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This week, the Department of Transportation released baggage fee revenue for Q3 2015. For the first quarter ever, baggage fees collected by US-based airlines topped $1 billion. The ~$1,018,892,000 in baggage fees collected during the quarter is more than a $59 million (6%) increase from the previous high-water mark set in the third quarter of 2014.
American Airlines — now combined with US Airways — topped the charts in Q3, collecting more than $292 million in baggage fees from July 2015 to September 2015. Delta came in second at $237 million and United rounded out the top three at $185 million.
Not surprisingly, three of the next four carriers on the list are the so-called “low-cost carriers”: Spirit ($77 million), Frontier ($57 million) and Allegiant ($40 million). It seems Spirit and Frontier want to set another record quarter in Q4, as they’ve bumped up baggage fees for the holidays between $2-$10 per bag. The amount JetBlue collected for checked bags doubled from Q2 to Q3 — jumping the airline up to #6 ($43 million) in Q3.
Even the airline that famously advertises “Bags Fly Free!” shows up on the list, having charged $11.5 million in Q3 for excess and overweight baggage.
But, let’s be fair: The $11.5 million collected by Southwest in Q3 2015 is less than American, Delta or United have collected in any quarter since at least the beginning of 2007. And, that goes back to even before these airlines became the big three by merging with US Airways, Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines, respectively.
Before we get into how you can avoid baggage fees, let’s say a quick thank you to all of those who are paying these fees. It’s likely that airlines would be charging higher fares to make up for lost revenue if this $1 billion went uncharged. So, (silently) thank your fellow ill-informed travelers for subsidizing our travels!
With that out of the way, here’s how to avoid paying for checked bags yourself:
1. Get a co-brand credit card
Perhaps the easiest way of avoiding baggage fees is by having a co-branded credit card, such as:
- American: Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard and Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
- Delta: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express
- United: United MileagePlus Explorer Card and United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card
- Alaska: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card
- Virgin America: Virgin America Visa Signature
The baggage allowances vary across these cards, but each allow at least one free checked bag for the cardholder. Some cards offer free checked bags for others booked on your same itinerary.
Unfortunately, the #4-#6 airlines for Q3 — Spirit Airlines, Frontier and JetBlue — have co-brand credit cards that don’t offer a free baggage allowance.
2. Fly Southwest
With JetBlue adding baggage fees back in June, the last airline offering free checked bags is Southwest, which still allows passengers two free checked bags — including golf bags and skis — up to 50 pounds and 62 inches.
3. Wipe out baggage fees with a credit card fee reimbursement
Credit cards such as the The Platinum Card® from American Express ($200/year), Citi Prestige ($250/year) and Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express ($100/year) each offer airline fee reimbursements each calendar year. These can be great for reimbursing you for baggage fees, if you weren’t able to avoid them otherwise.
Or, you can use points earned on your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to get a statement credit for your baggage fees. However, you’ll likely want to pay for your bags when you purchase your flight if you plan on using your Barclaycard Arrival Plus points, as the minimum redemption is now 10,000 miles ($100).
4. Earn elite status
Easier said than done! But, earning elite status on any of the top three bag fee-charging airlines — American, Delta and United — will earn you a free baggage allowance. Even base-level elite members (American Gold, Delta Silver and United Silver) are allowed to check one bag for free on domestic routes.
What’s your strategy for avoiding bag fees?