18 credit cards that get you free checked bags
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Over a decade ago, most U.S. airlines introduced checked bag fees as a temporary measure in response to high fuel prices. Though fuel prices have dwindled since, baggage fees are here to stay — and we’ve even seen some carriers raise fees yet again.
Thankfully, the right credit card will offer you a free checked bag — and possibly even some for your travel companions. In today’s post, I’ll offer a rundown of credit cards that feature free checked baggage as a benefit.
Alaska charges a $30 fee for the first checked bag and $40 for the second on all its flights. If you’re an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature primary cardholder, you’ll be able to check a first bag for free for you and up to six additional passengers on the same reservation. This card carries a $75 annual fee. To use this benefit, just enter your Alaska Mileage Plan number in your reservation.
Related: Alaska Visa Signature review
American Airlines has cobranded credit card options from two issuers: Citi and Barclays.
Citi AAdvantage Cards
American charges $30 for your first checked bag and $40 for the second bag for all domestic flights, as well as those to Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. However, there are three Citi cobranded options that offer a first free checked bag on domestic itineraries: the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®.
The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select and the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select extend this free checked baggage benefit to you and up to four traveling companions on your reservation. Both cards come with $99 annual fees that are waived the first year.
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness 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.
Meanwhile, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offers the same free checked bag benefit but extends it to up to eight traveling companions on the same reservation. Note that there’s a $450 annual fee for this card, but it comes with other benefits such as an Admirals Club lounge membership and a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application credit.
Barclays Aviator cards
American also offers several credit cards through Barclays. The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard ($99 annual fee) and the AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard ($95 annual fee) both offer a first bag checked free to the primary cardholder and four companions on domestic itineraries.
The information for the Aviator Red card and Aviator Business 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.
Delta Air Lines
Delta SkyMiles cards from American Express
Delta normally charges $30 each way for your first checked bag and $40 for your second bag on flights within the U.S. However, through its Gold, Platinum and Reserve (for both personal and small businesses) credit cards from American Express, it offers one free checked bag for the cardholder and eight others traveling on the same itinerary. To utilize this benefit, be sure to have your Delta SkyMiles number attached to your reservation.
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (see rates and fees) and the Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card (see rates and fees): $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99.
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (see rates and fees) and the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card (see rates and fees): $250 annual fee.
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (see rates and fees) and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card (see rates and fees): $550 annual fee.
Related: Best Delta credit cards of 2021
Hawaiian charges $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for the second bag on flights from North America. However, Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard from Barclays cardholders receive a free checked bag — but note that travel companions aren’t included in this benefit. The card comes with a $99 annual fee.
JetBlue quietly increased baggage fees last year and is now charging $35 for the first checked bag and $45 for the second checked bag. Thankfully, you can avoid these charges if you own the JetBlue Plus card with a $99 annual fee. This free checked bag benefit extends to the primary cardholder (you) and three travel companions on your reservation.
The information for the Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard and the JetBlue Plus 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.
United Cards from Chase
United also charges $35 per bag and $45 for the second on all domestic flights. There’s a total of four cards you can apply for to avoid checked bag fees.
The United Explorer Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) and the United Business Card ($99 annual fee) both let you bring your first checked bag free for you and a companion on your reservation.
Meanwhile, the United Club Infinite Card ($525 annual fee) and the United Quest Card ($250 annual fee) both let you check two free bags for the primary cardholder and one companion on the same reservation.
Related: Best credit cards for United flyers
Other checked baggage tips
Here are some tips to keep in mind when taking advantage of your free checked bag benefit on your airline cards:
- Free baggage benefits don’t stack: There’s a popular misconception that your credit card will offer an additional free checked bag rather than the first free checked bag. Unfortunately, these credit cards’ checked bag fee waivers wouldn’t apply if you already receive a free checked bag due to your elite status, class of service or travel to an overseas destination. So you will not receive an additional free checked bag beyond your existing allowance just for holding a credit card that offers this benefit. The exception is Hawaiian, which offers an additional free checked bag for cardholders who already receive a free checked bag due to their elite status in the HawaiianMiles program.
- Make sure to book your ticket correctly to use this benefit: With most of these offers, you only have to attach your frequent flyer number to your reservation in order to be given the free checked bag benefit. The exception is United, which requires you to purchase the ticket (or pay taxes and fees on an award ticket) using your airline credit card. In all cases, simply presenting your credit card at check-in is not sufficient.
- Be careful booking large groups on a single reservation: It’s nice that several of these credit cards offer free baggage for multiple companions, but there’s a potential catch. When you’re searching for flights, airlines will display a single airfare that applies to all tickets rather than offer lower fares for some passengers. So if only three seats are offered for $300 each, and the next best fare is $400, booking four people together in one reservation will cost $400 each. Clearly, paying the extra $300 will not be worth it in order to receive a free bag worth $50 each roundtrip. So before booking reservations for multiple people, be sure to check the price for a single passenger and take into account your credit card’s bag fee waivers before deciding whether to book your party with multiple reservations.
- Book on Southwest: The only domestic carrier to not charge checked bag fees is Southwest Airlines, which offers two free checked bags 50 pounds or less on every single flight.
- Take advantage of your credit card’s travel credits: Many premium cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card® from American Express, offer travel or airline incidental credits (enrollment required for the Amex Platinum). If you don’t feel like it’s worth opening an airline credit card, you can be reimbursed for these checked bag charges with these credits instead.
Checked bag fees aren’t cheap. In fact, they can cost as much as $35 one-way. If you fly with one airline frequently, it may be worth opening a cobranded card to get these charges waived completely. Most airline cards with this benefit have annual fees under $100. Do the math — even if you fly with that airline several times in one year, you can justify paying the annual fee.
Additional reporting by Jason Steele.
Featured photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
For rates and fees of the Delta Gold, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Gold Business, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Platinum, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Platinum Business, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Business, click here.
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