Since bag fees became a thing in the U.S., a little over a decade ago, the plague has spread from its seed continent and grown into a worldwide pandemic. Airlines in Asia, Europe, and even the Middle East now charge bag fees on some fares and on some flights.
Those fees have been mostly static in the U.S. for over a decade, to the point where most flyers know what to expect off the top of their head: $25 for the first bag, somewhere between $35 and $55 for the second, depending on what part of the continent you’re going to land in. That’s now changing, as two airlines (United and JetBlue) have announced bag fee hikes in one week.
Others will surely follow, as the geese always do, and a wave of fee increases is poised to punch heavy packers (and students headed to and from college with big bags full of life sustenance) in the gut, all over again.
When this first started happening to me, as a university student studying economics, I was outraged. Sure, there are justifications for product segmentation, but airlines are part of the travel and hospitality industry. Business decisions have to be weighed against human decisions, my young furious ferocious self would argue. Certainly, not everyone needs to check a bag, but not everyone needs to shower at a hotel, either.
Most people need to take luggage on a trip. If United could charge me for a bag — something very elemental to traveling somewhere — what would stop Hilton from putting coin-operated showers and toilets in bathrooms.
Fortunately, the hotel concept hasn’t rooted yet. Unfortunately, the bag fees stuck, and emboldened stock-price compensated airline executives have ladled new fees into just about every possible crevice.
Now, it’s all changing again. Here’s a look at what you can expect to pay for bags this upcoming fall and holiday travel season, and the most economical ways to avoid paying them, if you’re not an elite frequent flyer or business class or first class spoiled passenger.
United was the first major carrier to increase bag fees. The Chicago-based airline charges fees not only on U.S. flights, but on flights to Canada, The Caribbean, Central America and Mexico.
First Bag – Increasing from $25 to $30 on all flights to above destinations.
Second Bag – Increasing from $35 to $40 on U.S., Caribbean and Central America flights (includes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands). Increase to $50 on Canada flights. Remaining at $55 (WTH) for Mexico flights.
First bags on international flights beyond North and Central America are free. Second and additional bags vary based on cabin class.
These increases increase the value of the MileagePlus Explorer Credit card. If you fly a few times per year on United with baggage, the card’s $95 fee easily pays for itself, not even counting the excessive bonus mileage earned.
United’s Explorer Card also comes with up to $100 in baggage protection in case luggage is delayed, lost or damaged. More info is available here.
JetBlue beat United by a few days, raising its bag fees Monday from $25 to $30 for the first bag. Second bags now cost $40, up from $35, while third bags on all flights cost $150, up from $100.
JetBlue’s Plus Card Mastercard is slightly more than United’s entry-level card, at $99 per year, and comes with a heap of very easy-to-use TrueBlue bonus points. This card also earns bonus points at restaurants and grocery stores.
Alaska Airlines has relatively modest bag fees, and doesn’t charge passengers for bags on flights within the state of Alaska. Mexico flights are also fee-free.
First Bag – $25
Second Bag – $35
Third Bag and Each Additional Thereafter – $75
The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card costs $75 per year and includes free first checked bags, a free companion ticket each year and priority boarding on Alaska flights. You’ll have to scroll down a bit, but more info on applying and earning bonuses on this card is available here.
The world’s largest airline charges par-for-the-course fees in the U.S. and Canada (unlike United it doesn’t gouge Canadian and Mexican passengers on second checked bags).
First Bag – $25
Second Bag – $35 (varies on non-U.S. routes, up to $100 transatlantic, free on transpacific)
Third Bag – $150 ($200 on transatlantic and transpacific flights)
Additional Bags – $200 ($150 to and from Brazil)
With the exception of transatlantic basic economy fares, first checked bags are free on international flights beyond North America and Central America.
American’s Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard costs $99 per year, waived the first year, and includes free bags for up to four people traveling together. It also includes a generous intro bonus, priority boarding and earns bonus miles at restaurants and gas stations, in addition to American Airlines.
Delta Air Lines
Delta mostly follows American on bag fees, with some further complications and an unruly second bag fee for Mexico travelers. Like American, Delta charges basic economy passengers $60 for the first checked bag on transatlantic and transpacific flights.
First Bag – $25
Second Bag – $35 ($40 to Central America, Caribbean, Ecuador and the Virgin Islands; $100 to Europe, Israel and Tahiti; $55 to Mexico; $75 to some Middle East destinations.)
Third Bag – $150 (some variations to Canada, Central America and Mexico)
Additional Bags – $200
The cheapest Delta card that includes a baggage fee waiver is the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card by American Express. Like cards offered by American and United, the Gold Delta card costs $95 per year, waived the first year, and includes perks like priority boarding, bonus miles and baggage loss protection, travel protections and some rental car coverage.
The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card costs a bit more, $195 per year, but comes with more generous introductory bonuses and a companion certificate at each card renewal anniversary. Insurance and merchandise protection
Consider Paying Up
I’ll share this brief anecdote. Long before I had any sort of elite status on Delta Air Lines, as a young whippersnapper, I once purchased a first class upgrade. That’s right, I paid to move my seat into first, bumping some growling elite passenger who otherwise might have been enjoying free miniature salt and pepper shakers.
I actually saved money by doing so, though. I had two big, heavy bags to haul home full of Christmas presents. One was definitely over the standard 50-pound weight limit.
If I had kept my main cabin seat, I would have paid $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second bag and a $100 overweight bag fee for the big one. The first class upgrades were available for something like $90, which entitled me to two free checked bags up to 70 pounds each.
Paying up to first class was, in this case, $70 cheaper than the stupid bag fees Delta would otherwise have heaped onto my holiday cheer. And I got to use miniature salt and pepper shakers.
Baggage perks aren’t a first and business class exclusive. On long-haul flights, premium economy fares often come with free first and second checked bag allowances that are greater than those afforded economy passengers.