How to Get Free Checked Baggage on Major U.S. Airlines

Several major airlines made headlines last year for raising their checked baggage fees. Over the years, airlines across the world have gone from having free checked baggage to charging for checking in luggage both ways. Even with all of the best checked luggage options out there, it’s still a pain to pay for a bag on both legs of a trip. Despite the pesky checked baggage, US airlines offer a few different ways to avoid these fees.

We’re taking a look at 5 US airlines and letting you know how to get around paying for your bags.

There are four main ways to avoid paying for checked baggage on U.S. Airlines. Buying a premium ticket, using credit cards, having elite status on the airlines, and benefiting from any special circumstances. Familiarize yourself with these options to make booking flights easier and save you money in the long run.

1.) Buy a Premium Ticket

Booking an economy ticket guarantees you a seat on the plane but not much more. One of the ways to get around being charged for your first or second checked bag is to upgrade to a premium ticket.

Most major airlines offer several tiers of airline tickets that start from economy basic and go to premium first class. When you purchase a ticket in a class above the basic economy, your premium ticket will usually come with a free checked bag.

The highest levels of tickets will offer multiple checked bags.

2.) Have the Right Credit Cards

Many airlines waive checked baggage fees for holders of their credit cards.

If you’re a holder of an airline’s major credit cards or a card from any of their partners, you can usually get one or two bags for free. The great thing about this is that while you’re racking up points, you’ll also be saving money towards your trip. Check with your airline for the specific card details.

If you have any of the top travel credit cards, you may also be able to use your benefits towards your baggage fees.

Cards that offer these types of benefits include:

  • Chase Sapphire
  • Some American Express cards
  • Some Bank of America cards

Most of these credit card companies give you a stipend on travel credit money that you can spend toward airlines. This allowance can be used to pay for bags on flights.

The list of benefits is endless and varies for each credit card, so check with your travel credit card company for specific details on how to get these benefits.

3.) Hold the Airline’s Elite Status

first class checked baggage us airlines

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If you have a favorite airline and hold elite status, this is the best way to avoid paying for your checked bags on your flights.

The elite status could be a paid membership or a loyalty program that uses points. One of the benefits of elite status with an airline is getting at least one or two checked bags for free. On some airline policies, you can waive baggage fees for family members too.

How do you gain elite status with an airline?

The strategy is more complicated than flying tons of miles on one airline. Most airlines have a timeline that you have to earn miles and spend a certain amount of airline dollars within a calendar year to qualify for elite status. We’ll go into further detail on what the qualifications are for qualifying for each airline’s elite status.

The primary type of criteria comes from the flight points, segments, and airline dollars you spend. You’ll see abbreviations like EQM (earned qualified miles) and EQD (earned qualified dollars) listed under each airline.

Check with each airline to see exactly how they calculate these points because every airline is different.

4.) Take Advantage of Special Circumstances

If you are traveling under a special circumstance, sometimes your baggage fees will be waived.

Special circumstances usually include:

  • Military personnel
  • Travelers with disabilities
  • Travelers with strollers
  • Your destination

Each airline has their specific list of special circumstances. Your best bet is to check with each company before you fly.

Here are the baggage fees for each US Airline.

American Airlines

american airlines checked baggage us airlines

American Airlines

On September 21, 2018, American Airlines joined other major airlines to change their checked baggage policies. Currently, the prices have risen $5 for both the first and second checked bag when traveling domestically and to some international destinations.

Baggage Fees

  • First bag: $30
  • Second bag: $40
  • Maximum weight: 50 lb.

If you purchase a basic economy flight domestically, your first bag is $30 and the second bag is $40 for both ways.

American Airlines also charges for the first and second bag on flights to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America (except Panama). For transatlantic flights, basic economy flights incur a $60 baggage fee for both ways. The second bag will cost $120.

The maximum weight for all bags is 50 pounds.

How to Avoid American Airlines Baggage Fees

When you purchase a basic economy flight, you’re looking at spending at least $60 total for checking in a bag. However, there are a few specific ways to avoid these fees with American Airlines.

Premium Ticket

Purchasing a business or premium economy ticket will get you to fly with two bags for free. This rule applies to all flights, domestic, and transatlantic flights. First class customers can travel with three bags for free.

Credit Cards

American Airlines offers a few credit cards that provide waived baggage fees. Most of these credit cards give the cardholders and family members on the same reservation one to three checked bags for free. These cards are:

  • Citi/ AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

Elite Status

If you’re a loyal customer to American Airlines and you rack up miles with them, being a part of one of their four elite status programs is a great way to avoid paying for your bags.

American Airlines has four elite status programs that offer different baggage fee waivers.

  • AAdvantage Gold and oneworld Ruby: Waives the first bag
  • AAdvantage Platinum Pro, AAdvantage Platinum, and oneworld Sapphire: Waives the first and second bag for travelers and their family members
  • Executive Platinum oneworld Emerald: Waives the first three checked bags.

Elite Status eligibility is calculated by combining your EQM (Elite Qualifying Miles), EQS (Earned Qualifying Segments) and EQD (Earned Qualifying Dollars). The eligibility requirements are:

  • Ruby-  25,000 EQMs, $3,000 of EQDs and 30 EQSs
  • Platinum oneworld Sapphire– 50,000 EQMs, 60 EQSs and $6,000 of EQDs.
  • Platinum Pro oneworld Sapphire- 75,000 EQMs, 90 EQSs and $9,000 EQDs.
  • Executive Platinum oneworld Emerald- 100,000 EQMs, 120 EQSs and $15,000 EQDs.

Special Circumstances

There are several exceptions to American Airline’s baggage rules:

  • Active US military and their dependents can travel with up to five bags for free with their military ID and a travel order. When flying for personal reasons, an active US military and their dependents can get up to three bags for free.
  • Any medical and mobility devices are free to check in.
  • Booking a trip that originates in Cuba will get you a free checked bag.
  • You can check a stroller and a car seat for free.

Delta

delta air lines checked baggage us airlines

Delta

Delta Airlines is another major airline that joined the ranks in upping their checked baggage fees last year.

If you weren’t paying any attention, you might not even have noticed that their prices jumped $5 for the first and second bag for each flight. Nevertheless, there are still ways to avoid paying the expensive baggage fee if you find yourself on a Delta flight.

Baggage Fees

  • First bag: $30
  • Second bag: $40
  • Maximum weight: 50 lb.

On the Delta website, you can find a detailed chart of the specific fees between specific locations. It can be a bit complex to read, so we’ve broken them down for you as best as we can:

  • Flying domestically between two US cities: You’re looking at $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for the second, both ways. That gets you between $60-$140 round trip.
  • Flying to Puerto Rico, Canada, the Caribbean, and some Central and South American Countries: You’ll pay $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag.
  • Flying to other international locations: Fees vary.

Your bag should also be under 50 pounds for all of these flights.

How to Avoid Delta Baggage Fees

You can use any of these four methods you can get out of paying for your bags on your next Delta flight.

Premium Ticket

The $30 and $40 fee only applies to tickets in the Main Cabin, Basic Economy and even the Delta Comfort flights.

If you purchase a seat in the First Class, Delta Premium Select or Delta One level, you’re allowed two free checked bags. The weight limit is still 50 pounds, but travelers with elite status can travel with bags up to 70 pounds.

Credit Cards

Cardholders of any of the Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express can enjoy one free bag on all flights with Delta. These baggage benefits extend to the following credit cards:

  • Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card/ Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card
  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card/ Platinum Delta Business SkyMiles Business Credit Card
  • Delta Reserve Credit Card/  Delta Reserve Business Credit Card

Elite Status

Loyal Delta customers can also enjoy waived baggage fees with Delta.

There are four levels of elite status, and all of them have at least one free checked bag:

  • Delta SkyMiles Medallion Silver: You get one free checked bag.
  • Gold members: You get two free checked bags.
  • Platinum and Diamond: You get three free checked bags both ways.

The qualification criteria for Medallion status is calculated by accumulating a certain number of MQMs (Medallion Qualified Miles) and MQDs (Medallion Qualified Dollars)or MQS (Medallion Qualified Segments):

  • Silver: 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQS and $3,000 MQDs
  • Gold: 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQS and $6,000 MQDs
  • Platinum: 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQS and $9,000 MQDs
  • Diamond: 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQS and $15,000 MQDs

Delta is one of the few airlines that allows Rollover Miles for their Elite Status program. Each year, the miles you earn during the last year will help you reach the next status to qualify for a new Elite level.

Special Circumstances

You can qualify for waived baggage fees if you fall under any of these specific circumstances:

  • Delta offers baggage exceptions to any active US military flying under a military order (five bags) or for personal reasons (two checked luggage pieces). They also expand the weight limit and bag size for active US military travelers.
  • Some exceptions depend on what cities you’re flying to. Between the US and Canada to Panama or El Salvador, your first bag is checked in for free. However, if flying from the Atlanta airport, you’ll still have to pay $30 for the first bag.
  • All customers are allowed to check in a stroller and a car seat on Delta flights, free of charge.

United

checked baggage us airlines united

United Airlines

United Airlines is another major airline that joined the rest and changed their baggage policies late August of 2018. Their updated full baggage policy is detailed here, so you can get an idea of what their bag policies are and won’t run into any surprises.

Baggage Fees

  • First bag: $30
  • Second bag: $40
  • Maximum weight: 50 lb.

United Airlines baggage fees are complex. Instead of posting a long chart of where and how much their prices are, they’ve instead built an easy way to check how much your service charges will be.

checked baggage us airlines

United

However, their baggage fees are not much different from Delta and American Airlines.

For domestic flights and flights between Canada, the Caribbean and most of Central America, your first bag will incur a $30 fee and the second bag will be a $40 fee. Both ways cost $60 round trip for the first bag, and the second bag will be an extra $80.

If your flights are not within those destinations, you’ll need to use the fee generator pictured above or go your MileagePlus account. From there you can enter your flight number and find out exactly how much you will be paying.

How to Avoid United Baggage Fees

Just like the airlines mentioned above, United has a few specific ways to get around paying for your checked bags. In some cases, you are offered up to three bags for free.

Premium Ticket

There are business and first class tickets that will get you your bags checked for free.

The short-haul first class seats will allow you to fly with two bags for free with a generous 70 lb. limit. Long haul business class will let you fly with three 70 lb. bags free of charge.

Credit Cards

United has four credit cards that offer checked baggage benefits. If you are a holder of any of the following cards, you can receive these benefits. However, you must purchase the flights with this card, and the card must be eligible and functioning at the time of check-in.

The four cards are:

  • United Explorer Card or the United Mileage Plus Explorer Business Card: You plus one companion get the first checked bag for free. You must be on the same reservation.
  • United MileagePlus Club Card or the United MileagePlus Club Business Card: You plus one companion get the first and second checked bags for free. You must be on the same reservation.

Elite Status

Traveling with United as a member of their four different elite status means you can enjoy several perks when you fly.

There are four tiers of the MileagePlus Premier membership: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, and Premier Platinum K.

  • Premier Silver: This tier waives the fee for you and nine travel companions on domestic flights. For international flights, you get two bags free.
  • Premier Gold: This tier waives the fee for two bags both domestically and internationally.
  • Platinum and Platinum K: This tier gives you three bags for free for you and nine travel companions for domestic and international flights.

Earning United Elite Status is calculated each calendar year by a combination of Premier Qualified Dollars, Miles and Segments or PQD, PQM, PQS:

  • Premier Silver:  25,000 PQM, or 30 PQS and $3,000 PQD
  • Premier Gold: 50,000 PQM, or 60 PQS and $6,000 PQD
  • Premier Platinum: 75,000 PQM, or 90 PQS and $9,000 PQD
  • Premier Platinum 1K: 100,000 PQM, or 120 PQS and $15,000 PQD

Special Circumstances

There are several exceptions to these baggage fee rules for United. United will waive fees when:

  • An active US military or their dependent is traveling. With a military order, you and your dependents are allowed up to 5 bags, up to 100 pounds for free. If you’re flying for personal reasons, you can travel with up to 3 checked bags, 70 lb. for free.
  • You have a medical assisted device that you need to fly with, such a wheelchair.
  • You have a stroller or car seat when you are traveling with small children.

JetBlue Airways

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jetBlue

JetBlue raised their checked baggage prices by $5 in August of last year, making them the fourth company to do so. When flying on an economy flight, you’ll be required to pay for your bag(s) on both legs of the trip.

JetBlue’s extensive baggage policy is here.

Baggage Fees

  • First bag: $30
  • Second bag: $40
  • Maximum weight: 50 lb.

The first checked bag on any US domestic flight will cost $30 and the second will cost you $40. The weight limit for all checked luggage is 50 lb.

JetBlue also now charges an astounding $150 for a third bag on any flight, so its best to keep your checked bags to a minimum unless you can meet any of the exceptions.

How to Avoid JetBlue Baggage Fees

Premium Ticket

JetBlue offers four tiers of fares with the lowest fare being the only one not to include a bag. The price may be the cheapest, but you’ll have to pay an extra $30 for your first bag. Bump up to the BluePlus flight to enjoy a free checked bag.

From there, the Blue Flex or Mint tickets will get you two free bags on your JetBlue flight.

Credit Cards

Two credit cards offer free checked baggage available from JetBlue. You must book your flights with the card and present it at check in to enjoy the perks.

Your travel companion can also get these benefits. However, you must book them on the same reservation as you.

These cards are:

  • JetBlue Plus Card
  • JetBlue Business Card

Elite Status

JetBlue only offers one level of elite status, the mosaic. Members of this status can fly with two checked bags for free. Remember that regardless of elite status, all travelers must pay $150 for their third bag.

There are two ways to earn mosaic status as listed on the JetBlue website.

  • Earn 15,000 base flight points within a calendar year
  • Fly 30 segments and 12,000 base flight points. Flight points are 3 points per dollar that you spend on a Jetblue flight.

Special Circumstances

JetBlue has similar travel exceptions that allow you to travel with free checked bags.

The most important ones are for active military and their dependents traveling. For work-related trips, you and your family can have up to five bags for free that weigh up to 99 lb. For personal trips, you can get up to three bags that weigh up to 50 lb.

JetBlue has also published some exceptions for traveling with media-related equipment. You can check the fee information at their website linked above.

Southwest Airlines

southwest airlines logo

Southwest

Southwest Airlines remains the only checked baggage US airline that has free checked bags. That means, for all customers, regardless of elite status, premium tickets or credit cards get to travel with two bags up to 50 pounds for free.

If you want to travel with sports or media equipment, you can generally count these towards your two bags. Out of all of the policies, this is the most generous and straightforward policy. Check out the specific details of the Southwest Airline policies on its website.

Checked Bags on US Airlines

So, what is the best way to avoid paying for your bags?

The answer is to spend a little more money and upgrading your seats, be a loyal customer to an airline and get elite status, or get one of the branded credit cards. If you or someone you know is an active military member, you can also avoid paying for traveling with checked bags.

Before you start packing try to figure out if you should take a carry on vs. a checked bag. If you want to avoid the fees by not checking a bag, fly with a good carry on luggage.

Next time you fly, use this guide to cut down on the cost you pay for your bags.

how to get free checked baggage on major u.s. airlines

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