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When Does My Free Checked Bag Benefit Become Active?

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TPG reader Robin sent me a message on Facebook to ask about credit card benefits:

“I was approved for a Citi AAdvantage card, and flew on American Airlines 10 days later. I was disappointed to find that my free checked bag benefit wasn’t active, and I was charged $25 each way. Citi said the account had to be open for at least a week prior to buying the ticket; have you heard of this?”

While baggage fees have become a huge source of revenue for airlines, you can avoid them without having to earn elite status or fly in a premium cabin. Many co-branded airline credit cards offer a free checked bag, which can save you (and other people on your reservation) a lot of money. However, there are some restrictions, and it’s important to know when these benefits apply so you don’t end up getting charged unexpectedly.

These rules are spelled out in the terms and conditions of AAdvantage cards like the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard and the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard. For the benefit to apply, your card account must be open at least seven days prior to travel, and your reservation must include your AAdvantage number within that same time frame. Your account does not have to be open seven days prior to booking, only prior to when you actually fly.

Robin appears to have been given bad information. Assuming her AAdvantage account number was added correctly to the reservation, she should have received a free checked bag, since her card was opened more than seven days before her flight. In her position, I would call Citi customer service again and ask for a supervisor to clarify why the benefit was not activated properly.

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Citi AAdvantage cardholders can be eligible for a free checked bag one week after the account is opened.

A similar delay may apply to other airline credit cards as well; for example, United MileagePlus cardholders are eligible for a free standard checked bag two weeks after account opening. Delta is a bit more expedient, as Delta Amex cardholders are eligible once the account is activated. The same goes for Alaska Airlines Visa Signature cardholders; the terms state that the benefit is active approximately two to three weeks after approval, but in reality it should work once your card is in hand.

Credit card benefits can be highly lucrative, but they don’t do you any good if you can’t use them. I recommend reading the terms and conditions carefully before you apply for a new card; that will help you not only to avoid unwanted surprises, but also to maximize each benefit.

For more on baggage fees and how to avoid them, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®

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  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Admirals Club® membership for you with guest privileges*
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to eight companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 15.49% (Variable) $450 0% Excellent Credit