Back when I was childless and carefree, I prided myself in being able to pack light. I regularly carried on a single roll-aboard in my travels so I could be on my way out of an airport quickly, bypassing the bag carousel. Once our first little one came along, I realized that was no longer possible. Babies require gear! I needed to check a bag (or two).
Of course, that was also about the time that major airlines started charging for checking a bag. After all those years of not taking advantage of free checked bags, I was about to get hit with checked bag fees when I needed to check a bag the most. Oh, the irony.
If you find yourself in my position, it is important to know what the airlines charge before booking your flight. If you are traveling as a family, those bag fees can add up quickly and you need to consider them as you are comparing ticket prices between different carriers to get the best deal.
Important things to keep in mind about bag fees
- If you have elite status on an airline, you probably get at least one free bag (or more) for each person traveling on the same reservation.
- If you have the airline’s credit card, you (and others booked under the same reservation) probably get a free bag if you have booked your tickets with that credit card.
- If you are lucky enough to be traveling on a business class or first class ticket, you will not have to worry yourself with bag fees. (I’m not jealous or anything!)
- Domestic carriers do not charge for checking a stroller or car seat (although some carriers won’t let you check both, and others no longer allow you to check strollers that are either non-folding or that exceed 20 pounds).
- Oversized bags or special equipment like skis or golf clubs can really cost you. Check the fine print of each airlines’ webpage before you fly.
U.S. Airline Bag Fees
Here’s a chart showing the current bag check fees for domestic travel on all the major US carriers (for bags up to 50 lbs):
*Allegiant has a tiered pricing system based upon the length of the trip. First and second bags are up to $35 each per segment if paid online in advance of your trip. If you wait until you are at the airport, fees are $50 per segment per bag for first bags and $75 for second bags. Note that Allegiant is one of the few carriers that limits you to a 40 pound bag. Anything over 40 pounds incurs an overweight surcharge of $50! It is very easy to pack a regular sized suitcase that exceeds 40 pounds. Proceed at your own risk.
**These fees are for mainland to Hawaii flights only. The fees are the same for inter-island flights as well, except that HawaiianMiles Members only pay $15 for the first bag and $20 for the second bag (effective for all tickets issued after March 10, 2014).
***These fees are for baggage paid for online at time of booking only. If you pay at the time of online check-in, the first bag is $40 and the second bag is $50. At the airport, the first bag is $45 and the second bag is $55. Discounts are available for Spirit’s $9 fare club members. Like Allegiant, Spirit consider all bags over 40 pounds as overweight, subject to an additional $25 fee for 41-50 pound bags, and $50 fee for bags 51-70 lbs.
****Frontier charges $20 if you check in and pay for your first bag online before your trip. Checking a first bag at the airport desk is $25.
*****JetBlue charges $20 for the first bag when done during web check-in or at a kiosk, but it’s $25 if bought at the check-in counter. If you purchase anything above the standard “Blue Fare,” some bag fees are waived.
Updates as of 5/9/2013:
- AirTran raised its checked bag fees as of December 2012, so the chart has been updated with the current fees. However, Southwest and AirTran are now codesharing on some of their flights, so if you book an AirTran flight through the Southwest webpage on a Southwest flight number, you will likely not be charged checked bag fees.
- Frontier will begin charging $25 (instead of $20) for first bags checked at the airport (rather than pre-checked online prior to arriving at the airport). This rule applies for all tickets purchased on or after June 1, 2013, for travel on or after July 11, 2013. The chart and annotations have been updated accordingly.
- Allegiant recently increased its checked bag fees, from $35 to $50 effective May 1, 2013 for all bags checked in at the airport (pre-checking online still offers a savings). The chart has been updated accordingly.
- Spirit has raised most of its checked bag fees in the past year as well. Chart is now updated.
Second update as of 4/23/2014:
Alaska raised its checked bag fees last year. Frontier raised its fee for a second bag. Hawaiian also raised its inter-island bag fees last month (although discounts are available for HawaiianMiles Members). Chart has been updated with these current fees.
Third update 3/13/2015:
AirTran’s merger with Southwest is complete, so there are no longer bag fees on the old AirTran routes now that Southwest is in control. JetBlue has also announced it will begin charging for the first bag on its cheaper fares some time in the first half of 2015, but no plans have been formally announced.
Forth update 6/30/2015:
JetBlue’s bag fees have now gone into effect. Chart updated to reflect the changes.