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Airlines Collected More Than $1 Billion in Baggage Fees in Q2

Sept. 21, 2016
7 min read
luggage at airport
Airlines Collected More Than $1 Billion in Baggage Fees in Q2
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We love to help our readers avoid as many fees as possible. Using credit card benefits, checked baggage fees are some of the easiest charges to avoid. However, that hasn't stopped airlines from hitting another new baggage fee record. From April to June 2016, US-based airlines collected over $1 billion — $1,072,856,000 to be exact — in baggage fees. This tops the old quarterly record by almost $53 million.

Here are the airlines that cashed in the most on baggage fees:

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RankAirline2Q 20152Q 2016Change
1American295,015288,836-2%
2Delta226,294232,4613%
3United170,257175,4603%
4Spirit73,196111,63853%
5Frontier49,56571,57844%
6JetBlue21,84857,625164%
7Allegiant42,46345,9348%
8Alaska30,21535,02216%
9Hawaiian21,52720,994-2%
10Virgin America15,24716,4158%
11Southwest11,92411,9931%
12Sun Country4,1244,078-1%
13Island Air Hawaii74482210%
Total962,4191,072,85611%

Baggage fees by airline for 2015 Q2 and 2016 Q2. Revenue reported in 000s. Data courtesy of the Buraeu of Transportation Statistics.

American Airlines has topped the list yet again for collecting the most baggage fees. American — combined with US Airways — has held this top spot for nine straight quarters. However, American Airlines was one of only three airlines that had a reduction in baggage fees over the same time last year, along with Hawaiian and Sun Country.

Baggage fees collected in Q2 2016.
Baggage fees collected in Q2 2016. Infographic by Bruno.

Meanwhile, the airline with the largest jump — a whopping 164% increase from the same time last year — might initially surprise you: JetBlue. Back on June 30, 2015, JetBlue dropped its first free checked bag allowance, leaving Southwest as the only major carrier still offering complimentary checked bags. Not surprisingly, JetBlue's checked baggage fees have jumped drastically since implementing the change.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
At up to $100 per carry-on bag, Spirit's baggage fees have added up quickly. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Spirit (+53% year-over-year) and Frontier (+44%) have seen huge jumps in baggage fee revenue as more and more budget-conscious travelers choose these airlines. Hopefully these passengers factored the cost of baggage into the advertised low fares.

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 airfares to make up for lost revenue if this $1 billion wasn't collected. So, (silently) thank your less-informed fellow 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-branded credit card

Snag a 30,000-mile sign-up bonus and get a free checked bag using the Alaska . Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Snag a 30,000-mile sign-up bonus and get a free checked bag with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid baggage fees — at least for your first checked bag — is by having a co-branded credit card, such as:

  • American: Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard and Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
  • Delta: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express
  • United: United MileagePlus Explorer Card, United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card, United MileagePlus Club Card (first 2 bags), and United MileagePlus Club Business Card (first 2 bags)
  • JetBlue: The JetBlue Plus Card and The JetBlue Business Card
  • Alaska: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
  • Hawaiian: The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard
  • Virgin America: Virgin America Visa Signature Card and Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness Platinum has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The baggage allowances vary across these cards, but each allows at least one free checked bag for the cardholder. Some cards offer free checked bags for others booked on your same itinerary as well.

Unfortunately, some of the biggest bag fee collectors — Spirit Airlines, Frontier and Allegiant — have co-branded credit cards that don’t offer a free baggage allowance.

2. Fly Southwest

The last major airline that offers complimentary checked bags is Southwest. Each passenger can check two free bags — including golf bags and skis — up to 50 pounds and total dimensions of 62 inches. Overweight, extra-large and additional bags will set you back $75 each.

3. Wipe out baggage fees with a credit card fee reimbursement

Some premium credit cards offer travel fee credits that can be used toward airline fees such as baggage costs. These include the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($300 per year), the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card ($300 per year), Citi Prestige Card ($250 per year), The Platinum Card® from American Express ($200 per year) and the American Express® Gold Card ($100 per year). If you weren’t able to avoid baggage fees otherwise, using a travel credit could be a great option.

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 points from your Barclaycard Arrival Plus — which has a sign-up bonus of 70,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days — as the minimum redemption is 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 itineraries.

Featured image by Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images