It’s getting harder and harder to check a bag on a flight without incurring bag fees. We look at a few ways you can avoid these fees for good.
1. Earn frequent flyer status
On almost all airlines, earning frequent flyer status gets you one or two checked bags free with each flight. On Delta and United, for example, fees for a first checked bag are waived for SkyMiles Medallion and MileagePlus members, respectively.
These benefits can even extend to companions. On Delta, for example, members and up to eight companions can each bring a free checked bag.
To qualify and earn status, you need to have a frequent flyer account with an airline (or airlines) of your choice. Then you need to accrue enough miles and money spent in a given calendar year to earn status. To see how many miles and spending you need to accrue, check your preferred airline’s website.
2. Get an airline credit card
Credit cards associated with airlines grant you some of the same benefits that you might get from a frequent flyer program. These include perks like a free checked bag and priority boarding. Most credit cards will also have introductory offers, which reward you with bonus miles upon opening an account.
While this is definitely one of the easiest ways to get a free checked bag on flights (not to mention a few free flights you can redeem with miles), credit cards aren’t for everyone.
Most cards that grant flight benefits charge an annual fee that start at $69. Submitting an application might also adversely affect your credit scores temporarily. Before you sign up for that plastic, make sure you take enough flights in any given year to justify the associated costs.
3. Splurge for a higher fare class
Need to bring a small crate’s worth of goods? Book a premium economy or business class seat for your next flight. Most non-economy products bundle in a free checked bag or two. Some even up the weight limit on your bags (United, for example, gives customers in business class or higher two bags each capped at 70lbs / 32kg!).
Now, it doesn’t make economic sense to leap for a higher class seat just for a few free bags. Premium economy seats often cost a few multiples what a normal economy class seat does. Business class likewise can cost multiples of what a premium economy seat costs. But if you were thinking about treating yourself anyway, maybe it’s not a terrible idea.
4. Fly international
Most long-haul international trips will get you at least one or two checked bags free, although you’ll want to check your airline’s policies first. Not all international fares will automatically land you a free checked bag.
Major airlines based in the US, for example, place travel between the US and Canada on the same tier as domestic US flights. That means you’ll pay to check in a bag even though you’re crossing a border. On the other hand, most flights between the US and the Caribbean include a checked bag despite relatively similar distances covered on either routes.
Outside of the US, policies can be just as messy. Be sure to check with an airline's specific policies about the route and fare class you're planning on flying to get the most accurate information about bag fees.
5. Become an active duty military member
In the US, active duty members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard qualify for free checked bags. The number of bags varies depending on the airline.
Southwest is the most generous, allowing an uncapped number of bags each weighing no more than 100lbs. Delta, Jetblue, American, Alaska, and United offer up to five bags each at varying weights (between 75lbs to 100lbs).
Even ultra-low cost carries like offer free checked bags. Spirit offers two checked bags and a carry-on, Allegiant two checked bags, and Frontier one checked bag.
Some airlines also offer free checked bags and discounts to reserve members and veterans. Jetblue is one such airline, offering two free checked bags to veterans through the Veterans Advantage program.
6. Travel with an airline that doesn’t charge fees for checked bags
In the US, only Southwest still maintains its free checked bag policy and it’s a rather generous policy at that. They offer two—not one—free checked bags for each passenger.
Outside the US, airlines are more split between those that offer free checked bags and those that don’t. Larger state-owned airlines (like Emirates and Singapore) and full-service ones (like Qantas) still offer one or two checked bags even on short-haul domestic routes.
It’s more common on budget and low-cost airlines that you’ll find policies mirroring US airline baggage policies. More often than not, these airlines charge bag fees for a first checked bag for short-haul flights.