk that has occasionally led me to choose American over other airlines for my travel when price and scheduling were similar.

When I bought my flight on American Airlines to go to Cuba with my family in March – Los Angeles to Miami to Havana – we arrived to the airport for an unpleasant surprise: the check-in agent at LAX telling us that I don’t get any free checked bags, despite holding this credit card. I was told that the card only gives free checked bags on domestic flights within the United States, and that as per American’s corporate policy, they do not give any free checked bags to the Caribbean region.

As a seasoned traveler and mileage junky, I was quite disappointed in myself for not noticing this minor caveat in the credit card terms & conditions. I did find it quite ironic that had my flight been to Miami, the bags would have been free, but since we were taking an extra 45 minute flight beyond Miami to Havana, the bags were not free. I then became even more perplexed when checking in for the flight home from Havana, when the agent enthusiastically welcomed me, thanked me for being a card member, and offered free checked bags for myself and my family.

I did write in to American customer relations to ask about this, asked if it was a mistake, and requested a refund. My request was summarily denied. I was told that the LAX agent was correct in enforcing their rules, and that it was nothing more than the check-in agent’s discretion in Havana to allow me to have the free checked bags for the return flights.

Interesting.

So it seems the Caribbean is a free checked bag dead spot on American. With the Aviator Red card (and other AA premium credit cards), you get free checked bags domestically. American, themselves, gives free checked bags to all passengers on international flights to South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. But the Caribbean? Nope, that does not fall under the policy for free checked bags on either the credit cards or the airline policy. So if you’re flying to the Caribbean on American, be prepared to carry everything on or pay $25 per bag, unless you have elite status.

Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel

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    • Mexico too! Bummer. Did you also get them free on the way back like I did, or did you have to pay for that as well?

      • I was even aware of the restrictions to domestic flights, but somehow living in TX with Mexico a short 2 hour flight away, I don’t think of it as international 🙂 My brain is convinced that in order to count as international, it has to be at least a 5-6 hour flight across a massive ocean.

  1. I was beaten to the “don’t forget about Mexico line” however we also had the same experience paid $50 on the way there…. $0 on the way home.

  2. I’ve dealt with this too.

    Do note that with the card, checked bags are free to SJU, STT, and STX, as they count as domestic flights.

  3. My husband and I had an interesting situation last December. We flew PWM to GND with an overnight stopover in MIA. When we checked in at PWM, we were charged for checking our bags because we weren’t “flying domestic”. I asked if we would be charged for bags again when we checked our bags the next day in MIA and was told yes because it was the same itinerary. So $50 per bag just to get to our final destination! I left it at that with the agent and tweeted a private message to AA inquiring about it. They agreed it was not handled correctly. The bag charges from PWM to MIA were promptly credited and I was a happy customer.

  4. Is that the case for United and Delta credit card holders too? I guess Southwest is an even better deal to the Carribbean.

    • Wow great question. I don’t have either of those cards, so I am not sure, but its definitely worth diving into the Ts&Cs to check it out. But yes you’re spot on in saying that this makes Southwest an even better option to Mexico and the Caribbean!

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