Do I Have to Pay With My Credit Card to Get a Free Checked Bag at Smaller Airlines?

Dec 11, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

When it comes to the legacy airlines — American, Delta and United — only United requires you to pay for your airline ticket with its co-branded credit card to take advantage of its free checked bag perk. But what about the policies at smaller carriers? For instance, TPG reader Elizabeth wants to know about the rules at Alaska Airlines…

With my Alaska Airlines Visa, I know I get a free bag for me and up to 6 guests. Do I have to book the airfare on that credit card to get the free bag or will my Mileage Plan number give me the free bag?

TPG Reader Elizabeth

United may be a scrooge about its free checked bag policy, but fortunately Alaska Airlines leans toward the more generous side. Here’s what the carrier’s FAQs about the first free checked bag benefit of its credit card state you have to do to get the perk:

“If you are the primary cardholder on the account, have entered your Mileage Plan number into your reservation, and are traveling on Alaska Airlines or Virgin America, we will waive the first bag fee for you and up to 6 additional passengers in the same reservation. … The cardholder must be traveling and the cardholder’s Mileage Plan number must be in the reservation before checking in at alaskaair.com, virginamerica.com, the Alaska Airlines or Virgin America mobile apps, or at any of our Alaska Airlines or Virgin America airport kiosks.”

As you can see, the terms don’t require that you actually purchase the ticket with your Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card. All you have to do is have your Mileage Plan number in the reservation before checking in. This is similar to the free checked bag credit card policies at American and Delta.

How about some of the other smaller carriers, such as JetBlue and Hawaiian? Well, unfortunately the latter is in the same boat with United. According to the terms and conditions of the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Credit Card:

  • The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard Primary Cardmember is eligible to receive one (1) complimentary checked bag on Hawaiian Airlines operated flights. Authorized users of Primary Cardmembers’ account do not qualify for complimentary first checked bag benefit. This is only for travel between North America and Hawaii and between Neighbor Islands (interisland). International Flights are excluded.
  • All ticket purchases (original and exchanges) must be made with a Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard.

Note that with Hawaiian, you also must purchase your ticket directly with Hawaiian to get the free checked bag — as opposed to going through an online travel agency such as Orbitz or Expedia — and put your HawaiianMiles account number on your reservation prior to check-in.

And then there’s JetBlue. If we look at the listed benefits of the JetBlue Plus Card, its policy on free checked bags seems pretty straightforward:

Since the language specifically states you get a free bag “when you use your JetBlue Plus Card to purchase tickets,” it would seem you’d have to charge the flights to your card. But actually, there’s an interesting quirk. Because despite the way the card is advertised, there are more than a few data points that indicate if you have the card and put your JetBlue TrueBlue number in your reservation, you’ll get the free checked bag, regardless of whether you used your JetBlue Plus Card to buy the ticket.

Keep in mind this is definitely a situation where if you do it this way and then don’t get a free bag, you won’t be able to argue it with JetBlue since the terms and conditions are clear. But based on the experience of others, you may very well be able to get away without charging the flight to your card and still end up with one free checked bag.

So even with the smaller carriers, everyone has a different policy, but at least now you know what to look for at each one, Elizabeth. 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 info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by PG/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images.

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