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How to Avoid Paying for Checked Bag Fees on Major U.S. Airlines

In an age of nickel-and-diming, it seems almost impossible, but you can avoid paying $25, $50, or even $100 to check a bag simply by using certain airline-branded cards. In the case of American, for example, users of the right platinum card get up to five bags per round trip that would normally cost $250 all in.

Get the right airline card—and use it to book your flight—and your checked bags are covered. Other cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer more general travel credits that you can use to offset the cost of checked baggage or other travel charges. (The Sapphire Reserve card does have a $450 annual fee, so that bag is more “free” than free.)

It’s also possible to duck luggage costs once you earn frequent flier status on many carriers, but since that can take dozens of flights and thousands of dollars of spending on airfare, the simplest, easiest hack remains getting the right card—many of which have no annual fee or low annual fees that are waived during the first year you hold the card.

Here’s how to get a free bag (or bags) on many of the major airlines.

  • On American, the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard includes the first bag free for the card holder as well as “up to four customers traveling with the eligible primary cardmember,” American says, as long as they’re on the same reservation. (The card's $95 annual fee is waived the first year.)

  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature holders get a free bag plus one checked item for "six additional passengers in the same reservation." This applies to Virgin America passengers through April, as well. (The card's annual fee is $75.)

  • The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card lets you take the first bag free on all flights, plus the first bag for up to eight other travelers on the same reservation. (The card's $95 annual fee is waived the first year.)

  • United MileagePlus Explorer Card gives “the primary Cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation” a free checked bag each. (The card's $95 annual fee is waived the first year.)

  • The JetBlue Plus Card covers bags for “you and up to three travel companions on the same reservation, who have purchased Blue fares,” which are the airline’s most restrictive fares. The offer is good “on JetBlue-operated flights that do not include first checked bag free.” (The card has a $99 annual fee.)

  • Spirit and Frontier, both notorious for charging for just about everything, do have branded cards—but they don’t cover baggage fees.

  • Southwest, on the other hand, gives all passengers, including those that hold the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Card, two free checked bags on every flight. Now that’s a hack.


by Paul Brady

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