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Must I Pay With My Airline Credit Card to Get a Free Checked Bag?

May 15, 2017
4 min read
A luggage tag on a bag
Must I Pay With My Airline Credit Card to Get a Free Checked Bag?
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"Reader Questions" are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

It’s not a stretch to say that the free checked bag is one of the most valuable benefits available on a co-branded airline credit card. So TPG reader Paul wants to know if there's a certain way you have to buy your ticket to get the perk...

[pullquote source="TPG Reader Paul"]In order to take advantage of a free checked bag, do I need to purchase the ticket on the airline’s website? And do I need to use the actual airline credit card for the purchase?[/pullquote]

When you have an airline credit card and regularly check a bag, you can save $50 in baggage fees on every round-trip you take, which means you can easily offset the annual fee by using that perk on just two trips a year. But once you have the card, what exactly do you need to do to get a free checked bag?

Well, since it’s the airline industry, the answer to that question depends on which airline you’re on. The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and the Barclaycard Aviator cards both offer a free checked bag on American Airlines, and the benefit gets tied to your AAdvantage account. So with both these cards, you can book and pay for the ticket any way you’d like — all you need to do to get the free bag is to provide the correct AAdvantage number when you apply for the credit card (or call and be certain the account is attached if you already have a card), and then put your AAdvantage number on your ticket. The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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Once your credit card is linked to your AAdvantage account, you'll see it indicated like this.

Note that if you just recently applied and got approved for the card, it does take a little while for the benefit to be applied to your account the first time. Both Citibank and Barclaycard applications state you can expect to wait up to 7 days for everything to go through. Once your card is linked, you can confirm it by signing into your American AAdvantage account and looking for the words in the blue box on the home page.

Co-branded Delta credit cards, which include the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Card from American Express, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, work in the same way as American's in that the benefit is tied to your Delta SkyMiles account. You don’t have to use your Delta Amex to pay for the ticket, nor do you have to book directly with Delta — if the same SkyMiles account number is tying everything together, then you should get the free bag.

I’ve also found that Delta/Amex computers are much faster at applying this benefit for the first time than American’s. While the terms say the benefit starts once you get your card, I once happened to get approved for a Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express on the very same day I was flying on Delta, and even though I didn’t even have the physical card yet, the baggage fee was automatically waived when I checked in.

Pretty simple so far, right? Well, of course there has to be one airline that makes things difficult, and in this case that’s United. The rules of the free checked bag perk on the United MileagePlus Explorer Card are more restrictive than the others in that you must use your United credit card to pay for your ticket. The good news is that this will work even if it’s an award ticket — so long as you pay the taxes and fees with your United MileagePlus card, you’ll get the free checked bag.

So depending on your airline and your card, Paul, now you know what you can and can’t do in order to save that $25 baggage fee on each flight. Thanks for the question, and if you're a TPG reader who'd like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at

Featured image by Getty Images/fStop